Author Archives: billmohr

A Seismic Tuning Fork as an Antenna for Sadalsuud

Sunday, September 19, 2021

In early night, a little over twelve hours ago, I went out to check how Jupiter had “shifted” in the sky relative to the moon’s transit. The sky seemed unusually clear, and I could faintly detect several stars in what I later learned was the constellation Aquarius. One of the stars is named Sadalsuud, and it is about 540 light years from Earth. I gather that its name means “the luckiest of the lucky.”

In looking at some recent photographs before I went to sleep, I noticed a series I took back on September 7th, of a man pruning a palm tree. It occurred to me that the 4.3 earthquake could just as easily have occurred ten days earlier, in the morning, as the man was finishing the second tree and starting to descend. As the palm tree became a kind of seismic tuning fork, I would not have wanted that man’s job. My guess is that he, too, felt the jolt on Friday night, but that it immediately had a different context of alterity that is more commonly felt by those who do the risky tasks in our society. At least for once, luck was with him, as a gift in advance from Sadalsuud.

Jupiter and the Carson Epicenter

The evening of Friday, Sept. 17th, 2021

I was just about to go outside and see if Jupiter was as bright in the sky as I hoped it might be when a temblor centered in Carson, about two miles from Long Beach, registered at 4.3. It was a solid jolt to the house, but nothing fell off any shelves. After two or three seconds of intermittent swaying, it seemed as if the shaking headed inland, with some other appointment in mind. Eventually, I went outside and enjoyed the fierce glow of Jupiter, which I could identify as that planet because of Earthsky.org’s fine work in keeping me abreast of what is happening in our solar system, not to mention both near and distant galaxies.

I highly recommend the site, to which I have just now made a modest contribution as it strives to raise $130,000 to keep afloat. Please join me in supporting the poets of science: our comrades in astronomy.

Moon, Saturn, Jupiter September 15 to 18

The Cruelty of Willful Ignorance and the Covid Crisis

I stopped by Page against the Machine Bookstore on my way home from the grocery store yesterday evening and found a flyer announcing a protest rally against “W” on Monday, September 20, at the Legacy Theater in downtown Long Beach, where the former President will be presented as part of a “Distinguished Speaker” series. Granted, the protest is warranted, though the lingering echoes of outrage over an unjustified invasion of Iraq in March, 2003 only prove the futility of rational objection to paranoid foreign policy. Did I know for certain that Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction? Yeah. As a matter of fact, I would have bet my life on it. If one invades a neighbor’s house on the belief that they possess a bomb that is going to be place in your driveway, and you start killing people in that neighbor’s house, and then you don’t find a bomb, well, you better expect that you will be charged with first-degree murder. Bush, of course, is hardly the only one to be responsible for the travesty of the invasion of Iraq, and I’m not talking about just Cheney and Rumsfeld. Joseph Biden voted to authorize that invasion in October, 2002. How can he not claim to be an accomplice?

The cruelty of willful ignorance has come full circle recently with the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan. It may be the case that very few Americans are calling their congressional representatives to demand accountability for the deplorable lack of gullibility on Biden’s part. How could he have served so long in the U.S. Senate and not learned a basic lesson about our intelligence operations. They almost always get it wrong, and one is best off planning with a worst-case scenario. Did I expect the Afghanistan government to hold out for several months against the Taliban? Are you kidding? Six days, maybe, at the most, and withdrawal planning should have been calibrated with that likelihood in mind.

Both Bush and Biden: guilty of willful ignorance.

Even so, at least their advisors are aware that Long Beach is a relatively safe place to visit at this point in the pandemic. According to the most recent edition of the Grunion Gazette, almost 78 percents of eligible adults in Long Beach have received one dose of a covid vaccine, and 65 percent are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, health care is being rationed. It’s my understanding that only around 40 percent of the eligible population in Idaho has been vaccinated. What I can’t figure out is why anyone who has refused to get vaccinated should be given medical attention ahead of someone who is having a heart attack or has been seriously injured in a car crash?

Imagine this: two ambulances arrive at a hospital in Boise, Idaho.

One has a critically injured woman whose car was hit by a repeat offender drunk driver. She is 72 years old, and a widow whose children have moved to Seattle and Portland. She was in the car by herself when the drunk driver hit her car.

The other ambulance is conveying a self-employed carpenter who is the father of three children. He is 40 years old, and in otherwise good health. He has repeatedly refused to get vaccinated.

Which person gets the last ICU bed?

If you are a male doctor in Idaho, it won’t take long to make your choice. The man will get the ICU bed, even though the woman’s injuries are perfectly treatable in “normal” times. Perhaps the woman lives, although the agony she endures and slow recuperation only aggravate the memories of how she has been deliberately discarded by a system designed to hide its evil intent.

And if you don’t see the connection between that doctor’s choice and the invasion of Iraq coupled with the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan, then I assure you that we don’t have much to talk about, do we? If you do see the connection, then let do more than simply protest Bush’s latest effort to charm people’s memories. Let us remember that we can never let down our guard. There are forces at work in this country that intend to do us harm, often under the guise of judicial neutrality in enforcing constitutional law. Unlike those who claimed that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, I am not imagining things. Let us, therefore, not be willfully ignorant of the scale of the threats that well-educated individuals are facing in this country.

Paul Auster’s “THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES”

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Over the past ten days or so, I’ve been reading Paul Auster’s THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES, a novel that caught me off-guard with its charm and willingness to use a familiar character type from another century of story-telling as its first person narrator. The benevolent uncle is a figure I had figured would long have been relegated to a distant costume warehouse, but Auster’s dexterity at blending description and dialogue makes the improbable believable and left me feeling redeemed by the companionship of an imaginary character who will accompany me in my remaining allotment on this planet. I didn’t expect to be so moved by what amounts to an old-fashioned comic romance in which so many things that start badly, if not ominously, in the first half manage to reverse course by the novel’s culmination. It is probably the best possible novel that anyone could read at this particular juncture in this country’s history. I’ve always admired Auster as a translator, novelist, and literary advocate. Without his efforts, would Joe Brainard’s minor masterpiece be as well known as it is? I doubt it, and how could he not deserve substantial gratitude if not for that alone?

On a local level, our little corner of Long Beach was vandalized by a busy-border who apparently couldn’t stand the pleasure that the entire neighborhood got out of a bougainvillea bower kitty-corner to the house we rent. One recent morning we looked out from the porch, and it was gone! It’s been there for over a dozen years, growing ever more effulgently luscious as the source of a shadow anyone could enjoy while pausing underneath a stain-glass arch of translucent blossoms.

Apparently, someone claimed that it was a “public nuisance” and called some bureaucrat in City Hall and a notice was posted giving the owners seven days to chap it down or the city would come out and do the job themselves, while charging the owners for the cost of the removal?

By chance, I had taken photographs of it just a few weeks earlier, and this is the way I will prefer to remember that passageway.

Four Poems by Gustavo Hernandez

Friday, September 3, 2021

Editing and teaching can involve reading an incredible amount of mediocre writing, and often editors are not even paid for it if the task involves poetry! One way for an editor of a poetry magazine to avoid the onslaught of truly pathetic attempts to write poetry is simply to run it on a solicitation basis. Sure, you’ll still get submissions from people who obviously haven’t read your magazine, but I agree with Ron Silliman: a poetry magazine is more likely to have a cultural impact if it is edited as a vehicle meant to call attention to a specific set of poets. It’s the editor who should establish the tone of the magazine, not the slush pile’s contingencies.

Alexis Rhone Fancher is that rare editor who somehow manages to filter the slush pile so that the publication now called CULTURAL DAILY has a distinctive “vibe.” Her latest find is Gustavo Hernandez, who has four poems featured at the following link:

https://www.culturaldaily.com/gustavo-hernandez-four-poems/

It’s not too often that I read a poem by a poet I’ve never read before and then want to read the next one. And I mean that word want. At a time when poets have seem to have grown lackadaisical about their line-breaks, Hernandez knows exactly what he’s doing. Perhaps he has already been asked to give a reading at Beyond Baroque, but if not, he should be given one as soon as possible. It’s a long drive from Long Beach to Venice, especially at night, but I would make the trip to hear him read.

Review of “NOMAD,” the pop-up exhibition of Torrance Art Museum

Saturday evening, August 28, 2021

This show is up for only one more day. The exhibition opened at noon today, and closes on Sunday at 5 p.m. I recollect a call for work to be part of this show a while back, and apparently a couple of hundred artists ended up with a corner here, or a side office there, or a hallway in between to exhibit their work. It was impossible to look at everything for an equal amount of time, but as we wandered on four of the five floors allotted to this “pop-up exhibition” sponsored by the Torrance Art Museum, I imagined myself being the curator of a future show at TAM for which I was to pick no more than a dozen artists in the “Nomad” show. My short list of twenty finalists for the imaginary group show would include the following artists:

Emilio Garcia
Marty Knop
Jackie Castillo (“Torrance Financial Center”)
Travis Rice
David Eddington
Nancy Voegeli-Curran
Kim Abeles (“Hope Chest and Wringler Worms”)
Brian Thomas Jones (“Estimated Time in Traffic”)
Bill Dambrova
Meeson Pae Yang
Bryan Ricci
Charley Alexander
Maxwell Sykes — “Untitled” (Face)
Isai de los Angeles (“Hey man, I don’t actually eat the roaches.”)
Madeline Arnault (fiber artist)
Rebecca Bennett Duke
Francisco Alvarado
Nevena Prijic
Mike Chattem
Elizabeth Munzon

I must say that it took almost as long to find parking as it did to drive from Long Beach to the intersection of Hawthorne and Carson. The artists I just named made that exasperated search for parking worthwhile, however. More than worthwhile, in fact. Thank you.

I want to give special praise to the work of Emilio Garcia and Jackie Castillo.

For more, Visit: NomadArtShow.com

Location: 21535 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA

August 28-29, 2021

Noon-5pm, both days

Cost: Free

Address: 21535 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA

Charlie Watts, jazz drummer whose stalwart cadences aligned the Rolling Stones, dies at 80

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Rolling Stones were founded almost sixty years ago by Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart. Stewart was soon relegated to being their road manager and an occasional sessions musician. Jones proved to be the most fragile member of the band, even if he was the most brilliant musician. Stewart died in the 1980s; and Wyman left the band a few years after the “Steel Wheels” album got things rolling again in the late 1980s. Another seismic shift has hit the original line-up. The news is breaking that Charlie Watts, an aspiring jazz drummer in the early 1960s who was drawn into the throes of the world’s most controversial rock and roll band, has died in a London hospital earlier today. For over a half-century Watts aligned the rhythms of The Rolling Stones with his stalwart cadences, endearing himself to fans with his self-effacing demeanor. Managing for the most part to avoid the worst excesses of popular music’s notorious life style, Watts was, in fact, the bemused foil to the seductive grandiosity of the band’s lead singer. Groupies were not his thing. He first met his wife almost sixty years ago, and the marriage endured. Along with his widow and his bandmates, a daughter and grandchild are also his immediate survivors.

For all of his prominence as the drummer of the world’s self-labelled “greatest rock band,” Watts’s original musical interest was jazz, and in the 1990s he used the money he made from drumming with the Rolling Stones to form a jazz orchestra. His interest in jazz was long known, not that he was the only member of the band with such inclination. Jones is said to have offspring after Julian “Cannonball” Adderley out of admiration for that musician.

Watts’s choices in percussion made significant contributions to the distinctive sound of his bandmates. One only has to listen to the inexhaustible resonance of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” to hear how Watts’s brief but propulsive solo interlude makes all the difference in how that “Hey Hey Hey” chorus churns the song headlong into the next full verse. Rae Armantrout has written about how much of an impact that song had on her as a young person living in San Diego in the summer of 1965, and I can vouch that it had an equal impact on me in Imperial Beach, when that tiny, working-class city had yet to be cut in half by an annexation to San Diego.

In a recent interview, Watts talked about his refusal to get a “smart” phone and how his steadfast allegiance to a flip phone irritated Jagger because the band’s lead singer and songwriting collaborator wasn’t able to send Watts documents and drawings for immediate approval. For someone still using a flip phone at that point, I felt as if my obstinacy had received a major social endorsement. Thank you, Charlie, for one last gift!

The Stones are set to go on tour, but I suspect that it will be a more melancholy event than even the remaining members of the band anticipate.

R.I.P. Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

Published, August 24, 2021, 10:34 a.m.

Post-Script: I first heard the news of Watts’s death from an article on Yahoo, which was far more comprehensive than anything in the New York Times or the LA Times. When I returned home, I found an expanded version of the New York Times obit, which concluded with a comment that Watts made about his relationship as a performing musician to jazz music:

“I’ve always wanted to be a drummer,” he told Rolling Stone in 1996, adding that during arena rock shows, he imagined a more intimate setting. “I’ve always had this illusion of being in the Blue Note or Birdland with Charlie Parker in front of me. It didn’t sound like that, but that was the illusion I had.”

Apropos of the above self-reflection by Watts, one might listen in on a brief broadcast commentary from NPR:
https://www.npr.org/2021/08/24/836037264/charlie-watts-rolling-stones-drummer-dies

****************

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/rolling-stones-drummer-charlie-watts-dies-at-age-80-164430812.html

https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2021-08-24/charlie-watts-dead-rolling-stones-drummer

***********

Post-Post-Script:

One example of Watts’s drumming that I have not seen cited in any other article is on the song “Complicated,” which appeared on the American version of “BETWEEN THE BUTTONS” in 1967. His drumming, in fact, is not in the background but is instead at the forefront in defining the gendered resiliency that is at the core of the song’s theme. For any young teenager who aspires to be an accomplished drummer in a rock band, I would recommend listening to Watts’s work on this song and then practicing until you get it down perfectly. Once at that point, then start doing variations on it. Once you have deviated enough from it to make it unrecognizably familiar, perform it for the other musicians in the band and tell them that their task is to write a song with that beat. Only once that song is recorded should you play “Complicated” for them.

Tenth Anniversary of Scott Wannberg’s Death

Scott Wannberg
February 20, 1953 – August 19, 2011

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the death of legendary poet Scott Wannberg, I want to send out a special note of condolence to S.A. Griffin, who has distinguished himself in nurturing the memory of this extraordinary poet. I also want to thank Perceval Press for keeping Scott’s poetry in print.

Here are two covers of early books by Scott, both of which he inscribed. In “The Electric Yes, Indeed,” my first wife Cathay (who died this past year) is also addressed. It is a mark of Scott’s indefatigable charisma that she was pleased to realize that she had met and talked with him in a bookstore at the old Santa Monica mall years before meeting me at Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore.

His poems remain among my favorite. Continue to rest in the exuberant resistance of your poetic visions, Scott. What a gift you gave us.

**********

Brian Jones and the Fiftieth Anniversary of “The Last Time”; and Bill Youmans

August 17, 2021

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted anything on this blog. Instead of enjoying the chance to expound on current events in literature or politics, I’ve been working on writing two SCOs (SCO stands for “Standard Course Outline”) for new courses at CSULB: one for an upper division course in creative writing in poetry (English 306) and another in fiction (English 305). I’m not paid to work in the summer, but guess what?

In my absence, the most popular posts in terms of my readership seem to have been a piece I wrote on the late Bill Youmans, and another piece I wrote on one of the founding members of The Rolling Stones. That’s an odd pairing, but it reflects my variegated approach to blogging. Successful ones, as I have noted previously, tend to focus on a single narrow topic. Since I’m not interested in establishing a base for advertisers, I prefer to write whatever catches my attention.

Speaking of the lack of advertisers, though, I see no reason not to freely endorse products that I like. Here goes:

HARRY’S SHAVING EQUIPMENT.
https://www.harrys.com/en/us

The best razors I’ve ever used.

For sunglasses, you can’t do better in terms of an ecological gesture than to indulge in the spiffiest ones I know of: KYND EYEWEAR.

I’ve never met Ken Baumann, the owner of Kynd Eyewear, but I hope more people support his project.

www.kyndeyewear.com

Finally, for those of you who prefer athletic contests in which you are the only one who pretends to be in the slightest control of a very whimsical ball, here are Brooks Roddan’s golf club recommendations:
Ping, cavity back irons with steel shafts, including 3 wedges (48, 50, & 56 degree; Ping 19 & 22 degree hybrids; Titleist driver 10.5 degree; Taylor-Made ’Spyder’ putter. You can get all this pre-owned and pretty cheap, according to Brooks.

Ian Stewart, who played briefly with the Stones in their earliest line-up and then served as their road manager for the first couple decades as well as an occasional session musician with them, was dedicated to golf and chose the band’s lodgings on early tours based on their proximity to golf links, or so the story goes.

*******

The big news is that Linda and I have lost our studio space in the Loft in San Pedro. We sublet the space from Meeson Pae Yang three years ago, and had hoped to keep working there indefinitely, but Meeson has to move out of her current studio space and so she needs to reclaim the space we’ve been using. We have to be out by September 10th. Right now, we have a meeting scheduled on Friday to talk with an artist about subletting another studio space. It most certainly won’t be as lovely as our current space, but in some ways it was a dream too good to last.

At least, though, we will be able to take part in one more First Thursday open studio event (on September 2) with our work up in the space we have grown to love.

First, though, I have to do a better job of paying attention to where I’m walking.
After working on the SCOs all morning, I took a break in the early afternoon, but failed to notice a scooter that was poking its rear end out from behind a lamp post. Sprawl city. I barely got my hands up in front of my face as I fell forward to the sidewalk. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones, but I am scuffed up and my shoulders hurt quite a bit from taking the force of the fall.

From “Three Hundred Streets of Venice California” by Tom Laichas

FROM

“Three Hundred Streets of Venice California”

by Tom Laichas

Vernon Av

In the street, behind a parked car, a white hen pecks at the gutter.

I look over a wall. There it is: a small chicken coop, its door unlatched.

I find the apartment and knock. A woman answers. Behind her, on the floor, a bare mattress. Two kids sleep there.

I tell the woman: One of your chickens is in the street. She thanks me. Together, we catch and recage the bird, latching the door shut.

It’s like this: I live here, so I think I know things.

Then I see them: chickens and children.

I don’t know anything.

*************

Venice Marine Biological Station

Here in the early twentieth century, Dr. Albert Brennus Ulrey established the Venice Marine Biological Station. Dr. Ulrey studied the supralittoral, eulittoral, and sublittoral, also known as splash, intertidal, and neretic zones. For his aquaria, he gathered mollusks, hydroids, trematodes, bryzoans, echinoderms, and salps.

A mollusk is a shelled creature, a univalve or bivalve. A hydroid is a polyp. A trematode is a parasitic flatworm. Bryzoans are microscopic invertebrates. Representative echinoderms include starfish, sand dollars, and sea urchins, all characterized by radial symmetry. A salp is a tunicate, related to the sea squirt.

One day, the County infilled the marsh and dredged a Marina: Basin A for the mollusks, Basin B for the hydroids, Basin C for the trematodes.

This dredging went on for some years.

D for bryzoans and E for starfish. Basin F for the urchins. G for the sand dollars, H for the salps.

Gasoline and lubricants leak from four-stroke boat engines. At each meal, the creatures digest petroleum distillates. The invertebrates die one at a time and then all at once.

We’re running a fucking funeral home, says a biologist.

So the Marine Station packs the aquaria, archives the notebooks, drives to the Port of Los Angeles, buys tickets at Berth 95, and hops the ferry to Catalina.

All that’s left now is Donax gouldii, also known as the coquina or bean clam. Children press its polished shells into sandcastle walls. The calcium carbonate gleams in the sunlight, brighter than bone.

“mollusks, hydroids…”: United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1921.

********

What Will You Do Without Us, Streets?

What will you do without us, streets, on the morning we neighbors pack our possessions and flee, the Pacific back-slapping our shadows as we stumble east?

What will you do when we give up your sea-slick sidewalks and slippery asphalt?

Our house numbers will vanish, our property lines buried in silt and raw salt.

To remain with you, we’d have to slit our own throats, and fish out our unused gills. Our fingers would melt into fins. Our legs would fuse into flukes.

That life without a hand or foot: it’s not for us.

As we leave you, we’ll shred the mortgages and rental agreements. No sense in these heirlooms. Once we go, we’re gone. We won’t tell the grandchildren we lived alongside you. What is there to say? We were here and then we weren’t. That’s no story they need to know.

Goodbye, streets. Like sideways sand crabs, we have a tidal surge to outrun. When we return, we will speak another language. Don’t expect us to remember you. We will forget it all.

You’ll forget too. You’ll drown, and then you’ll forget.

********

Tom Laichas’s recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spillway, Aji, La Piccioletta Barca, Evening Street Review, Monday Night, Ambit, and elsewhere. He is the author of the collection Empire of Eden (High Window Press, 2019) and the chapbook Sixty-Three Photographs at the End of a War (3.1 Press, 2021).