“Parasite”: A Film in Need of a Cultural “Host”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Linda and I missed “Parasite” the first time around, though we heard that it was an impressive film. Early in the fall semester, one of my colleagues said that his spouse and he had seen it over the weekend, and they thought it might well be the best film of the year. Although the Academy Awards might have confirmed their estimate from their point of view, I can hardly agree, if only because I find the appropriation of cliche Native American imagery to be so culturally presumptuous as to warrant nothing but a hiss.

First, though, I have to ask the question: is this film worth seeing twice? No. Our friend Laurel Ann Bogen accompanied us to the screening yesterday; in fact, as a birthday gift to Linda, she paid for all our tickets. Laurel had already seen it, and said that she didn’t care for it, but perhaps it was her mood that day. She was willing to give it a second chance. I’m not; and Laurel is a saint for being willing to sit through it again. The first third of “Parasite” is a full course serving of satiric acid reflux in which some lumpenproletariat bottom-feeders take over an upper-class household in a picaresque manner worthy of a story by Kafka. I laughed out loud several times. In fact, given the title, imagine a reversal of “Metamorphosis”: instead of waking up to find he is “vermin,” Gregor Samsa finds a job in a household that becomes a revolving door of new employees, all of them from his family. It’s funny enough for the first 40 minutes or so, but the story-line goes from foreboding to Grand Guignol in a manner that leaves a very bad taste. It’s as if a film being directed by Alfred Hitchcock was taken over by someone who falls short of being the next Brian De Palma. If you haven’t seen it, by the way, you might want to wait until the sequel comes out, which will no doubt pick up the story-line ten or twelve years later. I assume I’m not the only one who wants to know what becomes of the six-year-old son of Mr. Park, the murdered businessman whose home has had its tranquility fumigated by a feckless, self-indulgent demolition crew.

Additionally, I would ask if you believe “Parasite” would have been nominated — let along won an Academy Award — if some other ethnicity had been substituted for Native American imagery as a plot device in the film. If African-American or Jewish culture had been used instead of the most demeaning stereotypes of Native Americans, do you think this film would have had a snowball’s chance in the hemisphere of “political correctness”? The “prison” of debt and class servitude examined in this film deserved a far more imaginative elaboration on the nihilistic lesson learned too late by this family of grifters. “The only plan that doesn’t fail is to have no plan.” The film’s mistake was not to allow the passivity of fate to play out the comic hand of cards that was waiting to collect its jackpot when the fired housekeeper rang the doorbell. At that moment, the script made a choice, and it choose to depend on an appropriation of cinematic and cultural tropes rather than risking something utterly unseen before.

Call for Nominations for LA’s Next Poet Laureate

Saturday, February 21, 2019

The Department of Cultural Affairs has released the following announcement. Since it appears to be a public document, I am posting it in its entirety on this blog.


The Honorable Eric Garcetti, Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, is pleased to announce the continuation of the City of Los Angeles Poet Laureate Program, which is managed as a partnership between the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

The City seeks to name one Poet Laureate to serve as an official ambassador of LA’s vibrant creative scene, promoting the City’s rich literary community and celebrating the written word. Applications are due by Monday, March 9, 2020.

The Los Angeles Poet Laureate will be contracted by DCA and receive a $10,000.00 annual fee. After the services of the first year are completed, a review of the contract will be conducted by the DCA, LAPL, and the Mayor’s Office to determine if the Poet Laureate has successfully completed the terms and responsibilities of their contract. If so, a second year agreement for another $10,000.00 contract will be considered and offered.

Further information on eligibility requirements, duties of the Poet Laureate, instructions how to nominate yourself or another poet, and the two-step selection process can be found here: https://culturela.org/grants-and-calls/poet-laureate-open-call/.

Questions about the application process should be addressed to the DCA Grants Office at dca.grants@lacity.org or by calling 213.202.5566.

Department of Cultural Affairs
Grants Administration Division
tel – (213) 202-5566

*. *. *. *. *. *

I wish to commend the Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Department of Cultural Affairs for adding the following task to the Poet Laureate’s duties.

“Write one or more commemorative poem(s) each year related to a theme or topic integral to Los Angeles. Use the premiere of this/these poem(s) as a way to announce an open-call to all regional poets (emerging and masters, living or working in LA City) to submit poems for placement on sidewalks, streetlights, or related design-sites. Poet Laureate shall rank no less than 15 poems each year for use by the City on plaques, banners, or typographic displays for purposes of creative-placemaking. These poems shall be ranked in descending order and available to be integrated into/onto public surfaces in the two years following their selection by the Poet Laureate and submission to DCA.”

The requirement will be a means by which the L.A. Poet Laureate can remind people — and especially themselves — of how many other very fine poets are working in this region. It is all too easy for a laureate to succumb to delusions of supreme talent, when their work is in fact no more than simply representative of a vast effort by numerous comrades.

I do have one question, though: are the poets whose work will be used for “creative placemaking” supposed to allow their work to be used without the slightest compensation whatsoever? Do they not receive at least a copy of the banner or plaque on which their poem appears? If so, who does the work of packaging and mailing this material? Or is this yet another “little task” that will be an additional increment of underpaid work by the laureate?

*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *

Judee Sill’s Long Overdue Obituary in the NYT; and Holly Prado’s Poetry Video

February 21, 2020

Judee Sill’s Long Overdue Obituary in the NYT; and Holly Prado’s Poetry Video

On November 3, 2019, I wrote the following comment in my blog:

I wish, therefore, this morning to urge all of you to give a listen to Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Crossmaker.” Many, many years ago, when I was younger than my age hinted at, I saw her perform one evening, solo, on a piano, at the Church in the Ocean Park. It was one of the most inspiring performances by a singer-songwriter I have ever had the good fortune to be in the audience for: a small audience for an artist marked by Fate to stop singing far sooner than her admirers wanted her to.

*. *. *. *. *. *

Back at the beginning of this month (Feb. 3), I found the following article in the NYT:

This article on Sill was published on January 23, 2020, and “updated” on January 29th. While I am certainly not claiming that my blog entry contributed to the decision of the NYT staff to grant Sill a small measure of posthumous recognition, I am pleased to be able to say that no one can claim my post was generated because the cultural gatekeepers at the NYT formally recognized her.

As an update to my post in November, 2019, I want to report that I contacted Jim Conn, the minister at the Church in Ocean Park where I saw Sill perform. I asked him if he happened to remember how she ended up singing there, but he responded that there were so many events taking place back then that it is now a bit of a blur. There are still a handful of people alive who were around that church back then. Perhaps one of them remembers how she ended up performing on Hill Street, in Ocean Park.

The day after I read Sill’s obituary in the NYT, I jotted the following reminder to myself:

Every memory should come with a spoiler alert: your recollection of the event is slightly off, and you need to recalibrate not only what happened, but its underlying significance. — Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 — 5:15 – 5:17 p.m.

As part of today’s nostalgic post, I also include a link to a video featuring the late poet Holly Prado, which was sent to me by poet-actor Harry Northup:


The Internet “Grocery Aisle” Shakedown

February 20, 2020

“THREE MILLION TOTAL HITS” — Congratulations, you are eligible for the Internet “Grocery Aisle” Shakedown!

This blog will mark the seventh anniversary of its regular publication in June. Averaging around four posts a fortnight in recent years, I have deliberately deviated from the usual advice given to bloggers about reaching an audience: choose one subject and focus exclusively on that. In contrast, I try to avoid any pattern in a choice of subjects.

One thing is obvious: I don’t keep this blog going for “bragging rights”: it is never going to have dozens – let alone hundreds or thousands — of visitors a day. On a statistical level, I calculate that this blog will hit the 3,000,000 mark in terms of “total hits” sometime this coming April. That probably translates to a couple thousand distinct visitors as actual total readership. It is what it is: if other blogs on cultural and political matters have had 300,000 visitors in the past seven years, I salute them.

It’s probably for the best that I work in a very small theater, for I become self-conscious all too easily. In fact, I’ve never been particularly good at anything that requires confidence. I’m much more familiar with having to prove myself with sheer persistence, so the script of this blog’s fate is indeed a comfortable fit.

About six months ago, however, I started getting phone calls and e-mails from social media manipulators, each of whom claimed to be experts about increasing my blog’s prominence. At firs they tried flattery: according to their calculations, my blog ranked at a slightly above average level in terms of attracting an audience (a statement that is obviously untrue). Then came their pitch: with a simple adjustment of certain algorithms, my blog would be the one that showed up when certain topics were entered in a browser. If I were willing to pay a consulting fee of $1500 to gain access to this corporate dexterity, I was assured that I would see a dramatic increase in my readership, and would thereby be able to sell advertising.

In other words, dear reader, this was a “shake-down” similar to what happens in supermarkets. Do you want your company’s boxes of cereal at eye-level when customers push their carts down the grocery aisles? Well, then, you better be prepared to give a better discount on what you charge for your product. “Pay to play” is still the name of the only game in town, and my blog is not exempt from being solicited.

No thanks.

Maggie Tennesen — New work at the LOFT in San Pedro

February 18, 2020

I have to start this brief commentary by admitting that I had never seen any of Maggie Tennesen’s paintings before attending a preview showing of her current exhibit at the Michael Stearns Studio Galley in San Pedro. The experience, however, was a bit like meeting an old friend of an old friend: one immediately recognizes the alluring qualities that made you friends in the first place. In the case of Tennesen, I thought to myself, “Here’s someone who has taken the work of Agnes Martin and given it a sensuous flourish, though with the calculated restraint of Malevich very much present in the moment of composition.” I took a deep breath before I mentioned this particular duo to Tennesen, and I felt quite lucky to have her affirm her fondness of Martin’s work.

I realize that it is a long drive — and rather out of the way — for most people to go to a gallery show in San Pedro, but if you want a chance to absorb some work that will make you wish you could afford to take it home, then set aside enough time to make of this work an abode in which color in turn will wait for you to saturate your memory with its healing powers. The price of your time may feel enormous, but it will be well spent if you devote it to this encounter.

Michael Stearns Studio@The Loft
401 S. Mesa St, San Pedro.
February 9 – March 22, 2020
Call to confirm hours; the late afternoon and early evening (from about 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.) on Thursday, March 5th would also enable you to see the other studios of artists at the Loft.

Phone: (562) 400-0544

Other links worth your attention:

What Rough Beast | Poem for February 18, 2020


This date in science: Clyde Tombaugh discovers Pluto

(Since spring training has commenced, it is altogether appropriate to mention that this astronomer is the great-uncle of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.)

DECADE BY DECADE: Women Artists of California

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Late yesterday afternoon, Linda and I walked to the Long Beach Museum of Art, which is about a half-mile from where we live. I first visited this museum in the 1980s with my first wife, Cathay Gleeson. As is fairly well known, the museum had embarked at that time upon the only collecting strategy that is available to low-profile institutions with limited budgets: find a field that no one else is interested in at all, and take a chance that it will prove to be of enduring value. I am hardly the only person who first saw Bill Viola’s video work at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and we all owe this museum our gratitude for its support of that development.

On an explanatory panel beside one of the paintings in “DECADE BY DECADE,” I learned that the first major show in Southern California to present all women painters took place at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 1972. It was titled “Invisible/Visible” and featured the art work of 21 women. The current show, which opened on January 25, has the work of several dozen women, and it is worth the drive, no matter where you live in Los Angeles or Orange County. I would like to list several of my favorite pieces in the show, though I hope next time to take notes on work of which closing time forestalled a lingering appreciation. If you don’t know at least half of these artists, and you claim to be interested in contemporary art, then it is imperative that you set aside an afternoon to visit this show before it closes on April 26.

Elsa Warner — Blue Lake No. 4 (1973)**
Joyce Treiman — Swimmers Antibes Topanga (1971)
Carol Shaw-Sutton — The Bridge (1998)**
Pamela Kendall Schiffer — Cloud Study (2005)**
Alison Saar — Contra La Puerta (1998)**
Astrid Preston — Lotus Land (2000)**
Polia Pillin — Chalice (1959)**
Connie DK Lane — Mao Big Coat (2005)**
Orpha Klinker — Untitled (Fish Harbor) (1930)**
Margaret Honda — Sift (2013)
Karen Hansen Carson — Zipper Wall Piece No. 1 (1969)**
Sharon Ellis — Winter (1994)
Thelma deGoede Smith — Enharmonic (1970)
Jean Clad — Yellow Still Life (1958)
Joan Brown — Mary Julia #5 (1976)**
Terry Braunstein — Reflections (2019)**
Eva Bovenzi — Blue #14 (2009)**
Pat Berger — Beach People (1964)

** I have put a double asterisk next to the dozen pieces that especially caught Linda’s attention.

I would assume that the work of Claire Falkenstein and Helen Lundeberg, which is also in the show, would be known to those who are curious enough to see the above pieces.

Literary footnote: Polia Pillin was married to the poet William Pillin, whose book TO THE END OF TIME was published by Papa Bach bookstore.

Kate Braverman: A Poet Recalls Her Youth

FRIDAY, February 14, 2020

Many of the writers who gathered at Beyond Baroque to share their recollections of poet and novelist Kate Braverman (1949-2019) on February 8 had probably not have seen Kate for quite some time. I suppose the last time I saw her was at Dutton’s Bookstore in Brentwood in the mid-1990s. We talked about Lee Hickman briefly, and then I had no contact with her for several years. As I began working on a post-dissertation draft of my literary history of L.A.’s poetry, however, I wrote and asked her to compose an account of being a young poet in Los Angeles; Kate responded with a long letter in an e-mail.

I will leave it to the reader to judge Kate as a reliable narrator. Here are some annotations. I believe that the article in the LA Times she refers to was a lengthy two-part piece by Jim Stingley in April, 1974 (“The Rise of L.A.’s Underground Poets). Beyond Baroque’s workshop met on Wednesday evenings, not Tuesday. Dennis E. is Dennis Ellman, whom I first met at San Diego State College and who went on to get a MFA at UC Irvine. One of my first Momentum Press titles was his lovely volume of poems, THE HILLS OF YOUR BIRTH; people still mention his poem “Tomatoes” to me when talk turns to the pre-Streets Inside days. The two poets who founded the Beyond Baroque workshop were John Harris, who went on to own Papa Bach bookstore, and Joseph Hansen, who was also the author the Dave Brandstetter private investigator series. I wrote an article about him for the Los Angeles Review of Books several years ago that was recently reprinted in a volume entitled STICKING IT TO THE MAN.

The minister at the The Church in Ocean Park, on Hill Street in Santa Monica, was Jim Conn, who later became mayor of Santa Monica. The two founders of the Alley Cat Reading Series in Hermosa Beach were Michael Andrews and Jack Grapes. Michael was a photographer as well as a poet, and Jack wos a working actor for several years in addition to being an award-winning playwright and poet (National Endowment for the Arts grant winner). Michael and Jack also edited ONTHEBUS for many years. The other Michael referred to as a friend with whom she had dinner is Michael Clark, who invited Kate to read out in Riverside because the poet Marine Robert Warden showed him Kate’s first book of poetry. (This piece of information was provided to me by Michael himself, in a conversation after the memorial tribute at BB.) “Bob” Warden’s first book, BEYOND THE STRAITS, was published by Momentum Press in 1980. The novelist in Riverside named Susan is, of course, Susan Straight.

Kate only worked as the poetry editor of BACHY magazine for one issue (number 8), after which Leland Hickman (1934-1991) took over. Harry E. Northup is a much admired actor and poet who was married to the late Holly Prado for many years. Jim Krusoe eventually concentrated on writing novels and short stories, which have been published to considerable acclaim. He continues to teach one of the nation’s most noteworthy fiction workshops at Santa Monica College. Peter Levitt now lives and works as a poet and translator in Canada.

Bradley refers to Rod Bradley, poet and photographer, who also worked on BACHY magazine. Eloise Klein Healy was the first poet laureate of Los Angeles. Dennis Cooper’s poems and editorial prowess as editor of LITTLE CAESAR magazine and LITTLE CAESAR remain one of the authentic legends of Los Angeles poetry. He ran the reading series at Beyond Baroque with handsome aplomb fo much of the first half of the 80s. Michael C. Ford is a poet and spoken word artist with many recordings to his credit. In appropriating the title of one of Michael’s books to make a point, Kate misquotes it. The actual title of Ford’s book is “THE WORLD IS A SUBURB OF LOS ANGELES” (Momentum Press, 1981). Finally, while the “Momentum Press Workshop” did primarily meet at her apartment on West Washington Blvd., we also occasionally met at my apartment in Ocean Park and I seem to also recall meeting once at Jim’s house in Venice.

This letter should have been part of HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992 (University of Iowa Press, 2011), but I was forced to cut 25 percent of the penultimate version, which at that point didn’t even include this letter. I hope that those poets and artists who feel neglected by their omission from my book will consider how little time Kate received in my book, even though she was one of the major figures in this city’s literary renaissance between 1970 and 1985. Her poems appeared in both of my anthologies, THE STREETS INSIDE and POETRY LOVES POETRY. I was the first editor to publish her poems (Momentum, issue number 3, Fall, 1974. She also appeared in issues five and six.

*. **. ***. *****. ******** *************

November 24, 2008

Dear Bill, it’s good to hear from you. I would still like to come down in April. It would be fun to see
everybody again.

In terms of your questions, number 1.) When and how I first heard about Beyond Baroque?

Actually, I read about it in the Los Angeles Times. I was writing poetry at home, by myself. I had just returned
to Los Angeles from seven years of being at Berkeley, and I chanced to read an article about poetry workshops. I
remember. There were photographs. I was writing, but hadn’t read them to anybody, or studied poetry. That
amazes me, that I had not studied or even been critiqued.

I had just enrolled in my first writing class at the University of California in the extension program. Dennis Ellman was teaching his first class. And I appeared, excited, I had never read my poetry before. Bill, I will never forget this. Dennis E. is asking for volunteers. I raise my trembling arm and he calls on me. I’ll tell you what I read. “Cobalt Blue” and “2½ Years Ago.” Bill, this is indelible. I read a few stanzas and Dennis said, who is that? Then Dennis said it that Sylvia Plath? I said no. He asked, is it Sexton? I said no. Dennis said who is that? I said it is me. It’s mine. I will never forget this. Dennis had been standing up. When I explained that the pages I was reading from were my own, Dennis sat down. His face turned white. Those are your own, you wrote those, that poetry? Those. I said yes. It is a turning point in my life. I saw in that moment, it was a singularity. I don’t know if I ever had such a lucid moment, well, despite the decades that surround me, across the acres, the inland oceans of all of words, the oceans of ink, this singularity stands like a neon punctuation floating. Dennis had been standing and my words, my first just written poems had the power to make a man sit down, as if the air inside of him leaked out. We stared at each other. I had not yet read Plath or Sexton.

I went to the Venice poetry workshop the next day. I think the newspaper said the workshop met once a week, Tuesday I think. So I went at the next available class. It was amazing what happened when I read for the first time at the Venice poetry workshop. John and the other man, I have momentarily for gotten his name. He wrote detective stories. It was crowded, smoky, perhaps you were there? I was writing my first poetry, my first of what would be the Milk Run poems. I read “Cobalt Blue” and everybody stood up and cheered. They didn’t just applaud enthusiastically. It was utterly kinetic. I could feel the room change temperature and I could feel trees in forests on other planets catch on fire.

Bill, I don’t remember another moment, another evening when a person reading was received with such a
sudden, collective, consensual recognition. You may remember a man who was always there act beyond baroque, his
name escapes me, but I remember what he said. He said I’ve never heard a woman write with the power of a man,” you
are owning the page like a man, like you had balls.” I remember this man because he sticks in my mind as
being my first fan. I didn’t have a name for such a person, he was very clever and witty and I think he did, in
fact ,live there, he slept there at night. So many ashtrays. And I remember that he died of AIDS, but then so did
everyone. That night at Beyond Baroque was my christening. Every one was clapping, they were cheering, and I felt my whole life was just beginning.

I remember reading in other places besides the original space on Washington Blvd. though I went to Beyond Baroque every week. And I wrote two new poems a week to read. All the Milk Run and most of the Lullaby For Sinners poems were written at BB. James K. got me my first reading outside of the workshop. It was in a church in Ocean Park. The thrill of reading. It was on Mothers Day. And my mother came to the reading and this would become one of the ingredients, the components, the recipe of my own personal disaster. There were many other venues. I read at the church several times, but the first time was on Mothers Day and my mother was with me. I remember a series of readings for the Alley Cat with a surfer named Michael and the actor named Jack. That’s where I first saw Eloise. It was in Redondo Beach or Manhattan Beach and it seemed so exotic. When the Women’s Building started, in 1974, I read there. I had fantastically enthusiastic crowds. I thought it would always be like that. The crowds, the enthusiasm, but kinetics. I learned because I read so much that I could use the audience as an instrument, my personal calculator or thermometer, my own just discovered seismograph. I used the audience as a way of editing.

When I tell people that I learned to edit by sensing the kinetics in the rooms, how people shifted when they
were bored or when the effort of their attention wasn’t worth it for them. I could feel them breathe, and gasp. But
the most staggering of all was when I made people cry and when I made them laugh. There is an alchemy that exists between the writer, the poet, and the audience. I learned to edit by reading with a pencil in my hand and I would cut as I read. You know when it’s not working you feel it. I read at UCLA. I read at Santa Monica College. I read at libraries. The first time I taught was at the Woman’s Building. One time, this seems like fiction but it isn’t, I went to the Woman’s Building at Christmas time. It was raining. Me and Christmas and rain and a lover I was trying to keep. Adrienne Rich was reading so the audience for her was enormous, and the response from the lesbians was astonishing, they understood me absolutely. My first audience as in people who came to hear me specifically was entirely gay and lesbian.

When Beyond Baroque moved to the venue of the Jail I read there many times. My mother would come and bring her boyfriend of the moment, and other friends, most often her dates, yes. I liked it when the room was filled with jail cells and my mother choreographed a routine where she would pretend to faint. Of course she had heard all of these poems before but she would pretend to faint, didn’t you bring her smelling salts? I read at rock and roll clubs. I read in Pasadena at the college and at coffee houses. Another moment which is ingrained in my neuronal structure is reading at the Whiskey a go-go in 1980. I was reading with punk bands in venues I don’t remember the names of.

Everything changed when I moved from Venice to Silverlake. When I moved to Silverlake, when Jack and I
broke up, I can’t separate the time’s or the consonants or continents. I read in the bookstores. Bookstores
in Venice, there were coffee houses and bars. Was it the sidewalk Café in Venice? I believe that in
Hollywood there were bookstores to read in. You didn’t need to have a book published. Or to have just published a book. There were more opportunities to read in bookstores without selling a book. It seems like two or three
or more poets would read at bookstores for special days like holidays or celebrations. Bookstores in Hollywood
and West Hollywood and the Sunset strip and art galleries. Yes I remember a great sequence of events and happenings
as if poetry erupted from the streets, the boats and off the piers, it was everywhere. I met my friend Michael, who I just had dinner with, at UC Riverside in 1977. In 1978, I taught my first real university class. I read at the barn in Riverside in 1977 and many people like Sharon Doubiago and Susan that Riverside novelist who gets lots of print. They remember that reading. I read at the Cal State colleges, in Long Beach, at the college and the bookstore. Colleges like Occidental and Claremont and USC, where I also taught and was offered a professorship which I turned down. Inexplicable. In my mind these were the glory days. Nobody made any money and nobody cared.

Yes, Bachy bookstore, John Williams, there were readings and Bachy magazine which I edited after I became friends
with Leland Hickman. Everything changed after Leland and I met. Of all the readings, re your question about readings of significance I can place myself at Riverside in 1977 and the Church in Ocean Park on MD in 74. Michael invited me to read because he had seen the book or read a review. I read at Riverside community college, in a
chambered room, a Spanish mansion– the old Mission that had been restored. I read there many times and in bookstores in Riverside. I had the book in hand when I first came to read at the bookstores like Cody’s and
Black Oak in Berkeley.

2.) No, I was not at Lee’s reading in 1971. I don’t think I knew him then or yet.

3.)The workshop that happened once every two weeks at my house on Washington Blvd. was my version of an MFA program. It was taking the heavy hitters from VPW and itwas closed, it was just us, the VPW seniors, so to speak.
Most of what I know about writing I learned in that workshop, we had with Lee, Jim, Harry, Peter, Dennis and you.

Bill, I didn’t know that you remember the Washington Boulevard workshop as being unique in its emphasis on the
long poem, but I am struck at the truth of seeing it that way. When Leland taught me (blaze sin drawers) (Cendrars)
and Prose on the Trans-Siberian can mark that time precisely. Prose on the Trans-Siberian is still one of
my favorite poems. We were looking for great writing. I remember for Christmas one year, the Washington Blvd. workshop gave me two copies of One Years of Solitude. I think that workshop somehow leaked out and welcomed highly charged cadence driven prose that could be, must be, read out loud.

My heart was broken when the group broke up. As I recall, you and Dennis were frustrated. Peter and Harry
came and went. But when Jim also became frustrated with the progress of his work, that’s when we broke up. I remember saying to Jim “Can I keep the furniture?” We laughed. That’s because I felt like breaking up the group
was getting a divorce and it was. I just kept getting better and better. Breaking up the group was the last thing I wanted. My entire repertoire, the ridge, the ravens, my entire foundation, my sensibility, virtually every writer I know now I learned from the workshop. It was the greatest time to be me. I was created by what I synthesized in those not-enough-of workshops. Lee would read to me, always, after the Washington Blvd. workshop broke up, and I do think of it in romantic terms, that’s why I keep describing the event as an abandoned lover might. The end of our workshop was my real divorce.Since I synthesized what was read to me, since Leland was working long and I could also write prose, there didn’t seem to be a real distinction between poetry and not- poetry, the prose we read together was just overgrown poems.

In fact, by the time the Washington Blvd. workshop ended, when you guys left and said you weren’t coming back, I was beginning to write Lithium for Medea. The emphasis on the long poem , which I hadn’t even thought of, made it natural for me to move from not traditional poetry to not traditional fiction. The only difference in poetry and prose for me is whether or not to break lines and to keep it around 2 pages instead of 200 or 2000. The way we ran our workshop was bring in a new poem, it was not obligatory, and or else you could bring a poet to read out loud to the others. To turn us onto someone new. Do you remember me then? How quickly I improved, how I eat out words. I ate, I consumed, inexhaustible. No one ever had such an education, so rare, astonishing, implausible, that we should find each other in the city where poetry was banned, Los Angeles and poetry were considered to be an oxymoron.

The Los Angeles Times had a mission and it was this. There is no indigenous art. If you came from Los Angeles,
no one in Los Angeles would believe you were the real thing. The real thing came from New York. Our newspaper felt charged with a mission, a moral imperative. I mean mission in its most Christian sense. No poetry could exist in Los Angeles, ever, because the people who live in Los Angeles were so shabby of intellect, so stripped of human qualities, the higher ones, the pedigreed ones, this is making me nauseous, it’s giving me vertigo, another paragraph of this and you and I will both have stigmata. This situation was completely absurd. It is grotesque to be unrecognized in the city where you live, that you know with intimacy, that you write about, obsessively, and the local newspaper will not celebrate its writers. Remember? UC L.A. never had local poet’s come in. Also the Times only told you about New York writers.

Bill, no one knows better than you how LA poets, artists, writers, novelists and others were rudely excluded, brutally excluded. I do take comfort in the new demographic. (Iraq oh bomb a) Barack Obama is the name of our president and this machine cannot figure out what to do. It’s an ASP white. Ass-wipe. This program will not let me
past its fire-walled syntax, I’m training it and believe it was programmed in a way that if you try to say something dirty or unusual, it won’t go there. I call it lost fall. I call it the fall of New York, with print becoming obsolete, New York is just a city with many banks. Period. Without print, which NY had and has a monopoly on, it’s an old city. Chicago has style, warmth, I just went there 3 or 4 years ago for the first time and was surprised by how welcoming it was. I do think that New York, by chance, by being 19th century city, it’s had the magazines and newspapers. It decided.

Bill, consider this. NY Times endorsed Clinton. I expected the Chron here to come through and even the LA Times endorsed Obama. NY is stuck in a different paradigm. And, of course, NY had the universities to recognize and call national attention to their writers.

LA was ignored by their newspaper and colleges. Unseen at home and unwanted elsewhere, it’s been unspeakable.
And now print is disappearing, no one reads, I don’t care what they say, I don’t care about statistics, people
get their information, entertainment, divergence, died versions from computers, TV, long listening snakes of cables on fire, the wires, the bridges, and monsters and demons we don’t talk about except now. Also about the long poem, was it the idea of the group is that there was no division, no separation between the poem and the novel? We were reading the Spanish, Garcia Marquez and Neruda and it all seemed to flow together, organically, and we were young, and we read that beats and we put it together and created something new, or so it seemed, so very long ago.

I don’t think the big difference occurred on till Dennis Cooper came. It was geographical. When I moved the
East, well first Venice disappeared. We didn’t have a neighborhood anymore, even though we never had a real
neighborhood it was always a conceptual neighborhood, a barrio of the aesthetic, actually it was said very
well by Michael C. Ford in quote the 20th century is a suburb of Los Angeles, and observation to brilliant to be
buried by time and the cul-de-sac, the playing sax, in coffee house up. The way he made his life of bohemian
squalor and Michael C. Ford was there, he called it moored at not anchored. Many people were in and out of the VP
workshop were Wanda Coleman and Jack Grapes. The point is that when Dennis Cooper came, everything changed.

By then, after our private group on Washington Blvd. broke up, the new people who came in, like Exene and John
Doe and then Dennis Cooper and I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have history with the new people. I knew Bob
Flanagan. It was unfortunate, the people who left Venice and went to Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Barbara the
barrio in Silverlake and Echo Park. The VPW had served as a focal point it wasn’t real, it was conceptual, were bound by a single ritual. I tell you this now because it must be known and remembered and guides us
bear witness. The original people of the VPW were. This was our ritual. We had readings, at the original place on
Washington Blvd. or that other street yeah but it’s the readings were announced ahead of time and public and
official. We needed to build an audience from scratch, from people taught to resist the indigenous, to not take
their art seriously, like they do in New York. Holly Prado. Eloise Klein Healy.I remember Bradley. But we all
wanted art. Then a new circle sprung up. ……

Bill, I could write 100K words of all this. Once I started to remember, it flowed out. I saw “our” workshop
at my apt as grad school versus the new VPW with new folks, like Dennis Cooper. When I draw a line, it’s
with Dennis Cooper. Lee and I didn’t think he was “serious” about the poetry, but using poetry for a springboard to celebrity. When I’m doing critical apparatus work, I am trying to find lines where pop culture breaches art,
and you cd see it w/Cooper, etc. Didn’t we have a joke about Cooper? Like, once poetry came to LA, the joke is, it
isn’t poetry? It’s such a shame that WE aren’t known, like the writers in an MFA program, or NY or SF.

We’re unknown. In S.F.. if you didn’t have a personal thing with one of the Famous Beats, you don’t count. If you didn’t have sex or get drunk with one of the Angels of Beatness, you can never come in. L.A. was an impossible
environment and once we broke up, lost our geographic identity, we lost it, broke into smaller and more isolated fragments. I am writing the screenplay for LFM, so I want to come in April. Is it too late? Can I keep on working on my memories? It floods out. Love, K

Kate Braverman’s “First Draft Manifesto” (Friday, August 27, 1976)

February 10, 2020

Kate Braverman’s “First Draft Manifesto” — Negative Capability in mid-70s Los Angeles

About 70 people gathered this past Saturday night at Beyond Baroque to share their memories of Kate Braverman and to offer her rueful homage, including Janet Fitch, Laurel Ann Bogen, Samantha Dunn, Rod Bradley, Harry Northup, Michael Silverblatt, and L.A. Times writer Patt Morrison. Although writers from her workshops were the primary speakers, two of Kate’s literary agents also addressed Kate’s notorious personal ambivalence anything other than writing and drugs, and they gave among the very best comments of the evening. Her literary executor, Michael Clark, spoke at the very end, and afterwards gave me permission to reprint her “manifesto” in the very first anthology she ever appeared in, CAMEOES, which was published by Crossing Press in 1978, and edited by Felice Newman.

In this manifesto, one notes the unabashed self-identification with feminist poetry and with the “long poem.” The diatribe against the lack of ambition in academic poetry comes years before Donald Hall’s essay about McPoem. I’ll put it bluntly: anyone reprinting Hall’s essay or commenting on it needs to add a footnote that Braverman was far more prescient about this post-Vietnam War epidemic of stultifying conformity than institutional avatars such as Hall. If he had been oblivious to the Beats when he assembled his first edition of New Poets of England and America, he was equally obliviousness two decades later of the restlessness exhibited by the post-beat ensemble in Los Angeles and the Language contingent in San Francisco. In her statement for CAMEOS, she mentions that she has been thinking about these issues for four years, which more or less encompasses her most intense interactions with other poets who mentored and encouraged her development.

Braverman’s first extended affiliation with a public workshop was at Beyond Baroque, but along with several other impatient poets (Lee Hickman; Jim Krusoe; Harry Northup; Dennis Ellman; Peter Levitt; and myself) recused herself by 1975 to form a “coterie” workshop that met at our residences. These L.A. poets were not the only ones interested in the “long poem,” for we were joined in this preference by poets such as Holly Prado, Dennis Phillips, and Paul Vangelisti. In contrast, on the national arena of poetics, the anthology that Braverman attacks by name represented the Iowa workshop poem that we profoundly distrusted, if not loathed.

It was during her attendance at the Beyond Baroque workshop (“West Washington: West”) and the “West Washington: East” workshop in the mid-1970s that Braverman wrote many of the poems that went into her first book, MILK RUN, which I published under my imprint, MOMENTUM PRESS, with a cover designed by Rod Bradley. (His uncredited photograph is used in CAMEOS for the author’s photo.) Braverman was the youngest poet in the workshop that met in her apartment on West Washington: the average age of the other poets was slightly over 30; she was a half-dozen years younger. She was also the only one in the workshop who did not have any record of sustained employment. Jim was working as a housepainter; Dennis had put in a couple of years driving a liquor truck, and had begun teaching part-time at Santa Monica College; I was working at a Medi-Cal case worker for Department of Public Social Service, following two years as a blueprint machine operator; after appearing as a cheerful, obliging bartender in ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, Harry Northup was spending a year driving a cab, which he might have thought of in retrospect as “field research” for his next movie role: he had a memorable minor role in TAXI DRIVER and went on to become a steady working character actor, as well a starring role in “OVER THE EDGE.”

In an e-mail interview I conducted with Kate Braverman, she mentions the impact of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude on her writing, but the chiaroscuro conjuring act of magical realism was quickly siphoned off, in my recollection, by the astonishingly chiseled prose of Malcom Lowry. The combination of UNDER THE VOLCANO and Blaise Cendrars’s “Prose of the Transiberian Railway” was far more influential. The latter was read at the WWE workshop by Leland Hickman one night, with every bit of passion he could summon.

The obvious influence (beyond that of Olson, via Lee Hickman) is that of John Keats, whose letter defining negative capability is the overwhelming contextual precedent.

In a future post, I will provide you with the complete interview. In the meantime, these words at the beginning of her career serve just as well as her parting shot.

* ** ***. ****. *****. ******

Kate Braverman


There are many things to be said at this point. So grab a cigarette (does anyone read poetry and not smoke?), a cup of coffee and let’s chat a bit.

I have to tell you something about where I’m at. And it’s hard to articulate. I haven’t published much in the last eight months. I have sixty poems in the mail right now at twelve different magazines. And that’s jus the stuff I bothered to type up. I’m half way through my third unpublished book, not chapbook books but a hundred and city page manuscripts, for or sixty long poems. God knows how many chapbooks. The “feminist” (women/rage — woman/angry…. how dare she) is very hard to publish. The very person poems are very hard to publish. The brand new, ten-page long poems I’m doing now are impossible to publish.

First of all, it seems that the poems currently being published by “name” small magazines are interchangeable. Halpern’s anthology (The American Poetry Anthology) reads like one long poem. The currently acceptable style (the Iowa and New York style) can be loosely characterized as: safe and middle of the road. The poems are generally short, one page. By safe, I mean that the poet is dealing with subject matter he/she already understands. The poet is merely restating what he already knows about the world. With this fundamental aspect in mind, the only problem is how to freshly restate what he already knows. This leads to academic poetry, poetry of strain, poetry that is called “experimental” but is actually mechanistic, artificial and soulless, anything but what experimental should really mean. The acceptable poem is flawless. It is a poem of technique and it makes no mistakes. The problem with the currently acceptable poem as I see it is that in addition to not making any mistakes, it doesn’t take any chances, it doesn’t take any risks, it isn’t ambitious. Poetry must (my fundamental assumption) deal with what the poet does not yet know. It must be a work of exploration. The poetry of exploration, by confronting what the poet doesn’t know, by taking the enormous risks of shining a flashlight into the pitch black has the advantage of stumbling on the brilliant connections that make us human. (On other words, art). I see that as Plath’s greatest strength, that she stumbled on connections. That’s what gives her work (to me, and I’m only talking about Ariel) such fantastic energy. Connection spark/sizzle/energy.

Now, I don’t know ho much you are or are not seeing where I’m at so far. Iv’e basically disconnected myself from the mainstream of current poetry buy operating on a fundamentally different set of principles. I’ve written my poems of careful restatement. I call them exercises. O.K. Once severed from the the Iowa/New work mainstream, there is the problem of L.A.

L.A. poetry poetry (if anyone thinks about it at all) is noted or called the Bukowski school. If you’ve read Buskowski and his disciples, certain generalizations can be made. The L.A. school deals with the superficial. The eye sees what is obviously there — the billboards, neon, freeway nightmare. Bukowski has managed to confuse the painful problems of human self-awareness with the painful problems associated with a hangover. The substance of his art is material generally reserved for aspiring commercials That’s the L.A. school.

(At this point, violins will please strike up a chorus of ONE AGAINST THE WORLD……)

There is a sub school of L.A. poetry. L.A. has always existed in artistic isolation. There are a handful of people I know who have responded to this isolation by experimenting, by exploring, by dealing with a very emotional internal reality, an examination of their humanity….. art.

Basically we have commitment and energy, but can’t define/articulate what we are doing in an academic, win a critical sense. We are too close to it? Too involved? It’s been six years since I set foot in a university, and the critical tools I once had have eroded. I don’t believe that we can be a movement until we define our uniqueness.

It’s taken me four years to come up with the ideas in this letter and two and a half hours to write this letter. I hope I have said something of interest.

August 27, 1976

POST-SCRIPT: Does the above sound a lot like a certain essay written by Donald Hall several years later? Yes, it does, and quite frankly I wonder why Hall did not give Braverman any credit or acknowledge her earlier, pithier, piss-off manifestation — if not full-fledged manifesto — of contumacious poetics.

Bernard Sanders and the Gender Climate Crisis

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Bernard Sanders and the Gender Climate Crisis

“We’ve got to bring China and Russia and Brazil and Pakistan and India and every major country on Earth into the fight against climate change, and here is my dream — maybe it’s a radical dream, but maybe just maybe, given the crisis of climate change, the world can understand that instead of spending $1.8 trillion a year collectively on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we pool our resources and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.” — Bernard Sanders; Manchester, New Hampshire; February 7, 2020

I agree with Bernard Sanders, and if given a chance to vote for him in November, 2020, I fully intend to cast my ballot in his support. In truth, I like Elizabeth Warren more than Sanders. It would be a mild thrill to be in the same public space in which she delivered a speech. In contrast, I wouldn’t walk across the street to listen to Sanders. Nothing personal. I just don’t like him as a person, perhaps because I suspect his flaws all too much resemble mine. In particular, he takes his own privileges as a white male far too much for granted. He really doesn’t understand what it takes for a woman to aspire to high political office. He seems to comprehend the ravages of racism far more than sexism.

Perhaps if Sanders had paused at the debates in Manchester last night and looked both to his left and right, and then said, “It is such a pleasure to be here at this venue compared to four years ago. I share the stage tonight not just with one woman hoping to be in the White House, but two women with whom I currently serve in the U.S. Senate; two exceptionally intelligent and capable women who deserve your careful consideration. Eight years from, no matter which one of us wins this year, may that figure double again, and may there be four women up here, and three men, and may half of that total number be people of color, and not just one, as is the case tonight. May there be a lesbian former service woman as well as a gay male veteran. That would be one way to know that I have indeed been part of a successful movement.”

In fact, I would like Sanders to explain why Senator Elizabeth Warren got ” “20 percent less speaking time than the leading male candidates onstage — including Joe Biden,” despite getting more votes than Biden in Iowa. Warren was limited to as much speaking time as two male candidates who have a very limited portfolio of performance as elected officials. In other words, she was treated like a novice. (NOTE: On Feb. 11th, Andrew Yang dropped out of the race, a decision on his part that was hardly made at the last moment. One wonders if he was not encouraged in some oblique manner by certain men in the Democratic Party to stay in the race until after the New Hampshire debate was over, in hopes of subtracting from Warren’s chances of speaking.)

Smug about his own entitlement to public space, it would never occur to Sanders to concede that the number of women qualified to be president will outnumber men by the final years of this decade. Until he realizes that, his emphasis on the climate crisis is a waste of breath. The gender climate crisis is intimately connected with the geophysical climate crisis, and the solution requires a mutual reconciliation.

There is a way that he can demonstrate his commitment to feminist social justice, though: he needs to promise in public, repeatedly, that he will appoint women to SIXTY PERCENT of the positions for which he can nominate and appoint individuals to carry out his policies. Why sixty percent? As a token gesture that would begin to rectify the imbalances of the past.

We will soon see if Bernard Sanders is truly radical, or if he is just another hyperliberal white male.

*. * *

I have revisited this statement in my thoughts several times the past couple of hours. I know that I am being harsh on Sanders, and I fear that the Democratic establishment would be all too happy to point to my comments as “typical” of the discontent with his campaign proposals.

And just now it hit me: he always acts as if he is the only one who has fought the good fight all these years. There is another one percent besides the wealthy one percent. There is also the one percent who have given of their time and money over many decades to oppose the right wing catastrophe of social and ecological dystopia. Bernard Sanders may think he is the rightful leader of that one percent of veteran cultural workers, but it’s hard to lead people who do not feel acknowledged, except as a source of campaign funds.

In fact, it’s when it comes to fundraising that one realizes that Senator Sanders has no idea of what it is like to be in that one percent, and own no property, and live paycheck to paycheck. Despite my rental status at age 72, I started giving a small ($25) monthly contribution to Senator Sanders several months ago, and my “reward” was to be pestered every (expletive deleted) day with requests for more money. It never stopped. One would have thought that I was a deadbeat who deserved to have a bill collector pounding on his door. It was relentless, and it showed me that Senator Sanders has no respect for me. In point of fact, his methods are no different than anyone else’s. If Bernard thinks he is a “radical,” how about this approach instead:

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your contribution. It more than suffices right now, for I do realize how many of my supporters do not have a large surplus of funds to draw upon.

Instead of sending money, please consider having a conversation with someone who might be interested in working for or contributing to this campaign. If you could, with their permission, pass on to us their e-mail address, that would be of great assistance in helping to build our base. Please send that information to:

With all best wishes for our mutual affirmations,

Now I had received that letter every day, I would not have unsubscribed. But having received nothing but constant requests for more money — when I have given what little I can spare — I had no other choice.


I would note that although Senator Sanders received more votes than any other Democratic candidate, the combined number of votes that Senator Klobuchar and Senator Warren received far surpassed Sanders’ tally. More men and women appear to believe that one of the women running for President is a better candidate than a man. If the same pattern holds in the upcoming primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, then Sanders is going to have to do very well in California. He appears to be well in the lead here in the state with the largest population in the country, but his supporters may not realize that his antipathy towards the belief that a woman can be elected is now viewed as their core belief, too. They need to ask themselves how they would be viewed if Sanders’s statement had been one about race, “A (fill in the race) can’t beat Trump this year.” The failure to acknowledge that one statement is just as reprehensible in its chauvinist assumptions as the other is part of the reason some people profoundly mistrust his movement.

Kate Braverman’s Memorial Tribute at Beyond Baroque

Friday, February 7, 2020

I just received a link from L.A. Weekly contributing writer Falling James to his long article on the late poet and novelist Kate Braverman, who will be remembered in a public memorial at Beyond Baroque tomorrow at 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Falling James’s article is the most comprehensive account I have yet to read of Braverman’s impact on a diverse community of writers, musicians and artists in Los Angeles. Though she lived most of the second half of her life in other parts of the country (upstate New York; San Francisco; Santa Fe), her all-consummating passion for lyrical language embroidered a tattoo of idealistic aspiration on the literary forearms who encountered her in the 1970s and 1980s in Los Angeles. We who admired her, no matter with how much ambivalence, look forward to introducing our memories to you, should the temptation to learn more about a literary legend prove as alluring as we hope it will be.

Kate Braverman Takes Flight Again in a Tribute With Janet Fitch and Friends

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 822-3006

Saturday, February 8, 2020
8 p.m.

Speakers include Janet Fitch, Laurel Ann Bogen, Joshua John Miller, Sandra Tsing Loh, Patt Morrison, Michael C. Ford, Samantha Dunn, Rochelle Low, Harry Northup, James Cushing, Danielle Roter, Suzanne Lummis, Amy Scholder, Danielle Roter, Rita Williams, Nancy Spiller, Steven Reigns, and Bill Mohr.