Author Archives: billmohr

“Team Bukowski”: 1993 / 2022

Sunday, January 23, 2022 – 9:00 p.m.

The poet Carol Ellis gave me this T-shirt in 1993, shortly after I had read at the University of Redlands one spring afternoon with Fred Voss and Julia Stein. The group reading was a part of a conference on working-class issues. I can’t recall exactly why she gave me this particular T-shirt. Perhaps, in a conversation after the reading, I had mentioned that I had recently received a short letter from him in response to a letter I had sent care of Black Sparrow Press. I had noticed a shift in the tonal focus of his poems at the start of the century’s final decade. It had nothing to do with the quality of his writing, which remained at the same level of consistent candor for which he had become so well known. What I had noticed in particular was how his poems seemed to be taking seriously the idea that one should write every poem as if it were the last one a person might ever be able to write. That wouldn’t mean, of course, that the poem could not be funny or witty, or even amused at the seriousness with which the poem toyed with its impetuous logic; but it had better not entertain dalliances with the trivial. I didn’t know when I got the T-shirt that Bukowski was dying.

Earlier today, Cecilia Woloch teamed up with Pam Ward for a reading on Zoom. About 40 people showed up, half of whom were familiar from dozens of other events back when we gathered in public. Cecilia and Pam, in turn, had decided to pair up Charles Bukowski and Wanda Coleman in the first half of the program as a way of setting a mood for Pam’s reading from her latest book, BETWEEN GOOD MEN AND NO MAN AT ALL. At one point, either Cecilia or Pam asked people if they had ever met Bukowski. I was surprised at how few people seemed to have encountered him. I had the honor of publishing and meeting him. In fact, I arranged for an evening in the late 1980s in which poets talked about his importance to them. It was an improvised seminar of sorts, in that I didn’t assign topics to people. It was just meant to be a thoughtful celebration of his work. I’m working on a memoir, and I guess I should include my recollections of that evening and how it came about.

I don’t think anyone in the audience knew about David James’s chapter on Bukowski and Coleman in his book, POWER MISSES, nor I do think anyone had read Laurence Goldstein’s exceptional essay on Bukowski in POETRY LOS ANGELES. Far too serious criticism on Bukowski has been undertaken by those most qualified to do so, if he’s ever to break through the kind of dismissal of his work as happened in Camile Paglia’s “Break Blow Burn,” in which she claimed that she couldn’t find a single poem by Bukowski that could match the quality of the other poems she had chosen for commentary. How is possible that she never managed to read “The Souls of Dead Animals”?

I guess here’s another example of an essay that I need to complete before I can retire and let my literary conscience rest easy.

Here are links to help those who would like to get Pam Ward’s latest book, Between Good Men & No Man At All:

between good men & no man at all by Pam Ward (Pre-Order)


For some context of attitudes about Bukowski’s work after Black Sparrow had made him its best-selling author, here is an exchange between the editor of DURAK magazine and George Hitchcock, the editor of KAYAK magazine, in 1978.

DURAK, The International Magazine of Poetry
No. 1, edited by David Lloyd and D.S. Hoffman (Beverly Lloyd and Deborah Hoffman)

Page 32

Hitchcock: I have tons of poetic enemies. I mean poetry which I don’t care for and which I don’t think is doing anything. We’re getting a lot of that poetry. We’re getting poets who are highly venerated but I don’t care for — Charles Bukowski, for example.

DUrak: You don’t care for Charles Bukowski’s work?
Hitchcok: No. I think he’s terrible, but he has some talent. I was just reading the other day a Robin Skleton article: reading Charls Bukowski, he says, is necessary so people can see what would’ve happened to Henry Miller if he had gone to Paris. It’s easy to be cruel to Bukowski; he laps it up; he specializes in drunken readings and insulting everybody in the audience and all his contemporaries. He does have some talent, though. I just don’t like his taco, race track and whore stuff. I don’t like Ernest Hemingway for the same reasons. Each of us has his own prejudices and the best we can do is be honest about them.

Durak: Bukowski is an a=uthenic, working-class poet —

Hitchcock: Well, it’s authentic. It’s American, but it’s a part of America I do do without, quite easily. And since I was for twenty years a workingman and thus daily in contact with people just like that, it doesn’t thrill me to make that discovery. To the generation of young, middle-class people who are not exposed to working-class culture, Bukowski is a great discovery. I dare say he is, but, to me, he isn’t. He talks with not a great deal more flair than characters I worked with in the shipyard. That’s why he’s authentic, eh represents lumpen-proletarian America. It’s real and it’s true but the whole thing is fatiguing.


Footnote: After teaching at several other colleges, including UC Modesto, Ellis has retired from the academic road show and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first full-length book of poetry, LOST AND LOCAL, won the Beyond Baroque poetry award and was published just a few months before the pandemic broke out. (Her writing, it should be emphasized, is nothing like Bukowski’s.) Fortunately, she was able to celebrate the book with a reading at Beyond Baroque before everything shut down.

Finally, let us hope that Beyond Baroque can resume a reading series by this summer. It would behoove that institution to announce some events to be held, if necessary, in the back patio area in June and July. The community desperately needs to have a sense that at least an occasional scheduled reading that reflects an articulated programming poetics is not that far in the future.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022); “The Art of Poetry” (POOL magazine)

January 21, 2022

I was at Elena Secota’s Third Friday of the Month poetry reading, which usually happens in the Rapp Saloon in Santa Monica, earlier this evening when Peggy Dobreer announced that Thich Nhat Hang died earlier today. It was appropriate that I learn of this news from another poet, for it was the poet Peter Levitt who first mentioned his name and poetry to me, in Ocean Park, in the mid-1970s.

LINKS TO MEMORIAL SERVICES, FUNERAL, and Thich Nhat Hanh reading “Please Call Me by My True Names.”

Memorial Services for Thich Nhat Hanh

Memorial Practice Resources

Gratitude for Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, January 22, 2022:
8 pm eastern 5 Pacific, live streaming from Plum Village, carrying the teacher’s body to rest:


“Please Call Me By My True Names.

Please Call Me by My True Names (song & poem)

Deer Park Monastery was established by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to share the practice of mindful living.



Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Master, Dies at 95


“You learn how to suffer. If you know how to suffer, you suffer much, much less. And then you know how to make good use of suffering to create joy and happiness.The art of happiness and the art of suffering always go together.”

“The peace we seek cannot be our personal possession. We need to find an inner peace which makes it possible for us to become one with those who suffer, and to do something to help our brothers and sisters, which is to say, ourselves.” (from “The Sun My Heart”)


Thanks to an invitation by my friend, Kathryn McMahon, years ago, I was able to attend a lecture by Thich Nhat Hang. Several years afterwards, I wrote the following poem, which first appeared in an issue of POOL magazine, edited by Patty Seyburn and Judith Taylor.


I wasn’t on a path or near a creek or lake.
In the gray light of a smoldering storm,
I heard the rotted wood of toppled trees
wait for my noise to loosen incandescent spores.

Once, hurrying through the thicket of a mountain,
I saw a glowing tube of threads like a mashed globe
suspended, taut, creased with undulant shadows.
A tent caterpillar, a man explained as sparks

from a fire pit decanted. But that name
did not suffice: those syllables only blurred
the motionless reverence of the tiny span
the chrysalis allowed itself as galactic cusp.

The next day a monk talked of cycles
of evasive desire. As he spoke, I rubbed
the small tear in a padded finger
of the left hand of my motorcycle gloves.

I’d hit the pavement hard, but jutted
back up. No broken bones, no lacerations.
I’m easily distracted: not much chance
to escape the sticky wheel of suffering.

As he walked past, he smiled delightfully,
though not at me as such. He had no other blessing
to disperse. Yet he’d grown up poor, I thought,
those teeth needed work when he was young.

The Night of the Living (GoDaddy) Dead

Saturday, January 22, 2022

It’s possible that those who are intermittent readers of my blog may not have noticed that there has no way to access the blog the past two weeks. It “headed south,” as the expression goes, and entered the Nocturnal Realm of the Living (GoDaddy) Deal. According to one of my oldest friends, Harley Lond, GoDaddy decided a while back to shift everyone making use of its services onto a new server. To put it mildly, things did not go well in the transition. Now, for some people such as the author of this blog, this was only a minor albeit exceptionally irritating inconvenience. It’s not as if I have a huge audience; but for someone such Harley Lond whose website (ONVIDEO) is a source of much needed remuneration, this snafu on GoDaddy’s part can hardly be easily excused. Mr. Lond had to spend dozens of hours on the phone trying to get GoDaddy’s customer representatives to solve the technical problems that GoDaddy seems not to have anticipated. A good chunk of that time was spent “on hold,” waiting for the handful of customer assistants to work their way through the queue line and help equally desperate bloggers and site owners.

For the most part, the customer reps tried very hard, but they were having to contend with a rip tide of flawed miscalculations on GodDaddy’s part. They were lifeguards whose own access to technology was barely keeping them afloat, letting alone enabling them to rescue those who had been jettisoned by the arrogant bureaucracy in charge of GoDaddy’s infrastructure. Whoever the VP of DNS might be should get a good talking’ to, as in being given his or her walking papers.

If I mischaracterized anything in this situation, I am more than willing to post a rebuttal from GoDaddy. In the meantime, I leave you with this image of how my readership cratered two weeks ago. The canyon of blank space between the vertical blue bars in the chart beneath represents the inexcusable demolition of my blog’s readership, which can only be attributed to glib assumptions on GoDaddy’s part that because GoDaddy owns the technology, it is entitled to do exactly whatever it wants, whenever it wants, without regard to the impact on the efforts I make to keep this blog buoyant.

I’m not sure how long it will take me to regain some of December’s momentum, but I can only hope that at least a few of my readers won’t have assumed that the complete absence of past blog entries meant that I had decided to play Prospero with “my book.” Perhaps most of them will eventually drift back into the habit of checking in on my blog, but in the meantime I am the one who has lost out, with no recognition of my loss from the corporate entity.

I look forward to sharing some new thoughts and links in the days and weeks ahead, assuming that GoDaddy will stop playing a fort-da, ping-pong game with my blog.

Poems relevant to the Anniversary of the Insurrection

Thursday, January 6, 2022

I finished up a day of research at the Archive for New Poetry at the Special Collections Library (UCSD) by reading this set of poems by Rachel Loden. I was struck by how the inflections in tone intermingled with the jaunty bitterness of disillusion, and thought I’d pass on this link:

There is a touch of a postmodern MacBeth having taken over the PBS New Hour microphone in these poems. Rave on, Mr. Nixon, rave on. You know all too well what rough beast slouches toward a certain landlord’s empire in NYC, and on to Washington, D.C.

“Don’t Look Down”: The Tight Wire of Climate Vertigo and Empire Anxiety

January 1, 2022

The minute hand on the Climate Doomsday Clock has moved another notch closer to “midnight” — or should it be said that we are well past midnight, and it is just a matter now of expressing our mutual consternation at how quickly it is all dissolving. “Ice will change. Yes, the Arctics” were the opening words of an over-the-top prose poem I wrote in 1973 that got published in LAMP IN THE SPINE magazine, edited by Trish Hampl and Jim Moore. It was four pages long, and should have been cut by at least two-thirds, though I could never figure out which two-thirds.

The South Pole will become the Ukraine of the 21st century.

In the meantime, Hollywood’s response is “Don’t Look Up,” which will no doubt have at least one academic somewhere scrambling to revise an almost finished manuscript that focuses on cinematic critiques of “Network” and “Dr. Strangelove.” “Don’t Look Up” is morbidly funny in the same way as those two films, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. However, the “Black Actors Matter” movement doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of the scriptwriters or producers. As for Asian-American representation, the one character most visible in “Don’t Look Up” gets to play the self-immolating victim of the blame game.

“Network.” “Dr. Strangelove.” “Don’t Look Up.” A trilogy of “whiteness.” Sigh. An even bigger sigh when one sees how utterly white the Silicon Valley survivors of the apocalypse are in the coda that interrupts the credits of “Don’t Look Up.”

What would be my fantasized nomination for algorithm of the year? One that would allow me to replace in any given movie the actress or actor playing a part with someone of my choosing, other than a white actress or actor. A keyboard casting in which I get to play a postmodern version of Ted Turner.

But it’s not just race that is crucially effaced in “Don’t Look Up.” With its focus on the United States as the protagonist in a futile attempt to save the planet, it seems apparent to this viewer that the real allegorical anxiety is not about the climate but about the United States as a global empire. All one has to do is consider who is not mentioned in the film. If Russia is barely referred to, imagine how it would feel to be Chinese and watching this film? “Excuse me. We have rockets, too, not to mention a willingness to save the oldest large civilization on the planet.” Given the premise of the film, does anyone really think that the Chinese would be oblivious to the same information?

As for chapter four of this book on the ever palpitating whiteness of the culture industry, all the versions of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” would serve as a palate cleanser of straight drama to balance all the “comedy.”

Finally, even as I was watching “Don’t Look Up,” I was wondering how one could make a sequel. I recollect that a super-volcano is perched near Yellowstone National Park. “Don’t Look Down” is in early production. Feel free to contact any casting directors, but only if you’re white. “Don’t Look Now”: nothing’s really changed.

New Year’s Eve Gift from Italy

December 31, 2021

New Year’s Eve Gift from Italy

Interlitq (International Literary Quarterly) is very pleased to announce the publication of the fourth and final installment of their California Poets Anthology. Here is the link to the publication announcement that contains the links to the contributor’s work. David Garyan, the co-editor of this project, also recently sent out the link to the official home page of the anthology project itself.


Interlitq’s Californian Poets, Part 4 Published

Californian Poets Feature Home Page:

This project is indeed an international effort, with its Founder, President, and Co-Editor of this Feature, Peter Robertson, from Argentina; Emily Starks, the web editor from Colorado, and David Garyan, residing in Italy.

PART FOUR — California Poets Anthology

Part 4

Alicia Elkort
Boris Dralyuk
Brenda Hillman
Cathie Sandstrom
Christopher Buckley
Clive Matson
Dana Gioia
devorah major
Donna Hilbert
Ellen Bass
Frank X. Gaspar
Gary Young
Glenna Luschei
Harry Northup
Holly Prado (In Memoriam)
K. Silem Mohammad
Kate Gale
Mariano Zaro
Mary Fitzpatrick
Michael C. Ford
Mike Sonksen
Neeli Cherkovski
Pam Ward
Phoebe MacAdams
Rusty Morrison
S.A. Griffin
Shelley Scott (In Memoriam)
Sholeh Wolpé
Shotsie Gorman
Tony Barnstone
Willis Barnstone


In a “nation”-equivalent of almost 40,000,000 people, California has several thousand poets hard at work every day. The following list is an outstanding example of the kind of list that almost every one of these poets could draw up, and such a list would have many other names interspersed and other names dropped. I would urge every reader of this blog to make such a list for themselves in order to become more acutely aware of the possibilities of language.

Here is an alphabetized list of 70 poets whose work appeared in one of four installments of this project:

Rae Armantrout
Tony Barnstone
Willis Barnstone
Ellen Bass
Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Michelle Bitting
Laurel Ann Bogen
Elena Karine Byrne
Christopher Buckley
Neeli Cherkovski
Lucille Lang Day
Boris Dralyuk
Bart Edelman
Alicia Elkort
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Mary Fitzpatrick
Michael C. Ford
Kate Gale
David Garyan
Frank X. Gaspar
Dana Gioia
liz gonzalez
Shotsie Gorman
S.A. Griffin
Corrine Hales
Eloise Klein Healy
Grant Hier
Donna Hilbert
Brenda Hillman
Charles Jensen
Lois P. Jones
Ron Koertge
Suzanne Lummis
Glenna Luschei
Phoebe MacAdams
devorah major
Clint Margrave
Clive Matson
Rooja Mohassessy
K. Silem Mohammad
Bill Mohr
Rusty Morrison
Henry Morro
Harry E. Northup
Marsha de la O
D.A. Powell
Holly Prado (In Memoriam)
Susan Rogers
Cathie Sandstrom
Shelley Scott (In Memoriam)
Patty Seyburn
Kim Shuck
Mike Sonksen
Phil Taggart
Lynne Thompson
Carin Topal
David Ulin
Amy Uyematsu
Paul Vangelisti
Charles Harper Webb
Cecilia Woloch
Bruce Willard
Pam Ward
Maw Shein Win
Sholeh Wolpé
Gail Wronsky
Gary Young
Jonathan Yungkans
Mariano Zaro
Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis

If you believe you are truly familiar with West Coast poetry, it should take you no longer than a half-hour to expand this list to a hundred poets of equivalent stature and accomplishment. In fact, I would challenge anyone who is reading in tomorrow’s iteration of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project annual New Year’s Day marathon to send me what they come up with after a half-hour: Special recognition would go to anyone on the East Coast who could then select thirty of those names as their favorites and include at least one poem that serves as each of those poet’s “signature poems.” My guess is that Ron Silliman would be finished before anyone else got halfway done.

Happy New Year, Ron, and congratulations on being pick-of-the-week on BEST AMERICAN POETRY.

The POETRY PROJECT’s New Year’s Day Marathon Reading

December 29, 2021

As you make your plans for replacing the kitchen calendar with the 2022 edition, remember that on New Year’s Day, you can indulge in a marathon poetry reading that starts at noon and ends at midnight. Once again, due to the pandemic, the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church will be presenting its annual New Year’s Day reading on Zoom, which does have the advantage of allowing those of us in the post-World War II diaspora of poets across the country to attend and savor work that still is part of this legendary set of scenes. Several “generations” of poets affiliated with the Poetry Project will have representative figures contributing to the event. Here is a list of some of the better-known poets as well as the entire schedule.

48th Annual New Year’s Day POETRY PROJECT Marathon Reading
Featuring Anselm Berrigan, John Godfrey, Barbara Henning, Jim Behrle, Erica Hunt, Bob Rosenthal, Don Yorty, Jordan Davis, Kristen Prevallet, Bob Holman, Fred Moten, Anne Tardos, Brenda Coultas, Rachel Levitsky, Lee Ann Brown; Michael Gottlieb; CA Conrad; Wayne Koestenbaum; Joan La Barbara; Brendan Lorber; Greg Masters; Eleni Sikelianos; Jo Ann Wasserman; Fanny Howe; Charles Bernstein; Todd Colby; Peter Gizzi; Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola; Pierre Joris; Vincent Katz; Nicole Peyrafitte;; Cecilia Vicuña; Anne Waldman; Hoa Nguyen; Andrea Abi-Karam; Hannah Black; Wo Chan; Lydia Lunch; Yoshiko Chuma; Patricia Spears Jones; Eileen Myles; Pamela Sneed; Edwin Torres; and Nicole Wallace.

Imagine a Zoom reading in which the above poets rotated with poets based in Los Angeles and San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley! Now that would be an event worthy of the attention of every poet under the age of 25 as a crash course introductory survey of their predecessors.
Anselm Berrigan; Eloise Klein Healy; Neeli Cherkovski
John Godfrey; Will Alexander; Ivan Arguelles;
Barbara Henning; Harry Northup; Richard Oranger;
Jim Wehrle; Cecilia Moloch; Maw Shein Win;
Erica Hunt; Laurel Ann Bogen; Alejandro Murguia;
etc., etc.

Here is the link to register for the Poetry Project reading (cut and paste into your browser):

POETRY PROJECT — New Year’s Day (2022) Reading Schedule
11 AM – NOON
Featuring: Edmund Berrigan; Rev. Micah Bucey; Justin Cabrillos; John Coletti; Lydia Cortés; Marcella Durand; John Godfrey; Rachel James; Emily Johnson; Jennifer Firestone; Annabel Lee; and danilo machado
Featuring: Susan Briante; Ian Dreiblatt; Anna Gurton-Wachter; Barbara Henning; Jeremy Hoevenaar; Aristilde Kirby; Sara Larsen; Wendy Lotterman; Farid Matuk; Sharon Mesmer; Alicia Mountain; Emmalea Russo; Arvo Villars; Chavisa Woods
1 – 2 PM
Featuring: Jim Behrle; DAYS (Ethan Philbrick & Ned Riseley); Ted Dodson; Miguel Gutierrez; David Henderson; Justin Hicks; Erica Hunt; Shiv Kotecha; Iris McCloughan; Bob Rosenthal; imogen xtian smith; and Don Yorty
2 – 3 PM
Featuring: Daisy Atterbury; Jordan Davis; Katie Ebbitt; Luiza Flynn-Goodlett; Katie Fowley; Kaleem Hawa; Anthony, Thomas Lombardi; Sheila Maldonado; Francisco Márquez; Holly Melgard; Pareesa Pourian; K Prevallet; Rachelle Rahmé; Harris Schiff; Christine Shan Shan Hou
3 – 4 PM
Featuring: Morgan Bassichis; Ernie Brooks, Jeannine Otis & Peter Zummo; Marcos de la Fuente; Douglas Dunn & Steven Taylor; Jameson Fitzpatrick; Diana Hamilton; Bob Holman; Jonas Jonasson; Kamikaze Jones; Eddy Kwon; Shayla Lawz; Fred Moten; Mayra Rodríguez Castro; Anne Tardos
4 – 5 PM
Featuring: Lee Ann Brown; Sophia Dahlin; Lucas de Lima; Logan February; Vanessa Dion Fletcher; Michael Gottlieb; Steph Gray; Stephon Lawrence; Paul Legault; Filip Marinovich; Alisha Mascarenhas; Ru Puro; Joey Yearous-Algozin
5 – 6 PM
Featuring: Ama Birch; Dusty Childers; CA Conrad; Anthony Roth Costanzo with Bryan Wagorn; Mike DeCapite; Wayne Koestenbaum; Joan La Barbara; Brendan Lorber; Greg Masters; benedict nguyen; Dael Orlandersmith; Jill Pangallo & Shane Shane; Eleni Sikelianos; and Jo Ann Wasserman
6 – 7 PM
Featuring: Alexis Almeida; Brenda Coultas; Constance deJong; Fanny Howe; Lucy Ives; Gabriel Kruis; Ben Krusling; Mike Lala; Rachel Levitsky; Eugene Lim; Matt Longabucco; Sara Jane Stoner; Celina Su; Wendy Trevino
7 – 8 PM
Featuring: Penny Arcade; Charles Bernstein; Todd Colby; Peter Gizzi; Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola; Diego Gerard; Pierre Joris; Vincent Katz; M. Lamar; Edgar Oliver; Nicole Peyrafitte; Lee Ranaldo; Ariana Reines; Cecilia Vicuña; Anne Waldman; and Simone White
8 – 9 PM
Featuring: Kimberly Alidio; Desiree C. Bailey; S. Erin Batiste; Ana Božicevic; Brandon Brown; Marie Buck; Claire Donato with Anastasios Karnazes (@airpodlatte113); Aaron Fagan; Ben Fama; Suzanne Kite; Noah LeBien; Gala Mukomolova; Hoa Nguyen; Urayoán Noel; Stacy Szymaszek; Alli Warren & Syd Staiti
9 – 10 PM
Featuring: Andrea Abi-Karam; Hannah Black; Wo Chan; Kay Gabriel; Joseph Keckler; Kyle Carrero Lopez; Lydia Lunch; Laura Ortman; Alexandra Tatarsky; and McKenzie Wark
10 – 11 PM
Featuring: Stine An; Ivanna Baranova; Jo Barchi; Ry Dunn & Becca Teich; Anaïs Duplan; Mel Elberg; Yaz Lancaster; Never Angeline North; Tiana Reid; Amy Ruhl; s t e p h s collective; Violet Spurlock; Rosie Stockton; Charles Theonia
Featuring: Sasha Banks; Anselm Berrigan; Yoshiko Chuma; Kyle Dacuyan; Will Farris; Laura Henriksen; Patricia Spears Jones; Roberto Montes; Eileen Myles; Pamela Sneed; Edwin Torres; and Nicole Wallace

Joan Didion and Diane Wakoski: California Split

December 24, 2021

I know that I am supposed to floss if I want to maintain good gum strength for my teeth, but I just can’t make myself do it. Instead, I compensate by getting my teeth cleaned every three to four months. It’s usually four times a year, but this year has been a tough one, with so much teaching happening on Zoom, and yesterday I snagged the final appointment that my dentist had for the year to get my teeth cleaned. On my way there, I heard the news on the radio that Joan Didion had died.

Just now, perfusing various notices, I saw that Vogue magazine had reprinted her early essay, “On Self-Respect.” I had never read it before, or at least don’t particularly recall it as the high point of “Slouching toward Bethlehem.” It is a very precocious essay, but afterwards, I thought to myself, “It’s so Prufrockian. It sounds very much like an essay that someone very influenced by Eliot would write as a prose example of how Prufrock experiences his self-awareness.” Look at the opening: “Once, in a dry season,….” If that isn’t an intonation of Eliot in all his “Four Quartets” grandeur, then I’ll contribute a hundred dollars to whatever charity Didion’s closest friends would prefer that I support.

In contrast, I think of another writer who also attended the University of California, Berkeley, just after Didion graduated from there in 1956. Diane Wakoski is a poet who, like Didion, was born in California and who also has seen herself as an “outsider.” Yet if Didion managed to make being an outsider seem like an experience a reader could become familiar with through the intrepid sinuousness of her syntax and insights, Wakoski’s best poems remain unfamiliar even after repeated readings. “Smudging” is one of the great poems of the 20th century. Didion deserves all the attention that her passing has stirred up, but she is not an unrepresentative figure in the same way that Wakowski is, and those are the writers I am most intrigued by.

On Self-Respect: Joan Didion’s 1961 Essay from the Pages of Vogue

(According to a prefatory note by Vogue, Didion “wrote it not to a word count or a line count, but to an exact character count.” Here are the stats I came up with:
9,081 characers (with no spaces)
10,898 characters (with spaces)
1,843 words
15 paragraphs
122 lines

by Susan Stamberg Updated December 23, 20212:25 PM ET

Joni Mitchell and Berry Gordy at the Kennedy Center

At the beginning of this month, I read a report in the news that Joni Mitchell was one of the recipients of a Kennedy Center Honor, along with Berry Gordy, a songwriter who was the founder of Motown Records in Detroit. Motown Records was a formative cultural encounter for many young poets in Southern California. Just ask Amy Uyematsu or Stephen Kessler, if you don’t believe me. So, too, back in the 1970s, Mitchell’s lyrics and musical experimentation caught the attention of poets in Los Angeles, many of whom thought of her as being part of our imaginary community of synchronized one-man bands, “playing real good for free.” If Dylan’s work intermittently faltered in that decade, Mitchell’s poetry set to music in contrast recalibrated the tensions in that dialogue of words and chords as classically as anything written by Thomas Campion. By including her lyrics, Stephen Axelrod’s anthology of postmodernist poetry, published by Rutgers University Press a couple years ago, serves as a rare instance of long overdue recognition by an academy other than that of “Recording Artists.” Axelrod and his co-editors deserve our smiles of complicity in their subversion of canonical keywords such as “tradition.”

About a half-dozen years ago, there were vague reports about her health that left her admirers wondering how much was unfounded rumor, or if the hints of a catastrophic malady had some truth to their widespread circulation. I gather that the occasion at the Kennedy Center was recorded and was broadcast on CBS last night, and though I didn’t watch it, it is gratifying to learn that Mitchell’s determination to regain a measure of personal equilibrium is still brimming over.

That Berry Gordy, who was responsible for a renaissance in African-American music that has yet to be fully recognized by the intellectual academy, was honored along with Mitchell made this tribute more than a retrospective honor. Instead, it proffers a legitimate indulgence in nostalgia that somehow reverts into a present tense event when their recordings release their cadenced fragrances.