Author Archives: billmohr

A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

The Sam Shepard Tribute at the Bootleg Theater

Sunday, October 15, 2017 (1 a.m.)

I hardly have time these days to keep up with new films and music, and going out to hear live music, even by a songwriter of my generation, is a rare pleasure. The recent death of Tom Petty crossed him off the list of songwriters I’ll ever have a chance to listen to in concert. The irony that he just finished a triumphant concert tour with three shows in Los Angeles is more poignant than I care to dwell on. But I am undergoing a “time famine” at this point, and even if I had been informed on the strictest secrecy that these were going to be his final performances, I would not have been able to attend, any more than I was able to attend in person the memorial tribute to Sam Shepard that Darrell Larson organized at the Bootleg Theater on Monday, October 2. I did buy tickets to the event, but ended up having to watch long distance. The drive after a long day of teaching was more than I could surmount.

It was a fitting and largely understated tribute to a writer I never met, but whose poetics influenced me far more than many contemporary poets. Beth Ruscio and Leon Martell read a scene from The God of Hell with exquisite timing and feel for the groundswell of social chaos about to erupt on a placid dairy farm. John Densmore and Alan Mandell followed up with an extract of Tongues. A childhood friend who had lost touch with him spoke of “Steve” Rogers as someone with whom he rode his bicycle to the Southwestern Museum. I didn’t jot down the name of the actor who read a passage from Shepard’s prose about waking up in the night with blue thermal socks on his feet, socks that had been “pilfered from some movie set.” Crouched on the edge of his bed, Shepard’s narrator reflects on 4 a.m. wake-up calls to play characters who now seem at a distance to be more like “violent love affairs.” Shepard’s sisters were present. Roxanne spoke with quiet humor of how she learned of her brother’s youthful success as a writer and how it caught her off-guard to discover how highly regarded he was by her peers. Murray Mednick evoked an echo of late evenings at the Padua Hills Festivals in the foothills above Claremont back in the late 1970s as he shook a rattle in a farewell summoning.

Last weekend Linda and I visited her sister, Brenda, and helped her siblings clear out her tiny apartment in Topanga. There was a small birthday party at the trailer where she is living now. Some local musicians played music and sang songs, including a haunting version of Petty’s “Free-Falling.”

Returning from that trip, I had more school work to do than I ever anticipated, in part because the committee assignments are badly distributed by those in charge of what is called self-governance in academia. Finally, towards the end of this week, I went to visit my mother. Her decline has slowed somewhat, though it appears that her vision is beginning to diminish.
Along with millions of other people in California, I feel a profound trepidation over the unfathomable intellectual shallowness of the current president of the United States. I am convinced that he wants to start a war so that he can eviscerate the civil rights of anyone who speaks up against it, seize their property, and utterly destroy our lives. I still cannot believe how people could ever have voted for someone who is so obviously a narcissistic thug.

In the meantime, the wildfires in Northern California left me almost sleepless with worry that my first wife’s trailer was in one of the trailer park that was completely leveled by the onslaught. It turned out that her trailer was spared, at least in the first wave of fires, but neither could be certain about the fate of another friend, who lived in Kenwood. The night before I learned of the fires, I had a dream that I saw Cathay in our old apartment in Ocean Park, and there were tears in her eyes. When I heard about the thousands of structures that had burned down, I feared that the dream was a foreshadowing of her residence having been one of the victims of this enormous conflagration.

It is now close to 1 a.m. on Sunday, October 15. I had tried to go to sleep two hours ago, but sensed that someone was peering through our window, and am still convinced that someone was there, especially since a motion light came on just as I got close enough to the window to peek outside. I tried to meditate afterwards, and will do so again after I post this. May your evening, late as it might be wherever you are, be ready to accept another beginning. This last sentence is a variation on one of the sentences I heard from Shepard’s writing during his tribute. So many of us miss him more than we ever expected to.

“Our Country Seems So Far Away” by Harry E. Northup

Our Country Seems So Far Away

Our country washes itself with grief
Our country celebrates division
Our country brags about class
Our country continues war indefinitely
Our country refuses to cross the aisle
Our country right or wrong or left behind
Our country scolds minor rock throwers
Our country the church of middle ages
Our country chips away at Mount Rushmore
Our country jumps off Pikes Peak into the Royal Gorge
Our country does not cross the Continental Divide
Our country says John Milton who, Edmund Spenser who
Our country builds railroad tracks over its pastoral poets
Our country denies horizons, clean rivers
Our country never misses a chance to go abroad & destroy
Our country kills civilians abroad & at home
Our country washes its football jersey with blood of the flag
Our country crosses borders with drones
Our country celebrates a vision of cruelty
Our country cut a cross in the heart of death

9 29 17
Harry E. Northup

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

Sunday, September 24, 2017

This evening I will be at the Beyond Baroque Awards dinner, which is being held once again at the Church in Ocean Park (235 Hill Street, Santa Monica, CA 90406). I have been asked to make the presentation speech for the George Drury Smith Award, which will go to Paul Vangelisti this year. Prior winners include Eloise Klein Healy, Wanda Coleman, David St. John, Holly Prado, and myself.

For those who cannot attend, here is what I plan to say.

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

In one of my blog posts about a year and a half ago, I cited John Holten to the effect that “a good form of torture for any serious writer would be to deny them reading anything other than works produced in their own language or country.” If anyone could be said to have led the resistance to monolingual tyranny in Los Angeles the past half-century, it would have to be Paul Vangelisti, whose devotion to the art of translation goes far beyond any mere literary metamorphosis. Indeed, his writing is nothing short of an inspiring reminder of the daily necessity of accounting for each day of this quirky journey, and of how that accounting demands nothing less than the imperative: “You must translate your life.”

In translating his life, Paul is the single most ambidextrous person I have ever encountered. His accomplishments are manifold, and while they are too numerous to sum up easily, Paul would be the first to delineate how much others have assisted him over the years. The virtues of collaboration are much like those of translation: audacity, candor, commitment; and Paul has enabled those with whom he has worked to strengthen those virtues in their own lives. If Paul has inspired so many people with whom he has collaborated, it is largely because simply to be in his presence distills and effaces one’s own uncertainties and self-doubts, and enables one to renew that personal covenant with the imagination that insists on having a immediate connection with social reality.

Notwithstanding the scope of his generative collaborations, it remains Paul who has been the cynosure of the effort to make Los Angeles a place worthy of being at least a provincial capital in the world republic of letters. If Pascale Casanova’s description of literary enfranchisement meant that a truly representative body of arbitration within the realm of the imagination could actually function, then there would be little doubt that the person we should elect as our senator should be Paul Vangelisti.

He has earned this stature with a multi-decade production of superb poetry, but with a personal masthead of magazines, books, and anthologies featuring the work of other poets, especially within the maverick avant-garde. Yet no matter how much he accomplishes, he remains rigorously engaged with the increment yet to come. I have recently talked with Paul about the need for an anthology that presents the canon of West Coast poets. Every anthology on my bookshelves at best includes a smattering of West Coast poets, and it is time for California, Oregon, and Washington, along with Baja California and Vancouver, Canada, to assert itself as an autonomous site of poetics. Paul’s reaction to my suggestion was an emphatic “Let’s do it,” but of course in certain ways he has already done it, for that anthology will largely draw on those who have appeared in the dozens of issues of magazines that he has edited or co-edited or published, magazines such Invisible City, New Review of Literature, Ribot, and OR, as well as on the books of poetry published by his subversive enterprises, Red Hill Press and Seismicity Editions. The anthologies he himself has worked on, beginning in the early 1970s, will be the kernel of this future volume’s vision.

I should mention that I am the stand-in tonight for the person who would traditionally give this awards speech, but last year’s award winner, Holly Prado cannot be here in person tonight, due to the unfortunate fire that recently scorched the apartment she shared with her husband, the poet and actor Harry Northup. I happy to report that their recovery from this incident is going well, in large part because we as a community came together in their support. When it became apparent Holly would not be able to make this event, I suggested Dennis Phillips be asked to have this honor of presenting the award to Paul, since Dennis after all served as President of Beyond Baroque in the mid-1980s and would be the perfect intermediary at this gathering. In taking on this assignment, I knew one thing from the start, and that was I was going to quote Dennis Phillips as a way of featuring their deep bond. I have one ready-made advantage in doing this, for Dennis was the driving force behind a book, Nausikaa’s Isle, that was published two years ago to honor Paul on his 70th birthday. In the preface to that book, Dennis observed that “As a poet, a translator, an editor, a publisher, an educator, and for all the right reasons, an administrator, Paul Vangelisti has created a force of gravity felt by his readers, several international generations of poets, and his students, that brings to mind the similar influence of Pound.” In completely agreeing with Dennis, I would especially note this important understanding of the nature of that “force of gravity”: it is the quintessential trialectic gift exchange of space and time that generates history with more than literary meaning. Indeed, it is, as Dennis observes, “how deeply integrated in his work – and I mean all his work – are the poetic and the political.”

All of this magnitude has not gone unrecognized. In addition to NEA grants for both his own poetry and to assist his translation projects – and it should be noted that very few poets are at a level of this double achievement — he has also received numerous awards for his translations, including Italy’s Flaiano Prize and the PEN USA Prize for Translation in 2006. In 2010, the Academy of American Poets gave the Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize. Paul is most certainly not without honors, accolades and awards as a writer and a translator, but there have been too few occasions in Los Angeles for Paul to receive a full measure of our appreciation for his enormous contribution to our cultural maturation. We are about to mark the 50th anniversary of Beyond Baroque, and two years after that celebration, it would only be appropriate for Beyond Baroque to hold a celebration of a half-century of editorial and publishing endeavors by Paul Vangelisti that have enabled so many poets and writers to attain an international audience. In the meantime, however, let this award serve as an initial installation. Paul has frequently configured his experience in Los Angeles as one of exile, and while I do not wish to contravene that assessment, I hope that for one night – tonight – he can briefly imagine himself at home, as we award him the 2017 George Drury Smith Award. Please join me in welcoming Paul Vangelisti to the stage for the bestowal of this award.

The Temporary Disappearance of This Blog

Wednesday night, September 20, 2017

About a week ago, I received an e-mail from a friend who say, “Did you know that your blog was down?” I had suspected something was wrong, as a matter of fact, because I had tried to log on last Thursday morning, and something was sufficiently “off” about the protocol that I decided not to sign in. I wondered if it were a “fake” sign-up scene that had shown up as a means of trying to obtaining my information.

It took me several days, but I finally found out what the problem was. My domain’s host got shifted onto another server, but GoDaddy decided to move only his domains onto that server. Billmohrpoet.com and LindaFryartist.com languished on the old, dispossessed server, with the result that no one could access my blog. Why GoDaddy couldn’t notify my friend about the process they were about to put in motion and then sent me a warming about what their plans is utterly beyond me.

My apologies to anyone who tried to log on, and met with frustration. Trust me that I was even more frustrated.

Onward,
Bill

“Enter Here” — Alexis Rhone Fancher (KYSO Flash; 2017)

Sunday, September 10, 2017 (Sunday)

One can become so accustomed to the title of a book referring to the lead poem in the collection that when one has read around in the book and still not found the title, even as a phrase in a poem, the words begin to echo behind each line: first lines, last lines, and every line between. The title of Alexis Rhone Fancher’s recently published collection of poems began to emit that hypnotic shimmer as I read twenty or so poems at random in my first perusal. “Enter Here” is not an unfamiliar imperative, and yet within the domain of imaginative consciousness illuminated by erotic impulses, the book’s presence in one’s hands has an almost premonitory intimacy: “who touches this book touches a woman’s imagination.”

Readers fortunate enough to have started with Fancher’s How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen will happily breathe in the pheromones swirling from these poems. One should be warned, as one often is in literature with directional indicators: reading these poems will arouse you, not so much carnally but with an adamant curiosity about that bondage that sexual desire imposes on us, if we but give it the slightest opening. The photograph on the book’s cover sums up how huge the consent is once we crack the door even slightly.

In Fancher’s poems, the speakers consent to as much intensity as will enable them to entangle themselves in the urgent illusion of the insatiable. In doing so, they risk having their candor taken for granted, as if it were no more than a carefully disguised substitute for self-gratifying narcissism. Fancher guards against that relaxed reading by being explicit only when it is needed. In “To My New Boyfriend with Oversized Blue Lips Tattooed on His Neck,” for instance, there is no dwelling upon “kinky sex.” What that might have been is left to the delicate extremes of the reader’s conjunctions. It is within the satiety of the bower of bliss, however, that revelation most forthrightly takes place:

one night, you let it slip:

how just before she kissed you off
she lead you on a leash,

sat you in the chair,
cupped your chin,

imprinted her lipsticked kiss on your
neck’s throbbing pulse,

and ordered the tattooist to begin.

The extent to which we can trust the narrators in Fancher’s poems is a central factor in her persona. Candor requires accurate memories, and Fancher is honest enough to present memories that do not go unchallenged. “Cousin Elaine from Chicago and I Are Naked” ends with a denial by the other person that the alleged sensual intimacy between the two characters was anything more than a dream. That a dream could have the same equal consequences as an actual encounter is left unconsidered by the character of the cousin.

Indeed, one of the most convincing aspects of Fancher’s delineations of sexual power draws upon the liminality of being awake and dreaming. Is the car the lover who can’t be shared, or is it the narrator’s fellow student in an acting class, Anjelica, who teases and provokes a male voyeur with merciless evasiveness?

“When I confess the affair to my boyfriend, he jacks himself off in the galley kitchen and comes all over his unattainable fantasies. He says that he doesn’t consider sex between women to be cheating, and begs me to set up a threesome. I tell him the T-bird’s a two-seater, and watch his face fall. I could end it, but why? All I can say is that I want her for myself. All I can say is that I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.”
(“Tonight I Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, who Taught me the Rules of the Road”)

The wit in that poem surfaces again in a conversation that more than a few men have had at some point in their lives. As a writer, Fancher takes care to remember the basic rule of giving one’s characters the best possible chance to win a scene. One of the most laconic illustrations of her deft skill comes with protestation at the end of “Morning Wood:

I long to inhabit him.

“Do you think
of your penis

as an “It”
or a “He”?

“Neither,” he says.
I think of it as Me.”

It’s not often that a book of poems has over a dozen poems that will cause anthologists a fair amount of deliberation. In addition to the poems I’ve already mentioned, it would be difficult to stop an initial list with just the following:
“Housekeeping,” “I prefer pussy….,” “this small rain,” “I was hovering….,” “Cousin Elaine…,” “the sad waitress…,” “Bambi Explains It All,” the pair of “Tattooed Girl” poems. And “Dear Mrs. Brown…” “Doggy Style Christmas,” and “Tonight I Dream of My First True Love.”

Fancher’s books of poetry have begun to attract considerable praise from Los Angeles-based poets such as Laurel Ann Bogen, Michael C. Ford, Pam Ward, Gerald Locklin, and Michelle Bitting. Tonight Fancher will read her poems as part of Library Girl series (run by Susan Hayden) at the Santa Monica Airport. It is a sold-out show, and I hope extended applause rewards Fancher’s willingness to risk having the solidity of her poetics questioned by those who feel safest on tamped-down terrain. She is fearless, and should be fearlessly praised. She is on the verge of joining poets such as Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, and Lyn Lifshin as a memorable provocateur in contemporary poetry. Clare MacQueen, the publisher of KYSO Flash, deserves equal praise for assisting the emergence of this poet into the ranks of the most significant risk-takers.

Post-Script:
Years ago, a quarterly magazine called Yellow Silk devoted itself to a celebration of eros, and it was successful enough to generate an anthology in the early 1990s that in turn warranted some sequels. In the preface to the first collection, Richard Russo noted how small a role Eros played in the contemporary literary imagination. “When I sought out small-press and literary magazines available in this country, I found … (the writing) published there often had, and I mean this literally, death in the first paragraph.”

I, too, had noticed how rare it was to find a love poem – let along an erotic poem – in a literary magazine. I have to concur with Russo’s observation. I, too, noticed this almost perverse preference for the glamour of death, and one of my attempts to counter it was my editorial preference for love poems in my second anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry (1985). If Alexis Rhone Fancher had been writing and publishing these poems in Los Angeles thirty years ago, she would have been one of the stars of that anthology.

The Diurnal Chronicles: Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Ethnic Cleansing

September 8, 2017

At 9:49 p.m. last night, an 8 plus magnitude earthquake began somersaulting in the Chiapas region of Mexico, and shuddered and rippled for hundreds of miles both north and south, killing at least 32 people. Unlike the earthquake in Mexico in 1985, which caused over 400 buildings in Mexico City to collapse and took at least 5,000 lives, the epicenter of this quake was far enough away from the capital that it only led to widespread, through brief, pandemonium in Mexico City in which those asleep in buildings dashed out of their apartments and down to the sidewalks. Their trepidation was encouraged by electrical generators bursting like ripe seed pods. Reports include testimony that the Angel of Independence statue in Mexico City began to sway. The earthquake also extended into rural areas of Guatemala, resulting in an unknown amount of damage.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the eastern coast of Mexico and is due to hit the state of Veracruz and the city of Xalapa, where I read this past spring. The hurricane will be arriving with less force than has hit several Caribbean islands, though apparently Haiti was spared the worst of its recent passage. The state of Florida is expecting to be pummeled by Irma in the next few days in a manner similar to the devastating storm that engulfed Houston at the end of August.

Some of the people affected by both the hurricanes and the earthquake will become “internally displaced people,” which is to say that they will be little better off than refugees in their own country.
http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-mexico-earthquake-20170908-story.html

Other hurricanes on this planet are caused by human perfidy. Both Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, as recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, have called upon Aung San Suu Kyi to do more than stand in front of television cameras and deny that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Myanmar. Suu Kyi is fully aware of what is taking place, and she has to take responsibility for authorizing these atrocities. Is this what house arrest for many years taught her to plan for when she achieved power?

The Angel of Human Sanity is beginning to sway.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/08/rohingya-muslims-170831065142812.html
http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/08/asia/rohingya-myanmar-refugees-drowning/index.html

John Ashbery (1927-2017)

John Ashbery (Born July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017)

An extraordinary number of “contemporary” poets were born in 1927. I put scare quotes around the word because if a poet is dying at 90, the math is fairly straightforward: when Ashbery was 25 years old, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound were all alive. I doubt he thought of them at that point as “contemporaries.” Yet a young poet today might be asked to study an anthology of contemporary poetry in which John Ashbery and Tracy K. Smith are listed in the index as contributors. The word seems to have a peculiarly supple elasticity.

Even though Ashbery is hailed on the occasion of his death’s announcement with the same reverent praise that has been bestowed on him for the past 40 years, such deferential tribute was not always the case. While he was one of the poets in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, he did not stand out in the mid-1960s (as he approached age 40) as one of the top ten poets in that anthology most likely to achieve sustained global acclaim. Yet by the time he was 50 years old, Ashbery’s stature far exceeded that of many poets who had been listed in the index of M.L. Rosenthal’s The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II. Rosenthal’s book was meant to be a comparative study of the major poets who had appeared in either the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or Donald Allen’s NAP. Given that Rosenthal’s book appeared in 1967, when Ashbery was 40, one sees how crucial the years between ages 40 and 50 were to Ashbery’s eventual, immutable maturity, for that period is when he mastered the singular combination of chords and grace notes that make his work as inimitable as it is influential in provoking variations.

Although he was more associated with the world of the visual arts than with music, it is a commentary from the latter that I wish to present for your consideration tonight.

“I greatly admire this piece, but don’t really consider it a song. It’s more a meditation, or – to borrow a term that didn’t exist at the time (Miles) Davis recorded ‘Blue in Green’ – a type of improvised ambient music. …. Indeed, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the work is just a free-form improvisation, without clear beginning or end.
….
“Despite its popularity, musicians need to be brave to call this song at a gig. ‘Blue in Green’ has no catchy hooks or flamboyant interludes, and unless you have earned a chamber music reverence from the audience, you run the risk of losing their attention. I would keep it under wraps at a noisy nightclub, but in the right setting with listeners who are willing to participate in a collective meditation, this work can be a springboard to an experience that almost transcends jazz.”

As the experience of Ashbery’s work almost transcends poetry.

Commentary on “Blue in Green” from Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press, 2012), pages 37-38.

John Ashbery, 1927–2017

“The Distinguished Citizen” (2016)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey has flooded close to 300 square miles of Texas in the past several days, and the damages will total far more than a hundred billion dollars. The congressional membership of Texas will no doubt immediately vote for federal aid, which was not their immediate reaction when parts of New Jersey were obliterated a few years ago. Those who support Trump see no contradiction whatsoever. After all, the level of flooding in Texas is reported to be an event that is likely to happen only once every thousand years, so it will be sometime before Texas needs this much help from the other 49 states again. Surely we can pitch in just this one time.

It’s hard to say how much longer California will exist in its familiar state. North Korea claims to have made yet another advance towards hurling a nuclear bomb at the United States. Most likely, North Korea would like the United States to recognize that it merely wants to join the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) club. This is to say that one country does not attack the other because the consequences of retaliation are too grim. The logic is hideous beyond any ethical defense, but even mentally ill societies have somehow managed to avoid harming each other in this manner so far. If some other perverse plan is in motion, however, we in California can rest assured that President Trump would be happy to sacrifice our entire state if it would enable him to become seen as a heroic commander-in-chief.

(For an extended consideration of this issue, see:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/22/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-weapons.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
“Actually striking the United States would be suicide. But the capability could help the North deter an invasion and wield increased global influence. “
By WILLIAM J. BROAD, MIKA GRÖNDAHL, JOSH KELLER, ALICIA PARLAPIANO, ANJALI SINGHVI and KAREN YOURISH UPDATED SEPT. 3, 2017)

In the meantime, a major fire is doing its mountain rim walk in Los Angeles County yet once again; and the MLB team with the worst record last year (and one of weakest pitching staffs in the first half of the season that one could possibly assemble) somehow seems destined to play at least one postseason game during the first week of October. Bravo Twins! Bring back the Cow-Cow-Boogie of yesteryear!

The heat wave in Los Angeles County remains very debilitating, so much so that I gave up trying to write earlier this evening and watched a movie that Linda and I came across on Netflix: The Distinguished Citizen is a chapter-divided account of how a writer’s self-exorcism turns into rebarbative destiny. A Nobel Prize winning author who lives in an unusual degree of luxury in Barcelona, Spain, decides to revisit his hometown, which he left 40 years earlier just after his mother died. He also left behind at that time his girl friend, who has never ceased loving him. He discovers upon his return to Salas, Argentina that his best friend ended up marrying the girl friend on the rebound, and the story turns slightly incestuous in the manner of a Greek tragedy with sardonic comic overtones. Even if you have never written a page of a story, you will find this character’s attempt to reconcile the imagined distant past with the actual superficies of one’s origins to be a compelling drama.

The fictional writer, Daniel Montovani, is played by Oscar Martinez with pitch-perfect ability to register and interweave layers of benign amusement with nostalgic loathing. Montovani first begins to realize that his decision to break an unofficial vow and never return to his birthplace was a miscalculation when he arrives on a long flight from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. (Oddly enough, though he is scheduled to stay there only four days, there is not the slightest hint of jet lag, no doubt due to the long siesta he took on the plane after the captain announced his presence on the transatlantic flight, which he responded to by pulling a blue sleep mask over his eyes.) The man waiting for him at the airport has been well chosen: an oaf who directs him to a cheap, uncomfortable car (instead of a larger, sleek model parked alongside) for the seven hour ride to his provincial origins. “Six hours,” the driver informs him. “I know a shortcut.” The shortcut consists of veering onto a bad country road prone to causing a flat tire. Of course, the driver is too poor to afford having a spare. The driver also has no cell phone. They spend the night there, using pages from one of Montovani’s books to start a fire to stay warm during the chilly night as well as for toilet paper at the morning’s latrine. Around the improvised, nocturnal campfire, Mr. Montovani tells the driver one of his stories, reminiscent of Maupassant, about a pair of twins who yearn for the same woman. The Cain and Abel outcome has a twist, in Montovani’s rendition, and this story foretells the violent confrontation between Montovani and his best friend as they go pig hunting.

The screenplay, by Andres Duprat, must have been a pleasure to read; the directors, Gaston Durprat and Mariano Cohn, make it look easy to have summoned empathic performances from Andrea Frigerio (as Irene), Gustavo Garzon (as Gerardo Palacios, the writer’s childhood friend) and an almost too charismatic performance as the couple’s daughter, Julia, by Belen Chavanne. Montovani, not knowing this woman is their daughter, spends the night with her, and at one point divulges his pleasure at scoring a groupie. Chavanne’s performance is so alluring, however, and her personality so strong that one finds it hard to believe that she is still in town, though she claims to want to escape as soon as possible. Perhaps this will take the death of her mother to give her egress, even as it required the death of Montovani’s mother to make use of his passport. It’s quite clear that the daughter will no more want to return to the town for her father’s funeral one day than Montovani did for his father. The scene in the bar in the chapter entitled “Volcan,” in fact, probably reveals how Montovani as a young man realized that his widower of a father had been less than faithful to his deceased mother, and that it didn’t take long for him to pack his bags and head to his version of Wittenberg.

If this were a novel, or a play, I could imagine an additional very tender flashback: a scene between Montovani’s mother and his young girlfriend. Set in this remote town, which is caught with perfect fidelity as to its austere limitations, it would have been a scene deserving of Chekhovian compassion. That one can imagine that scene for oneself is part of the reverberation of the film’s final scene.

On a much more mundane level earlier today, I had to rectify the haphazard work of those who have been working on the water pipe system on Molino Avenue the past six weeks. By chance, a man who pushes his paralyzed wife around in a wheelchair on a daily basis hailed Linda as she stood on the porch at mid-afternoon, and pointed to the manhole cover that was perched in eclipse mode over its proper slot. The rod that had lifted it out was still hooked into one of its peripheral notches, fortunately, so I was able to go out and slowly dial it around until it fit smoothly into its retaining circle. One always thinks that nothing would have happened if it had not been noticed, and rectified, and yet I remember all too well how my first wife suffered a badly broken leg because of a similar sloppiness by workers. It is hard to believe that anyone could walk away from a job and leave things in dangerous disarray, but it goes to show that as desultory as life seemed to be in the city I grew up in (Imperial Beach), an insidious indifference towards the vulnerability of others is an all too common trait.

To end on an upbeat note, though, I wish to thank our neighbors Jill and Geoff for helping us, early Saturday morning, loosen up the panel door of our electrical fuse box at the rear of the house so that we could get our electricity going again after it had gone out the previous night.

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Austin Straus Obituary — by Rev. Roscoe Barnes III

Friday, September 1, 2017

It’s a scorching afternoon in Long Beach, California, and the only relief from the heat has been the arrival of an e-mail from Reverend Roscoe Barnes III, who first wrote me about ten days ago and asked what I knew about the life of Austin Straus, a Los Angeles poet whose death I had taken note of in my blog. In particular, Rev. Barnes was curious about how much I knew about his life before he arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

“Not much,” I responded. “In fact, almost nothing at all.”

For those of you who share that response, I am pleased to post today the link to the first serious obituary of Austin Straus.

http://roscoereporting.blogspot.com/2017/09/poet-austin-straus-former-husband-of.html

My profound thanks to the Rev. Barnes.