Author Archives: billmohr

In Memoriam: Brenda Frye

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Linda and I drove to Topanga this morning for a gathering meant to help us heal from the death of the youngest sister in my wife’s family. Linda was the second child and the first daughter in her cluster of seven siblings. Five girls followed. Their mother is still alive, and now has a total of 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wish to thank Gleen Fisher, the father of Brenda’s two very special teenage sons, and Jill Ha for hosting the gathering at Irony Gallery, the newly opened art exhibition space in Topanga.

Brenda was very much her own person, as the saying goes. “Quirky” was her preferred self-description, according to Sharon. One of her sisters, Pam, told a story of when Brenda was five years old and about to head out of the house to play with her friend across the street. She paused at the kitchen door, looked up at her mother, Noreen, and asked, “Do bugs have ears?” Maybe the “e” Brenda added to her last name stood for the “ears” with which she listened to a different set of grace notes than most of us had the flexibility to absorb. Most certainly I do not have sufficient courage to endure what she did in her battle with breast cancer the past half-dozen years.

Farewell for the moment, Brenda. “Teach peace.”

1210171230a

Brenda Frye (1965 – 2017)

1210171155 copy

The Garden City Horse Sculpture

Friday, December 8, 2017 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

The transition from graduate student to faculty is perhaps even harder than writing one’s dissertation, if only because the time allotted to turn one’s attention from the latter task to the former endeavor is so brief. No sooner had I finished defending my dissertation in the late spring, 2004 (and it was not a slam-dunk; not everyone on my committee believed that what I had written deserved their signature) and submitting a revised version to the graduate office at UCSD than I was heading to Idyllwild to teach for six weeks, and then back to San Diego to teach a summer extension course in poetry, all the while packing to head to Lynbrook, New York and teach English as a Second Language at Nassau Community College.

The drive from where Linda and I lived in Lynbrook to the NCCs campus was about nine miles on surface streets, and one day we ended up taking a different route. About three miles from the campus, we noticed a park with a statue of a horse and got out and took some photographs.

IMG_0075

“Welcome to the Village of Garden City” declares an oval sign, at a spot on its breastbone where a medallion might hang. NCC was in Garden City, a place I’d first heard of when I looked on the copyright pages of books published by Doubleday, and saw its headquarters listed as Garden City, New York. The company was located on Long Island for about three-quarters of a century (1910-1986) and I believe the building it occupied on Franklin Avenue is still in use.

IMG_0084

As a youth, I had not the slightest idea where Garden City might be, nor did I care. It seemed odd to me that a publishing company in New York wouldn’t be located in Manhattan itself, but with the exception of a half-dozen writers, Doubleday’s authors were never of much interest to me. That Doubleday found itself being packaged and repackaged as part of the corporate expansion into the cultural domain was hardly a surprise. I don’t know of many people who worry that its backlist might perish from the conversation (e.g., Form and Value in Modern Poetry (Doubleday Anchor) by R.P. Blackmur; or the poems and essays of Robert Graves).

Linda and I remember the statue of the horse with bemused affection, though. While we passed by that park just that once, the occasion in retrospect still seems more than a droll chance encounter. I suppose it might be thought of as kitsch, and yet is it any less appealing than the work of Jeff Koons? He should be so lucky as to have this piece of work to his credit.

IMG_0083

Kevin Opstedal’s Poems in the San Diego Reader

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three New Poems by Kevin Opstedal

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

Several months ago, the poetry editor of the San Diego Reader wrote me and requested that I spread the word that he was looking for submissions, and so I contacted several of my favorite poets on the West Coast, ranging from Carol Ellis in Portland and Kevin Opstedal in Santa Cruz to Cecilia Woloch and Gail Wronsky in Los Angeles. I have just heard from Kevin Opstedal that the current issue of the San Diego Reader features three of his poems: “Mona Lisa in a Sombrero”: “Spilling the Kool-Aid”; and “Folded into the Azure Origami of Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”

Opstedal’s poems have been published in a multitude of chapbooks as well as larger volumes, and he was one of the poets featured in a recent anthology I co-edited with Neeli Cherkovski, “CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” You can find my commentary on Opstedal’s work in entries in this blog on January 28, 2016 (“The Poet Laureate of PCH”) and April 21, 2017 (a review of “Pacific Standard Time”).

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

Caliban Chronicles: “The Will to Change” the System

Saturday, December 2, 2017

There are news reports Mr. Flynn has allegedly been “flipped” and will likely be giving damaging testimony against associates of President Trump who worked on behalf of his election. I seriously doubt that anything said in a court of law is going to result in Trump resigning, and as long as Congress is controlled by the GOP, does anyone believe that he would actually be impeached?

In fact, to be blunt, impeaching Trump would not really solve anything. Pence is no better. “Even mad chief need sane lieutenants,” said Hayden Carruth in a poem about “Adolf.” The only way to stop the madness in which those are who wealthy disclaim any responsibility for the health and well-being of their fellow citizens is to alter the party in power in Congress in 2018, and at least bring to a halt the dismantling of the social safety net. It will not be possible to rebuild what is being torn apart until at least 2022, but we can minimize the damages that will accumulate between now and then, if and only if we vote in sufficient numbers to change an unbalanced system.

The best analysis I have read of our situation can be found in Larry Smith’s latest edition of the Caliban Chronicles, and I urge you to read it. The only “friendly amendment” I would attach to Larry’s call to action is that the Baby Boomer generation is far too susceptible to the illusion that changes in Social Security and Medicare will most likely affect the next generation. Hey, folks: that’s the plan. First, the next generation is asked to make “adjustments,” and then they will come after the Baby Boomers and demand that they, too, reduce the economic returns on their lifetime of hard work.

Consider the following:
The United States is already facing a gloomy fiscal landscape. The federal deficit this year topped $660 billion, despite healthy economic growth, and the national debt now exceeds $20 trillion. Janet L. Yellen, the outgoing chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, appointed by President Barack Obama, warned last week that the national debt “is the type of thing that should keep people awake at night.”

The “Grand Off-shore Party” knows that the secret of political domination is to divide the opposition, and their plan is to fuse the resentment of Generation X and the Millennials over their “raw deal” and cause them to band together in viewing the Baby Boomers as their “enemy.” Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders’s campaign failed to see that his proposals about assisting each block of these voters was widening this generational split at an early point in this crisis. Sanders played right into the hands of the GOP’s long-term strategy.

Here is the link to Larry Smith’s call to action:

http://calibanonline.com/newsletter/CC26.pdf

Alexandra Umlas and Randall Jarrell in RATTLE poetry magazine

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

At the start of the Fall semester, 1966, at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, I was still 18 years old. I probably shouldn’t have started college until then, but the quirk of when I was born and my mother’s desire to get at least one of her four children off her hands for at least a few hours a day hustled me off to school at a young age. Unfortunately, I was very slow to mature physically, and not that much more agile on an intellectual level. Indeed, I would be leaving St. Mary’s Collge at the end of the semester. I wasn’t smart enough to deserve a scholarship, so I was attending Southwestern Community College by the Spring, 1967.

I did have a couple of very fine teachers that last semester, though. My French teacher changed my life, in fact. It’s a longer story that I have time to type up this morning, but the poets and writers I studied that semester in her class have remained inspirations all my life. Before we studied French poetry, though, she decided to show us examples of modern poetry in English, as a way of discussing figures of speech. One of the poems she showed us was Randall Jarrell’s “Death of a Ball-Turret Gunner.” The last line took my breath away, and in certain ways, I never looked back. I went on to write a paper, in French.on a poem by Jules LaForgue in her class. For those of you who might have, in some very small way, have appreciated any of my projects, she is the one who made the crucial difference in opening the door of this destiny.

This morning, one of my finest students – in truth, someone I regard as a peer in the art – had a poem published in rattle.com. I will leave it to you to find out how it feels as if I have come, once again, full circle.

https://www.rattle.com

November 28, 2017
“Touring the B-17 Bomber at the Palm Springs Air Museum” by Alexandra Umlas
Alexandra Umlas
TOURING THE B-17 BOMBER AT THE PALM SPRINGS AIR MUSEUM
a golden shovel after Randall Jarrell

Audri Phillips and “Robot Prayers”; “A Thought Has No Physicality”

Monday, September 20, 2017

I met the artist Audri Phillips well over a quarter-century ago, back when I was still living on Hill Street in Ocean Park. I myself was not a painter, but knew a group of painters who went around each other’s studios and critiqued each other’s work. Besides Audri, I remember that one of the artists was Richard Bruland, the former owner of BeBop Records. Audri eventually painted the image that went on my CD/cassette of spoken word, Vehemence, from New Alliance Records (1993), and I contributed to the poem that accompanied her first computer art project, “A Thought Has No Physicality” (1995). (Note: This can be found on vimeo, but my inclusion of the link in this blog post will not grant direct access to it; hence, my mere citation of this early work.)

Audri is still working as an artist, though she stopped working on canvas about a half-dozen years ago and now paints only on the computer. Linda and I attended one of her earliest full-length collaborations that included work painted on a computer in 2011. It was a theatrical event, “Migrations,” that she staged in a geodesic dome with some other musicians. There were moments in that event that were as full of soothing gracefulness as anything I have ever absorbed.

Audri is shutting down her studio in which she worked with paint and selling all of her canvases. As she concludes this part of her life, I wish to pass on to you a link to her most recent work, “Robot Prayers,” which I believe you will enjoy and savor enough that you will hope she can keep on working in this manner for decades to come.

www.robotprayers.com

https://www.flickr.com/photos/111721388@N06/

http://www.studioarts.com/bio_audri_phillips

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry: Now Online

I met the poet Tim Reynolds back in the early 1980s. He was working as a word processor for ARCO in DTLA and living in a SRO hotel not far from the Japanese-American Museum and the Temporary Contemporary. I don’t remember how I met him, though I do remember the first poem of his that I ever read, in the September, 1967 issue of Poetry magazine.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

I was 19 years old, and it still makes me flinch to think of what a hapless ephebe I was. Not that I wasn’t trying. With floundering attention, I had stood in the aisle of the library at Southwest Community College the previous spring and read John Berryman’s 77 Dreams Songs, all to no avail; I had not been able in any way whatsoever to figure out what he was saying about a character named Henry. This particular issue of Poetry, whic contained work by Jean Garrigue, Galway Kinnell, Josephine Miles, Aram Saroyan, Richard Tillinghast, and Richard Eberhart, was not much more penetrable. It should come as no surprise that the only poem in that issue that really interested me was entitled “Going Home” and was dedicated to Mick Jagger.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

When I finally did meet Tim in person, I mentioned this poem and he said to me that he had not known which of the people on the cover of the Out of Our Heads album was Mick Jagger. He had thought that Brian Jones, who was in the lower right hand corner, was Jagger. “Going’ Home,” of course, was the last song on Aftermath, an album that appeared a year later.

In the years after reading “Going Home,” I had become a slightly more astute reader, and managed to acquire a couple of Tim’s books of poetry. It was a privilege to include his poetry as part of Poetry Loves Poetry, in addition to asking him to read in the Gasoline Alley Poetry Series. He now lives in Long Beach, California.

In 1965, Tim read on Paul Blackburn’s radio program. Blackburn was known for being the host of a poetry program as well as for tape-recording readings at St. Mark’s Poetry Project. It is my understanding that Blackburn assiduously got down on tape a considerable number of readings, many of have been digitized by the Special Collections Department at UCSD, and are now available on-line.

According to Nina Mamikunian, “The collection is available at lib.ucsd.edu/blackburn. Additional information about the collection and its release is available athttp://libraries.ucsd.edu/blogs/blog/paul-blackburn-audio-collection-now-online/.”

But if these links don’t work, try this one:

https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1436376x

Austin Straus: In His Youth (the recollection of a close friend)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Austin Straus: In His Youth (the recollection of a close friend)

A little over a month ago, a letter showed up in my mailbox at school. I didn’t recognize the name in the return corner of the envelope, but I don’t get that many letters with my name and work address written by hand, so I was curious enough to open it immediately. The author of the letter turned out to be a childhood friend of the late poet, Austin Straus, who wrote me a second letter with some additional information about Austin. The letter itself was handwritten, too, which was a pleasure to read.

October 9, 2017

Dear Professor Mohr,

Looking at the websites pertaining to the death of Austin Straus, I gather that not much is known about his life before he moved to Los Angeles. In light of his upcoming memorial service I have written down some of my memories of that part of his life.

Austin was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in June 1939 (June 9, I think), a working class neighborhood of mainly East European Jewish immigrants and their children.

While he was in the early years of elementary school (about eight years old, or so) his parents bought a house in East Flatbush, a middle class neighborhood, and moved from Hopkinson Ave. to Albany Ave., across the street from where I lived, my parents having made the same move a few years earlier. From then until his early twenties, Austin lived in that house together with his parents, Roz and Fred (only after moving to San Diego upon retiring did he call himself Franklin, which, unbeknownst to us, was apparently his name all along), and his younger (by 2 years) brother, Dennis, with whom he shared a bedroom. The third bedroom was occupied by his grandmother. As she was not comfortable speaking English, Austin picked up a fair knowledge of Yiddish. There was also a family dog, Lucky, a tan cocker spaniel. All in all, a fairly typical upbringing.

Austin and I became very close friends (I was a year older), a friendship which lasted from elementary school through our teenage years into our early twenties. While attending Hebrew school, Austin was part of a group of us who were religiously observant.

His father worked on a U.S. mail train, which meant that he was away for several days and nights and then home for several days and nights. While home, he would often take Austin, Dennis and myself in the old family car to play ball in Prospect Park. Fred was an excellent athlete. In summer, we used to go swimming in Riis Park.

As teenagers, Austin, Lucky, and I would take long walks at night, often ending up in Brownsville, the neighborhood where we both were born. Brooklyn was still safe in those days. We often played handball together (pink ball). He was a good handball player and I remember vigorous games in the hot summer sun in Lincoln Terrace Park at the age of 20 or 21.

Austin started attending Brooklyn College but transferred to City College Downtown (now known as Baruch College) which was primarily a business school with the intention of majoring in accounting. I suspected this idea came from his parents. Needless to say, it was not a good fit and Austin changed his major to psychology (or possibly philosophy, not sure of this). After graduating, he pursued a Master’s degree in Philosophy at NYU.

It was about this time that Austin broke away from his conventional upbringing, choosing a bohemian (so-called at the time) lifestyle, moving into a tiny Greenwich Village apartment with a girlfriend. By this time, I was married and also attending graduate school to pursue an academic career. We saw each other less frequently. He had demonstrated talent as an artist while young but the first time I recall him being interested in poetry was when he read a poem of his to me when he was 24. My overall impression of Austin as we grew up was that he was intelligent, imaginative and sensitive, prone to enthusiasms over people and ideas, often followed by disappointments.

I do not know how he met Ann Moody, but he did come with her to visit my wife and myself in our Brooklyn apartment. Some years later, when the marriage was in difficulty, I saw her again when Austin asked me to use the van I was driving to remove his belongings from the apartment they shared in the Bronx. We were no longer in regular contact but I was called upon again to remove his things from the Upper West Side apartment of his second wife, Patrocina (?), a lovely young Panamanian woman to whom he was married only very briefly. Austin told that she expected a more conventional marriage and way of life.

Shortly thereafter he moved to California and our only direct contact was an occasional phone call. Indirectly, I heard about him through my mother, who kept in regular contact with Austin’s mother, Roz, then a widow living in San Diego. She told my mother that Austin phoned her every day. Since he never pursued a career as such, he had frequent financial difficulties. At the age of 55 he was desperately trying to get into the California educational system, apparently unsuccessfully. He told me he could not be considered for a full-time position at Los Angeles City College, where he taught English as an adjunct, because his master’s degree was in philosophy. It was only in his last phone call to me, about a month or so before his death, that I learned of the success of his one-of-a-kind art books.

Despite his illnesses, diabetes, and a previous bout with prostate cancer which he thought might be returning, he sounded very upbeat, saying that he was dating again, looking for the fourth Mrs. Straus. He had begun the conversation by saying that he thought he ought call me before one of us kicked the bucket. I don’t know whether he had a premonition of what was to come, but sadly, shortly thereafter, he died.

These are some of my memories of a very close friendship that lasted for over a decade and a half, and was less close thereafter. I shall, of course, try to answer any questions about the earlier part of Austin’s life that I am able to answer.

Sincerely yours,
Nathan Greenspan

October 30, 2017

Dear Bill,

A few more thoughts concerning Austin – Unlike most of his generation, myself included, born at the tail-end of the Great Depression, Austin did not seem overly concerned with earning a living. Unlike most of us, I do not recall him working during summer vacations. My wife, Vicki, had a summer job supervising a children’s playground at P.S. 235, the same public school Austin and I attended, which was very near his house. She went there during lunchtime to eat her brown bag lunch and chat with Roz Straus, Austin’s mother. One of her vivid memories is of Austin lying in a hammock in his backyard on one hot and sunny afternoon, and Roz calling out to him, “Austin, do you want your strawberries and sour cream now or later?”

Decades later, Austin phoned from California when I wasn’t home and spoke to Vicki (they knew each other well) for a long time, talking about his relationship with Wanda and other things going on in his life. She told me that all she said was “yes” or “um hum” every once in a while. At the end of the call Austin said to her excitedly, “You’re a great conversationalist!” We both had a good laugh over that. He was definitely more interested in talking about himself than in listening to others.

Austin and his two years younger brother Dennis were close growing up, sharing a bedroom as I mentioned in my previous letter. On one of his calls to me from California he mentioned that he and Dennis were not in contact with teach other. The break apparently came at Dennis’s initiative. He and his wife, Sheila Ascher-Straus, are published writers, describing themselves, I believe, as post-modernist.

…….Best regards,
Nate

(Nathan Greenspan)

Nathan Greenspan taught for about forty years full-time at Brooklyn College and Staten Island Community College, which later become the College of Staten Island. He also did some administrative work, serving as the political science coordinator for about a quarter-century.

The GOP (Grand Offshore Party) and the Perfidy of Imposter Taxation

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Grand Offshore Party

I have not yet had a chance to investigate the Paradise Papers, but is there any need to spend precious time on reviewing what has been public knowledge for quite some time? Over the past several years, corporations have parked billions of dollars of profits in off-shore vaults, waiting for their tax rates to be lowered. It’s all perfectly legal.

It also has consequences. Is each and every dying person in this country receiving sufficient care to ease their travail? Is each child provided with a teacher who inspires imaginative and ethical curiosity? Is each parent of a disabled child given the assistance needed to empower that individual in all the impingements of her or his own life?

Yes, “ordinary” people must contribute to the kind of social program that would answer the above questions with an affirmation, but a society in which the distribution of wealth is skewed by a sanctioned version of double-entry bookkeeping can only endure by magnifying its repressive mechanisms to squeeze those who have the least amount of power. The thin layer of operatives who have extreme amounts of wealth and use but a pittance of it for anything other than furthering their own largesse are currently engaged in the perfidy of imposter taxation. They pretend to be individual citizens, owing no more than a family farmer of less than a thousand acres, or a carpenter, or architect, or teacher, or lawyer doing significant pro bono work, or police officer; yet they pay a proportionately small percentage of taxes than these workers.

This cannot be allowed to persist. I urge you to sign the following internationally based petition:

https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/paradise_papers_loc/?cQMXkab

This is a global vote.

For more information on this issue, go to the following links:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/paradise-papers?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=251595&subid=4769845&CMP=GT_US_collection

Fact Sheet: Offshore Corporate Loopholes

* * *
“At the end of 2016 the giant US technology companies alone were estimated by Moody’s Investors Service to have $1.84 trillion (£1.4 trillion) of cash held offshore. …. The calculations of the economist Gabriel Zucman – analysing discrepancies in countries’ national accounts – suggest that around $7.6 trillion, or 8 per cent of global wealth, is held offshore. That’s up 25 per cent over the past five years.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/offshore-tax-havens-how-do-work-what-done-change-paradise-papers-panama-bermuda-caymans-turks-caicos-a8039916.html

* * *
“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of global wealth, and the top 10 percent owns about 90 percent.”

“Substitute Teacher”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

“Put Your Ears On” was a poetry show on cable TV during the 1990s. “Substitute Teacher” is a prose monologue about the aspirations of an instructor who discusses his personal relationship with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a friend of an old friend, Lenny Durso. She had run across a video of me and wrote a brief note of appreciation. I myself hadn’t viewed it recently, and her kind e-mail made me curious to screen it again. Watching this video this morning, I almost don’t recognize myself. Age perturbs gently, but its enfolding suction is relentless. Just a few years ago, I didn’t seem to be that much different. Now it would be impossible for me to perform “Substitute Teacher” and create quite the same effect. I would almost have to transcribe the tone of voice, and ease it down to a slightly slower, more wistful tone, in order to make this monologue work. Thirty-five years of adult life: “all is transformed: transformed utterly.”

I started “Put Your Ears On” as a television show on the Century Cable’s Public Access program. My first primary goal was to record Leland Hickman reading his poetry, and the programming developed from there in much the same manner as a reading series at a coffee house. It was, in fact, a reading series I did with Cahuenga Press poet Phoebe (MacAdams) Ozuna at the Gasoline Alley coffee house that provided the critical impetus to do this show. Gasoline Alley was not the first reading series I’d done, and I felt a growing exasperation at the lack of any record of poets reading in their “youth.” Public Access TV was just starting to take off in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it proved to be the perfect vehicle.

I hope you enjoy it.