1001 Nights at the Coffee Cartel

February 16, 2019

Running a reading series is a largely thankless task: “Gratitude has no memory.” In general, poets want a place to read, but few are willing to do the work of curating and serving as on-site moderators. Given the amount of work involved, it’s no surprise that most reading series outside of those funded on college campuses don’t last longer than two or three years. The ones that do tend to be based at bookstores, but while those retail outlets are showing more resilience than might be anticipated as individually owned economic entities, the Great Recession certainly impacted the possible continuity of reading series that began in the last century and are still going today.

One reading series that crossed that divide was run by Jim DOANE and the late Larry Colker at the Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach (the same beach town rhapsodized about by Patti Smith). Twenty years of weekly readings (with only a few off nights) came close enough to breaking the four-digit mark of total presentations to justify the title of a retrospective anthology: 1001 Nights; Twenty Years of Redondo Poets at Coffee Cartel 1998-2017. Not every poet who gave memorable readings at the Coffee Cartel appears in the volume. Richard Garcia, for instance, who is one of the very best poets now working in the United States and whose work preeminently deserves translation into at least a score of languages, doesn’t have a poem in this volume.

As a culminating gesture, however, the poetic heroes of the Coffee Cartel sifted through nominations of poems read at the series by a couple dozen poets who are primarily working in Southern California, and this book serves as yet another piece of evidence to confirm the ongoing vitality of a regional renaissance in American poetry that began in 1948, with Grover Jacoby’s first editorial project, Recurrence.

Ellen Bass, Michelle Bitting, Laurel Ann Bogen, Lynne Bronstein, Elena Karina Byrne, Helene Cardona, Brendan Constantine, Amelie Frank, Jessica Goodhart, Donna Hilbert, Elizabeth Iannaci, Charlotte Innes, Suzanne Lummis, Rick Rupert, Sarah Maclay, Ellen Maybe, Michelle Mitchell-Foust, Bill Mohr, Jim Natal, Kim Noriega, Judith Pacht, Candace Pearson, Cece Peri, Marilyn N. Robertson, Beth Ruscio, Cathie Sandstrom, Gerard Tarnat, Joan Jobs Smith, David St. John, Kevin Patrick Sullivan, Paul Suntup, G. Murray Thomas, Lynne Thompson, Carine Topal, Fred Voss, Pam Ward, Charles Harper Webb, Hilda Weiss, Cecilia Woloch, Nancy Lynee Woo, Tim Xonnelly, Brenda Yates, and Mariano Zaro.

Many of these poets will be familiar to readers who have copies of anthologies such as GRAND PASSION and WIDE AWAKE, as well as STAND UP POETRY. Only four of them, however, appeared in my 1985 anthology, POETRY LOVES POETRY. As editor, I am the only poet to appear in 1001 Nights to appear in THE STREETS INSIDE: TEN LOS ANGELES POETS (1978). I am happy to report, though, that many of the other poets in that volume (which is so scarce that not even rare book dealers seem to have a copy of it) are still alive and working: Eloise Klein Healy, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, Deena Metzger, Kate Ellen Braverman, Peter Levitt, and Jim Krusoe, though Jim works only as a novelist and short-story writer now.

NOTE: Jim DOANE’s last name is capitalized because every time I type it, the word comes out “Diane.” No matter how often I correct it, it changes his last name to “Diane.” No doubt there is some way to override this spelling mechanism, but I wonder what it is about a system that cannot recognize and defer to the person doing the work.