“Threshold Delivery”: The Needle and the Soundtrack

Patty Seyburn’s most recent book of poetry was published a few months ago by Finishing Line Press, which did a serviceable job. The type is dark and large enough to let me read her poems, even without my glasses on (which in fact have long been out of correction). I wish, however, it were possible for a publisher to provide a soft-cover book in which the cover does not begin to curl shortly after arrival in the mail. Is it too much to ask for a cover that flattens against the book’s pages???? I realize that $20 does not buy what it used to buy, but a book that would have cost $2 fifty years ago at least provided good cover stock.

If I am making such an issue of my discontent with the cover’s quality, it is partly due to an affection for book covers, beginning in childhood, that I have never been able to keep in proportion. Maybe it has something to do with the cover’s ability to help me keep track of where I have shelved or stacked my book; and given the contingency of these habits, I need all the assistance a cover can provide in helping me find the volumes that matter the most to me, as this does. It hardly helps to have a book with a curling cover that makes me put it at the bottom of a stack in hopes of eventually flattening the cover so that its jounce does not irritate me the second I pick it up.

Most certainly Threshold Delivery is a volume I will want to use poems from to show my students prime instances of memorable poems. Among my favorites are “November”; “The Train”; “Long Distance” (Parts 1 and 2); “Sweater”; “After Great Pain”; and “Lightning, 1992-1890.” I have little doubt that other readers will prefer a different half-dozen. An individual poet is interesting to the degree in which readers can’t agree on the poems that deserve the most affection in memory’s dialogue.

The conversation started by the image of a needle in both “November” (the first poem in the volume) and “Lightning, 1892-1890” is an undercurrent of visionary knowledge that conveys itself in the quietest of whispers. The italics of the final line of the latter poem is as effective a sotto voce as anything that still echoes from the great plays of Renaissance England. On a technical level, I’d like to praise the vivacious, subtly varied trimeter of the book’s first poem, which provide an easily accessible case study for anyone seeking how to illustrate the marriage of free verse and metrical nuance.

I confess that I was not able to finish the long poem, “Mah Jongg: An Homage,” in Threshold Delivery, even though it seemed to be an intriguing example of a variation in prose poetry. I have an antipathy to poems that make use of card games that goes back to a traumatic encounter with Pope’s “Rape of the Lock” in my sophomore year of college. This is hardly Seyburn’s fault, and no one should cheat themselves of the pleasure of the many very fine poems in this book simply because of this instance of my irrepressible, idiosyncratic antipathies. My guess is that someday I will get around to read this particular poem, even as I eventually surrendered to the allure of James Merrill’s epic encounter with the ouija board.

Threshold Delivery deserves to be on a short-list of “best books of poetry” of the year. Most books on next year’s short list, in fact, probably won’t be as solid and imaginatively convincing.

As a personal post-script, I would note that many of the poems in this volume feature the presence and voice of Seyburn’s dead mother. In one of those coincidences that mark the convolutions of one’s life, I note that a song hummed by Seyburn’s mother, “Mean to Me,” was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald (among many others). All microphones lead to Fitzgerald, who appears to be this blog’s current favorite recording artist!

The MPTF Memorial Reading of Holly Prado’s “Word Rituals”

August 17, 2019

When my mother entered hospice on August 4th, my sister Joni decided to fly in from Israel and be with her during our mother’s final days, and I remain deeply appreciative of her efforts. It was the best possible gift that our mother could have received from her favorite child. Given the sudden immediacy of our mother’s accelerated decline, Joni was only able to book a flight that arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday, August 10th, which was also the date for Holly Prado’s memorial. Linda and I drove up to Woodland Hills in separate cars, since she was going to visit her mother after the service, while I needed to return to Long Beach to reconnoiter with Joni. Laurel Ann Bogen rode up with Linda, and back home with me. It’s tough not to leave a carbon footprint in Los Angeles, but we three did our best that day.

The afternoon’s gathering was very well attended. Well over a hundred people filled the Gianopolus Room at the retirement home facility provided by the Motion Picture and Television Fund. Additional chairs had to set up in the lobby to accommodate the crowd.

Harry Northup opened the memorial tribute to Holly Prado with a review of her life and writing. As a professional actor who has worked in films with some of the most important directors in the industry, Harry knows how to be convey nuances of emotion in a precisely articulate fashion. Every word he spoke conveyed the selflessness of his love for Holly and the life they shared.

A group reading of Holly Prado’s “Word Rituals” included the following poets and writers:

Alison Townsend
James Cushing
Phoebe MacAdams
Susan Hayden
Holiday Mason
Robert Forster
Sandra Cohen
S.A. Griffin
Cecilia Woloch
Laurel Ann Bogen
Sidney Higgins
Barbara Crane
Aram Saroyan
Kathleen Bevacqua
Judy Oberländer
Olivia Sanchez-Brown

The microphone wasn’t the best, and as someone who ended up sitting in the lobby (even though I had arrived well before the event), I appreciated the emphasis provided by S.A. Griffin, Laurel Ann Bogen, and Judy Oberlander. As might be expected, Michael C. Ford read superbly in providing a coda piece: “The World Series Is about Writing Poems.”

Some of the other poets also in attendance were Linda Albertano (with whom I shared my copy of These Mirrors Prove It during the reading of “Word Rituals”), Suzanne Lummis, Amelie Frank, Jack Grapes, Jerry Garcia, Doug Knott, Pegarty Long, Steve Goldman, Mark Rhodes, Carol Muske-Dukes, Jamie O’Halloran, Mark Savage, Lynne Bronstein, and Carine Topal.

My guess is that this was the first time many of the poets in the audience had heard “Word Rituals” read out loud. Holly Prado was always more interested in her most recent work, and her readings were not at all concerned with winning the applause of the audience through the presentation of well-known favorites. Holly made the same demand of an audience as she made of herself as an artist: experience this for the first time, even as it was unknown to me not that long ago. Suzanne Lummis made a comment to me, as she left the tribute, that she felt as if this was the first time that she had been to apprehend the convergences of her themes. Most certainly, I detected a blending of the Wordsworthian emphasis on the consciousness of a child and Beat rhythms subtly cadenced into prose poetry.

While Holly was a very good reader of her work, perhaps Suzanne’s comment is a reflection of the complexity of her poetry. One of the basic tests of a great song is that it has the flexibility to be a vehicle for more than the voice(s) of those who composed it. “Covering” a song is one of the pleasures of that endeavor. “Word Rituals” was the title poem of her CD/cassette release of “spoken word” produced b Harvey Robert Kubernik, and released by New Alliance Records, so it does stand as one of the more significant pieces in her large body of work. Hearing so many different voices intone it, though, gave it a radiance that left all present at the tribute with a renewed sense of language’s possibilities. The chorus seemed like a bursting forth of flowers from a garden that had long restrained itself, until it entered the springtime of eternity.

“You’re so serious” — In Memory of Holly Prado

August 16, 2019

I remember when a coterie of poets gathered together about 30 years ago in a small restaurant in Los Angeles to discuss the formation of a poet’s publishing cooperative. Holly Prado and Harry Northup believed that there was only one solution to addressing the shortage of serious poetry publishers in Southern California, and so they had recruited long-time friends to join them in an affirmation of literary self-empowerment. “What shall we call the press?” A few possibilities flickered around the table, but none of them bespoke the geographical cynosure of our imaginations. Then I thought of the name of the street the restaurant was located on, and said, “Cahuenga Press.” It seemed to resonate instantly. “Two iambs!” Jimm Cushing exclaimed, as if underscore the prosodic DNA of our undertaking. “Yes, two iambs,” I reflect now, playing off the trochaic names of the pair of poets — Holly Prado, Harry Northup — who will be inextricably linked as among the most original, courageous, and generous of all the poets in this scene.

If I begin with a metrical detail, however, it is only to highlight one of the way sin which Holly Prado served as an exemplary model for so many poets who had the good fortune to come across her work in the early to mid-1970s. Prose poetry is now firmly established as being fermented with vision and clarity as anything written in free verse and meter, but this equivalency was begrudgingly acknowledged when Holly Prado began writing and publishing the prose poems that went into her first book, nothing breaks off at the edge. Indeed, her novella, FEASTS, could be considered a book-length prose poem. It was that book, I should add, that not only made Los Angeles one of the few places in the United States where journal writing was respected and honored as a genre, but enabled my own personal publishing project to begin to flourish.

I occasionally hear people refer to my press, Momentum Press, as legendary, but in point of fact, it is Cahuenga Press that has lasted much longer. The first book was Holly Prado’s Specific Mysteries, and I would now like to cite some of the final lines of my favorite poems, “Rises in the Evening More Daylight,” in that collection, which is dedicated to Harry E. Northup, “the one I had always waited for.”

when someone says you’re so serious
I think “not serious enough”

There’s a wit there, as well as being absolutely resolute. Such determination was visible, in fact, when the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner wanted to run an article on Los Angeles poets in the early 1980s; the large, full-cover photograph of the magazine insert was of five poets: Paul Vangelisti, Leland Hickman, Dennis Cooper, myself, and Holly Prado, all of whom were not shy about telling the world that it was time to take not just one individual’s efforts, but all of Los Angeles poetry seriously. As Holly said in a poem, “Why go on / without such a family?” Indeed, a family with a variegated kinship that now permeates the entire region.

It is rare for gratitude to exceed sorrow, when one learns of the death of a comrade. I am grateful for everything Holly did as a poet who was also a superb prose poet, teacher, a critic, and a publisher. Few people, accomplished in so many areas, are granted easy lives. Instead, they are given serious lives that empower others to do likewise, enfolded by the love of poetry. It is now the turn of readers elsewhere to encompass that seriousness and to begin to account for it. Holly’s and Harry’s archives are down at UCSD in the Geisel Library, along those of poets such as Leland Hickman and Paul Vangelisti. She lives there, waiting for you.

Post-Script:

I have just received a notice from Harry E. Northup that Susan Hayden’s Library Girl Reading Series will feature the surviving members of Cahuenga Press in a 30th anniversary celebration on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, at 7 P.M., at Ruskin Group theatre, 3000 Airport Av., Santa Monica, CA 90405.

Sylvia Mohr – “When the Deep Purple Calls”

Sylvia Mohr: 1921 – 2019

Sylvia Mohr crossed over the “evening garden walls” on August 13, 2019, to reunite with the one and only love of her life, Fred J. Mohr. She was 97. Even in the final months of her life, she could still regale her attendants with a rendition of “When the Deep Purple Calls,” her favorite song. The youngest of three children, Sylvia was primarily raised in the Washington, D.C. area, where her father, Cornelius Van Schelven, worked as a civil servant. Both of her parents were immigrants from Holland and instilled in her a lifelong adherence to the Republican Party. After graduating from high school, she moved to Philadelphia, where a military parade inspired her to join the WAVES. One recruit she met at boot camp piqued her curiosity about the Roman Catholic religion, and eventually she converted. While stationed at Norman, Oklahoma, she met a tall, handsome sailor of German-Irish extraction, and married him in Los Angeles on a brief leave in January, 1945. He remained in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man for the next decade and a half, during which time he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; and Oahu, Hawaii. “If you value your freedom, thank a veteran’s children.”

The family eventually relocated to San Diego, where she finished raising their six children, and went on to own and manage on a daily basis a liquor store in Imperial Beach, CA.. After selling the store, Sylvia and Fred enjoyed a decade of each other’s company without the arduous constraints of raising a family while serving one’s country. After his death in 1994, she concentrated on her garden, reading books, and helping to raise a granddaughter. She was preceded in death by her parents; her brother, Lt. Col. William Van Schelven; her sister, Martha G. Hill; and her dear childhood friend, Ruth. She is survived by her offspring: William, Constance, Jim, Joni, Joseph, and John, as well as four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She is also survived by a niece, Pam H. Bump, and a nephew, Christopher Hill.

Services will be held at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego, where her urn will be placed next to Fred’s. Bill Mohr wishes to extend the family’s appreciation of the care and comfort Sylvia received, during her final three years, from all those who work at Sunrise Assisted Living in Seal Beach, CA, and Bel Vista Healthcare Center, Long Beach, CA. Without their cheerful endeavors, Professor Mohr would profoundly regret how the rigor of his obligations to perform committee work at CSU Long Beach, as well as give extensive service to the literary community of Los Angeles, would have disproportionately detracted from his desire to engage in solicitous attendance to her needs.

* * *

The song my mother sang most frequently in her final years was “When the Deep Purple Calls.” For a quarter-century after her husband’s death, she yearned for him with all her heart.

Here is a rendition by Ella Fitzgerald.

“One Foot in the Boat”

August 9, 2019

Akahini Landing - June, 2019 -1

Yesterday afternoon, I got fed up with a cell-phone that has not been able to make phone calls or receive phone calls at my residence. It would work at Bel Vista, where my mother is in hospice, and it worked in some other locations, but obstinately faltered at home. Needless to say, since I want to be able get information immediately, should Bel Vista call me at 10:00 p.m., for instance, I was quite upset.

I went to the Verizon store and found out that my cell-phone had to be upgraded because their transmission technology has made my phone obsolete. I had no choice but to pay $172 to get a new cell-phone. I would describe this as a “technology improvement tax,” in which I as the consumer am paying for the improvement. When the worker handed me back my old phone, he said that they had transferred all the contact numbers. “And the photographs?” “Oh, no,” he said, “our computer can’t do that anymore.”

And then back to Bel Vista.

The title of today’s post is a reference to the book of poems by Joseph Hansen that I published when I was the editor of Momentum Press. I remember Joe asking me if I understood what the title of his book was invoking, and when I answered correctly, he looked gratified that he had chosen me as his publisher.

Holly Prado: The First Public Tribute — August 10

Harry E. Northup, poet and actor, has announced that a “Tribute To Holly Prado” will take place on Saturday, Aug. 10th, at 2 P.M., at the Gianopolus Room, Saban Center, MPTF, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, Ca. 91364.

The flyer for this event has an epigraph from FEASTS, a book of autobiographical fiction by Holly Prado that I published in 1976:

“to turn our gold into ordinary ground, the best possible solution.”

If the impetus of the postmodern critique is to deconstruct the notion of the patriarchal masterpiece, and instead restore the reader to a full engagement of self-transformation in interweaving the wealth of imaginative language into our daily economy of meaningful meals, work, and shared ideas, then Holly Prado’s precise instruction should be kept continually in mind. It has inspired me ever since I first read it, and it is the hidden motive for much of my work, including this blog.

— Bill Mohr, Wednesday, August 7

Sylvia Mohr — Hospice Decision

Mira Mohr - Sylvia Mohr - 2
The Tethered Beads of Time: The photograph pinned to the wallboard in the upper left hand corner is of my mother’s recently born great-grandchild, Mira. She is the second daughter of the oldest son, Matthew, of my brother, Jim, and his wife, Mercedes. Linda and I attended the wedding of Matthew and his spouse, Heather, in Las Vegas.

August 4, 2019

On Friday night, July 12, 2019, my mother was sent to St. Mary’s hospital in Long Beach because of very high blood pressure and low levels of oxygen absorption. She had been losing weight in the preceding weeks, and was down to 115 pounds. She spent four full days at the hospital, during which I had a chance to talk with Dr. Ferrera, a superb physician who had attended my mother the only previous time she had stayed there for any length of time. In the fall of 1996, she was hospitalized for pneumonia, but fought it off rather quickly and her health then leveled off for the next 20 months.

Dr. Ferrara was refreshingly honest, in his assessment of my mother’s condition three years after his first remediation. He assured me that her vital sign were fundamentally sound. “She’s not in the check-out line, or if she is, she’s way back.”

At that time, I decided not to shift my mother to hospice care. Tonight, though, August 4, 2019, having been informed that her breathing is being assisted with an oxygen delivery system, it appears that it is time for her to “enter hospice,” not that I have a lot of faith in that process. A poet friend once told me that hospice was just another word for slowly starving a person to death, and that that was exactly what she had watched her mother endure; unfortunately, nothing she tried to do could alleviate the suffering that hospice only exacerbated.

The alternative, of course, is to have her shuttled back and forth from the SNF to the hospital.

James Tate once used as an epigraph for a poem a sentence from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men: “You are alone with the Alone, and it is his move.”

Apparently, tonight, it is my move, though the first clause is in full effect.

This evening, as I said goodbye to her, I promised that I would return tomorrow. “I look forward to it,” she said, and I can only hope that she will remember that expectation, when she wakes during the night, bewildered as she seems to be as to what is happening to her.

Sylvia Mohr and Bill Mohr — First Week of June, 2019

I wrote the following blog entry in the early summer of 2019, but never posted it.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Hawaii Reading Poster

The past week was extraordinarily difficult and discouraging. My mother is now 97 and a half years old, and if attaining the distinction of now being among the “very old” has been an ordeal for her, she has not been without some minimal companionship. Out of her half-dozen children, I am the one chosen to have been her intercessor. I am most certainly not her favorite child, but that is how the deck of cards worked out. No one else lives within a hundred miles of her, and for the past three years, I am the only one who has seen her week after week, month after month.

It should be noted that my mother’s health (both mental and physical) was on the verge of collapse in November, 2016, and that without the unflagging assistance of my brother, Jim, in San Diego, my mother most likely would not have been able to stabilize and recover; nor would my mother have ended up in the Long Beach area, where I could address her distress, unless my sister, Joni, who lives in Israel, had intervened in the summer of 2016 to extract her from a self-inflicted plight. But it’s been largely a solitary endeavor, made all the more difficult because I do not feel any particular love for my mother. (Post-script to that comment: In some weirdly distant parallel way to how mothers teach themselves to “love” the strange creature that has arrived from within themselves, I have found myself able to feel compassion for her that is as close to a love for her that I will ever have.)

She has not always lived in Long Beach, California. My mother lived, in fact, for over a half-century in the southwestern most pocket of San Diego, a neighborhood that was once part of Imperial Beach, but was annexed by San Diego a couple of decades ago. I left that area in the mid-1960s because it was a catastrophic psychic landscape. In caring for my mother, I confront the embodiment of a childhood environment in which I was treated with contempt and disdain, bullied to a degree that still leaves me stultified with self-loathing. Of course it could have been worse. I could have been a child in Iraq, or Yemen, or forced to bear arms at the age of nine in some equatorial civil war. Instead, I was merely a poor, ugly, and physically weak youth who managed to endure what seemed to be an intolerable amount of abuse without engaging in some hideous retaliation. I told myself that I would do something when I got — though I had no idea what it was — that would have greater dignity to it than my tormentors could ever believe. Whether I have done that or not remains unknown. In any case, each morning I take a deep breath, and steady my will, reciting as I often do Yeats’s translation of Oedipus at Colonus, as a morning prayer.

This past Friday, I found myself at the welfare office in Compton, hoping that the Medi-Cal paperwork to renew my mother’s assistance could somehow be expedited. Compton was not my destination of choice; but I had received no communications whatsoever from the Department of Public Social Service in Los Angeles County for over a year, and my guess was that my mother’s caseworker was located in Compton because it was the office closest to the one where I had filed her original application, when she was living near the northernmost border of Orange County. My guess was spot on.

It was a long morning. “If you hadn’t been called in a half-hour, you should have let someone know,” one worker told me, after I had waited for an hour. Needless to say, no one told me when I checked in how long it would be reasonable to wait before inquiring about the process. I did not want to seem demanding or presumptuous about some degree of entitlement, and so I sat and waited, and sat and waited before expressing my curiosity about the expected length of wait.

I mention all this merely to dilute any jealousy than some readers might feel in taking note of the above poster. One might think, “Wow, Bit Mohr is going to Hawaii to read his poetry.” Well, yes, I am pleased — very pleased — to be asked to read my poems there; and I look forward to it.

But I am exceptionally weary. The ordeal of being my mother’s caretaker the past three years has combined with other disproportionate assignments in other areas of my professional life to leave me skeptical about my ability to enjoy this respite of a journey. Perhaps it will seem to others that I am enjoying it. I, too, wear a mask.

(As a postscript: It is a tribute to the kindness of Nicole and Erik, my hosts in Hawaii, that I was able to take considerable comfort and pleasure from this trip. Thank you both, again and again.)

“The Dead Kid Poems”

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

In my last post, I urged readers to seek out a copy of Joyce Johnson’s extraordinary memoir, Minor Characters, which focuses on her relationships to several writers of the Beat Generation, a phrase she says she first encountered in an article by John Clellon Holmes in the New York Times, on Sunday, November 16, 1952. The memoir primarily focuses on her life in the 1950s, including her years in college and friendship with Elise Cowen, as well as her romantic entanglement with Jack Kerouac.

Johnson herself, as a writer, does not work in the “Beat” mode. She admits to Kerouac at one point, in fact, that her highest admiration is for a writer such as Henry James. I myself prefer her memoir to On the Road. Johnson has an astonishing ability to interweave the fluidity of personal narrative with the always already contingent impetus of the social frameworks of family and employment. There are also poignant side-notes:

“I cannot imagine surviving the death of my own son except as an empty physical shell. Anything but that! I catch myself automatically clutching him by the hand as we cross the street, although he’s fourteen and a full head taller than I am. The hand, which hasn’t quite lost its childish softness, still feels like the enlarged hand of the toddler.”

I thought of this maternal self-reflection as I began reading Alexis Rhone Fancher’s latest volume, “The Dead Kid Poems,” a sequence of poems about the death of her only son, published by Clare MacQueen’s KYSO (“Knock Your Socks Off”) imprint. MacQueen herself lost her only child several years ago, and began her literary magazine as a way to honor the memory of her daughter, who died unexpectedly of an undetected heart ailment.

As a chapbook, the volume feels unnecessarily bulky; of its fifty numbered pages, only half feature poems. Perhaps the editor and author felt that the only way this book would get any attention whatsoever is if unabashedly proclaimed its merits, but the full-scale emphasis on promotional material diluted the book’s thematic vision. This is unfortunate, because the images of the poems are exceptionally memorable, even though Fancher’s restrained enjambment seems to frame those images too predictably in their end-stopped cadences. When Fancher takes more chances with the line-breaks, the images fulfill their potential to haunt the reader. Here, for instance, is the conclusion of “Residuals: An Elegy”:

“You, sweet boy, are the cancelled series;
you are the remote.

Last night: the same commercial —
a boy’s first haircut,

soft curls
sheared, floating.

He could have been your understudy.”

The line break that matters the most is obvious; and without it this set of lines would not come close to achieving the same impact. No other instance of enjambment in the entire book, in fact, is as exquisite.

Even though the title of the volume emphasizes the singular (“kid”), the book includes poems about other children, too: the wayward child (“Anna,” a niece who is a cautionary tale in extremis); “Randy,” another mother’s vanquished offspring; and the ever-mounting contemporary roll-call of children slaughtered by self-appointed score-settlers, primarily at schools. This last category is the ignition point for a performance-oriented protest poem that almost seizes center stage from the poems of personal loss. Using a popular song from a Broadway musical (“My Fair Lady”) as its basic rhetorical referent, “Accustomed to Dead Kids” is nothing short of tour-de-force.

My guess is that Fancher will continue to write poems about the loss of her son and that some day a book will unite the earlier ones in State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies with these poems, and the ones yet to come. Reading her most recent poems on this subject has reminded of poems about this particular kind of incomparable loss by Michael S. Harper, Ben Jonson, and David Ray. Through sheer determination, Fancher is on a trajectory to join them.

Postscript: The intensity of mourning over the death of a child is not necessarily reciprocal, however. The Dead Kid Poems has also caused me to reflect that not all children feel equally devastated by the demise of their parents. For those who would be in the mood to encounter a different register of emotion, I recommend Peter Handke’s “A Sorrow beyond Dreams.” If you have a bucket list of things to read before you die, this should be at the top of the list.

Three Reading Suggestions: Tremblay; Elman; Johnson

Over 10,000 people have received the M.F.A. degree in writing poetry this past decade. Maybe one in ten will still be writing at the end of the coming decade. Even with that level of attrition, there is no way that I can possibly keep up with what is “new” in poetry. In fact, I am still discovering work that I missed in more recent decades by older writers.

I have three books to recommend that I just read for the first time:

Shooting Script: Door of Fire — Bill Tremblay (Eastern Washington University Press, 2003)
Cathedral-Tree-Train and Other Poems — Richard Elman (Junction Press, 1992)
Minor Characters — Joyce Johnson (Penguin, 1983)

The first two books in my list perhaps coincidentally feature depictions of real-life characters who were painters. Tremblay’s book-length poem is a masterful account of the historical intersection of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky. It is the perfect companion piece to read (and re-read) along with Peter Weiss’s The Persecution and Assassination of Jeap-Paul Marat, as Performed by the Inmates at the Asylum at Charenton, Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.”

Tremblay has been producing outstanding poems for o half-century, and deserves far more recognition for his writing. His impressive body of work begins with a book that caught my attention back in the early 1970s, Crying in the Cheap Seats. While he has received several awards, and has hardly gone utterly neglected, there is something about his work that sets it apart and makes it not easily assimilable to the current fashion. For one thing, there is an undercurrent of steadfast imperviousness to his work: he is not beholden to anyone, and does not ever intend to permit himself that easy way out. Granted the distant influence of Frost, which is almost impossible to avoid for anyone engaged in narrative with a depth-of-field plasticity, Tremblay’s work summons us to be conscious of our own lives as readers in need of imagining provocative continuums.

http://www.tremblayscript.com

Richard Elman was better known as a journalist and fiction writer, but the title poem of his volume from Mark Weiss’s Junction Press (when it was located in Tucson, Arizona) is one of the most remarkable testimonies about the self-destructive allure of the imagination I have ever encountered. I had never heard of the painter Keith Sanzenbach until I read Elman’s poem, but I look forward to a chance to see more of it in person. The cover image of Elman’s book has a reproduction of a painting that belongs to the Oakland Museum of Art, and its snail-whorl vortex portends the stillness that awaits our transitions from mortality. I wish it were possible for the art critic Peter Schjeldahl to have a chance to write about a show of his work. In the meantime, Elman’s poem will have to serve as the introduction to a catalogue copy yet to be published.

The third book I want to recommend to my readers is Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters. While this book won a major award, and completely deserved it, it far exceeds the distinction accorded it. Her self-portrait of a woman aspiring to become a writer in the 1950s has assessments of the human condition that made me stop the forward progress of avid curiosity about the next sentence, and interrogate myself about the relevance of her insights to the lives of my friends as well as myself. A short while back, I praised Cherrie Moraga’s recently published memoir. Once again, the term companion piece comes to mind: Johnson’s book should be side-by-side with Moraga’s on your bookshelves.

David Ulin’s superb review of Ed Smith’s “Punk Rock Is Cool….”

July 26, 2019

It’s not often I read a review that can provide the context for a writer’s work while also enabling the reader to absorb the full implications of the book’s major themes. David Ulin has written an exceptionally acute account of why Ed Smith’s poetry is still relevant to our current predicaments. Only those who have attempted this kind of project can appreciate the amount of hard work that must have gone into Ulin’s in-depth reading and note-taking. At some point, I hope he edits a second volume of Writing Los Angeles in which he is able to include some of Smith’s poetry. In the meantime, the best anthology that provides readers with the work of some of the other “punk” poets, in Los Angeles, in the mid-1980s remains POETRY LOVES POETRY, in which I selected work by Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Dave Alvin, Bob Flanagan, Jack Skelly, Amy Gerstler, Dennis Cooper, and David Trinidad (Ed’s editor) as the subset of poets whose respect for Ed’s work enabled him to flourish in unexpected ways.

https://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-review-ed-smith-poems-punk-la-20190718-story.html