Frank T. Rios — Venice West Poet (March 22, 1936 – August 20, 2018)

Frank T. Rios, a poet who joined the Venice West poetry scene in the late 1950s and remained one of its most loyal advocates, died early this morning, at age 82, according to his friend, the poet S.A. Griffin. Rios was born in New York and grew up there; he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, where he found kindred spirits, such as Stuart Z. Perkoff and Tony Scibella, who guided his unflinching imagination towards lyrical epiphanies that eventually appeared in collections of poems such as Memoirs of a Street Poet. By turns, the Venice West scene was both contumaciously avant-garde and nostalgically archaic. In the latter manner, their brotherhood of effusive devotion to the Lady, the muse from whom they fervently believed that all of their work flowed, evoked a kind of romantic poetics that one would hardly expect of young poets whose ideological proclivities were more influenced by the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s than the Beat poetics of Kerouac and company.

Perkoff (1930-1974) celebrated their comic confrontation with the straight world in a long poem shortly after Rios and Scibella teamed up with him to rule the Venice Boardwalk.

almost every day frankie & tony & i
three stooge it down the beach into the world
on the sharp lookout for
poems & dope & love &
colors reflecting off the laughter

.. . . .

We’ll water pistol ‘em
We’ll seltzer bottle ‘em

The Venice West scene became well enough known by the late 1950s that Donald Allen, the editor of this past century’s most influential anthology, The New American Poetry, referred to it without feeling any need to demarcate its location. It was, in point of fact, a nationally known Beat scene, largely because Lawrence Lipton had devoted himself to publicizing all of its most transgressive aspects in a book entitled The Holy Barbarians (1959). The scene’s origins never quite recovered, even though other poets showed up to bolster the ranks of those devoted to remaining outside the clutches of outsider success. It must be said that these poets of Venice West never relented; Rios, for instance, was one of the major forces behind Black Ace books, which produced several issues of a magazine that brought younger poets into their provocative utopia.

There are very few people from that scene who still remember Frank T. Rios, but a whole new generation of readers was introduced to him a few years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Rios gave a very fine reading of his poems. He announced that his usual ritual of burning a poem before beginning a reading almost caused him to decline the museum’s invitation to read his poems underneath the classic mural from the old Venice Post Office. At the last minute, he said, the Muse instructed him that he would be exempt this one time, and be allowed to tear up a poem and scatter the pieces wherever they may flutter. He did so, and then read with as solid an intonation of heart-beleaguered vision as I have ever been fortunate to overhear. As Rios intoned his poems, they were already on their way elsewhere: a double journey of time and eternity that only those blessed by the Muse are permitted to record.

Farewell, Tony. Your poems remain mid-flight.

Part Two

For the record, some of the other poets of the Venice West scene were Bruce Boyd, whose poems appeared in Allen’s anthology along with Stuart Z. Perkoff’s; Charley Newman; Saul White; John Thomas; Maurice Lacy; Bob Alexander (the founder of the Temple of Man); Eileen Aronson Ireland; Bill Margolis; Jimmy Ryan Morris; and Barbara Bratton. As significant as this scene was, it probably constituted less than twenty percent of the total activity focused on poetry in that decade in Los Angeles.

For the record: Tony Rios is survived by his widow, as well as his first wife, Carolyn, who taught at Venice Continuation High School for many years.

From the Greatest Generation to the Search Engine Generation: A Field Report

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It’s been almost a month since my last post. My mother seems to have settled in at the skilled nursing facility she moved into a month ago. I visited her this afternoon, after attending a meeting to welcome the new contingent of M.F.A. students in creative writing at CSULB. My mother’s face lit up when she saw me. Even though I have very few happy memories of my childhood, other than having enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep (no small things!), it’s hard to resist the appeal of a very elderly face realizing that the outside world has not completely forgotten her. She will be 97 years old in December, and she only dimly understands what I do from day to day as a teacher. If I were to have told her this afternoon that I was interviewed this past Tuesday by KCET for a television program on Venice West that will be broadcast in two or three months, it would mean no more than an announcement that I have had my 20 year old car painted by a local auto body shop, owned by a man whose son is studying marine biology at CSULB. There is no longer an hierarchy of significance to retain as a plumb line for social value and accomplishment. The impingements of frailty have left her unable to remember even how old she is, or how that span of endurance might even give her oldest son a reason in its comparative meditation to gaze beyond his own youthful privation. The stubbornness in my mother’s eyes has begun to yield to an acceptance that is less judgmental of her fate and misfortunes. Until recently, that stubbornness was the provisional aspect of her resilient willpower as a resource bestowed upon her in compensation for the penury of my father’s 20 year career in the U.S. Navy. Now she has let the grip of that lifetime of economic restrictions be someone else’w concern. I let her nibble at a very ripe banana. She savors it, not as if for the first time, or the last, but with a gratitude that it exists at all.

I will be on sabbatical this semester, so I could have excused myself from being at today’s MFA meeting, but I wanted to meet some of the students whose application I read in the spring semester. They seem eager to get to work, and I believe they will be pleased to have chosen CSULB to get their “union card” of a degree. We have an exceptional faculty: Stephen Cooper, Lisa Glatt, Suzanne Greenberg, and Ray Zepeda teach fiction; Patty Seyburn, David Hernandez, Charles Harper Webb, and I teach poetry. In the middle of the last decade, only half of the current faculty were on the roster of the Department of English, so it’s a program that has grown despite few chances for the students to work as teaching assistants. On the whole, it’s a veteran faculty, with over 200 years of combined teaching experience and publication in several hundred literary magazines. Not everyone necessarily benefits from academic training in creative writing, but if one is going to choose this path, then you can hardly do better than to study at CSULB.

I suppose one piece of encouraging news on the domestic side of things is that Linda has found some studio space in San Pedro. It’s a bit of a drive from our residence in Long Beach, but more than worth it to have space where we don’t have to worry about having a palette of oil paint traipsed though by a resident feline and then tracked across the floor. Linda will move in on September 1st, and we are looking forward to a chance to work on some big canvases, which is hard to do in one’s daily dwelling place.

Finally, it is hard not to comment on the political contretemps of current American life. The ghastliness of Trump’s administration is on a scale beyond the normal limits of human comprehension, if only because I fear so many worse developments are yet in the making. In gauging his expectations that we should trust him, I am hardly the only one who has noted that President Trump has no capacity for appreciating anything but adulation. Far worse, however, is his pathological self-absorption, in which anything that can be ascertained as positive is supposed to be credited to his acumen. The current economy, for instance, is not thriving because of Trump, although it’s not thriving because of Obama, either. Rather, I believe that the prosperity bubble is largely due to the “work” being done by computers. The efficiency of computers has generated a considerable amount of wealth in terms of job productivity, and it is this factor that buoys things up for the time being. Unfortunately, very few companies, let alone politicians, have any idea of how to make best use of the this temporary benefit.

A couple of years ago, in this biog, I discussed how the current generation of youth should be called “the search engine generation.” It is a generation that was humiliated by the economic collapse of 2007-2008. The revival of the economy in the past four years does not erase the harrowing penalties of that debacle and its impact on youth people as well as the baby boom generation. That Trump has made no effort to compensate either generation for what they endured is just one of the things that causes me to despise him more than ever. If Trump is to be disposed of, it will involve the commitment of the “search engine generation” to a campaign focused on making his mendacity a matter of complete public knowledge. Given that he is no doubt tracking negative commentary with fanatical diligence, the willingness to speak up and risk being categorized as an “enemy of the people” requires more courage on the part of “the search engine generation” because they are the ones whose careers can be most decimated by Trump and his allies. Nevertheless, the rest of the electorate is truly depending on them to lead the way. Onward!

A new review of HOLDOUTS (University of Iowa Press, 2011)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Beyond Baroque is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there will be a gala fundraising event in early November to help it sustain its programming during the coming decade. As part of this year’s presentations, Quentin Ring asked me several months ago to help him organize a weekly seminar on Los Angeles poetry that would be led by a different poet each week. I led the first gathering on May 8th, and was followed by Will Alexander, Laurel Ann Bogen, Steve Reigns, Lynne Thompson, Amy Uyematsu, David St. John, and Patty Seyburn. One of the poets who attended this seminar, Tom Laichas, just sent me a link to his blog, which features an extended and very thoughtful review of my book on Los Angeles poetry that came out seven years ago. His blog, in general, is well worth a sustained perusal. In particular, there is a photograph of a suitcase in a Kansas field, with a two-story brick schoolhouse in the background, that is as evocative as any Proustian metaphor.

Reading Bill Mohr, <em>Hold Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948-1992</em>

Blue Collar Review – Vol. 21, Issue 3 — Gil Fagiani (in memoriam)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I first heard of Blue Collar Review when I was living in Lynbrook, New York, between 2004 and 2006, and using a combination of car, train, and bus to get to teaching jobs in Garden City (Nassau Community College), Queens (St. John’s University), and New Jersey (Rutgers). It was an exhausting two years of apprenticeship as a college teacher, and I had little time to write my own poetry or to keep up with literary magazines that had emerged in the previous decade. One of the few magazines that caught my attention then for its forthright political advocacy was Blue Collar Review, a self-described “Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature.” Al Markowitz and Mary Franke are the primary editors, and they can be reached at Partisan Press, P.O. Box 11417, Norfolk, VA 23517.

The latest issue (Spring, 2018; Vol. 21, Issue 3) arrived in the mail the other day. I don’t always have a chance to read every poem in every issue, but I do try to make time for the editorial essay that opens every issue. Al Markowitz and Mary Franke address the reader in a manner that is far more radical than the analysis proposed by Bernie Sanders, but they do so without being strident. Indeed, while BLUE COLLAR REVIEW has an unabashedly polemical poetics, the poems often surpass the kind of caricatures of workers and bosses that tend to dominate political poetry. In this issue, I particularly appreciated “Ten Dollars and Forty-two Cents” By Matthew J. Spireng; German Piedranhita’s “Haiku” and “Choice?”; John MacLean’s “Gypsum Mill”; “I Want to the People’s Pharmacy” by Mark Franke; “The Great American Novel” By E.P. Fisher; J.C. Alfier’s “Tishomingo Landscape”; Ben Prostine’s “All the Food on the Table”; and “Baling Hay” by John Robinson. I am grateful to the editors for accepting one of my poems, “Life’s Study,” to accompany these poems to their readers.

If you know that any task — paid or unpaid — is not without a political context, subscribe: $20.00 for four issues a year. It’s more than worth it to hear the meaning of labor tested out in the actual practice of the work of words.

Two-thirds of the way through the issue, a small “In Memoriam” box notes the death of Gil Fagiani, “Worker-Poet * Comrade.” I attach the following links for those who might be curious about his life and poetry. In particular, I would recommend Lynn McGee’s very fine review, in Big City Lit, of Fagiani’s Serfs of Psychiatry.

Goodbye to Poet Gil Fagiani

Gil Fagiani

My Nominations for the Next California Poet Laureate

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A couple weeks ago, Gerard Sarnat sent me a notice from the California Arts Council about the nomination process for the next California Poet Laureate. It may say something about the position that I have detected less “buzz” about this than the recent occasions during which San Francisco and Los Angeles have sought to fill their poetic posts. Some of the nonchalance may be due to the most recent appointment, Dana Gioia, who is earnest enough to be credible, but who strikes me as the poor man’s Robert Pinsky. Given that the state’s poet laureate before Gioia went on to become the nation’s poet laureate, Gioia was facing impossible odds in terms of succession. Herrera is one of the most charismatic teachers and performers I have been fortunate to encounter over the past half-century, and he continues to write superb poetry. The poet after Gioia will have a much easier time in that she or he won’t suffer from obvious comparisons with such a compelling figure.

In terms of the poets who would best fill this post, I would hope that Rae Armantrout, Marilyn Chin, Kamau Daáood, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Amy Gerstler all consider being candidates for the appointment. Other poets whom I would be pleased to see selected for the job are Alejandro Murguia or Ron Koertge. Finally, this is a moment that I truly miss the late Francisco X. Alarcon. He would have made an exceptionally fine poet laureate right now. There are, of course, a couple dozen poets whose work I admire very much (Brenda Hillman, Kevin Opstedal, Gail Wronsky, Sarah Maclay, Gary Young, Christopher Buckley, Elena Karina Byrne, Kit Robinson, Will Alexander, Amy Uyematsu, B.H. Fairchild, Charles Harper Webb, etc.) but I have serious doubts that Governor Brown would be able to interview them in a manner that the appointment deserves. Brown hasn’t managed to serve as governor of California for four terms without being a calculating politician, and I can’t imagine him treating this occasion any differently. Fortunately, California has a sufficient pool of worthy poets that the odds favor a meaningful outcome.

If you wish to nominate someone, including yourself, for consideration, here is the link: The submission deadline is July 25, 2018.

Finally, I would recommend that California honor our resident playwrights by making one of them the first Playwright Laureate of California.

Saturday night, July 7, 2018: Sylvia Mohr’s Sojourn

Of Old Age, and Very Old Age

The story of my mother’s foray into very old age is more complicated than any piece of fiction could begin to hint at; a non-fiction account, however, would soon become tedious with her protracted reluctance to take advantage of her once sufficient, though dwindling resources. If she is puzzled as to how she no longer inquires about the unfamiliarity of her surroundings, she keeps it to herself. I myself retain a bemused astonishment at the unlikelihood of her dependency on me. I have three brothers in San Diego, and she lived in southern San Diego County for close to 90 percent of the past seven decades. The odds would favor her playing out the hand she dealt herself in San Diego, but a granddaughter’s truculent intervention led to a disastrous adventure, and my mother was moved to my vicinity in the late summer of 2016 because none of my other five siblings could undertake being responsible for monitoring day-to-day care.

She is now 96 years old, and will turn 97 in December. In trying to make her life as comfortable as possible the past two years, I feel no sense of emotional solvency. It is an existential compassion. “They call me and I go….” On Monday evening, the place I moved her to in Seal Beach called me to say that an ambulance was taking her to the emergency room. It is still not clear what caused her to lose consciousness, briefly, six days ago, but I have since spent a good portion of every day at the hospital or on the road finding yet another place to move her to. Fortunately, a skilled nursing facility in Long Beach had an open bed, which she arrived at on a gurney about four hours ago.

Fate has not been completely unkind. I managed to get everything done in preparation for today’s move by Thursday night, and so I was to stay indoors all Friday, when the heat was obnoxiously brutal. And much to my surprise I did have enough energy on Wednesday to head north and spend a few hours on the rooftop of my dear friends on MLK, Jr. Blvd. Granted that today was an all-day engagement with several bureaucracies and sets of workers in the medical profession, and tomorrow will be devoted to my wife’s mother’s situation; nevertheless, I have managed to endure another week with some provisions for respite. I especially regret, however, missing Alexis Fancher’s poetry reading in the late afternoon, to which I could have walked from my house in five minutes, should today have had a normal schedule in any sense of the word.

I have final papers to grade for my summer session class, and an overdue article for a MLA project. The challenge is not just to get all this done, but to meet the dozens of small requests I get for service of one sort or another. Sometimes I think I should be ashamed of having such a feeble breaking point, and other times I wonder how others do not pause and ask themselves how a life so damaged from the start has achieved anything deserving of remembrance.

Sunrise - Mom - 2017

Sunrise mom - 2018

(Photographs of Sylvia Mohr, Autumn, 2017, by Bill Mohr)

From a rooftop on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. — July 4

July 6, 2018

I worked as a fiction writing teacher at Idyllwild arts for twenty consecutive summers, starting in the mid-1990s. Several of my students went on to become published writers, including Sara Wintz and Julia Glassman. During the first fifteen or so years, during which I built the fiction writing class up from one session per summer to three sessions each summer, the first introduction to the students always took place on the first Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Then, with the shift to an earlier start of school years, the students gathered at the top of the mountain on the first Sunday before the July 4th celebration.

In my professional as well as personal life, Idyllwild is a significant part of the commitments I have made in my life. I cannot look at the July page of the calendar on my kitchen wall without thinking of that cycle of packing to leave and unpacking on my return, which always took more than a single day. The past couple years have brought me a new ritual: Linda and I gather on the third story rooftop of Rod and Tamiko’s home on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and we watch the fireworks jettison their transient glow on a scythe-swath perimeter of Los Angeles County. Other friends, including Olivier Bochettaz, join in. Olivier and Pauline had a child six months ago, and Luna is an exceptionally beautiful baby.

Rod J-4 one

Bochettaz Salute One

Bochettaz Salute Two

Bochettaz Salutre - Three

Rod J-4 two

Rod J-4 three

Rod J-4 four

Sleepover Parking

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Auto Sleepover

(on Ohio Street, between Sixth and Seventh Streets; two weeks ago)

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital”

Monday, July 2, 2018

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital: Independent Publishers as a Contumacious Canon of Underground Poetry” — William Mohr

La côte Ouest comme capitale littéraire : les éditeurs indépendants, vecteurs d’un canon irrévérent de la poésie ‘underground’

La costa Oeste como capital literaria: los editores independientes, agentes de un canon irreverente de la poesía ‘underground’

The revised paper I gave at a conference in Dijon, France has just been published in a trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) magazine published on-line in France. The issue contains a total of a dozen articles which were all originally presented at the conference. In addition to the superb introduction by the editors, Fiona McMahon et Paul-Henri Giraud, I would especially recommend the following articles:

Kamila Benayada
“Redefining Modernism: Stuart Davis’s Cold War Champion series”

Anna Aublet
“Bill & Carlos : les Amériques de William Carlos Williams”

Isabelle Pouzet
“Arts visuels et stridentisme dans la revue mexicaine Irradiador (1923)”

Marcos Rico Domínguez
“L’échec et la splendeur : les allégories du baroque moderne dans l’œuvre d’Octavio Paz”

François Hugonnier
“Reassessing Modernisms in Light of Jerome Rothenberg’s Work”

Smaro Kamboureli
“Opera in the Arctic: Knud Rasmussen, Inside and Outside Modernity”

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Wish Starts to Come True

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mexico’s Next President Elected!

I have not heard any reports of the percentage of the electorate that actually voted in the elections today in Mexico, but I can’t help but wonder about the beneficial effects of Sunday elections. Having the vote take place on a day on which most people don’t work has to influence the ability of people to participate in a democratic process.

The astonishing news, of course, is that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been elected the next President of Mexico by an overwhelming margin. It is fortunate that the polls showed Obrador with a huge lead. If he had only had a lead of two percent, as Hillary Clinton did heading into election day in the U.S. in 2016, I have no doubt that the results would have favored another candidate.

As I just mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I remember Alejandro González Iñárritu accepting the Oscar for his exquisite directing work on a film about a floundering actor who once was the incarnation of a popular culture hero. In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu said, “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.” He also mentioned “the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.” As of this evening, it would seem that the first half of Iñárritu’s reclamation of human rights has made more progress towards fulfillment than the second half.

I send my best wishes to my friends in Mexico, and hope that your expectations can be met as quickly as possible.