Author Archives: billmohr

Water Tower of Babel

Water Tower of Babel — Monday. May 7, 2018

Water Tower of Babel One

Water Tower of Babel Two

Water Tower of Babel - Three

Water Tower of Babel - Four

A Triangular Compression

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It’s been over 10 days since my last post, and I may well go another 10 days before the next post appears. There are three places that have absorbed this time: California State University, Long Beach, where I work as a professor in the Department of English; Beyond Baroque, for which I serve as a member of the Board of Trustees; and Sunrise Assisted Living, where my 96 year old mother lives right now, but will soon be living elsewhere.

As for CSULB, I will simply comment that I have been on campus at work Monday through Friday two weeks in a row. Only a very small minority of tenured faculty are on campus five days a week, and not all of them do the same amount of committee work. I will be 71 years old this year, and hope to start teaching part-time in the near future, at which point I will be freed from all committee work.

This is not my first term on the Board of Trustee on Beyond Baroque. Back in the late 1990s, when I was living in San Diego, I helped keep Beyond Baroque afloat through various interventions that included more than one instance of helping Fred Dewey get his grant applications to the post office with only 10 minutes to spare. The last minute requests (and I emphasize the plural) to do this kind of work were just part of what I did, most of which is completely invisible to those who ask me to do work now at that organization. This erasure is no different than at CSULB, where no one remembers the single most important contribution I have made in the past 12 years, despite the fact that it was indeed a turning point for the entire campus. Many others came together to make that moment happen, but I don’t think any of them had to get by on an average of four hours of sleep a night for an entire month in bringing that effort to fruition. The sacrifices of others are always negligible, once those who enjoy the benefits of power have made their requisitions.

My mother must move soon to another, less expensive facility. Although I have five siblings, three of whom live in San Diego, I am the only one of my mother’s six children who has seen her in the past year and a half. The struggle to provide adequate care for my mother’s final years has been an ongoing challenge ever since she turned 90, and very reluctantly began to acknowledge that independent living was beyond her capacity. She surrendered control over her affairs in a manner that required every effort I made to be redoubled in each successive year. I have had a brief respite since last summer, but now the burden of my responsibility has returned once again.

By mid-summer, I hope to return to posting some commentary on contemporary poetry. In the meantime, I leave you to savor the things you hope to accomplish in your own life.

“Route 66 through the Eyes of Poets”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tomorrow evening, seven Los Angeles poets will gather at the West Hollywood library for a follow-up reading to last year’s “Sunset Blvd. through the Eyes of Poets.” Sticking with a vehicular trope, Kim Dower selected Route 66, the subject of a famous song that has been reworked quite often over the years by a variety of musicians and bands.

The event is free, and starts at 7 p.m. Each poet will read for seven minutes.
The reading will feature Laurel Ann Bogen, Elena Karina Byrne, Brendan Constantine, Yvonne Estrada, Bill Mohr, Lynne Thompson, and the poet laureate of West Hollywood, Kim Dower.

625 N. San Vicente Blvd.
Wednesday, April 25

I will reading a poem that was published in Rob Cohen’s fine magazine of the 1990s, Caffeine, in addition to debuting a new poem, “The One Exception,” that I finished revising a few weeks ago. It’s the first “stand up” poem I’ve written in some time, and I’m looking forward to reading it very much.

A literary party in Venice, California

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Linda and I enjoyed the company of a score of people interested in writing, acting, as well as cinema, in the early part of the evening. I don’t know who catered the event, bu the sandwiches and cookies were far above the usual quality of such a repast. Several of the people in attendance had recently moved from Northern California to the Los Angeles area, and it was refreshing to hear their appreciation for what this city and region has to offer in terms of its cultural environment.

My original account of a reading at Beyond Baroque on April 21, 2018, featuring Matthew Mauldin, Don Kingfisher Campbell, and Kerry Tepperman Campbell has been removed because it has been brought to my attention that it contained erroneous information about how Mr. Mauldin and Mr. Campbell came to be a part of the program. Though I was not the source of this misinformation, and though I had no reason to doubt its veracity at time of writing my blog post, I sincerely regret repeating it in my account of the program. I apologize to Mr. Mauldin and Mr. Campbell for any imputation that they were placed on the bill through anything other than the normal process by which artists are booked at Beyond Baroque, or that they were awarded their reading for any reason besides their own merit.

“Dreaming of France” — Kerry Tepperman Campbell

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In the summer of 2015, I organized a course for the CSU summer arts program that took place in Monterey Bay, California. Although the administrative duties of making that course happen, both in preparation and on site, proved to be extraordinarily exhausting, I am proud to look back on how fortunate I was to be able to call upon the talents of so many master poets: Marilyn Nelson, Douglas Kearney, Ellen Bass, Cecilia Woloch, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Yes, indeed, fortuity was on my side for once, for Juan had agreed to participate in this program several months before it was announced that he was the nation’s new poet laureate.

Among the very fine student-writers who showed up, one in particular shared portions of a work-in-progress that had considerable promise, and I am very happy to see that it has finally been published. Kreey Tepperman Campbell’s Dreaming of France is one of the hundred best books to be published in 2018. Whether it will get the recognition it deserves is unusually difficult to predict, for it will depend on how critics and reviewers are able to solve the problem of how to describe the book. Cecilia Woloch mentions this challenge in her blurb on the back cover:

“This is a book that’s impossible to categorize — it it poetry, prose, a novel? — and also one of the most beautiful books, deeply pleasurable things I’ve ever read.”

If one were to recommend Dreaming of France to a friend, and classify it as prose poetry, that reader would probably expect a volume that has a single narrator. Dreaming of France, however, presents us with a series of individual women, each of whom has a particular yearning for an encounter with a fulfilling radiance. There are over five dozen, distinctly titled sections or passages in Dreaming of France, and each one palpitates with with the solemn joy of expectation and renewal. Campbell’s debut publication, which was the winner of the 2017 Blue Light Book Prize, is a succinct masterpiece.

Kerry Tepperman Campbell will be reading from this book at Beyond Barqoue on the coming Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. She should be reading from a stage at the L.A. Times Book Fair, which also takes that place that day. It is still the case that much of the most intriguing writing on the West Coast makes its Southern California debut at Beyond Baroque. I hope to see you there.

Dreaming of France
1st World Library
P.O. Box 2211
Fairfield, IA 52556

“A Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver’s “Devotions”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

“A Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver – Devotions

The first 120 pages of this book remind me that my most difficult years as a poet might be the coming decade. I turned 70 this past October, and I can only hope that my talent does not fade and wither so rapidly as it does in this instance. I wish I could say otherwise, especially since Mary Oliver has written several dozen poems that are worth reading many times. In fact, the odds are very much in your favor of finding a poem you will want to re-read immediately if you open the book at random to any page between pages 100 and 390.

The problem of what is missing in the poems in the first portion of the book, is summed up in a poem entitled “The World I live in”:

You wouldn’t believe what once
Or twice I have seen. I’ll just
Tell you this:
Only if there are angels in your head will you
Ever, possibly, see one.

Oliver’s didactic tone deserves the skepticism with which it should be read. What makes her think that we would be askance about her field reports? We do affirm what she has seen, as reported in her earlier poems, because the immediate believability of her metaphors has enabled us to savor her visions, such as the one in “Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957.” A deer, traipsing along, engrossed in the whiffs of its rewarded appetite, stumbles across a human being taking a nap. The encounter suggests that consciousness of another as a continuum of reciprocity is a gift to those who awaken themselves to the spacious realm of “amazement.” (In this instance, Oliver is picking up the central lesson of Dickinson’s “This Was a Poet.”) Oliver is exceptionally skilled at blending diction and rhythm to create a glowing afterimage; one finishes the best of her poems with an equilibrium restored to one’s desire for self-knowledge. “What is it that truly matters?” Oliver’s poems ask us, time and again; and if we merely “visit” her poems, rather than absorb them, we will fall prey to a fate that horrifies Oliver, as it should us: to die merely having “visited the world.”

In reading poems such “The Egret” and “Rice,” one detects the presence of D.H. Lawrence, if not his direct influence. The absence of D.H. Lawrence’s poems from most of the “survey of poetry” anthologies I have seen in recent years attests to his suppression in the canon. Perhaps Oliver, a hundred odd years from now, will also vanish from the canonical anthologies, but I suspect that those who care about how to build the ship of death will find their way to poems such as “I Found a Dead Fox,” and from there find their way back to the deleted poetry of D.H. Lawrence, and hear the communion that gives us succor in the imminence of our perishing.

Here are some of my other favorites:

“1945-1985 – “Poem for the Anniversary”
(After reading this poem, ask yourself how “nature” is configured in this poem about the Holocaust, compared to Stuart Z. Perkoff’s “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love.” Perkoff’s poem can be found in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, New American Poetry)

“Backyard” (206) – This poem has a more casual touch than most of Oliver’s work. The end-words are unusually muted, and the enjambment rather relaxes; nevertheless, the poem hovers in the reader’s imagination as a sanctuary of words that retain and embellish the flickering colors of the poem’s perspective.

“Fox” – Oddly enough, a poet who makes drastically different use of “Nature” than Oliver has a poem that has a congruent inner logic. As in this poem, the act of writing is foregrounded in Ted Hughes’s “The Thought Fox”; both end with an image of the page as an ineradicable horizon.

“The Sun” – This poem makes one think of part four of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Contemplations.”
Whether Oliver is aware of the protrusion I cannot say. I enjoy this poem, but Bradstreet’s stanza encompasses it all, said once and not needing any elaboration by another poet. Still, one can hardly fault Oliver for succumbing to the temptation to do so. I wish I could write something the equal of this poem. Ah! It suddenly comes to mind that I certainly tried: see “Slave of the Sun,” which originally appeared in Penetralia, and which was reprinted in “Poetry Loves Poetry.”

“The Loon” – (page 210) Ah! This poem features the writer as a reader, and the old-fashioned use of an animal as a symbol might well bring to mind, within a classroom, that chestnut of 19th century verse, “The Water-Fowl.” The lesson is not as obviously stated, but the interregnum of the stillness exemplified should encourage us to do the same after reading each poem. Certainly a poem such as “Lead,” which also features loons, or “Gethesemani,” a version of the tremulous night before Jesus Christ is publicly executed, are poems that should make you halt, and wait for however long it takes for the ear of one’s mind to need to be requited, again.

Johanna Drucker on Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary

Friday, April 6, 2017

George Drury Smith, the founder of Beyond Baroque, recently gave a talk there in which he shared a number of details of his life that had not been known even by people who worked with him back in the institution’s earliest days. Johanna Drucker, a professor at UCLA, has just had an article published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in which she reports on Smith’s talk and interweaves its details with a reevaluation of the notion of “provincialism.”

Fifty Years of Beyond Baroque: 1968–2018

One of the most important factors in Beyond Baroque’s growth and longevity was the ability of Smith to attract people to his idealistic yearning for a renewed avant-garde. Smith has frequently spoken of the disparity between his own hopes for literary experimentation on a large cultural scale and the preferences of other writers in the Los Angeles and the West Coast. His genius, in part, as a cultural worker was his uncanny ability to provide space for people such as Alexandra Garrett, Jim Krusoe, Manager Gamboa, and Dennis Cooper. Garrett founded the Beyond Baroque Library, which Drucker has led the way in cataloguing with the assistance of her students at UCLA. Krusoe began as a poet who was frequently acknowledged as the person most admired by a cross-section of L.A. poets,; he has subsequently become one of the most respected novelists in the United States. Gamboa went on from his position of leading Beyond Baroque to found community-based writing projects in East L.A. and Long Beach. A park near where I live in Long Beach has a cultural center named in his honor, with a poem on one of its exterior walls. Dennis Cooper has become of the leading gay writers of the past 75 years, and the way that writers rallied to his defense when the behemoths of technological ingenuity attempted to eradicate his writing was quite remarkable. In fact unprecedented. That Cooper triumphed against considerable odds was the cause of much quiet satisfaction.

One of the features of Beyond Baroque is the free poetry workshop that takes place on Wednesday nights. There will be another free workshop, last eight weeks, that will meet on Tuesday nights starting on May 8. This workshop will focus on Los Angeles poetry, and will include instruction as well as an opportunity for each participant to make her or his own contribution to this body of writing. Laurence Goldstein’s Poetry Los Angeles will serve as a common textbook and major reference point.

For details, go to Beyond Baroque’s website or call (310) 822-3006.

Kathryn McMahon — An Emergency Appeal

Monday, April 2, 2018

Kathryn McMahon, an old friend who is going to have a major operation, is in need of assistance during her period of recovery, and a former student of hers has started a GoFundMe campaign. Kathryn taught in what was then the Women’s Studies Department at CSU Long Beach for many years, though she had retired by the time I started my job in the Department of English.

Kathryn is probably best known as the founder of CAST (Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking), and it would be my hope that all of those who contribute to that organization at its annual fundraiser would now also contribute with equal generosity towards her recovery at this point in her life. Those of you who know of her life understand the unlikely context of her being the instigator of such an important project, and how it would behoove us to honor her for her extraordinary courage and determination.

Thank you in advance for helping her out.

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

My brother, Jim, sent me a photograph of his first grandchild, Mila, last Easter, and in moments of discouragement I have frequently looked at it and found myself smiling. By the time my youngest nephew, Mitchell, got married, she was beginning to walk, and this Easter Jim has sent me another photograph; this time, she needs far less support.

On this weekend on which Passover and Easter have intermingled, my family in its largest sense of the word sends you our wishes for a joyous Spring!

Mila First Easter

Mila Easter 2018

Hyesook Park and Route 66 on March 31st

Friday, March 30

Hey Sook Wall One

In late April, the West Hollywood Library will host a follow-up reading to last year’s celebration of poems about Sunset Blvd. by asking the featured poets to conjure up the glory days of Route 66.

Linda and I will be making use of that historic road tomorrow afternoon as the final leg of a trip to San Bernardino to see a one-day exhibition of work by the painter Hyesook Park. If anyone wants to take advantage of the early spring weather we are having this week, I would recommend this drive as a chance to see some terrific new paintings and to enjoy the post-rainfall landscape on your way there and back.

Hyesook Park
A One-Day Exhibition
Saturday, March 31, 2018
2 p.m.

Loveart Studio
15551 Cajon Blvd.
San Bernardino, CA 92407

Hye Sook Wall Five

Hye Sook Wall 3

Hye Sook Wall Two

(All photographs of Heysook Park’s paintings by Justin Hahn. (c) Justin Hahn 2018. All rights reserved by Justin Hahn. Posted on this blog with his permission.