The Always Already Redefining of L.A. Poetry

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Always Already Redefining of L.A. Poetry

https://entropymag.org/redefining-la-poetry-robin-coste-lewis-and-the-emerging-poets/

Jessica Ceballos has forwarded me an article by Mike Sonksen (aka Mike the Poet) which was recently published in Entropy magazine. Mike’s articles and reviews the past half-dozen years have in general been the most invigorating commentary on the current scenes in Los Angeles, and he has done his homework on the history of the city’s literary communities. I have to disagree with him, though, when he says that Robin Coste Lewis is “an excellent choice to carry on the work that Luis Rodriguez pioneered as poet laureate” and that “literary Los Angeles is thrilled with her appointment.” I can’t be thrilled with someone who demeans the work I’ve done for over 40 years.

There are several dozen poets I would have been thrilled to hear announced as the next poet laureate, and I named them when I wrote the Cultural Affairs Department and its laureate selection committee several months ago: Douglas Kearney, Sesshu Foster, Amy Uyematsu, Will Alexander, Gail Wronsky, Cecilia Woloch, Elena Byrne, Laurel Ann Bogen, Brian Kim Stefans, Ron Koertge, Charles H. Webb, Paul Vangelisti, Jack Grapes, Holly Prado, Harryette Mullen, Carol Muske-Dukes, Martha Ronk, and Suzanne Lummis.

My list of potential poet laureates reflected the long-standing relationship of these poets with the development of poetry scenes in Los Angeles, and it was not meant to be comprehensive. One could have assembled a list of the most likely potential finalists, though, by combining my list with those named in Mike’s article (December 9, 2016) that surveyed the field of potential candidates: https://www.kcet.org/arts-entertainment/the-rich-history-of-los-angeles-poetry-scene-who-will-be-the-2017-poet-laureate

In addition to many of the poets I listed, he pointed to Gloria Endedina Alvarez, Chiwan Choi, Brendan Constantine, Kamau Daaood, Peter J. Harris, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Ruben Martinez, Marisela Norte, Pam Ward, and Terry Wolverton. Between Mike’s list and my list, one has a compilation of over two dozen poets with sustained continuity to the L.A. scenes. These poets have “always already” been redefining Los Angeles poetry as a multi-cultural phenomenon that reflects the contingencies of urban life and postmodern identity as it plays out in configurations of class, gender, and race. That Robin Coste Lewis did not appear in either list is perhaps a reflection of her dearth of community work as an activist in L.A. poetry scenes. Art is not a democracy, however, and she was chosen by the Mayor to be our representative public figure.

Back when I took what little money I had left over from my wages and “invested” in a magazine and small press that promoted the work of Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo, I envisioned a city that would have a flourishing set of poetry scenes. Thanks to the hard work of dozens and dozens of poets and cultural activists in Los Angeles who joined me in that effort in the past four decades, Ms. Lewis has at her disposal the resources of a diverse and crisis-tested region of poets. I look forward to learning of her specific plans as to how to strengthen the long-standing resistance of these poets to the “manufactured image of L.A.” First, though, she needs to do something she ought to have done before she applied to become poet laureate of Los Angeles: become articulately familiar in detail with the history of that resistance.

Robin Coste Lewis, the New Poet Laureate of Los Angeles

Sunday, May 28, 2017

“The Very Manufactured Stereotype of L.A.”: Robin Coste Lewis and the Past Half-Century of Los Angeles Poetry

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-door-to-robin-coste-lewiss-los-angeles/

Slightly over a year ago, the newly appointed poet laureate of Los Angeles, Robin Coste Lewis, had an interview published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. According to Ms. Lewis, LA poetry possesses a media-embolded image promulgated by writers who are “white, Venice Beach, a little Beat, folks who came here and invested in the very manufactured stereotype of L.A.” Ms. Lewis did not cite any of these poets by name; perhaps she feels there are so many who fit that description that there is little point in reciting a laundry list of the usual suspects; or maybe she was hoping to nudge the main offenders into voluntarily undertaking a revival of self-criticism, as practiced back in the 1960s. If so, then here’s how I line up: White: check. Venice Beach. Well, I lived in Ocean Park, which is just north of Venice for 20 years, and I certainly hung around Beyond Baroque enough in those years, so: check. “a little Beat.” As with Venice Beach, I suppose there’s enough of a post-Beat aura about my writing to say, check. And yes, I did come here from elsewhere.

But now let us pause, and consider the way that Ms. Lewis’s rhetoric constitutes a classic case of how politicians operate when they want to smear a community and its affiliates and supporters. Political hit jobs work by first establishing an accurate or sufficiently accurate description of the target, and then one moving on to the inaccurate, which is meant to undermine the opponent’s legitimacy. Ms. Lewis obviously scorns the “folks who came here and invested in the very manufactured stereotype of L.A.,” as do I. The problem is that she regards me as one of those folks. I have no idea of how and why she would align me with the hegemonic ideology of the culture industries. Nevertheless, this is what has done, and let there be no mistake about it: she intends to smear all the work I’ve done as being no different in its values as those promoted by the entertainment industries and its concrete effects on the notion of success.

Nor does Ms. Lewis want there to be any ambiguity about her position. She proclaims that she plans to advocate for a group of poets who will enable her to “redefin(e) what ‘LA Poet’ means”; these poets include Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo, as well as Juan Felipe Herrera. “Do you know what I mean?” she inquires.

I do know what she means. I’ve just tweeted:

“L.A. poetry is Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo,” whom (RCL ought to know, but doesn’t) I was the first to publish.

I don’t expect anyone appointed as the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles to be an assiduous scholar of Southern California literary history. I do expect, however, the poet laureate of Los Angeles to have a basic familiarity with those who created a critical mass of “scenes” sufficiently prominent to make it feasible for a position such as poet laureate to be bureaucratically anointed by the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles.

Back in the mid-1970s, I took the money I had saved from two years of working as a blueprint machine operator and started a poetry magazine, Momentum. By the second issue, I had become the first editor to publish the poetry of Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo. My support of Coleman’s and Hongo’s poetry was complemented by my friend, Leland Hickman, whose editorial efforts included them in his first undertaking as an editor. I went on to publish the writing of many LA-based poets, including Aleida Rodriguez and Manazar Gamboa. Yes, it’s true that the overwhelming majority of the poets I published in my magazine fit the general category of “white and a little Beat,” but it would be quite a stretch to describe them as being collaborators with the culture industry. Has Ms. Lewis read the books I published by gay poets (Leland Hickman, Joseph Hansen, Jack Thomas) or the poetry I published that was aligned with one of the most important feminist institutions of the period, the Woman’s Building? Holly Prado’s Feasts remains one of the underground classics of that era; Kate Braverman’s Milk Run is probably one of the hundred best first books of the post-World War II American poetry. Deena Metzger’s Dark Milk contains forthright meditations on the political struggles of the period.

By the time I edited my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” in the mid-1980s, the range of poets working in Los Angeles was exceptionally intriguing, and no one group was dominating the conversation. If anything, the scenes were only getting more complicated: thanks to the arrival of Douglas Messerli at the very moment PLP was getting its first reviews, the poets interested in avant-garde poetics received an enormous boost. Leland Hickman’s Temblor magazine (1985-1990) hardly qualifies as a representative instance of a scene that is “a little Beat.” On the other hand, S.A. Griffin, Scott Wannberg, and Doug Knott were “holdouts” in reinvigorating the Beat legacy. With ever increasing prominence in this later period, the poetry performing troupe of Nearly Fatal Women (Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, Linda Albertano) invigorated the coalescence of the Stand Up poetry movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as championed by Charles Harper Webb. During the last dozen or so years of the past century, Lummis organized a city-wide celebration of poetry, the L.A. Poetry Festival, that reflected the multi-cultural maturity of the city’s expanding poetry scenes.

The diversity of Lummis’s festival was hardly a new feature of the region’s literary ecology. In the mid-1970s, Beyond Baroque launched its first wave of book publications with a volume of poems by K. Curtis Lyle, one of the charter members of the Watts Writers Workshop, and Beyond Baroque reiterated its belief in his poetry when it published Electric Church. Many people associate Beyond Baroque’s first two decades with the leadership provided by James Krusoe, Jack Grapes, and Dennis Cooper, but it also proved to be a crucial training ground for poets such as Michelle T. Clinton, whose poetry was first anthologized in “PLP”, and who then went on to co-edit an anthology entitled Invocation L.A., which proclaimed itself the first multi-cultural anthology of L.A. poets.

Perhaps, though, the most telling aspect of Ms. Lewis’s comments on L.A. poetry concerns her elision of small press activity in this region. Although she mentions in her interview in LARB how she worked at Kitchen Table Press when she first arrived in New York City, her knowledge of literary magazine production in Los Angeles during the past 60 years seems to be abysmally blank. Professionally trained in New York and New England, and published by Knopf, it can hardly pass unnoticed that Ms. Lewis seems to have a typical East Coast attitude towards Southern California poetry magazines and small presses. Her failure to acknowledge the editorial work of John Martin, Paul Vangelisti, Aleida Rodriguez, Leland Hickman, Dennis Cooper, Jack Grapes, Doren Robbins, Harvey Robert Kubernik, Douglas Messerli, Kate Gale and Tim Green verges on outrageous. What about the publishing projects of Luis J. Rodriguez and his Tia Chucha Press? Is Ms. Lewis completely unaware of David Kippen’s important work at Libros Schmibros?

If Ms. Lewis is to serve as some kind of spokesperson for Los Angeles poets for the next two years, I would appreciate a more inclusive generosity on her part. She may have been born in Los Angeles, and feel entitled to use that fact to bolster her street cred, but those of us who have worked here for several decades to create a viable ecology of poetic variety, in which immigrant voices are welcome, have done nothing that deserves her sneering conflation of our efforts with the corporate media. The film and television industries are industrial projects with global domination in mind. Rather than conjuring up some self-serving fantasy of L.A. poetry history, in which she plays the redeemer rushing to the rescue, Ms. Lewis could make better use of her recent appointment by building on the long-standing resistance of poets in this city to those who would use their cultural capital to dominate and exploit. Being poet laureate of Los Angeles is not so much an honor for her, as it is her responsibility to respect those whose ill-paid labor the past half-century has brought the multitude of scenes in Los Angeles to this crucial point. I, too, want to keep redefining what it means to be a L.A. poet. I hope that her appointment encourages all the poets in this city to reexamine the definitions to which their activism first gave public credibility.

“Quickly Aging Here”: Denis Johnson (1949-2017)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

QUICKLY AGING HERE: Denis Johnson (July 1, 1949 – May 24, 2017)

An anthology published in 1969 entitled Quickly Aging Here derived its title from a line of poetry by its youngest contributor, Denis Johnson. The anthology itself, edited by Geoff Hewitt, was dominated by younger poets inaugurating the literary onslaught of those born in the first increment of the “Baby Boom.” I believe that the guiding rule of the anthology was that the poet could not have had a full-length volume of poems yet published, and fortunately that rule did not have the age limit of 40 imposed by the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or the Yale Younger Poets award. One of the oldest poets was Alfred Starr Hamilton, who eventually did get a substantial collection published. Mary Ellen Solt’s work stood out as emblematic of the expanding interest in so-called “concrete poetry” at that time. It was the anthology in which I first read the work of the Ray DiPalma, William Witherup, and Sophia Castro-Leon.

Even though Johnson went on to write a collection of poems, The Incognito Lounge, which was selected for the National Poetry Series, and to have a hefty “new and selected poems” published as well, very little of his work in this genre ended up being cited in his first obituary in the New York Times, let alone in the appreciation by Michiko Kakutani that appeared soon after.

It’s possible that Johnson will find himself left out of future anthologies that focus on poets born between 1940 and 1960 because of the way that his novels constitute the bulk of his reputation. This in itself suggests that much of what is regarded as editing poetry anthologies is merely the perfunctory checklist of genre affiliation: being regarded as a poet would seem to involve a devotion to a peculiar ritual of shaping language that isolates one from the bulk of literate people. No doubt jazz ends up exerting the same counter-weights to the gravitational tugs of popular music.

Restlessness in a writer is rarely rewarded, and Johnson himself acknowledged his impatience with any self-prescribed formula. The Poetry Foundation’s entry on Johnson quotes him in an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2014, “I get bored quickly and try another style, another genre, another form. … To me the writing is all one thing, or maybe I should say it’s all nothing. The truth is, I just write sentences.”

The test, of course, is how quickly the sentences age. Not everyone was overly impressed by Johnson’s sentences, as evidenced in a scathing review that appeared ten years ago in the Atlantic Monthly. Jonathan Galassi, on the other hand, issues a comment after Johnson died in which he called Johnson “one of the great writers of his generation. He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.” How well Johnson’s poetic empathy will age is not a matter that can be settled in an instant. Slowly, in another decade or two, we will begin to find out if Johnson’s sentences deserve to endure.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/books/denis-johnsons-poetic-visions-of-a-fallen-world.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/books/denis-johnson-dead-author-of-jesus-son.html

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/05/26/us/ap-us-obit-denis-johnson.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/12/a-bright-shining-lie/306434/

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/denis-johnson

In Memory of Len Roberts (1947-2007)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LEN ROBERTS: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death
Born: March 13, 1947, Cohoes, NY
Died: May 25, 2007, Bethlehem, PA

“I admire very much the technical achievement in Len Roberts’s poetry. This will probably come as a surprise because one would normally identify technical skills with a different kind of poetry than his, a poetry more formal, more contrived, an stiff. This is missing the whole idea of what the technical is in poetry. It is that which applies pressure to the reader to pay attention. It is that which liberates, and makes terribly important, what the poet is saying. What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” — Gerald Stern, author of Lucky Life, winner of the Lamont Prize

Back when I did Momentum Press, I was often improvising when it came to the production of the book itself. Most of the books didn’t have anything on the back covers, and as I recounted in one of a half-dozen long interviews this past summer for the Oral History project at UCLA, this starkness was thought by one person to reflect the influence of Black Sparrow. John Martin’s books didn’t have any promotional material on the back covers of his books, and I remember someone asking me in the early 1980s if my books were designed in his manner.

As much as I admired Martin’s book production, I didn’t consciously copy that aspect. Rather, in my case, I simply didn’t have time to get the authors to round up commentary for the books. It was also the case that most of the writers I knew didn’t have the kind of connections or affiliations that would have enabled them to snag “blurbs.” In the case of Len Roberts, though his first book (Cohoes Theater) had a single blurb, by Gerald Stern, which leads off today’s blog entry. Subsequent books published by other presses had even more generous assessments, which I will post at the end of my notations.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Len Roberts, a poet I never met in person. I imagine that most of the people who take a peek at this blog think of me as an editor and publisher of Los Angeles poets, but I aspired to be more than a local publisher. (If the economy hadn’t been sundered between 1978 and 1984 by a vicious case of inflation followed by devastating recession, perhaps I would survived as a small press publisher. But that’s another story.) In point of fact, not only did I publish books by poets who lived outside of California, but to this day I still have not met Jim Grabill, who was one of the first poets to have a book come out from Momentum Press. Jim lived in Ohio at the time; he moved to Oregon sometime in the early 1980s, I believe, and has lived there ever since.

I become familiar with Roberts’s poetry because he sent some to Jim Krusoe at Beyond Baroque for consideration in BB’s magazine, and on the rejection note Jim suggested that he send some poems to me at my magazine. Indeed, Len’s long lines and long poems immediately struck me as the kind of work I was looking for, and he ended up sending me a manuscript entitled “Cohoes Theater.” The title poem, “Cohoes” was a ten-page six part poem that probably seemed inordinately long to most editors in those early poems of McPoem’s hegemony, but “Cohoes” felt only slightly longer than normal to a young editor whose ambition it was to be the publisher of Leland Hickman’s “Tiresias.” Somewhere along the line, someone put out the story that Allen Ginsberg was responsible for sending me Len’s manuscript. I had very little contact with Ginsberg over the years, and he played no role whatsoever in my reception and support of Len’s poetry. According to his widow, Nancy, Len did spend several hours talking with Ginsberg, which is twenty times the amount of time I spent in conversation with him, and perhaps the blurb that Ginsberg eventually contributed to one of Len’s books somehow attached itself to someone’s misunderstanding of Ginsberg’s contribution to the first book publication of Len’s poetry. I am proud to recall that Cohoes was cited by the Elliston Prize committee as one of the better books published in 1980, joining the other books I published in 1980 as the highwater mark of my publishing career.

I recently wrote his widow, Nancy, and asked for permission to reprint a couple of his poems on this anniversary memorial post. There are at least two dozen poems that I would post if I had the time to type them up: from Sweet Ones (Milkweed Editions, 1988), for instance, I would love to present you with “The Block” or with the haunting poem, “The Odds”; or “Beauty and the Nuclear Reactor at Three Mile Island” from Cohoes Theater, or the magnificent love poem, “Wrapping”; but as my initial entry, I believe I will start with “Stealing,” from From the Dark.

STEALING

Last night I woke up the in the dark knowing
my father was with me,
like the night I stole down the cold hall stairs
to take change from his breadman’s purse,
the green work pants hung on the peg,
boots placed neatly under the chair,
and then, as I hushed the click inside my shirt,
his soft breathing as I looked up
to see the lit cigarette rising and falling.
I don’t wonder anymore
that he didn’t sleep nights
only to rise before light
to perk coffee, shave, whistling
with the low tunes of the radio.
I don’t need to call him back from peddling bread
to the three-foot drifts
to ask how he could forgive
that night gathering now in my chest,
or how he could make me take
the coins he placed gently into my hands,
and silently wave me away.

Len Roberts deserves a COLLECTED POEMS. He published over a half-dozen volumes of very, very fine poems, and his achievement can only be appreciated if one sits down and allows oneself to absorb a large number of his poems. If you are in a hurry to find someone you think you can imitate in some way because copying a “successful” poet will hope you achieve success, move on to some other poet with all due impetuous haste. Roberts may seem to be writing in a mode made familiar by other poets of his generation, but something indefinable is pressing down on his poems that makes them memorable beyond the power of memorization to contain. His poems demand an inner recitation on the bare stage of one’s soul. Only then will you as the reader realize that you have encountered a poet whose writing possesses the nuanced heft of a major novelist.

“Sometimes the facts of Len Roberts’s world are raw, nearly coarse, the questions that it asks of experience nearly brutal, but there is always in the poems a gentle sensibility, a probing intelligence and an acute attentiveness to what is urgent in our lives that tempers the poems, and that situates them firmly in that precious space between poet and reader which is our common bond, and common exaltation.” — C.K. Williams

Sweet Ones is a fearless and beautiful book. I love its unwavering truthfulness and unwavering mercy – somehow the mercy always equal to the truth – its sweetness, and its subtle, powerful music. The intensity of emotion in these poems is stunning, yet they have a calmness which gives them the feeling of deep balance. When I read Len Roberts I feel my heart being broken and put back together stronger.” – Sharon Olds

“Discovering these new poems I was pleased – the compositions are readable and natural, real, American, they’re narrative epiphanies Pip’s asphalt accuracies, First Kiss’ lightning landscape, for instances, among many strong clear-minded poems. Marden Hartley’s Lewiston Is a Pleasant Place and your From the Dark are grounded in native humane & objective perceptions.” – Allen Ginsberg

“Len Roberts knows that indirectness of feeling is the poet’s (or anyone’s) greatest asset of: to love children one most fear the dark, etc. This is what makes ordinary things take on value without tricks of rhetoric. His poems are marvelous examples, simple, lucid, and powerful, and reading them gives me a continuous sense of the mythic process that not only enriches my understanding but entertains me vastly.” – Hayden Carruth

“Side-Yard” Succulent Tsunami

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In addition to calculating final grades for the past semester, I spent part of yesterday working on a brief speech in praise of my undergraduate student, Melissa Tang, who wrote a superb syllabic poem in one of my classes and was awarded the Beatrice and John Janesco Prize at the English Department’s annual banquet to honor its best students. Several of my colleagues gave very fine comments about our students’ writing, especially Patty Seyburn, George Hart, and Lisa Glatt.

Mid-day, on a walk to get just a bit of exercise, I noticed that the lobes of an enormous cactus appeared to touch the window of an adjacent second floor apartment. I didn’t have a camera with a telephoto lens, but I am sorely tempted to splurge on equipment just to get such a shot.

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Side Fence Toil and Sidle

Tuesday morning, May 23, 2017

I drove up to KPFK’s studio on Saturday morning to record three poems as a reprise of the “Sunset Strip, 1967” reading a few weeks ago at the West Hollywood Library. Kim Dower, who had organized the reading, asked us to be in North Hollywood by 10:00 a.m., and I was not the most cheerful person heading off early on a Saturday morning from Long Beach in order to get up there in time. The day turned out, however, to be a scorcher, and on the drive back I was grateful that the recording session had not been scheduled for 3 p.m. I would not have wanted to commence my round-trip shortly after noon. Perhaps someday I will have a car with air-conditioning, but until then the various commutes I undertake are often an exhausting grind. I had free tickets on faculty and staff day to see a CSULB Dirtbags baseball game at 2 p.m. They went unused. I was glad to hear in the days after that no player suffered heatstroke.

Kim divided the recording session into two half-hour parts, the first one featuring Yvonne Estrada, Brendan Constantine, and Laurel Ann Bogen. The second one included Lynne Thompson and myself, with Elena Carina Byrne being recorded over the phone afterwards. I’ve been to these studios a dozen or so times over the past several decades; like Beyond Baroque, it’s a quirky miracle that KPFK has survived. The music critic, Steve Hochman, introduced himself after the reading at the library, and mentioned that he had been at the Darden Smith show that is the subject of one of the poem I read, “Sunset Blvd.”; it was a pleasure to dedicate the poem to him at the KPFK recording.

By the very late afternoon, it had cooled off enough that I was able to work at the side of our rented residence, and by the last smudge of twilight I had dug up most of the weeds that had grown since the onset of the winter rains, a period of steady moist air that I am already growing too fond of in my memory. There is just enough room to do some more planting and add a little more color to our domestic edges, so a trip to the plant store will be one of the first things we do after I finish grading papers for the Spring semester.

KPFK
(l-r, clockwise: Kim Dower; Yvonne Estrada; Brendan Constantine, Laurel Ann Bogen)

Full Length Yellow Blooms

Flower Sun Plate

UNBD Soft Landing (Part Two)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Having found the “host” planet at Temple and Third too forbidding, the NanoDrone moved on to Temple and Mariquita.

An initial report of a similar terrain caused the crew to check its fuel gauge.

Long Tube Dense Pole

Soon after, a set of three yellow bands signaled that a landing site had been detected.

Three Yellow bands

The “Descent” began (as “a kind of renewal”):

Begin Descent

Descent Almost Complete

Ultra-Nano-Breastbone-Drone (UNBD) Steers to a Soft Landing (Part One: Hostile Terrain)

Just as mechanized exploratory crafts such “Rover,” “Pathfinder,” and “Sojourner” must consider very carefully the terrain that will serve as their landing spots, so too must every Ultra-Nano-Breastbone-Drone undertake a meticulous assessment of the exact area that will most likely provide a “soft landing.”

This recent record of an exploratory flight was “hacked” from top-level intelligence sources (courtesy of Bitter-Twitter-Foible-L’oeil-45: Stayin’ Alive) and is hereby distributed as a public service to fellow flight controllers.

Satellite Dish Pole

Dense Pole - 2

Dense Pole Onward One

Dense Pole - One

Shelter from the Storm

Rupert - 2017

When one rents, one never knows how long the landlord will retain the property and let the lease in place ride out its month to month contingency. We have lived in the same house for the past eight years, and I am grateful for the continuity. We live at a minor intersection, which is to say that it can be noisy on occasion, though at least two of the families on the other corners are friendly and kind, and there is a sense of a neighborhood. Most of the people in the most adjacent houses have lived here even longer than we have, so if a major emergency occurred, we would at least have some sense of this vicinity being our joint responsibility. We are its caretakers, if not uniformly its owners. The neighborhood is a plural self-possessed.

It’s final exams week at CSULB. Back at the very beginning of this semester, there was a knock on our front door. Brookes, who lives in an apartment behind us, and Jill, who lives across the street, had just happened to hear a cat meowing on the corner of Geoff and Dana’s house, and it was the meow of a lost and hungry cat. “Would you be able to keep the cat for just one night?” Jill asked. “I’ll take it to the vet tomorrow morning and see if it has a chip.” It had already been a very wet winter, and more rain was due soon. Ever if a storm was not due that night, it was very cold out. A strong wind from off the Pacific Ocean a half-mile away was definitely bringing more clouds by the next afternoon. The cat was big, probably a male, and its orange fur glowed in the porch light. “OK, one night.” Famous last words.

The chip turned out to have an initial registration date from eleven years ago. The registration had long expired. A rambunctious beast, it turned out, who must have perfected his act of drumming on windows until he’s let out at several other residences during the past decade. The first few nights were on the sleepless side. “Dogs have owners; cats have staff” is the old saying, and this cat regarded us as staff that needed to be properly trained.

He is still here, though I fear his habit of crossing the street to visit Jill’s house, without looking for traffic, is going to lead fatal consequences some day. It’s been hard to accept that a new cat lives where I once cared for my beloved Cordelia, but Rupert has a raffish charm and he certainly knows how to campaign. More than a few neighbors have reported that he spends time on their porches, wooing the attention of their small children. “Rupert” still feels like a temporary name, like an alias for someone trying to make up for someone else’s mistake. We have yet to take him to the vet, though a visit can’t be put off too much longer.

In the meantime, the chastening of an incompetent President continues to be the main order of business in Washington, D.C. Power ill-gotten can never lose its dubious legitimacy, and the process of indirect elections is hardly serving as an exemplary means of staffing the public sphere by a large-scale human relations department. In contrasting the very local and the national scenes, Rupert probably has a better chance of being ensconced in this house four years from now than Trump has of being re-elected and occupying the Oval Office in the spring of 2020. My bet: even if he’s removed from office, Trump will run for election again in 2019. Extraction from office will only exacerbate his lust for the illusion of political dignity. That man has grown too fond of the panoply of public rallies to settle for being a re-run on the History Channel. Unlike Nixon, Trump will demand our attention again. You heard it here first.

Trash Can Sundials

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trash Can Sundials

Photograph: Bill Mohr
(c) Bill Mohr, 2017