Rolling Stones on Tour: Sixty Years and Counting

May 19, 2024

The Moody Blues was a notable band in the era of popular music that followed the initial success of the so-called British Invasion. All five of its original members are now dead, including Denny Laine, a guitarist who remained prominent as a guitarist in Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band, Wings. Founded in 1964, the Moody Blues is yet another example of the long acknowledged fact that it wasn’t the baby boomers (those born after 1946) who instigated the cultural changes that marked the 1960s; rather, it was their elder “siblings” (those born between 1939 and 1945) who startled the status quo of Frank Sinatra and Baby boomers, in fact, did contribute to those changes, but it was as an audience. To offer a variation on a phrase by Peter Schjeldahl, baby boomer were a transmission generation. To a large extent, baby boomers represent a major instance of “reader response,” without which the songwriters born between 1940 and 1944 could not have had the impact on world culture that they did. The extent to which that listening influenced other avant-garde efforts includes the Language writing movement. Rae Armantrout, for instance, has specifically written of the impact that “Satisfaction” had on her as a young poet in San Diego in 1965.

No sooner did the demise of all the original members of the Moody Blues get announced than the obit book was closed on the final surviving member of the MC5 (aka the Motor City 5). Dennis Thompson the drummer, outlived bandmate Wayne Kramer less than four months. In contrast, not only are three of the original members of the Rolling Stones still alive, but each continues to be fully engaged with their preferred projects. Although Keith Richards gained deserved attention as a co-author of an autobiography, it is the original bass player, Bill Wyman, who has produced the most books as well as releasing solo albums of his own songs. One might attribute his artistic longevity to his decision to stop touring in what amounted to an oldies band in the 1990s, but that conjecture runs into the ever revivifying staying power of the collaborative songwriting partnership of Sir Mick Jagger and Richard, both of whom are leading the latest iteration of the band on a national tour that began in late April and will last until early July.

As vigorous as the frontman remains, and as invigorating a sense of a pivotal increment as the music still manages to attain, age has caught up with the band. One only has to look at the schedule of the 1966 tour with its nocturnal leap-frogging across the continent, with a show in a different city almost every night for a couple weeks in a row, to gain a perspective on this year’s tour, with its interlude of three days off between shows. Recovery time is understandably needed, and one wouldn’t want or expect them to move at any other clip. In part, the need to support the level of entourage assistance over such an extended time as the current tour has to be factored in when considering the price of the tickets.

Given the unlikelihood I’d be able to attend their next tour, I”m half-tempted to splurge and see this band for only the second time in my life, but I doubt that it would be worth the money. I don’t need my morale about my physical dilapidation getting another gut-punch by watching Jagger strut on the tight-rope of senescence. As for Richards, I saw him perform on his solo tour for “Talk Is Cheap,” and that suffices as one of the most exquisite musical evenings of my life.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage any young person from seeing the surviving version of The Rolling Stones, but I would urge them to first invest in some serious vinyl recordings. Cassettes and CDs, unfortunately, do not truly catch the mix of sound that comes across from the original vinyls. I am quite serious when I say that if one had a choice between spending a few hundred dollars on seeing the current tour or of acquiring vinyl, one shouldn’t hesitate to acquire the vinyl. The tour only provides a fraction of the music that makes this band intriguing. To put it bluntly, unless one is familiar with the following four dozen or so songs, one lacks the context to appreciate what one might hear on the stage in 2024.

Love Comes (At the Speed of Light)
One Hit (to the Body)
Yesterday’s Papers
Stray Cat Blues
Continental Drift
2120 South Michigan Avenue
What a Shame
Mona (Down Home Girl)
Stupid Girl
I Just want to See His Face
Cool, Calm, Collected
Doncha Bother Me
Cry to Me
That’s How Strong My Love Is
She Smiled Sweetly
The Spider and the Fly
Dear Doctor
As Tears Go By
Play with Fire
Lady Jane
Tell Me
You Gotta Move
Child of the Moon
Time Is on My Side
No Expectations
Sweet Black Angel
2000 Light Years from Home
Under My Thumb
Under Cover of the Night
I Am Waiting
Time Waits for No One
Salt of the Earth
Loving Cup
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
Wild Horses
Moonlight Mile
Miss You
Ruby Tuesday
Locked Away

Encore song:
The Last Time (cf my blog post: Brian Jones and the Fiftieth Anniversary of “The Last Time”)

“Locked Away” is, of course, not a Jagger-Richards composition, but it would feel appropriate as a coda to an anthology of their songs that represents the extraordinary range of musical influences that Richards and Jagger have absorbed and disseminated with redolent embellishments. The crucial “color” added to their songs by musicians such as Brian Jones, Nicky Hopkins, and Mick Taylor, not to mention Wyman, the Late, beloved drummer Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood, can hardly be overlooked without leaving any account of this band open to charges of sycophancy.

How many of the people who see The Rolling Stones on tour in the United States this summer will be familiar with the above songs? My guess is less than 20 percent. One can hope, I suppose, that the show will encourage them to dig into the backlist, but that’s not likely to happen. As I think about it, one of the reasons I am not interested in attending their show is that I would prefer to hear them in the company of people who know the band’s work. I never enjoyed large crowds, and at this point actively dislike them. To feel that the people around me are ignorant of the context of the music leaves me dismayed at how little curiosity most people have. The sad fact is that at least those who listened to “You Gotta Move” then went out and bought an album by Mississippi Fred McDowell. I can’t imagine that happening now to any significant extent.

Suppose someone were to offer me two free tickets to attend the current tour. Would I go, despite my discomfort with large crowds? I would certainly be tempted, if only to help erase the rather insipid taste that I still have from the one time I did see the band, in Los Angeles in 1972; it wasn’t an impressive show. It was a matinee performance, and the band seemed to treat it as a dress rehearsal meant to make up for a lack of preparation. Perhaps my indifferent reaction was in part due to their set list, which included several songs that hardly rank as among my favorites. Lyric content aside, “Brown Sugar” always struck me as a song that never amounted too much after the first eight seconds, which get one’s instant attention, but which gets frittered away with a predictable road-house bravura. The songs they performed from their new album at the time, “Exile on Main Street,” didn’t seem to have made a full transition from the studio to the stage. The best of the show seemed to be “Gimme Shelter” and “Jumping’ Jack Flash,” two songs that are included in their 2024 tour.

Here’s the tour, with both dates already played and those yet to come:

April 28th, 2024 — NRG Stadium HOUSTON, TX

May 2nd — Jazz Fest NEW ORLEANS, LA

May 7th State Farm Stadium GLENDALE, AZ

May 11th Allegiant Stadium LAS VEGAS, NV

May 15th Lumen Field SEATTLE, WA

May 23rd MetLife Stadium EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ

May 26th MetLife Stadium EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ

May 30th Gillette Stadium FOXBORO, MA

June 3rd Camping World Stadium ORLANDO, FL

June 7th Mercedes-Benz Stadium ATLANTA, GA

June 11th Lincoln Financial Field PHILADELPHIA, PA

June 15th Cleveland Browns Stadium CLEVELAND, OH

June 20th Empower Field at Mile High DENVER, CO

June 27th Soldier Field CHICAGO, IL

June 30th Soldier Field CHICAGO, IL

July 5th BC Place VANCOUVER, BC

July 10th SoFi Stadium LOS ANGELES, CA

July 13th SoFi Stadium LOS ANGELES, CA

July 17th Levi’s ® Stadium SANTA CLARA, CA

Post-Script: For baby boomers who remember hearing their music in the 1960s, you might enjoy these outtakes of
18 recordings from 1967 featuring Brian Jones.
Mord Und Totschlag (opening credits) – harmonica:
Mord Und Totschlag (recorder theme) – recorder:
Mord Und Totschlag (sitar theme) – sitar:
Mord Und Totschlag (dulcimer theme 1) – dulcimer, sitar (drone) & autoharp:
Mord Und Totschlag (harmonica solo) – harmonica:
We Love You – mellotron:
Dandelion – soprano saxophone:
You Know My Name, Look Up The Number – soprano saxophone:
Citadel – soprano saxophone, recorder & mellotron:
The Lantern – organ:
She’s A Rainbow – mellotron:
In Another Land – mellotron:
Gomper – electric dulcimer & recorder:
2000 Light Years From Home – mellotron:
On With The Show – mellotron:
Acid in the Grass – concert harp:
Majesties Honky Tonk – organ:
Gold Fingernails – harmonica:
Photo: Gered Mankowitz


“Unfrosted”: 1950s’ Cereal Wars as Uniparty Politics

Thursday, May 9, 2024

A couple of years ago, I was walking on the campus from the library to my office in the McIntosh Humanities Building (MHB) and happened to notice a middle-aged man taking photographs of nearby buildings. Since the architecture on our campus is not of a caliber that would ever interest an historical preservation committee, I was curious about his diligence in getting just the right angle. “Oh, I’m a location scout,” he said. “The assignment is for a film set in the 1950s and I thought there might be something here we could use.” CSU Long Beach was founded in the late 1940s, so some of the buildings do hark back to that period. We chatted for a bit, and I asked him about the film. “Oh, it’s about competition between cereal companies in Michigan. It’s called ‘Unfrosted’.” “Good title,” I said, but when I didn’t hear anything about a film by that name being released as of a year ago, I just figured it was yet another Hollywood project that got shelved or ended up going straight to DVD.

The film did get made and released, and it seems that very few people are neutral about it. A large plurality enjoyed it very much, but around a quarter of its audience gave it the lowest possible evaluation. One plausible expiation for this polarization is the politics of the film. In particular, people who still believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” would be very likely to regard the final half-hour of the film as “not funny at all.” After all, the protest at the end of “Unfrosted” quite obviously invokes the riot that took place on January 6, 2021, soon after the outgoing president harangued a crowd of followers about their need to fight for what they believe in. In the film, one character is a blatant invocation of Jacob Chansley (aka “the Canon Shaman”).

Both those who thoroughly enjoyed the film and those who detested it, however, miss the most important point of the film. The competition between Kellogg’s and Post cereal companies is a faux competition, in the same way that the Democratic and Republican parties are not competing systems, but only competing administrative policy machines. Of course, that competition does have actual real world consequences, but the question of whether capitalism’s global hegemony needs some legitimation narrative to prop up its self-justification as a system is not worth any more attention than a cereal company would give to explaining why children need to eat Frosted Flakes (or pop-tarts).

In other words, “Unfrosted” is the best recent film that underscores how there really is only one political party at work in the country. Cereal companies in Michigan, in the 1950s, are the perfect analogy for the uniparty that sustains the corporate domination of politics in this country.

If we are derive any nutrition from the “breakfast” (not of “champions,” but of politicians), it’s up to us to add some fresh fruit (banana; or blueberries) to our bowl. We certainly can’t count on those who market elections, spewing out text messages with requests for campaign contributions, to remedy the double catastrophe of high rent and the incessant rationing of medical care.


Delmore Schwartz, Sharon Olds, and Retrospective Prophecy

Recently the New Yorker ran a long article on the poet Delmore Schwartz, whose cautionary tale of a life is yet one more instance of why parents might sigh upon hearing of a daughter’s or son’s desire to devote their lives to poetry. It’s not the art as such they fear, but how the inclinations toward writing in that genre might indicate some deleterious fissures in their personalities. The biographical account of Schwartz’s life that contextualizes his archive of papers at Yale University. for instance, would only serve to reinforce any parents’ trepidations.

It might well be the case that Schwartz only wrote a half-dozen poems that are still truly memorable. Is that an accomplishment worth the indignities that Schwartz imposed on himself? Perhaps not, but Fate had other plans for him. “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me” however has yet to be examined for how it is one of the earliest examples of confessional poetry. Of course, to that extent, the poem in which we first detect the DNA of the confessional, Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” has yet to have the full sway of its influence acknowledged. Is the first-person protagonist of Schwartz’s “Heavy Bear” that much different from Prufrock as someone afraid to enact his sensual longing?

Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,

The influence of Schwartz on other poets who are in some aligned with confessional poetry is not discussed as much as it should be. I’ve often wondered what Delmore Schwartz would think of Sharon Olds’s poem, “I Go Back to May 1937,” which was the same year that Schwartz saw his famous story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibility,” published in the Partisan Review. Quite frankly, there is an overlap between Schwartz’s story and Olds’s poem that I have always found somewhat disconcerting. It’s possible that Olds has talked about this in an interview or that some other critic has pointed it out. If so, my apologies to them. I don’t think there can be much debate about which version of this retrospective prophecy is the greater artistic achievement.

Like many poets, Schwartz kept a journal, and I was fortunate enough forty years ago to be given a review assignment by the L.A. Times of Schwartz’s notebooks and journals, edited by his second wife, Elizabeth Pollett. Here is a link to a short interview with her, as well as the link to my review of his journals. Among the most memorable moments in the notebooks was his comment, “Too long I admired excellence of surface and diction. More important is centrality, relevance, penetration.” In a poem such as “In the Naked Bed, In Plato’s Cave,” Schwartz conjoined that trinity with poignant urgency; after repeated readings of that poem, one can hardly doubt how such writing is worth any personal sacrifice.


Korean Art in Los Angeles: The Hammer Museum and Hyesook Park (Shatto Gallery)

Sunday, April 28, 2024
“FORM AND FORMLESS” at the Shatto Gallery (April 20 – May 18, 2024)

“You and Me” (2023)

The Hammer Museum currently has an exhibition featuring the work of Korean artists who contributed to the Conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Only two of the contributing artists to the Hammer’s retrospective are women, and while this gender disparity probably reflects the actual social and artistic hierarchy of that period and movement in South Korea, it nevertheless leaves one wishing that the counterbalance had more public visibility. Perhaps, though, comprehensiveness is simply an unstable paradox, and any attempt to provide retrospective knowledge about overlooked scenes in postmodern art ends up obscuring those who unrelentingly pursue extensions of a traditional practice. Along with the current show at the Torrance Art Museum, “Risky Business,” Hyesook Park’s show at the Shatto Gallery in Koreatown in Los Angeles, “Form and Formless,” affirms the persistent viability of painting as the ever-renewing core of visual art. If Park has committed herself to painting for over 45 years, her durability derives from a meditative vision which, above all else, involves the restoration of trust as the essential ingredient of the social imagination. As one views and absorbs an artist’s paintings, the physical object of the painting itself replenishes the pleasures of human curiosity about another’s inner, intimate life, no matter how austere or agitated. Yet another bond coheres, however, in that process of giving one’s attention to a painting. Describing that bond is almost impossible: a phrase such as liminal reciprocity hardly suffices. All I know is that it involves vulnerability, which leads us back to trust. Only with that mutual commitment can the forms of color in a painting enable us to recalibrate our daily lives. This exhibition earns one’s trust by the ease of how the conversation between the painting and the viewer can get more complicated than anticipated.

Most of Park’s paintings at the Shatto Gallery are from the past half-dozen years. Fortunately, the layout of the show takes care not to impose too easy a chronological connection between each of the paintings, even if a pair of my favorite ones share the same title. The first painting entitled “You and Me” (30″ x 36″, 2023), on the back wall of the front desk, is emblematic of the jouissance that permeates the ecstatic union depicted in the larger, older version of 2018, in an adjacent room. One is grateful to have them separated, however, because it allows other paintings to provide the context for the reconciling fusion of two people. “Landing” (2024), for instance, depicts an equine eruption with a pure frontal force. Rarely has “death-in-life” been caught with such a ravishing buffer: surely the frothy cream of violet tinging the rims of the entrance/exit of bestial sentience can have no other purpose than to be a benign restoration. In that mode, a nearby work, “Ladies in Light” (2024″), reminds me of the empowering radiance in the late Lee Mullican’s work.

“Ladies in Light”

Of the paintings that one returns to after a first walk around, however, the most captivating is “Dear Father III” (2020), in which the unsaddled rear of a black horse, in profile, with a single leg demarcating a vertical horizon line, glows with an equipoise of the unseen vistas once inhabited by the creature’s vigor. The descent toward the hoof has both the unrelenting solidity that emanates from animal flesh and the mythic power that extrudes into the paradigmatic binary of the centaur. If the horse’s rear is unsaddled, it is because the unseen fromt of the horse is the rider as the insurgent, sentient beast, the patriarch as the always imagined, yet ultimately elusive progenitor. Nearby that painting is another of the exhibition’s largest embodiments of symbolic congruity between humans and other animals. “An Odd Melancholy of Being Alive,” depicts a bird gazing across a vast field of migration to the cone-shaped nest of its destiny, in which a white oval in the diagonal corner waits for a black lever to fling its futurity into the bittersweetness of an individual journey.

“Dear Father III”

“Santa Monica” exudes a sensorium akin to a jubilant, fully-embodied watercolor: the sun on the horizon is not the piercing “yellow” one might associate its usual decision with, but the intense red of the utterly molten fusion that is closer to its “true” color, if one were to record an image of the sun’s vitality as registered during the recent eclipse at earth Instead, it is the palm tree and its frond that radiate the intensity described by Wallace Stevens in “The Palm at the End of the Mind.” Several paintings are aligned with “Santa Monica,” including “Windy Day” and “Watermelon,” which palpitate with the joy of being alive, as opposed to its “odd melancholy.”

“An Odd Melancholy of Being Alive”

Finally, one would be to remiss to visit this exhibition and not set aside enough time to find one’s inner point of equilibrium as one gazes at “Unknown Destiny.” This painting reminds me of a poem I wrote several years ago called “The Headwaters of Nirvana,” for it conjures up a hard-won levitation, as if the fecund gorgeousness of sensual perception could encompass the entire, constant redoubling of a journey along the lines of Matsuo Basho’s “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” Given that Park paints at the studio that is in the dry, barren foothills east of San Bernardino, one learns from this painting how one can draw upon memories of a pilgrimage to reinforce the resolve of the present moment and remain centered in one’s florescence.

(“Unknown Destiny”


Marjorie Perloff (1931-2024) and Helen Vender (1933-2024)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

An Extended Moment of Silence, Please, in Honor of a Great Poetry Critic:
Marjorie Perloff — The Intellectual Choreographer of Contemporary Innovative Poetry

This past Wednesday night I was checking the list of panels that are being formed for the PAMLA conference, in Palm Springs, in November, 2024, and finding the usual areas of poetry and poetics trotting out their CFPs. (For those outside of academia, PAMLA stands for Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association; and CFP designates Call for Papers.) I felt, once again, as I read the panel abstracts, that I was at home, in a way that I no longer feel when I am at a place such as Beyond Baroque, which for me recedes ever further into the realm of the proleptic. While I still write poems, the place that I feel most welcome is at an academic conference. Of course, given that academic work is how I have managed to emerge from penury, it’s not surprising that I might feel this way. I still believe that W.C. Williams was spot on when he said, “Only the imagination is real,” but it is also the case that only intellectual curiosity can critique that imagination; I’m afraid that too few poets these days are eager to become a dance partner in the “dance of the intellect.”

This year’s theme for the PAMLA conference, which is being organized by Dr. Craig Svonkin, is “Translation in Action.” Suddenly, though, I stopped my search as I noticed a special session in honor of Marjorie Perkoff, which turned out to be the way that I learned that she died recently. I suppose I shouldn’t be completely shocked at her passing; she was much older than I am, but she still brought such an enthusiastic embrace of the ever-renewed investigation of both the defamiliarized and the only very recently familiarized that it is hard for me to accept that I will never again hear her voice trill with exasperated disdain for the conventional or twirl in the spontaneity of definitive cohesion.

Marjorie Perloff was the critic I most admired, even when I disagreed with her. For a very long time, well before I started graduate school 25 years ago, I knew that there were two camps in American poetry criticism. Helen Vendler (1933-2024) was on the East Coast, and she oozed a submissiveness to whatever aspect of the traditional canon might bolster her stature. Marjorie Perloff, on the West Coast, radiated a desire for her readers to share in the eager enticements of contemporary poems that had yet to be taken as seriously as they merited. It was Marjorie Perloff, along with Michael Davidson, who first alerted me to the value of criticism that encompasses the playfully erratic, the methodically marginal, and even writing that remains a tantalizing puzzle. If the still-to-be-excavated abundance of West Coast poetry was ever to find a critical refuge, it would be among those who felt at ease in their affiliation with the critical poetics of Marjorie Perloff.

My personal encounters with her were always brief, for we moved in different social circles, but each one was a memorable increment that in retrospect interweaves itself into the choreography of her critical commentary. Rarely have I felt the counterbalance of a writer’s books being the gift that will ameliorate their personal absence in my intellectual life. I look forward to the panel that Dr. Susan McCabe is organizing for the PAMLA conference as an occasion when all of us present can express our immense gratitude for her accomplishments on behalf of poetry and literature.

(Updated on Sunday, April 28, 2024, to include my learning of Helen Vendler’s passing, which occurred two days after I posted this entry in my blog.)



The 2024 L.A. Times (Poetry) Book Festival

Friday, April 19th, 2024

The report on the ongoing closure of Topanga Canyon Boulevard just came in, and the news is not good: this primary thoroughfare between the coast and the San Fernando Valley will remain shut down until the fall, and it is of course possible that it won’t be long after it opens again that another rainy season will undermine the road, and yet another landslide will require a major repair. I mention this sequestering of a famous area in Los Angeles County because I am certain that there are a handful of people who live in Topanga who would love to attend the L.A. Times Book Festival to hear some of the featured poets this weekend, but whose itinerary will involve a daunting, circuitous loop.

For those not confined by the aftermath of all the rain this winter, however, this weekend offers a chance to enjoy a festival within a festival. The Poetry Stage at the L.A. Times Book Festival (on the University of Southern California campus) will feature over a score of well-known poets, along with an almost equal number of those who are still building their reputations. I don’t expect to be able to attend, due to several factors over which I have little control, but any young poet who would casually find an excuse not to attend would be demonstrating a lack of commitment to the nurturing of her or his imagination. Here is a convocation of voices and poetics that deserves to be overheard, even if you think most of the poets are not representative of the direction you believe your poetry is heading in.

Here is a link to the complete schedule of events:

Schedule » Festival of Books 2024 » L.A. Times

Here are some of the featured poets whose presentations you might especially savor. I hope the list entices you to attend.

Lynne Thompson – “Fretwork” and “Blue on a Blue Palette”
Sarah Maclay (“Nightfall Marginalia”)
Jack Grapes – “The Naked Eye”
Jenny Molberg – The Court of No Record
Maggie Millner – “Couplets: A Love Story”
Airea D. Matthews – “Bread and Circus”
Derrick Brown – “Love Ends in a Tandem Kayak”
Simon Shieh – “Master:Poems”
Dean Radar – “Before the Borderless: Dialogues with the Art of Cy Twonbly”
A, Van Jordan – “When I Waked, I Cried to Dream Again”
Marsha de la O – “Creature”

Nor should you miss the following:
Timothy Donnelly
Elena Secota
Kaveh Akbar
Cyrus Cassells
K. Iver
Lynn Emmanuel
Paisley Rekdal
Kazim Ali
Katherine Coles
Helene Cardona
Kristina Marie Darling

I confess that I’ve never heard of the following poets, but that doesn’t men they aren’t worth listening to. After all, there are about forty to fifty thousand people writing and publishing poetry in this country right now. One could be familiar with the work of two thousand poets, and still only know five percent of what is happening in the country. Let us celebrate — no, let us exult in! — the vast anonymity of American poets.

Elizabeth Metzger
Oliver de la Paz
Saretta Morgan
Shelley Wong
Mag Gabbert
Sam Sax
Angela Aguirre
Mandy Kahn
Tess Taylor
Jacqui Germain
Jubi Arriola-Headley
Tennison S. Black
Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)
Diego Baez
Sofia Aguilar


“Risky Business: A Painter’s Forum” at the Torrance Art Museum; Kenneth Salter’s Neo-Psychedelic Mandalas

(Updated, Wednesday, April 10th, 2024, 9:00 a.m.)

“Risky Business: A Painter’s Forum” curated by Marie Thibeault and Max Presneill
March 30 – May 4th, 2024

Torrance Art Museum (TAM), 3320 Civic Center Drive, Torrance, CA 90503; 310-618-6388
Tuesday — Saturday; 11am — 5pm; Admission is FREE

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Nick Aguayo, Sharon Barnes, Michael Bauer, Fatemeh Burnes, Galen Cheney, Mark Dutcher, Barbara Friedman, John Goetz, Zachary Keeting, Robert Kingston, Christopher Kuhn, Annie Lapin, Michael Mancari, Ali Smith, Vian Sora, Marie Thibeault, Liliane Tomasko, Chris Trueman, Suzanne Unrein, Audrey Tulmiero Welch.

Thirty years ago, when I was still making my living as a typesetter at weekly newspapers, I was asked by the painter Audri Phillips to be part of an artist’s critique group in which every other week we would meet at an artist’s studio and give the entire group’s attention to a discussion of their work. I remember that Rich Bruland was one of the other artists. My longstanding practice as a poet seemed to be the attraction for asking me to join their ensemble. There was a quiet understanding that I would provide the perspective of someone who was not formally trained as a visual artist but who enjoyed it enough to pay close attention to individual pieces, even if on first glance they might not forthcoming about their gestural intentions. Such is the case with my reaction to “Risky Business: A Painter’s Forum,” a show currently up at the Torrance Art Museum. If I remember correctly, the work of each painter in Audri’s ensemble distinguished itself from everyone else’s in some manner regarding materials, composition, or chain of influence. The variety in this exhibition is equally exuberant as that late-century critique group’s commitment to individual inquiry, and the work at TAM has continued to shimmer in my mind’s eye as I ask myself, “Why exactly is being risked?” One obvious answer is that almost any artist would hate to be judged simply on the basis of one painting, and so the willingness to limit oneself to a single piece in this show indeed feels tremulously daring.

Perhaps that singular limit is compensated for by another fact: these canvases are for the most part much larger than average. This is not a show for the reticent or self-confined temperament. Those who make the drive to Torrance will be rewarded at the very least by having to spend a fair amount of time absorbing the consistently impressive size of the canvases on which the artists staked their fortunes. This is not a show one can walk through in less than an hour and do the work justice. In particular, there are four or five paintings one will definitely want to linger in front of:

Michael Bauer’s “Land of Tiny Hands (Return to Ether Shelter”)
Not many painting can provide the sensation of planet-scale energy being devoured and reclaimed simultaneously. This one’s inhabitable zones provide a compass needle to its inner wheel of mutability and realign any personal tendency of a viewer to feel dispossessed.

Liliane Tomaska’s “Portrait the Self (stormy yet optimistic)
This piece begged for its companion piece to be included. I don’t know what that companion piece looks like, but this one had just the right amount of feeling unfinished to suggest that its urgent fulfillment awaited in a sequence yet to be completely choreographed.As with many other pieces in the show, the risk involved the act of reclamation. Mind you, I don’t mean some kind of redemptive configuration. Rather, the painter is determined to extract that segment of a “lost” world that enables one to confront the necessary fictions of the subjunctive mood.

As I type up my notes, I am beginning to realize how uncertain I am about which paintings belong to which artist. I am fairly sure that one of my favorite paintings in the back room was by Annie Lapin. How rare it is that a painting has such a tender omphalos, especially on such a large scale. Just as an example of the average endeavor of the artists in this show, Lapin’s “Cantos Emergent (heap 7)” is six feet by 8 feet, and in that arena Lapin has coaxed the smudged transitions of momentary perception into the reassuring grasp of an assiduously dismounting equilibrium. Her entire canvas coils and recoils with a clarifying calmness. This painting is almost in and of itself worth the trip to Torrance.

Returning to the front room after gazing at Lapin’s work, the enormous piece by Suzanne Unrein (“The Rush, The Trash and the Flesh”) seems even more frisky in the turmoil of its carnal impetuosity. Alighting in a corner of the front room is also a very recent piece by Marie Thibeault who is steadily establishing herself as an indispensable part of the story of painting on the West Coast since World War II. Thibeault’s “Wild Gravity” is one of the few paintings I have ever seen that has the “unheard music” of a soundtrack playing in the background. One can hardly believe one’s ears as one looks at this painting. Is it possible for a triumphant insurrection against the debris-strewn forces of artificial intelligence to actually take place? Thibeault’s painting urges us not to give up. Finally, I want to mention that I recollect seeing Mark Dutcher’s work at a show at TAM ten or so years ago called “Sincerely Yours.” What a privilege it was to see that he is still working so well!

Let not the absence of commentary be regarded as sizing up work not mentioned as secondary. I could easily imagine follow-up shows at TAM in which four painters have four paintings each: “QUARTETS.” Christopher Kuhn, Ali Smith, Fatemeh Burnes, and Vian Sora would make an intriguing quartet to initiate this mush needed championing of abstract work. Indeed, each piece in this show makes one want to check one’s mailbox every day in the hope of finding a handwritten invitation to drop by for a studio visit. This exhibition demonstrates once again how disproportionately painters persist at a time when studio space at an affordable price is almost impossible to find in Southern California. Any painter who is feeling somewhat stymied in the aftermath of the pandemic should in particular catch this show and then get right back to work, even if it can’t be at the scale of “Risky Business.” Those who crave a chance to be revitalized in their now private undertakings should not delay in getting to Torrance either. This show closes all too soon.

Not to be overlooked, by the way, is the exquisitely exhilarating pleasure that TAM extends its visitors through the post-psychedelic, recalibrating mandalas of Kenneth Salter. I could have spent two hours just in front of them and still not been sated.

Torrance Art Museum (TAM)
3320 Civic Center Drive
Torrance, CA 90503

Tuesday — Saturday
11am — 5pm
Admission is FREE.






SPD: How long will accountability be forestalled?

Thursday, April 4, 2024

One week ago, Small Press Distribution (SPD) shut down all of its operations without any warning whatsoever. While SPD and the presses it distributed are an infinitely minuscule percentage of this nation’s GNP, in the Republic of Literature’s ecology this organization’s collapse is a devastating event, and not just simply because several small presses find themselves being owed a substantial amount without any way of finding out what the balance sheets at SPD looked like in the months leading up to last week’s announcement.The Washington Post has just published an article on this debacle and no one associated with SPD was apparently willing to be interviewee. Maybe, from the point of view of Kent Watson, this refusal to be up front about how much SPD has in its bank accounts is just a decision made on the advice of the lawyer who is handling SPD’s bankruptcy case. For a press such as Rose Metal (whose books I have long admired), and which estimates that SPD owes it $40,000, this refusal to answer any questions must amount to a case of adding insult to injury. It may be legally permissible to refuse to answer questions, but it would be hard to resist calling it anything other than self-serving stonewalling. I simply find it mind-boggling that SPD’s management refuses to provide even a hint of the actual financial condition of the organization during the final six months of operation and how things stood on March 27, 2024.

Rose Metal is not the only press that is owed a substantial sum of momey or finds itself hard pressed to find the resources to get its books back. Black Lawrence Press, according to Diane Goettel, had a large portion of the stock of its backlist and current releases in the warehouse that SPD emptied and shipped to a storage facility in the Midwest just prior to closing its doors. How many copies of books, you ask? 18,000. Yes, Eighteen thousand copies of books.The situation that SPD has placed Black Lawrence Press in is absolutely incomprehensible. Why would the management of SPD ever believe that what they were doing was in the best interest of Black Lawrence Press????

How does all of this affect me personally? Let’s take a quick look.

The late Neeli Cherkovski just now had a major collection of his poems published by Lithic Press, which was distributed by SPD. How will Neeli’s book find its way into libraries, let alone the bookshelves of his many admirers? In addition, Neeli and I coedited an anthology which was still being distributed by SPD the last time I checked. How will CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco (which was published by Otis Books/Seismicity Editions) now be easily available to readers?

NYQ (New York Quarterly) Books is one of the most supportive small presses for several Los Angeles based poets. NYQ has published books by Alexis Rhone Fancher and Clint Margrave, for instance. As is the case with the ill-fated timing of Neeli’s book with the SPD collapse, NYQ has just now begun the roll-out process for the late Gerry Locklin’s SELECTED POEMS, edited by Clint Margrave. A reading on May 4th at Gatsby Books in Long Beach is scheduled as the kick-off publication event.

Brooks Roddan’s IF/SF Publications has many titles that were carried by SPD. IF/SF recently published the first American edition of Mike Mollett’s PINBALL WIZARD, a book that I reviewed in this blog and which is quoted from on the back cover. PINBALL WIZARD is one of my favorite books to have been published in the past ten years, and Brooks Roddan has told me that the books was actually getting some traction in the marketplace, even though SPD was having trouble getting the title out to stores.

Beyond Baroque Books was also distributed by SPD. How will Carol Ellis’s prize-winning book, for which I wrote a blurb, now be able to find the audience it deserves?

And what about Cahuenga Press, which the late Holly Prado, along with her poet-actor spouse Harry E. Northup, and Phoebe MacAdams, Jim Cushing, Cecilia Woloch, and I founded 30 odd years ago? I left Cahuenga Press after the second book was published, but I have always cared about that project, no matter what else might have happened in the meantime.

This is just a portion of the ways that SPD’s collapse is affecting my life and the lives of those I admire.

There are of course other questions that need to be answered by Kent Watson in a public forum. You were hired in June, 2022 to be in charge of SPD. You had worked for PubWest for well over a dozen years, so you were hardly someone who could say that you were unfamiliar with the world of non-corporate publishing. Surely you had a sense of SPD’s condition when you took over. Why would anyone take on a job without knowing the fundamentals of an organization’s likelihood to maintain viability? So what exactly happened in the past 22 months? What did you know and when did you know it?

I repeat: What did you know and when did you know it?

Perhaps the demise of SPD was inevitable, given the cultural shifts of the past half-century. For the record, though, so that literary historians can write a full account of this period, Kent Watson owes us nothing less than detailed answers.

Here is the link to the Washington Post article, which you can cut and paste into your browser.

And here is a partial list of some of the prominent small press publishers who were carried by SPD:
Ahsahta Press
Anvil Press
Aunt Lute Books
Aztlan Libre Press
Bamboo Ridge Press
Barrow Street Press
Beyond Baroque Books
Black Lawrence Press
BlazeVOX (books)
Burning Deck
Cahuenga Press
Calamus Books
Chax Press
Counterpath Press
Dos Gatos Press
Drunken Boat Media/Ethos Books
Durga Press
Edge Books
Fence Books
Fourteen Hills Press
Futurepoem Books
Green Lantern Press
Hambone Publishing
Hanging Loose Press
IF/SF Publishing
Insert Press
Junction Press
Kelsey Street Press
Kore Press
Les Figues Press
Lithic Press
Litmus Press
Lost Roads Publishers
Many Mountain Moving Press
Marsh Hawk Press
Mayapple Press
Noemi Press
NYQ Boox
Otis Books / Seismicity Editions
PANK Books
Pleiades Press
Ricochet Editions
Seaweed Salad Editions
Shearsman Books
Singing Horse Press
Sinister Wisdom
Station Hill Press
Swan Scythe Press
Talisman House
Tarpaulin Sky Press
Taurean Horn Press
Tebot Bach
Tender Buttons Press
The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective
The Bitter Oleander Press
The Figures
The Post-Apolo Press
This Press
Tinfish Press
Tres Chicas Books
Tupelo Press
Tuumba Press
Unicorn Press
White Goat Press/Yiddish Book Center
WriteGirl Publications
Zone 3 Press


Finally, it should be noted that the Community of Literary Magazines and Publishers stands in contrast with SPD’s former management team. CLMP facilitated an on-line Zoom meeting that representatives of several of the above presses attended. I myself was able to log on for the last half of the meeting as it was taking place and I do want to thank CLMP for making this effort.


Suzanne Lummis; Green Day, and What Do Experts Know: Trump Is Dead Last.

The playwright Peter Weiss is best known for “Marat/Sade,” and yet it is his play “The Investigation” that equally deserves to be staged again and again. Weiss makes use of trial transcripts of Nazi war criminals for his script, and documentary theater often proves far more compelling as drama than one might expect (cf: “The Chicago Conspiracy Trial”).

Suzanne Lummis and Jim Natal understand how a recitation of an indictment is in and of itself a moment of undeniable deduction. What happened on January 6, 2021, must remain a prominent part of this nation’s meta narrative. If possible, I urge you to attend and ratify the indictment’s relevance to how we will cast our vote in a little over seven months.

As for how the two major candidates for President rank in terms of their performance in office, here are the results of a poll that included both Republican and Democratic-leaning historians:

On a scale of zero to one hundred, DJT barely broke double digits.

Does D.T. have any idea of how bad a score this is?

It’s one thing to score a 10 in ice skating or gymnastics; it’s quite another to take a test and only get one out of ten questions correct.

It seems unfathomable that the worst ever president in the United States (currently facing a plethora of criminal indictments) should have a chance of being reelected to another term in office. And yet…..

And yet let us review the results of all the presidential elections since I was eligible to vote in 1968, the year I turned 21.
1968: Nixon was elected.
1972: Nixon was re-elected in a landslide; then resigns in disgrace two years later.
1976: Jimmy Carter was elected (and then deposed by a deliberately manufactured surge of INFLATION
1980: Ronald Reagan elected. “Are you better off than four years ago?”
1984: Ronald Reagan selected in a massive landslide.
1988: George Herbert Walker Bush elected.
(Note that at this point five of six national elections have resulted in a set of presidents in which a professional war criminal such as Henry Kissinger can thrive.
1992: Bill Clinton is elected. He proves to be the most competent Republican president of the 20th century, a “bait and switch” expert who is unrivaled by any politician of his era.
1996: Bill Clinton is reelected.
2000: George W. Bush is elected.
2004: GWB is re-elected.
2008: The economy collapses. Barack Obama proves to be even more nimble than Clinton in selling out the working class. The failure to create a national jobs program in the spring of 2009 leaves hundreds of thousands of American simmering in economic misery. Where is the change they were promised?
2012: Obama is reelected, and the banks recover their pre-collapse prosperity. Aging workers discarded by the system between 2008 and 2012 struggle to make ends end.
2016: Stephano J. Trinculo, a notorious blowhard, and the supreme incarnation of all the fascist policies of previous GOP presidents, is elected. by the Electoral College, even though he loses the popular vote by several million.
2020: Joseph Biden is elected, winning the popular vote by several million as well as the Electoral College. His mediocrity is exemplified with his choice of a vice-president. Trump was still popular, but his non-stop excessive claims about his self-importance finally wear thin with the majority of voters, and over 75,000,000 people vote for a candidate who is not much better than saying “None of the Above.”
2024: Trump re-elected, even though he loses the popular vote for the third time in a row. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Eight presidential elections from 1968 to 2020 were won by very conservative, racist warmongers. Only five were won by so-called liberals, such as Carter, who signed off on giving weapons to a country that engaged in a mass slaughter.

With that pattern, 8 for one side, and five on the other, why would you expect any other outcome?

The most important thing to note is the playbook of the very wealthy and even more conservative factions of those who understand how to destabilize any movement toward government accountability. The plan that has successfully eroded support for Joseph Biden is not a new one. When Jimmy Carter’s administration seemed too “liberal” for the tastes of the ruling class in the United States, the way that his reelection chances were undermined is through the instigation of rampant inflation.

Finally, it’s not as though those of us who are appalled by Trump and his neo-authoritarian goon squad don’t have those who speak up. The part that personally chagrins me is how wrong I was back in 1995 about the youngest of Trump’s future critics. I remember teaching at an elementary school in the San Fernando Valley back then and hearing a fifth grader say that his favorite band was Green Day. “Sure,” I thought, “and how many people ten or twenty years from now will ever remember anything this band does?” Just as I was right about the Beatles and the Stones when I was young (though not quite that young!), so too was that young man. By coincidence, I recently went into Fingerprints, a used record store in Long Beach, and met a clerk who was in the fifth grade the same year I met that very young fan of Green Day. The store had recently had an event honoring Green Day, and I told the clerk about my experience with that fifth grader. It turned out that he, too, was in the fifth grade that year, and he, too, had been an early fan of Green Day. There was a generational shift going on in 1995, right in front of my eyes, and as is too often the case, the old guy (nearing 50 years of age) didn’t have a clue.


“Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers? Why do otherwise proud and self-respecting people submit to the sheer effrontery of the tyrant, his sense that he can get away with saying and doing anything he likes, his spectacular indecency?”
“Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics” — Stephen Greenblatt


SPD: What the hell is going on? — Confrontations on Zoom now!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

I’ve written and talked to a couple of people who have books that were shipped to a warehouse recently far away from where the majority of the presses that were serviced by SPD (Small Press Distribution) have their editorial offices. As recently as the end of February, these publishers were informed by an announcement in Publishers Weekly that all was going to plan.

SPD to Roll Out New Services with Warehouse Transfer Completed
By Jim Milliot |
Feb 26, 2024

Furthermore, these publishers also received a letter dated March 4th that gave them assurances that all was well. Just a few days ago,, however, these publishers were informed that SPD was closing its doors and that no one should bother to contact the few employees who are still working there.

This is a crisis for those involved with small press publishing that is on a very, very, very minuscule level as devastating to this domain as the Savings and Loan debacle of 1987 was to the banking system. It’s not just a matter of money; it’s a gut-punch to one’s idealism by the very people who would claim to be its most fervent advocates. What I do not understand and what I find completely unacceptable is the refusal of those in charge of SPD to hold any public meetings at which they can be held accountable for the decision they unilaterally made. What is Zoom for if not to serve as a place where a flow-chart of decisions and screenshot documentation can be posted?

And where is the National Endowment for the Arts in all this? The NEA was to SPD what the Federal Reserve is to Wall Street. The centrality of the NEA was pointed out by the poet, Brent Cunningham, who was the Operations Manager of SPD for over 15 years, until a disgruntled faction managed to get him outsted. I would hazard to guess that one could probably trace the downhill slide of SPD to his termination, and whoever was involved with that change at SPD now needs to come forth and give a detailed accounting to all of us who stakeholders in the legacy of SPD.

You can find Brent Cunningham’s statesment here, from 2017, here:
What’s at Stake: The NEA and the Literary Ecosystem