Author Archives: billmohr

The UC Collision Course with Grad Students

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

I remember a Major League Baseball season where the unthinkable happened: the World Series was cancelled because of a players’ strike.

I believe that final exams are scheduled to start this coming Saturday, December 3, at UC San Diego. Will they be cancelled if the strike is not settled soon? Even if it were settled tonight, what kind of exam could be given that would be fair to students?

My sympathies are with the grad students. I worked as a teaching assistant at UC San Diego between 1997 and 2004. I also graded huge stacks of papers for large sections of other classes, too. Dr. Stephen Potts, who taught a class in adolescent literature on a regular basis, was one of the professors who provided me a way to make a little extra money. I needed that extra money because T.A.s were paid a pittance for the work they did, which was considered 50 percent employment by UCSD, while working as a grader was considered a 25 percent increment in one’s work load. I was supposed to be working on my dissertation as much as possible, but in reality the dissertation took a back seat to work that was very underpaid and always demanding my immediate attention.

I recollect that about twenty years ago the graduate students formed a union and threatened a strike, but a new contract was negotiated before anybody had to walk off the job. I’m glad I wasn’t faced with a choice about crossing picket-lines because I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the leadership of the union and its failure to communicate with rank and file members. It’s hard to feel solidarity when you feel disrespected by your own leadership. There was no sense of anyone in charge of the union being willing to listen to its membership.

Despite my lingering skepticism that anything has changed in the union’s culture, I’m pleased to see that the union is finally holding the chancellor’s feet to the fire. This is week three of the largest academic strike to ever take place in the United States. The California Faculty Association (CFA), the union I used to belong to at CSU Long Beach, could learn a few things about how to improve the economic conditions of its membership. Instead, as I pointed out in a blog post several months ago, the union went for a quick deal and a token raise, which has since been obliterated by inflationary pressures. Essentially, we ended up with a pay cut.

In the meantime, at least, I am somewhat consoled by the knowledge that younger academic workers are not backing down or settling for a token improvement in their conditions.

Onward!

“President Drake, it’s getting late, UC needs to negotiate.”

UAW Strike Enters Third Week: UC Responses, Negotiation Updates, and A.S. Support

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Hundreds-of-striking-UC-student-educators-17617082.php

The “Silver Lining” to the War in the Ukraine

The “Silver Lining” to the War in the Ukraine

I suppose there are situations in which no one benefits, but the horror in the Ukraine is not one of them. One would think by now that the James Bond film franchise would have reached its limits of enduring popularity, but Bond appears to be on a roll that will exceed even the longevity of The Rolling Stones.

Come to think of it, that might be a potential in-joke down the line. Whoever the next Bond is finds himself (or herself — “Bond. Jessica Bond.”) stalking a villain who has purchased choice aisle seats near the front row to enjoy the umpteenth live performance of “Sympathy for the Devil.” As Bond works his way through the crowd, as the culmination of yet another spectacular chase scene, the audience includes quarter-second glimpses of all the living actors who have played Bond enjoying the show.

In any case, both the novels of John LeCarre and the James Bond franchise will benefit from Vladimir Putin’s nefarious endeavors in the Ukraine, which hasn’t exactly gone according to plan in the past nine months.

Hollywood’s facsimile empire aside, the war between Russia and Ukraine is a catastrophic policy decision on Putin’s part. There is no chance of long-term domination of Ukraine as a subjected country in a new Cold War. Nevertheless, Putin will fight on, even as a certain Tsar refused to concede during the Russo-Hapanse war of 1904-1905. Putin may manage to regroup during the coming winter and even gain the upper hand in Ukraine, but what Europe and the United States, and China, too, have learned about Russia’s military capacities will profoundly affect the next quarter century of global power struggles.

The Ukraine War is merely the opening act of a massive “skirmish” over nascent polar naval routes as the North Pole’s ice cap shrinks. Bond has never had an “adventure” at the “top” of the world. Get your parkas out before you head to the movie theater. It will be a chilly evening out.

PINBALL WIZARD — a novella by Michael Meloan

Sunday, November 6, 2022

“Daylight Savings and Loan” filed its annual bankruptcy papers this weekend. “Fall back an hour.” Supposedly a rainstorm is on its way from Northern California to celebrate the shift to the sky going dark at 5 p.m. This is a bit early in the rainy season in Southern California to get a big storm, but this could mean that November is taking the place of December last year, after which things went dry and the reservoir levels began to get drastically low. Just knowing that rain is on the way put me in the mood to read something both entertaining and well written. I’ve heard that my colleague Charles Webb had a novel published by Red Hen a few months ago, but I’ve been too busy with various projects to go online and order a copy.

Fortunately, my mailbox contained a surprise a week or so ago: a novella (in a bilingual edition of German and English!) by Michael Meloan that is one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve had in recent years, in part because it handles a famous writer (Charles Bukowski) being one of its major characters with nonchalant deftness. It’s hard to classify Meloan’s slightly picaresque story, which is one of the things that makes it such a pleasure to read. Can a portion of it be read as a satire of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49? Meloan’s HighFrontier is certainly more believable as a send-up of Pentagon outsourcing. Of course, maybe I need to revisit the purlieu of Yoyodyne before passing judgement! It’s been a dozen years since I’ve been on their premises (in the full sense of that word), and maybe I’m a little too enchanted with Meloan’s protagonist, Ralph Hargraves, the first computer programmer narrator that I’ve ever found complex enough to care about his fate. In any case, Meloan has a gift for writing an unapologetically masculine prose that isn’t worried about how well it looks in the mirror. It’s flavorful without being exotic, and it doesn’t hurt that he has a fine ear for dialogue. He also keeps the backdrop of specific neighborhoods and locales in Los Angeles well in focus as the characters bicker, quarrel, and placate one another. My only quibble is that he spells “Marina del Rey” with a capital “D.” I suppose I could go through it with a felt tip pen and correct it myself when I read it a second time, which unlike most books I pick up I will most certainly do at some point in the near future.

TONIGHT: “Coalescence” Poetry Reading in Long Beach

Saturday, October 29, 2022

About ten days ago, I received a short note from Quentin Ring, the executive director at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, in Venice, that the National Poetry Coalition was convening in Long Beach this weekend and that a poetry reading was being held to celebrate the occasion. What exactly the “convening” entails or how it might connect to Long Beach and its long history of poetry scenes is not mentioned anywhere that I can locate.

The poetry reading tonight is free and is taking place outdoors.

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https://www.eventbrite.com/e/coalescence-a-poetry-reading-in-long-beach-tickets-443739465687

COALESCENCE: A Poetry Reading in Long Beach

“A poetry reading welcoming the National Poetry Coalition to Long Beach with Harryette Mullen, Peter J. Harris, Cathy Linh Che, and Jessica Kim.”

Welcoming the National Poetry Coalition to Long Beach

Saturday, October 29
7:00 p.m.
THE HUB
100 W. Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90802
Doors open: 6:30 p.m.

Remembering Mike Davis at the Getty Research Institute (1996)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Mike Davis died in San Diego yesterday at the age of 76. His numerous books amounted to a geopolitical marriage with a city and region from which he could never divorce himself, even as he flayed the cynosures of corrupted power. In his best moments, Davis was a take-no-prisoners agent provocateur whose radical critique was also entertaining. If he needed hyperbole to keep your attention, he didn’t hesitate: Davis did not hesitate to claim that hurricane-like winds barrel through Topanga Canyon. To the best of my knowledge, the highest speed recorded for wind in Topanga never approached that degree of acceleration. He was a latter-day Gramsci with a strong streak of Steven Spielberg in a Jurassic Park mood.

In the Fall, 1995, the Getty Research Institute realized that it was going to have to prepare to move from its location on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica up to the mountain redoubt that was being constructed just off of the 406 freeway. Usually the institute sponsors intellectual projects that focus on art and archaeology, but having to suspend its usual focus caused them to come up with an interesting alternative: a year-long seminar on Los Angeles. Announcements were sent out asking for applications, and about twenty people ended up getting good news in the spring, 1996 that they had received either a year-long residence or a couple of months. I ended up with a two-month visiting scholar appointment that changed my life. Without encountering on a daily basis scholars such as David James, Alan Sekula, Philip Ethington, Becky Nickolaides, Ramon Garcia, waTom Dumm, Robert Flick, and Brenda Bright, I doubt it ever would have occurred to me that I might be capable of becoming a Ph.D. Their encouragement and interest in my work was unprecedented.

One of the first seminar presentations in the Fall, 1996 was by Mike Davis, who showed up without any notes whatsoever. After a brief introduction, he stood at the foot of a long table and leaned on it with the knuckles of both hands. For over an hour, he recited his paper to us, citing specific authors and titles and the summaries of their narrative with an ease that left everyone awed. “Well,” I remember someone saying afterwards, “we know who’s at the top of pyramid around here.”

It was an extraordinarily impressive performance, even if its obsession with early dystopia novels about Los Angeles seemed a bit heavy-handed in its synchronic diagnosis.

There is no doubt that Mike Davis was an inspiring social critic, and I appreciate his willingness to speak up for writers such as Mike the PoeT Sonksen and Lynell George. It was no shock to hear that he had died, for his medical condition was well known. Nevertheless, as with Peter Schjeldahl, one feels as if a voice we still need to hear had bee muted too soon.

Mike Davis (1946-2022)

https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2022-10-25/mike-davis-writer-who-chronicled-the-forces-that-shaped-l-a-dies

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/26/books/mike-davis-dead.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Obituaries

At 75, Backing Up a Quarter-Century

October 25, 2022

Twenty five years ago, today, I was sitting in a seminar room in the Literature building at the University of California, San Diego. I had been accepted into the program at age 49. During the first four weeks of the ten weeks-long quarter, the other eleven students who had been admitted into that year’s first year class had all assumed I was around 42 years old. One other student, though, Tania, had mentioned the week before that her birthday was on October 25. “So’s mine,” I said. “I’m turning 50.” They looked at me as if in slight astonishment that someone so old would start a Ph.D. program, especially one with only a B.A. “Better than living out of one’s car,” I said. I was an typesetter who had become unemployed at the very moment when computers eviscerated that occupation.

Seven years later, I was teaching ESL students in Long Island, New York how to spell “above.” It was hardly a situation that justified my choice to get a Ph.D. I was determined, however, to find some way to revise my dissertation into a book that would pay tribute to the poetry scenes in Los Angeles over the past half-century. The first time I had applied to the NEH for support, the evaluation said, “Too bad he doesn’t have a Ph.D. That would give us confidence he could finish this very interesting project.”

When I applied the second time, they still said, “No.”

Despite the imposition of overwhelming committee work at CSULB between 2006 and 2010, I managed to get my book published by he University of Iowa Press in 2011. The NEH’s expert panel had predicted publication by “a minor university press.” So much for their experts’ ability to assess the cultural work being done on the West Coast.

On this occasion, therefore, I wish to thank the friends and comrades of the past half-century for all you have to inspire the journey I have undertaken the past half-century. I hold you close in the heart of my memories.

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

Post-Script:

Among other people who called today was Paul Vangelisti, who happened to mention that Christopher Knight had written an appreciation of the late Peter Schjeldahl for the L.A. Times. While it’s true that Schjeldahl stopped publishing any poems he wrote in the years after he began specializing in art criticism, I doubt he shared Knight’s view of poetry and poets. Here, for the record:

Perhaps These Are Not Poetic Times At All

“I try not to read poetry, not even dead people’s poetry, It’s hard to explain why. I find something embarrassing about poetry. It’s such a weird, atavistic thing to do.” — Christopher Knight, L.A. Times art critic

Peter Schjeldahl: Poet and Art Critic (1942-2022)

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Peter Schjeldahl would probably have been flustered if I had professed to be astounded at his capacity to write an article on the death of Frank O’Hara at the age of 24. Perhaps there are thousands of people, if not hundreds, who could have written something as directly elegant and insightful as Schjeldahl did at such a young age, but I am most certainly am not one of them, nor do I know any people my age who could look back and say that their youthful talent was equally capacious. Perhaps Dennis Cooper would be the only person I have known who would be up to the task at a similar age. As for being older, not that much has changed. Even on the verge of turning 75 in the next few days, I find myself wishing I could turn my blog over to a guest writer who could quickly sketch why Peter Schjeldahl meant so much to so many of us.

I knew him first as a poet, and it is as a poet that I wish to speak of him right now. Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar Press published Schjeldahl’s final collection of poems, The Brute. While the title poem is a deft critique of America’s self-righteous justifications for its empire, there are several other poems that deserve canonical attention: “To Pico Boulevard”; “On Cocksucking”; and “Why I Missed Punk.” When I put together my second anthology of Los Angeles poets, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” Schjeldahl’s droll pilgrimage on Pico Boulevard was my choice for the book’s first poem. One might think it odd to have an anthology featuring over five dozen Los Angeles-based poets start with a poet who is more associated with the New York School and the St. Mark’s scene, but Schjeldahl enjoyed the irony. He wrote me that “I worked hard for the honor of being a Los Angeles poet, and I am happy to accept it.” Over the course of a couple of years, Schjeldahl gave several inspiring readings in Los Angeles, including one where he delivered a poem about how he was giving up poetry for writing art criticism. I wish I could remember its title.

His influence on that anthology began with a conversation I had with him at Intellectuals and Liars bookstore in the late spring, 1979. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about that conversation in the first draft of the memoir I am working on.

You might wonder, by the way, how Schjeldahl found himself in Los Angeles a little over 40 years ago. His spouse, Brooke Alderson, was an actress hoping to get work in Hollywood, and she did in fact land a role in Urban Cowboy (1980). If she didn’t end up having a career as an actress, it should be noted how difficult it is to get even one part in a major film. Schjeldahl is survived by his wife and their daughter, who is also a writer.

The New York Times obituary, by the way, initially misidentified the name of the photographer who took the photograph of Schjeldahl that was at the top of its article. When I commissioned Sheree Rose to take photographs of all the poets in the anthology, she shot Schjeldahl at Beyond Baroque in Venice, leaning on a podium. It seems to me to be an exquisite, if unstated, confirmation of his place in Los Angeles poetry that The NY Times would use a photo of him reading here rather than at St. Mark’s. At both places, he remains an honored and treasured memory.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/postscript/10/31/remembering-peter-schjeldahl-a-consummate-critic?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_102222&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email&utm_term=tny_daily_digest&bxid=5bea15dc24c17c6adf1d75ea&cndid=50555100&hasha=7caeec83f7eb1d1e07520665f3b23972&hashb=96cf50f0c09e5a1d79e45f7efc213ce05278e7f8&hashc=37c43a5c3a11da12bdc55f9c622d0baf0ec7493490d9327a7099d22dd53e6a5e&esrc=bounceX&mbid=CRMNYR012019

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/21/nyregion/peter-schjeldahl-dead.html

https://www.villagevoice.com/2019/06/01/frank-ohara-he-made-things-and-people-sacred/

Pumping Thoughts during a Turn-Around Trip to San Diego

Sunday, October 16

I’ve been working on a memoir about my years as a “small press” editor and publisher, and much of that involves sifting boxes of old papers to find appointment schedules and lists of things to do that I made a half-century ago. The emotional chronology occasionally catches me off-guard; at other times, the sheets aren’t marked with the month or year, but I know from notes mades in the quickly drawn rectangles of a handmade calendar what year it was. Fortunately, this search for details to firm up the accuracy of my narrative also serves as a chance to extract superfluous material from the boxes of “literary papers” that I am in the process of delivering to the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego (an institution that is not to be confused with San Diego State College). So far I have filled a half-dozen boxes with irrelevant material and am thereby sparing some poor student in the sorting chambers of UCSD’s Special Collections the tediousness of that task.

On Thursday morning, I drove down to UCSD to deliver a second installment of a dozen or so boxes. As was the case when I drove the first set of boxes down several weeks ago, traffic flowed at an unusually steady fluctuation between 60 to 70 miles per hour. Only once, for about a half-mile, did my speed drop under 50 miles an hour. What’s going on here? I thought. During the height of the pandemic, the one silver lining was that a commute suddenly became far less of a challenge in Southern California. I couldn’t remember traffic being this congenial in Southern California since the 1984 Olympics.

Among the mutually reinforcing side-effects of the pandemic, the work-at-home transition is playing out on all kinds of economic levels, including the price of gasoline. As I drove down, I realized that lighter traffic means less gasoline is being purchased. Since the oil companies expect a certain amount of profit and won’t accept anything less, the only way to keep that level of income in a region of the U.S. that they have grown used to as a major source of revenue is to keep the price as high as possible. The price for regular gas at the Mobil station on La Jolla Village Drive near UCSD was $6.60 a gallon, for regular. This is almost three dollars a gallon more than the national average.

For every self-interested action, there is are at least a gross of oblique and disproportionate reactions. If community colleges are now offering an extraordinary number of classes online, that means all the adjuncts who were hustling from one campus to another (which is to say, one gasoline station to another) have hit the snooze buttons on their odometers.

Then I thought about the billiards table of the planet’s nations: Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. And Nigeria and Venezuela. And Haiti and Cuba. And Vietnam and India. And China and North Korea. South Korea. Who has the stick, and where’s the 8-ball? The transmissions of my GPS satellite got quickly interrupted, however, by a man about forty years old in the Mobil gas station store saying to another man, “This should be illegal.”

I agree with the man. It should be illegal to buy gasoline at any price unless you can point to a map with only border lines drawn on it, and no names whatsoever, and identify where these countries are, in addition to providing some pertinent information about their history or current political situation. I don’t want a poll tax on voting or any kind of literacy test imposed as a way of restricting the franchise. When it comes to the “vote” we cast when we purchase fuel, however, it would help increase the urgency of action on climate change if we all shared our mutual knowledge of some basic facts about the global economy. That includes, of course, how public pension plans depend on the return on their investment in these fuels to make monthly payments to workers who have retired. The adjunct who works at home now is still very much at the center of the equation for providing the money needed to keep the extravaganza in fine fettle.

Paul Vangelisti on Dolores Dorantes’s “COPY” and Kyle Harvey’s “Cosmograpies”

Friday, September 30, 2022

Several months ago, Robin Myers, a poet who co-translated my poems into Spanish for the Bonobos Editores edition pf PRUEBAS OCULTAS, wrote me and mentioned that WAVE Books was publishing her translation of Dolores Dorantes’s “COPY” and asked if I could help get the word out. Shortly afterwards, I was talking to Paul Vangelisti and he asked me if I knew of anything recent that would be worth his attention as a reviewer. I mentioned the book by Dorantes and got a copy to him the day before he left for Italy. While he was there, he worked on the review and I am delighted to report that Paul’s review has just been published.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/copiously-on-dolores-dorantess-copy-and-kyle-harveys-cosmographies/
Copiously: On Dolores Dorantes’s “Copy” and Kyle Harvey’s “Cosmographies”
September 17, 2022 • By Paul Vangelisti

I am also very happy to pass on the good news that Robin Myers has just had a poem published in “BEST POEMS OF THE YEAR.”

https://www.robinepmyers.com/poems

Pharaoh Sanders (1940-2022) — Rest in Eternal Promises

Sunday night, September 25, 2022 — 9:21 p.m.

I just learned that Pharaoh Sanders died in Los Angels two days ago.

This was music beyond a universal prayer in which the “depth of field” exceeded any possible parallels “with” language.

Nevertheless, my question of the moment is: how would Wittgenstein have revised his work if he could have heard “Promises”?

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https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/if-youre-in-the-song-keep-on-playing-pharoah-sanders-interview

“If You’re In the Song, Keep On Playing”: An Interview with Pharoah Sanders by Nathaniel Friedman (January 12, 2020)

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https://www.npr.org/2022/09/24/1124925662/pharoah-sanders-dies-at-81-obituary

https://www.washingtonpost.com/music/2022/09/25/pharoah-sanders-dies-appreciation/

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““The whole musical persona of Pharoah Sanders is of a consciousness in conscious search of a higher consciousness,”

AND

“Pharoah has incredible power, and incredible tenderness soulfulness like a love of playing, of sound, that will spread your consciousness dazzled among his notes.” –Amiri Baraka