Author Archives: billmohr

Maureen Owen Reads at Beyond Baroque on Sunday, the 24th

Thursday, February 21, 2019

in the early 1970s, I cast my lot with poets outside of the academy, and it is a pleasure to announce that one of the kindred spirits I most admire in the independent press movement will be reading at Beyond Baroque this coming Sunday, February 24, starting at 4 p.m. Maureen Owen is one of the twenty most important poet-editors of the past half-century, and she has been accompanied by poet and fiction writer Barbara Henning for a little over a month on a cross-country reading tour. A blog of their trip, which launched itself with a reading in Brooklyn, New York on January 18th, can be found at: http://barbarahenning.com/category/maureenowen/

I first encountered a substantial selection of Owen’s work in the 1970s, in issue number five of a magazine called BIG DEAL, and have often wondered why she is not as prominent as some other poets associated with one phase or another of the “New York School.” She certainly did an extraordinary amount of heroic work in the community of poets in the Lower East Side.
Steve Clay’s extraordinary documentary survey of independent presses is the best and most easily accessible source for beginning to appreciate the accomplishments of Maureen Owen as an editor and publisher.

Telephone

However, her own collections of poetry are even more deserving of our attention. Her most recent book, EDGES OF WATER, is from Chax Press in Arizona, a project that its founder Charles Alexander has made one of the outstanding literary publishers in the United States. Other books include AMERICAN RUSH: Selected Poems(Talisman House, 1998), which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize; and Erosion’s Pull (Coffee House, 2006).

Barbara Henning’s books include four novels as well as collections of poetry, the most recent one being A DAY LIKE THIS (Negative Capability, 2015).

For an extended interview with Maureen Owen, I recommend the following:

In Conversation With Maureen Owen

Brooks Roddan, Poet and Painter

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I mentioned recently (“One Blog Leads to Another”) how Brooks Roddan has recently been devoting himself to painting, rather than writing. In his blog, Roddan comments on the differences in his imaginative perceptions, and found that he articulated exactly why I, too, have been making the same transition. Here, for instance, is his entry from August 4, 2019:

“There’s something about painting I just can’t wait to get to, and something about writing I just can’t wait to get away from.
Painting, I don’t know what I’m doing, I have no master and so I’m no slave. Writing is a different story.
Finishing up two paintings today, free handing them both, not worrying whether or not I was staying between the lines, as there were no lines, I could feel myself lifting up out of myself and into the realm of a creative act. 
Toward the end of the making of each painting I started talking to myself, liking what I was hearing enough to begin to write it down, crawling back to the writing table in service to words.”
(“Two Paintings, Zero Writing”)

If there are other poets who wish to expand their artistic practice in a similar manner, I would urge them to fortify their motivations by reading some of Roddan’s other posts on painting:

Monday, September 17, 2018
http://ifsfpublishing.squarespace.com/pub-news/2018/9/17/brooks-roddan-painter.html

November 29, 2018 “Painting stained glass stairs”

In the entry for Saturday, December 22, 2018, Roddan shares some aphorisms from his jottings on the subject. Two of my favorites are:

“abstract expressionism is the garage band of contemporary art”

“weird how when i’m painting, as i’m doing now and doing more and more of, the solution is always to use more paint, as opposed to writing in which the solution is always, always to use fewer words”

Anyone who is attending the AWP conference in Portland at the end of March who would like a break from the incessant chatter about poetry and fiction should drop by table 10067, where Brooks and I will be glad to talk with you about painting, as well as some of the books that IF SF has recent published, including Thomas Fuller’s “The Classical World.”

Hypothermia and the Almond Tree

Long Beach, CA — Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sunday’s winds brought mid-day rain, but yesterday around 12:30 p.m., the sunlight was bright, and the temperature got up to 58 degrees in Long Beach, California. I walked out to the front yard, and took three photographs of the almond tree that somehow managed to survive five years of drought, despite our extended absence sometimes during very punishing heat waves.

The appearance of these blossoms belies the mythic aura that echoes from popular songs about L.A.: “I’d be safe and warm / If I were in L.A.” (“California Dreamin'”). The reality, according to a recent L.A. Times article is that more homeless people suffer from hypothermia in Los Angeles than in New York or other cold-weather cities. In fact, they don’t merely freeze their butts off. They die. Last night, the temperature in Long Beach dropped to 41 degrees, which is not freezing as such, but the problem is that hypothermia tends to set in when the temperature shift in the course of a day involves a drop of more than 10 degrees.

There are 39,000 homeless people in L.A. County. That is roughly one out of every 250 people. THIS is a national emergency. We don’t need a border wall when there are so many people who need four walls and a roof and floor to shelter them from bone-chilling winter weather.

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-homeless-hypothermia-20190217-story.html

*. *. *

Almond Tree Three

Almond Tree Two

Almond Tree One

An Indian Plum tree, which squirrels used to scamper across our roof to get to when it was full of ripe fruit, did not survive, and we had to cut down its insect-infested trunk last year. Linda had managed to coax an avocado pit into getting big enough that we planted it at the same place where the Indian Plum had been, and it is now as high as my solar plexus.

Avacado Tree - Chest High

Nostalgic Reckoning: Viggo Mortensen, Poet and Photographer

Monday, February 19, 2019 —- Nostalgic Reckoning: Viggo Mortensen, Poet and Photographer

Linda and I saw “Green Book” at the Art Theater last night, and were very impressed with the acting and the screenwriting. While the entire ensemble of actors in the film was superb, the two lead actors held our attention throughout what might have been a tedious biopic. The film seemed closer to an hour and a half, rather than its actual running time, and that is a more of an accomplishment than one might guess.

I had never seen Mortensen in a film before, so it was a pleasure to see just how fine an actor he is. Once again, I wish to thank him for being part of the Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary celebration, during which his books were featured at BB’s bookstore. I have been savoring two of them, “Canciones de invierno / Winter Songs” and “Ramas para un Nido.” The latter is a survey of his exquisite work as a photographer; in the former, on page 31, is a poem called “Hillside” / “La Cuesta.” It is one of the best short lyrics I have read in many months, and deserves memorizing in both English and Spanish. If I had some easy way of getting permission to include the entire poem in this blog, I would do so, for it is a poem that deserves to be much better known. Mortensen, it should be noted, did the translations himself.

If memory serves me correctly, the last actor to be nominated for an Academy Award who was also a writer was Sam Shepard, who won a Pulitzer Prize for playwrighting, but deserved it more than once. Mortensen’s volume of photographs concludes with a comment by Shepard, on a page by itself: “I feel like I’ve never had a home, you know? I feel related to the country, this country, and yet I don’t know exactly where I fit in… There’s always this kind of nostalgia for a place, a place where you can reckon with yourself.” In both his poems and photographs, Mortensen makes himself sincerely vulnerable to an intense nostalgic reckoning with himself as a disguised nomad.

“Canciones de Invierno / Winter Songs,” which constitutes a selection of poems written between 1989 of 2010, can be obtained by writing to Perceval Press, 1223 Wilshire Blvd., Suite F, Santa Monica, CA 90403. www.percevalpress.com

One Blog Leads to Another

Sunday, February 17, 2019

In 2013, when I started this blog, several thousand people had been posting entries in this kind of format for well over a decade, and the audience for a new blog was hardly worth a moment’s fantasy. I viewed the project, however, as a variation on a diary, in which I could keep track of various ideas and concerns that have sustained some degree of attention. Outside of one literature professor, I don’t know anyone on the campus where I work with whom I talk about poetry in the same way that I used to talk with the poets who appeared in my first anthology, THE STREETS INSIDE. Those poets were my equivalent of a MFA workshop; in fact, they were almost infinitely better than any such workshop could have assembled at that time. As a way, therefore, of having an imaginary conversation, I thought that a blog might be akin to the title of Thomas McGrath’s epic poem.

While of course one can enable public commentary on a blog, and thereby generate an actual on-line conversation, I have heard of too many examples where one spends more time reminding people to be civil to each other than working on one’s own writing. At the very start, therefore, I turned off the commentary switch. As I have on more than one occasion pointed out, any reader can get in touch with me at William.BillMohr@gmail.com., should she or he wish to share their opinion or seek further information.

I noticed on the dashboard of “stats” on Friday, around noon, that my blog was passing the 2,000,000 mark for “hits.” I am abashed that it took me almost six years to attain this level of activity, but still am gratified that it must be reaching at least a handful of scattered readers. (“Hits,” of course, have nothing to do with the number of actual readers. Perhaps 2,000 people have read one of my entries at some point in the half-dozen years; one must not allow one statistic to exaggerate its implied impact.) As those readers have discovered, one can’t predict from day to day what I write about. I was perfectly aware, of course, that my decision to address a variety of topics instead of focusing on a single subject runs against the advice one gives to those who want success.

You want to “make it”? As a visual artist? As a writer? As a politician? Pick one thing that you want to become identified with, and pound away at it until it yields its desired effect. If you don’t gain attention, you made the wrong choice, but you didn’t choose the wrong strategy. Now one could argue that one’s inspiration is not calculated, even if it might seem to have been. I don’t think Deborah Butterfield assembled her first sculpture of a horse made out of sticks and mud and said to herself, “Someday people will walk around a corner in a major museum and see one of my sculptures made in this manner and instantly think of my name.” The fact remains, however, that if she had stopped after making that first sculpture of a horse, her art would be playing with a far different set of recognition stipples.

Those who offer suggestions about blogs inevitably mention the importance of “staying on topic.” One wants to become known for commentary on a specific subject, or so the experts say. When I was an undergraduate, professors complained that my papers often strayed off topic, or at least keep inserting little asides that distracted them from my main idea. Not much has changed in the past 50 years. My curiosity about the world and how all of its fermentation generates “millions of strange shadows” continues to distract me from one day to the next. One form of meditation that I have undertaken in recent months involves painting, which allows me to think while standing, and to be silent within the radiance of symbolic hues.

By coincidence, one of my oldest friends, who now lives in San Francisco, has also started painting, and his work is every bit as intriguing as his blog. In fact, if any of my readers are searching for a blog that is truly worth their attention, then take a look at Brooks Roddan’s blog at IF SF Publishing.

Both of us, it should be said, have carried quite a few different bags on the West Coast, including work as editors, publishers, and poets. Each bag seems to have its own peculiar creases, especially when sit down and have a quiet talk in a hallway about how each still has more than one unfulfilled dream.

Should you be attending the AWP gathering in Portland, Oregon during the last week of March, drop by table T10067, where Brooks and I will be working together to promote IF SF PUBLISHING. We look forward to talking with you. Bring a bag. You will want to have some of the books he has published.

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.

DARK INK: An Anthology of Horror Poems

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Beyond Baroque presented over a dozen poets this past Saturday night who read poems they had contributed to a new anthology edited by Eric Morago. DARK INK is one of the best theme-oriented collections I have run across in the past decade, and I was especially impressed by the work of those who have yet to have a substantial volume of poems published. The best single rendition of a poem, in fact, was by a young poet I’d never encountered before, Nicole Connolly, whose “Self-Portrait as Exactly the Kind of Monster Men’s rights Activists Warn Each Other I Am” was delivered with a subtle, somber pleasure at what she saw in the full-length mirror. On my subsequent reading in the volume, her poem’s three dozen or so couplets seemed shorter on the page than it did when read out loud, though I don’t mean this comment to suggest that the poem dallied unnecessarily on any given image when she read it out loud. If anything, my attention Saturday evening was fully absorbed by its contraventions of patriarchal logic, and I would gladly have listened to an even longer version. Sonia Greenfield’s adaptation of Hemmingway’s “For Sale Baby Shoes Never Worn” was also a triumphant free solo climb of a sheer cliff of trauma, and the one poem in the volume that addressed that most transgressive use of horror, the endangered child. Armine Iknadossian’s “Vagina Dentata” also extended its metaphor with a dextrous plasticity right through its chilling last line: “a wedding band rolling down the marble hallway.”

It was perhaps no surprise that so many of the poems read on Saturday night had cinematic contexts. Frank O’Hara urged the mothers of America to let their kids go to the movies, and it would seem that permission was granted to see “The Sound of Music,” but that a whirlpool of turbulent fascination caused them to duck into another theater instead. However, the pleasure of this collection does not depend upon the reflected glory of the movie screen, and is more comprehensive in its cast of transgressive violence than might be expected for a book coming out of Los Angeles. Robin Axworthy and Terri Niccum, for instance, choose myth and legend in the form of Medusa and Lizzie Borden, with Niccum’s poem being one that wouldn’t be safe for a high school student to tote around as an unattributed, transcribed copy in her or his backpack on campus. The poem is deliciously dead serious, and gives an ax-sharp edge to Borden’s inner tribulations.

A fair number of L.A. veterans contributed some very fine poems: Michael C. Ford (“Sometimes We Provide for Ourselves Our Own Horror”); Laurel Ann Bogen (“Also Frankenstein”); Ron Koertge (“Dear Dracula”; “Mrs. Victor Frankenstein”), and Charles Harper Webb (“Night of the Lepus”) are among the liveliest poems in Morago’s anthology. Missing in action was Jack Grapes’s “The Count,” which is probably as close as any “horror” poem can get to deserving canonical status; and a poem from Edward Field’s collection, “Variety Photoplays” should probably have been included, even if it had required a royalty reprint fee. Not every poem, however, is as successful as it might have been. I would love to see Jennifer Lee Rossman reduce the number of her rhyming couplets by about 40 percent. “The Dog who Walked with Zombies” has more than enough wit to justify additional effort, and I hope she commits to doing so.

Morago’s Moontide Press is starting to become a welcome addition to a region that deserves to have more than Red Hen Press as its primary literary outlet. Moontide, of course, faces a much different retail environment than Red Hen did in its early years. The Borders bookstore chain, for instance, provided much more visibility as a outlet for regional projects a quarter-century ago. One wonders if Red Hen would be able to thrive to the extent it has if it were launching its first titles now.

As grim as the book distribution scene is, I urge you to get a copy of this volume (in which, in the interests of full disclosure, I do have a pair of poems). You will find in DARK INKS many more poems than I have listed that will give you reassurance of your powers to resist and endure, even as you grow more alert to the irony of human projections: “In this world, wild to kill / us all, some things are still too cute to be monsters.”

www.moontidepress.com

Eric Morago, Editor-in-Chief
Moon Tide Press #166
6745 Washington Avenue
Whitteri, CA 90601

Dick Cheney, Patrick Leahy, and “Non Sequitur”

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Butler Eagle, a newspaper in Butler County, Pennsylvania, has dropped a cartoon strip, NON SEQUITUR, which it used to run on a regular basis. The alleged reason for discontinuing the cartoon is that it used the same kind of language about a politician currently in office, as Vice President Dick Cheney did in addressing Senator Patrick Leahy, in 2004, on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The same exact phrase.

If that newspaper did not run an editorial in 2004 rebuking Cheney for his lack of professional decorum, then the termination of “Non Sequitur” is nothing less than despicable hypocrisy. This would assume, of course, that the same individuals or corporation own the newspaper now, as operated it back then. If, as could well be the case, the Butler Eagle has been acquired by another larger chain of newspapers, then the same question holds: did that newspaper pain denounce Cheney back then?

One can bemoan the lack of public civility all day long, but the reality is that each side suspects the other of grousing in expletives, as a matter of casual conversation, with each one’s set of friends and acquaintances.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2010/04/dick-cheney-could-not-be-prouder-of-that-time-he-told-pat-leahy-to-go-fuck-himself-on-the-senate-floor

https://www.independent.co.uk/topic/non-sequitur

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-cartoon-joke-butler-eagle-pennsylvania-newspaper-wiley-miller-non-sequitur-a8773366.html

Cheney (the topic of a film entitled VICE), was no stranger to Butler County, by the way. It is reported that he campaigned there on behalf of George W. Bush in the 2004 election.

For those who might wish to hear the same sentiment expressed in “Non Sequitur,” but done so in a far more thoughtful manner, I would recommend attending a lecture this afternoon at CSU Dominguez Hills:

An evening with Dr. Angela Y. Davis
Mon, February 11, 2019
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM PST
California State University, Dominguez Hills Gymnasium
1000 East Victoria Street
Carson, CA 90747
The event is free. Dr. Davis’s books will be available.

Kathleen Fraser (1935-2019)

One of the projects I have in mind would be an anthology of poets who have taught in the CSU system. Among the minor irritants of the larger context of my professional appointment is that CSU’s administrative bureaucracy does not seem interested in ways to embellish the academic image of the system as a whole. In part, this dispersed self-image derives from the extent to which each campus of the CSU system is its own world, in many ways, and campuses in this enormous system end up focusing on their own special set of bragging rights.

In terms of poetry, the CSU system in the past half-century has had an all-star roster of contemporary poets:

David Bromige (Sonoma State)
Maxine Chernoff (SF State)
Paul Hoover (SF State)
Andrew Joron (SF State)
William Dickey (SF State)
Juan Felipe Herrera (Fresno)
Corrinne Clegg Hales (Fresno)
Philip Levine (Fresno)
Peter Everwine (Frenso)
C.G. Hanzlicek (Fresno
Juan Delgado (San Bernardino)
Pete Fairchild (San Bernardino)
Troy Jollimore (CSU Chico)
Charles Harper Webb (CSU Long Beach)
Gerald Locklin (CSU Long Beach)
Eliot Fried (CSU Long Beach)
Patty Seyburn (CSU Long Beach)
David Hernandez (CSU Long Beach)
Glover Davis (San Diego State)
Marilyn Chin (San Diego State)
Sandra Alcosser (San Diego State)
Dorothy Barresi (Northridge)
Benjamin Saltman (Northridge)
Ann Stanford (Northridge)
Timothy Steele (Cal State LA)
Henri Coulette (Cal State LA)
Alan Soldofsky (San Jose)
Judith Minty (CSU Humboldt)

The above are the full-time, tenure-track professors, but it would also be advantageous to include poets who worked only as adjuncts or in other literary positions: Steve Dickison, Eloise Klein Healy, Clint Margrave.

One of the poets who would make an outstanding contribution to this imaginary anthology would be Kathleen Fraser, who died this past week. Her first collection of poems was a “chapbook” from George Hitchcock’s kayak magazine. I put “chapbook” in quotation marks because it has 47 numbered pages, which is a bit on the long side for a chapbook. CHANGE OF ADDRESS came out in 1966, and many of the poems were published in some of the best-known magazines of the time. The title poem, for instance, was first published in THE New Yorker. Fraser, therefore, was hardly working at the avant-garde margins of American poetry in the 1960s. Her next two books were published, in fact, by Harper and Row.

She had begun teaching at San Francisco State in 1972, and during her 20 years there she had collections published by some of the best known West Coast independent presses of the time: Tuumba; The Figures; Lapis. The largest collection of more recent work was published in 2011 by Stephen Motika’s Nightboat Books.

In proposing a CSU anthology, I am of course pointing primarily at the need for a canonical collection of West Coast poets. It should, of course, also include essays on poetics, a matter to which Fraser gave much thought. One can hardly say that Fraser did not substantial recognition as a poet during her lifetime, but it is likely that her influence on a handful of poets yet to be born will be far more extensive than one might anticipate.

Poets House, in NYC, has digitized CHANGE OF ADDRESS, and those who would like to read it can find it at:

http://digitalcollections.poetshouse.org/digital-collection/chapbook-collection/Change-of-Address-%26-Other-Poems

Another link was provided the Harriet Staff at the Poetry Foundation:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/75259/cant-stop-the-cars-a-discussion-of-kathleen-frasers-the-cars

Sesshu Foster’s Cartography of L.A. Poets

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sesshu Foster, a poet and fiction writer who deserves serious consideration for being appointed the next poet laureate of Los Angeles, assembled a chorus of poets talking about their neighborhoods; I missed the publication of the article in the LA Review of Books when it came out this past fall. I want to thank William Archila for sending me the link, which worked well enough in my browser but doesn’t work at all in my blog’s formatting. So much for the vaunted utility of Word Press! However, I imagine if you type Sesshu Foster, Los Angeles Review of Books, October 24, 2018, “Los Angeles, City of Poets” into your browser, you’ll find yourself with a baker’s dozen of poets-in-residence, all glowing with L.A.’s singular refulgence.

The poets who contributed their layers of memory and notations include:

Brent Armendinger
Jessica Ceballos y Campbell
Cathy Linh Che
Kenji Liu
Steve Abee
Ramon Garcia
Terry Wolverton
Harry Gamboa
Eric Howard
Mike Sonksen
Bruna Mori
Will Alexander
William Archila

I only know the work of half of these poets, so I especially grateful to Mr. Foster for alerting me to emergence of those who have recently begun to have collections published. Mr. Foster is doing what any serious poet laureate should do, which is to spread knowledge about other poets to the community that she or he serves.