Author Archives: billmohr

Dr. Gerald Perkoff, the Missouri Review, and Stuart Z. Perkoff

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

I happened to see a notice that the Missouri Review was offering a poetry prize named after Dr. Gerald Perkoff, whose name I instantly recognized as the editor of his brother’s volume of “Collected Poems.” I confess I was somewhat amused by the irony of an academic literary magazine with a poetry prize named after the brother of someone who dropped out of college before the first week of classes were over and who went on to be published in Donald Allen’s NEW AMERICAN POETRY in 1960. Stuart Z. Perkoff would most certainly have never submitted any poetry to the Missouri Review, and it’s probably the case that the editors there would not recognize any of Perkoff’s work, even the poem that Allen published in his anthology, “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love.” That poem has, of course, the distinction of being the first long experimental poem about the Holocaust in American poetry. Even in Allen’s anthology, it was an outlier in its inclusion of several chunks of justified prose in the poem. No other poem in that poem so extensively intermingled both verse and prose.

The unusual disparity of this ensemble of cultural workers should not, however, distract us too much from this significance of the prize of the person whose memory it honors. I only wish that the entire context of Dr. Perkoff’s life and family were more visible. Here, for instance, is a link to an obituary for Dr. Gerald Perkoff. There is no mention of being predeceased by his brother, Stuart, ar that his brother Simon Perkoff is a noted jazz musician.

Such as that may be, anyone working on a cluster of poems that addresses themes of health and medicine should consider submitting the work to the Missouri Review.

https://www.stljewishlight.com/life_cycle/obituaries/dr-gerald-t-perkoff-noted-mizzou-professor/article_8b668a72-3701-11e1-a2cf-001871e3ce6c.html

Perkoff Prize

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is Dead; Long Live City Lights

Feb. 23, 2021 — Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Early this afternoon, I heard the news that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had died. I guess that Naomi Replansky will remain the oldest living American poet for at least a little longer.

Tributes to him will no doubt flourish as the obituaries trot out the familiar details, but the only important tribute has already been paid by those who cared the most about his most significant accomplishment, a bookstore that took up the 18th century model of also being a publisher. In the early months of the Pandemic, City Lights Bookstore held a fundraiser in hopes of stabilizing its chances of surviving the loss of its flow of daily customers. The fundraiser was so successful that the bookstore generated a minor endowment that will nurture it through at least the rest of this decade. In 2028, the store will turn 75 years old. It is not too early to plan on making that occasion a chance to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of copies of books that have found grateful readers thanks to this store’s visibility.

*. *. ********. *****. ****** ******

Soon after posting the above, I received a letter from Doren Robbins,who gave me permission to reprint it in my blog:

My 1958 edition of A Coney Island of the Mind (title deriving from Henry Miller’s Black Spring, as we know) is the first book of poems I bought. Eighteen years old.

That 1958 edition along with Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems, 100 Poems by E.E. Cummings, Selected Poems by Langston Hughes, and the Selected of Edna St. Vincnt Millay along with an early translation of Baudelaire by George Dillon and Edna St. Vincent Millay, are my first books of poetry. Probably true of a lot of lucky poets (who are now) in their 70’s.

I was around eleven-years old when a younger salesman friend of my father, a guy named Wally Sussman, a jazz piano player, came through the front door excited and probably high into our TV room when we were sitting around after dinner and started spontaneously reading from A Coney Island of the Mind, I think it was “I am Waiting.” I’ll never forget it or couldn’t’ve anticipated what happened to me, but the visual performance of that scene is implanted and Pollocked into my memory.

LF was an important influence to me, alongside Ginsberg and Rukeyser. He could blend personal and social satire and dramatic observation and introspection as well as Villon, Petronius, or Nicanor Para or Henry Miller. And I sincerely regret never being published by City Lights, though from the 80’s till the early 2000’s whenever I sent him a book he always sent me a postcard with one of his paintings on it inviting me for espresso if I was in SF.

What a long, fertile, life full of personal and political meaning he had. Fortunately he is generally well-received.

I think Ferlinghetti would’ve laughed with a steady Anarchist sneer that I was unable to open your NY Times obituary because I had gone over the free limit, and had to go to National Public Radio (which sounds better than it is).

https://www.npr.org/2021/02/23/375206219/lawrence-ferlinghetti-beat-poet-and-small-press-publisher-dies-at-101

UC Writers Week — FREE AND ON-LINE (Feb. 13 – 20)

Thursday, February 11

UC Riverside Writers’ Week – 2021

https://writersweek.ucr.edu/schedule

Greg Kosmicki sent me a link ( https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2021/01/22/uc-riversides-44th-annual-writers-week-goes-virtual
about this festival a couple of weeks ago, and I want to thank him for reminding me of one of the most special occasions I had as a young writer. Well, I confess I didn’t feel that young in 1984. I would have been in my late thirties by then, and things were getting difficult for any poet who had cast his or her lot outside of the academy. If I had been “smart,” I would have parlayed my work as an editor and publisher of Momentum Press and the favorable notices my first full-length book of poems received in 1982 into acceptance at an MFA program and gotten busy having a “career.” I really loved living in Ocean Park, though. I had moved around so much when I was a child that finding a safe environment seemed to be a small miracle. Giving up my rent-controlled apartment to go study for two years with Greg Pape or Richard Shelton would have leaving behind a scene that I was still helping to define. The year after I read in the UC Writers’ Week, I published POETRY LOVES POETRY, which still is the best survey of what the scene was like in L.A. in the early 1980s. PLP depicted several of the most visible strands of L.A. poetry at the time that Dennis Cooper was running Beyond Baroque, including the early proponents of the stand up movement (Locklin, Koertge, Bogen, Webb, Coleman, Flanagan, Mohr) as well as the maverick avant-garde (Vangelisti, Phillips, Hickman, Ronk, Rasula). Cooper’s closest circle (Gerstler, Skelley, Trinidad) was also prominently featured. Soon after time PLP started circulating, the multi-cultural scenes in Los Angeles began to flourish, and later anthologies such as the ones edited by Suzanne Lummis began to reflect those incrementally expanding communities of poets. Throughout all the shifts, poets such as Harry Northup and Holly Prado plugged away, along with their younger colleagues in Cahuenga Press, Jim Cushing, Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna, and Cecilia Woloch.

In any case, I look back at having had a chance to read in Riverside at a festival featuring Ken Kesey as the headliner as one of my favorite mememories of that period.

Here is a list of some of the writers who have read or been honored at this festival in the past 44 years:

Daniel Alarcón; Margaret Atwood; Aimee Bender; Bonnie Bolling; Christopher Buckley; Brenda Cardenas; Victoria Chang; Wanda Coleman; Carolina De Robertis; Steve Erickson; Marilyn Chin, Rachel Cusk; Percival Everett; B.H. Fairchild; Janet Fitch; Katie Ford; Kate Gale; Frank X. Gaspar; Roxane Gay; Dagoberto Gilb; Patricia Hampl; David Hernandez; Juan Felipe Herrera; Garrett Hongo; Mark Jarman; Anna Journey; Douglas Kearney; Ken Kesey; Jamaica Kincaid; Christine Kitano; Chris Kraus; Li-Young Lee Alexander Long, Tom Lutz, Rubén Martínez, Bill Mohr, Walter Mosley; Michael Nava; Viet Thanh Nguyen; Jayne Ann Phillips; Darryl Pinckney; John Rechy; Nina Revoyr; Luis J. Rodriguez; Aimee Suzara; David Shields; Jerry Stahl; Susan Straight; Ray Suarez; Arthur Sze; Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Michael Tolkin; Quincy Troupe; Héctor Tobar; Amy Uyematsu; Diane Wakoski; Alison Benis White; Jacqueline Winspear; Gary Young.

You can find more details about this year’s festival at:

https://www.einpresswire.com/article/535218445/uc-riverside-s-44th-annual-writers-week-goes-virtual

Lynn McGee’s “Bioluminescence Can Be Ours” (with music by Bill Parod)

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The revival of interest in blending music with poetry seems to be intensifying. On a popular culture level, of course, music and poetic lyrics found themselves enjoying an unusual amount of public admiration in the 1960s, a transnational moment that veered off into the subcultures of punk, hip-hop, and rap in subsequent decades. In turn, the poetics of those efforts influenced performance poetry and spoken word. In personal retrospect, one of the most interesting collages in the music-poetry mode was Liza Richardson’s post-midnight show in the early 1990s, “MAN IN THE MOON,” on KCRW, which complemented the Lollapalooza tours from 1991 to 1997.

More recently, along with video poetry, various publishing outlets have been encouraging and featuring collaborations between musicians and poets. One of the best of these efforts announced itself in my email earlier this morning:

Bioluminescence Can Be Ours

“BIOLUMINESCENCE CAN BE OURS”
by Lynn McGee
with music by Bill Parod

*. *. *. *. *.

For more information on Lynn McGee:
https://www.lynnmcgee.com

TRACKS (2019)
http://broadstonebooks.com/Lynn_McGee.html

Lynn McGee is the author of the poetry collection Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019); Sober Cooking (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016), and two award-winning poetry chapbooks: Heirloom Bulldog (Bright Hill Press, 2015) and Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997). Recent publications include Lascaux Review, Tampa Review and The Night Heron Barks. Poems by Lynn McGee have also appeared recently in Upstreet, Lavender Review, Stonewall’s Legacy (an anthology celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising), The American Journal of Poetry, Cordella Literary Magazine, Potomac Review, The American Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, Storyscape, In From the Margin and The New Guard (one poem a finalist and one a semi-finalist in the Knightville Contest judged by Donald Hall).

Links to Pura López-Colomé

Friday, January 29th, 2021

I noticed earlier today on Twitter that Ron Silliman posted a link to an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the poetry of Jose Emilio Pacheco with the one word comment, “Seriously.”

https://poets.org/poet/jose-emilio-pacheco

Just to balance the gender scales, though, I would like to cite once again the work of Pura López-Colomé, with whom I had the extraordinary honor of being on a panel with on one of my trips to Mexico during the past decade to read my poetry.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/pura-lopez-colome

http://www.universeofpoetry.org/mexico_p2.shtml

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/52403/echo-56d230d878bad

For those who are curious about poetry in Mexico, I recommend you start with an anthology from Shearsman Books: “Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices (a bilingual anthology), edited by Brandel France de Bravo.

The Freudian Body Politic (2016-2020)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

I received an email the other day from the reclusive novelist Thomas Fuller, whose work I was introduced to by the poet-painter Brooks Roddan. Fuller feigned not to recognize the identity of “Individual No. 1,” claiming that someone named Mitch McConnell had been the actual president of the United States in the second half of the past decade. I sighed, of course. “Will no one rid me of these conspiracy theories?” was my first reaction, since I have heard variants on this proposition as punchlines to an assortment of jokes. As I wrote him back, though, a very brief consideration of his assessment of the nation’s political psyche with McConnell as the actual president led me to come up with the following trifecta:

The Freudian Body Politic.

Mitch McConnell — the ego — the (GOP) self presented to the public
Donald Trump — the Id — unleashed with paramount boorishness
GOP House and Senate — the superego — the conscience that alleges to keep the id and ego in balance

We witnessed on Tuesday, the 26th, how the superego’s flotation devices are intact. I predict a salvage operation, both terminable and interminable.

Inaugural Poet (1968) and Gluck’s “The Poet and the Reader”

Monday, January 25, 2021

It’s hard to tell how off-beat thoughts occur in one’s mind. Or minds. Maybe it’s the dialogue between the polymind, which I tried to type as one word and the system immediately broke it in half. I guess one must learn to be tolerant in a bemused parental fashion as AI slowly adapts to the jovial proclivities of the human mind.

Just before I started this post, I began wondering what would have happened if Robert Kennedy had made it through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and gotten to… I wonder where he was headed? Was he headed for a party in the Hollywood Hills? Somehow I just don’t picture him going straight to his hotel suite and kicking off his shoes.

Imagine him, eventually, as the candidate who triumphs over Nixon and George Wallace in 1968. His brother, in January, 1961, had asked Robert Frost to read a poem. In my fantasy world, Bobby Kennedy asks Allen Ginsberg to read at his inauguration in January, 1969. Like Frost, Ginsberg sets aside the poem he had composed for the occasion and instead leads the nation in three minutes of chanting “OM.”

I mention this alternative history as a way to counterbalance the depression I felt after reading Louise Gluck’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I’ve read drivel like this from undergraduate students who choose the creative writing option because writing essays about literary texts is a bit beyond their intellectual reach. It was bad enough that Gluck won the prize when there are so many worthy writers and poets in other countries who deserve the attention; but for her to produce something that hardly seems past the first draft stage is just pathetic.

There was one sentence, and one sentence only, that had even a glimmer of potential for development as an argument within the speech. It is the second sentence of the following paragraph:

“In art of the kind to which I was drawn, the voice of judgement of the collective is dangerous. The precariousness of intimate speech adds to its power and the power of the reader, through whose agency the voice is encouraged in its urgent plea or confidence.”

There’s a lot to be unpacked there; if only in the rest of the speech she had clarified the blurred relationships posited in these seemingly thoughtful assertions. Part of the problem is that Gluck never acknowledges in her speech the role that cultural capital plays in “the power of the reader,” and it is that benign self-indulgence of her own privileges that leads me to be very suspicious of her characterization of the reader’s agency.

I don’t hit it off with most poets, at least on a personal level. “You are one of the most alone people I know,” one of my few friends once wrote me. On the other hand, I do accommodate myself with pleasure to a fairly diverse set of poems and poetics. But I have my limits. “There is some bourgeois bullshit I will not eat” is my variant on what Olaf snarled in one of e.e. cummings’s best known poems. Gluck’s speech falls into that category.

Clint Margrave’s Poem in Honor of the Late Gerry Locklin

Sunday, January 24, 2021

“Toad Dies and Goes to Heaven” by Clint Margrave

I always tell students at the beginning of survey courses of poetry that this particular genre doesn’t get a lot of respect in American culture. At best, it’s an afterthought. I could tell you horror stories of the contempt that professors outside the Department of English at CSULB have for the art of poetry, but I am legally forbidden to reveal these instances.

Whenever these instances of dismissal occur, I am grateful that at least he professors of English at CSULB have great respect for poetry. It’s not always that case at various universities. There’s a reason that Randall Jarrell made a comment about the way that even critics of literature can be condescending towards poets. He compared some academic critics to a farmer’s remark to the barnyard: “Get out of here, pig. What do you know about bacon?”

If this is a legacy of poetry’s value at CSULB, then it is in large part because of the four decade of work produced by Gerry Locklin. One of my colleagues at CSULB is Clint Margrave, whose very fine poetry is published by New York Quarterly Books. He just had a poem published in RATTLE magazine that is dedicated to Gerry Locklin. I have rarely encountered a poet as spot on as this one! Bravo, Clint!

“Toad Dies and Goes to Heaven” by Clint Margrave

Amanda Gorman’s Gown and the Smithsonian

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Linda and I had a zoom dinner with Alexis and Jim Fancher yesterday evening; politics, the pandemic, and culture took up most of the conversation. At one point, we began talking about Amanda Gorman’s national television debut as Youth Poet Laureate. Alexis said that she has heard reports of a serious uptick of interest in poetry. At the very least, people were at least disabused of the immediate association of poetry and poverty.

In fact, after a few minutes of conversation about Ms. Gorman’s stunning outfit, I suddenly remembered hearing that there will be a break in tradition this year: Jill Biden, the First Lady, would normally donate her Inaugural Ball gown to the Smithsonian, but there was not an Inaugural Ball this year. However, I suggested to my dinner companions, what if the Youth Poet Laureate were to donate her outfit to the Smithsonian. It’s without doubt the best sartorial presentation of any poet who has served the role at that quadrennial ceremony.

Alexis and Linda thought it was a great idea, and urged me to post it in my blog, in the unlikely event that someone might notice and follow up on it. I do hope that someone who knows how to organize a petition drive gets one going.

For the record, I thought Gorman’s poem was a superb example of performance poem attuned to a didactic theme. I myself would preferred that Biden had asked either Tracy K. Smith, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, Will Alexander, Rita Dove, or Terrance Hayes. He decided that he needed to acknowledge the youth who have made such an impact on this past year’s protests and instead chose Amanda Gorman. My two favorite lines were:

Being American is more than a pride we inherit;
It is the past we step into, and how we repair it.

I would note how the emotion of pride is not passive in her formulation; it is only earned as an active agent in the mending of a flawed legacy.

We have more repair work to do than we want to admit, not just in terms of the chaos distilled by Trump, but all the accumulated damage done by the failure to provide reparations for slavery and manifest destiny.

I would note by the way that there is an echo of an earlier poem read at an inauguration in Gorman’s poem: “And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.” This proleptic image reminded me of the first line of Robert Frost’s “The Gift Outright,” which he read (but did not compose specifically for Kennedy’s inauguration): “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” This was one of the superior moments in Gorman’s poem, for if any element behooves this particular literary ritual in America’s public poetry, it is the ability to detect the intrinsic presence of the prefatory in the redemptive utterance. I only wish that Gorman’s subsequent line had been stronger. Regardless, redemption is needed, especially when one considers that the only poem that should ever be written about Trump deserves the title, “The Grift Outright.”

John Doe (Live) — “See How We Are” and Other Songs (At “HOLE IN THE WALL,” 2021)

January 21, 2021 (Thursday)

It’s been a rough first week of the Spring semester, and it’s not going to get any easier. I got a jury summons in the mail, but needless to say, no one in a position of authority is willing to make any promises about when I will get a vaccine shot. It’s too late for my sister to get a shot to head off the encroachment of the virus, although so far she is avoiding the worst effects since being diagnosed positive.

This evening, though, I celebrated the inauguration of Joe Biden by watching a solo concert by John Doe, streamed online by Mandolin. Making use of three guitars, He played a variety of songs by himself and others for an hour and a half, non-stop. It was an impressive display of musicianship and singing. His voice was even sweeter than I remember it back in the early days of X, and his fingerpicking was superb.

Halfway through the set, I realized that I was not writing down the names of the songs, and at this point it is a bit of joyful blur, but they included a song by Exene (“I Live in Arizona”); “In This House that We Call Home”; “Big Rock Candy Mountain”; and “See How We Are.” Other covers included Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” which he dedicated to Peter Case, who had shown Jon had to play in open tuning, and one of the Replacements’ great songs, “Here Comes a Regular.” As John said, “If you don’t know the song, you should look it up.” He performed it with a passion worthy of the original. Also included in the set was a plaintive, touching ballad by Wynn Stewart, which first became well known because of Merle Haggard’s recording. Finally, I would note that John dedicated a song to his late friend, Michael Blake.

Though relieved at yesterday’s shift in governance, I still feel very agitated and aggrieved. John’s concert helped soothe some of that tension. I remain grateful his commitment to songwriting and poetry and all of his collaborations with poet-songwriter Exene Cervenka.