Author Archives: billmohr

The November, 2020 Roll-Call of Past Posts

In addition to my political commentary, here is a list of the people and cultural items I have posted entries on at some point in the past several years and that caught my readers’ attention in the months of October and November, 2020. Should you be new to this blog and wish to get a quick sense of the range of my topics, you would probably be best served by typing my name and one of the following five dozen or so names or subject headings into your browser:

The Garden City Horse Sculpture
Papa Bach Bookstore
Chatterton’s Bookstore
“The Gossip of Ideology: Sexual Jokes and the Tumescence of Power” 2
“The Comedian As Letter N” on MAGRA RADIO
Pruebas Ocultas — Publishing Update
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center (Venice, CA)
Beat Scholars’ Wish List, 2020
The W-E Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic Reading Series
Blue Collar Review
UNAM Poetry Workshop; FILU in Xalapa
AI “Drivers,” Truckers, and the Long Haul of “Jobless” Training
Encore: Trump’s “Concession Speech” — November 4, 2020
157,000,000 Votes in 2020: The Constitutional Referendum
Grand Jury Indictment Time for the Trumpsville Express

(Post-script to “Subjects”: Films reviewed in the past include “1917”; “Roma”; “Struggle”; “Born Again”; “Parasite.”)

Wanda Coleman
Kate Braverman
Holly Prado
Harry Northup
Paul Vangelisti
Bob Flanagan
Harryette Mullen
Kevin Opstedal
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Ron Silliman
Eloise Klein Healy
Michael McClure
Suzanne Lummis
Viggo Mortensen
Art Beck
Austin Straus
Robert Mezey
Philip Levine
Charles Bukowski
Charles Harper Webb
Laurel Ann Bogen
John Thomas
Beth Ruscio
Carol Ellis
Scott Wannberg
Lewis MacAdams
Hey Sook Park
Gil Fagiani
Christopher Buckley
Sam Shepard
Lewis Warsh
Brian Jones
Andrew Tonkovich
Eileen Aronson Ireland
Frank T. Rios
Eugene Ruggles
Ed Smith
Paul Violi
Patty Zeitlin
Joseph Hansen
John Harris
Bruce Andrews
Margaret Tynes Fairley
John Prine
James Tate
Louis Simpson

The context for writing blog posts that cited or discussed the above people (not all of whom I knew on a personal level, to be sure) is my familiarity with the following people, most of whom extended at some point in their lives a degree of friendship or supportive affiliation I never would have thought possible sixty years ago, when I was a bereft adolescent. Along with my spouse and her siblings and nephews and nieces, as well as my own extended family and a handful of discerning colleagues a CSULB, I hope this gesture of gratitude suffices for the moment. Happy holidays, and a much happier new year!

Brooks & Lea Ann Roddan
Bob & Judy Chinello
Jim Krusoe
David James
Alicia Ostriker
Harley Lond
Anthony Seidman
Michael Lally
Cecilia Woloch
Robin Myers
Laurence and Nancy Goldstein
Jack Grapes
Kathryn MacMahon
Mark Weiss
Gail Wronsky & Chuck Rosenthal
Nancy Grace
Ronna Johnson
Peter Levitt
Marsha de la O
Phil Taggart
Terry Braunstein
Dinah Berland
Joan Jobe Smith
Fred Voss
Phoebe and Ron Ozuna
Ron Koertge
Doren Robbins
Will Alexander
George Drury Smith
Anselm Berrigan
Paul Tayyar
Standard Schaefer
Timothy Steele
Deborah and Wayne Clayton
Susan Hansell
Audri Phillips
Nicole M. Street
Michael Hannon
Larry Smith
Jose Luis Rico
Mineko Grimmer
Carol Colin
Ted Waltz
Amy Uyematsu
Ioanna Warwick
Rick Lupert
Brendan Constantine
Christina Zawadiwsky
Mark Salerno
Michael Kincaid
Max Benavidez
Murray Mednick
Walter Hadler
Lynn McGee
Ellen Sander
Jim Cushing
Pete Fairchild
Marie Lecrivain
Juan Delgado
Jordan Jones
Molly Bendall
David James
Kevin McNamara
Michael Davidson
Donald Wesling
Steven & Risa Axelrod
John and Susan Grove
Alan Golding
Stephen Motika
Ann Robbins
Joyce Jenkins
Robert Peters
Joe Safdie
Kit Robinson
Jed Rasula
Edward Brunner
Rae Armantrout
John Lowney
Meeson Pae Yang
Craig Bolotin
Terence Diggory
Daniel Tiffany
Brian Kim Stefans
Natalie Gerber
Frank Kearful
Barrett Watten
Lyn Hejinian
John Whalen-Bridge
George Hart
Michelle T. Clinton
Martha Ronk
Dennis Phillips
Douglas Messerli
Michael C. Ford
Joe Safdie
Jim Moore
Patricia Hampl
Robert Mezey
David St. John
Exene Cervenka
John Doe
Rod Bradley
Ellen Bass
Douglas Kearney
Marilyn Nelson
Gail Newman
Eileen Myles
Celia Carlson
S.A. Griffin
Barbara Maloutas
Marie Thibault
Jim McVicker
Terry Oates
Tom Lux
Cathay Gleeson
Brent Maddock and Patsy Wright
Kathi Flood
Jim Conn
Patty Zeitlin
Liza Richardson
William A. O’Brien
Claude Zachary
Quentin Ring
Michelle Bitting
Dale Herd
Sandra Tanhauser
Brad Westbrook
Susan Anderson
Marshall Davis
William Slattery
Lee Rossi
Consuelo Marshall
Kimberly Enedy
James Grabill
Fred Dewey
Lenny Durso
Jack Skelly
Dennis Cooper
John Bonero
Steve Davis
Carl Sedon
Dennis Ellman
Glover Davis
Janet Cornwell
Tim Reynolds
Aleida Rodriguez

William (“Koki”) Iwamoto, founder, Chatterton’s Bookstore
Leland Hickman (1934-1991)
Peter Schneidre (1947 – 2008)
Manazar Gamboa (1934-2000)
Len Roberts (1947-2007)
Larry Colker (1947-2018)
Marine Robert Warden
David Antin

“The Gossip of Ideology: Sexual Jokes and the Tumescence of Power”

Sunday, November 29, 2020

M/C Journal

Edited by Paul Denvir and E. Sean Rintel

Vol. 6 No. 5 (2003): Joke

The Gossip of Ideology
Sexual Jokes and the Tumescence of Power
• Bill Mohr

How to Cite
Mohr, B. (2003). The Gossip of Ideology: Sexual Jokes and the Tumescence of Power.
M/C Journal, 6(5).

A discourse, according to Alan Sekula, is “an arena of information exchange, that is a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity.”1 Sekula immediately qualifies his definition by pointing out that “the notion of discourse is a notion of limits,” and arguing that “it is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning.” In the capacity of testing the acceptable limits of any possible subject, jokes often reveal contradictions or ambivalent feelings about the meaning of power relations. This seems especially true about jokes involving sexual or erotic situations. In this paper, I will examine several jokes about sex that I have heard at one point or another, and consider how these jokes reveal the ideological dialogue interwoven in phallogocentric power.

For many years I made my living in Los Angeles as a blueprint machine operator in an architectural office and as a typesetter for weekly newspapers. All machines eventually break down, and repair workers are often welcome simply because they provide a different face within the routine. Since repair workers are moving from site to site, they are also in a position to pass on the latest economic rumor about another company, or to repeat a joke that someone has just told them. These jokes can range from a variant of the three-guys-on-an-island routine to a story about the Pope being driven to Yankees Stadium in a limousine. I am not especially good at remembering jokes, but the following one stands out, in part because I was surprised that the repairman felt comfortable enough about the work environment he was in to tell me the joke. In retrospect, I guess he looked at the five-to-one ratio of men to women in the production department and figured that there were equivalent odds in anyone being bothered by telling me the following joke:

A man’s at a party and he starts talking with a very beautiful woman. After about a half-hour of bantering and chit-chat, the man says, “Would you sleep with me if I gave you ten million dollars?” The woman looks at the man, pauses, and says, “Ten million for one night? Well, yes,” she says. “How about a million dollars?” says the man? “Maybe,” says the woman. “How about a hundred dollars?” says the man. “No way,” says the woman. “What do you think I am? A whore?” “Oh, we’ve already established that,” says the man. “We’re just quibbling about the price.”

The man who told me this joke as he fixed the typesetting equipment I worked on thought this was fairly funny, and I remember trying not to make it look as if I were smiling instead of scowling at what seemed to me a fairly nasty joke. As hostile humor goes, it could perhaps be conceded that it is fairly successful. The effectiveness of the joke aside, what impressed me was the sincerity with which he told the joke. It seemed as though the put-down told some kind of truth that he was not able to find expressed in any other way. The stereotype that the joke is built in is the assumption that all women are mercenary in regards to their sexual behavior: underneath the veneer of sexual attraction is a process of coy bargaining. The joke suggests that men and women might as well drop all pretension that any other motives are at work. In “quibbling about the price,” the repair person’s joke is attempting to reestablish the exchange of commodities in a capitalist society in terms of gendered domination. At its core, the above joke is meant to attack women who believe that they have any power in their lives other than sexual availability.

One crucial aspect of these jokes as thumbnail sketches of domination is that they serve as information that revolves through a culture with the casual insouciance of rumors. At the time, it Did not occur to me to ask the repairman where he had first heard the joke, though he probably would have said from somebody working at the place where he had been. If I had contacted that person, I no doubt would have been referred to yet another person. Even if I had managed to find a print version of the joke, it probably would not have an individual’s name attached to it. In circulating without specific attribution in regards to authorship, the anonymity of jokes allows them to function as the gossip of ideology. If, as Alan Sinfield suggests, the point of ideology is to make an explanation of social reality plausible,2 sexual jokes in particular repeat categorical ideas, e.g., all women are basically prostitutes in terms of their sexual agency, and make the implausible believable. If the purpose of ideology is to make the logic of a social system cohere, jokes point up imperfections in the arrangements, and allow us to estimate how much change would have to occur for the flaws in that logic to become acceptable, if not at least somewhat more tolerable. Jokes permit us to express our doubts about the distribution of power or to suppress incipient doubts, and in quelling them, mold the energy of doubt into more acceptable projections of normativity.

Given that ideology is fundamentally patriarchal, most sex jokes are about the disproportionate relations of power, control and authority. Male fears about the interminable unreliability of their value as reproductive agents are a large part of the trumpery of social life that provides the foundation for jokes about sex. For men, part of the baggage they lug around as that trumpery is a concern about the size of their penis. Phallic jokes almost always involve an objectification of women. A co-worker at the same newspaper where I heard the first joke told me the following one at the tail end of a fourteen hour shift.

I have to confess that I laughed more at this one, and I will not use exhaustion as an excuse. A man is taking a walk with his new wife, and up ahead he sees her first husband walking towards them. As they start to pass each other, the ex-husband says, “Hey, how does it feel to be with used goods?” “Very lovely,” replies the new husband, “once I get past the used part.”

The male gaze in this joke is focused completely on the genitals of all three of the characters. The woman is portrayed as common property, and her worth is only gauged in relationship to the transience of phallic power. The woman in this joke doesn’t even get to protest her status, but even when the woman is given the punch line, as in the following joke, the sexual agency at the core of the joke is portrayed as gratifying the ideological assumptions of power and possession. A woman gets into bed with her new husband on their wedding night, and says, “I’ve got something to tell you, dear.” “What’s that, sweetheart?” “I want you to be very gentle. I’m still a virgin.” “That’s can’t be possible,” the husband says. “You’ve been married three times before me.” “Well,” says the wife, “The first husband was a gynecologist, he just like to look at it. The second was a psychiatrist. He just liked to talk about it. The third was a veterinarian. He just coughed up hairballs.”

I would rate this as a far better joke than the first two, in part because it has a stronger coil of a starting point. Jokes, like poems, have their own peculiar logic, and jokes often work best when they begin with an absurd situation. A woman still being a virgin as she starts her fourth marriage is a blatantly absurd proposition, and yet and yet that which appears to be contradictory is quickly explained by involving the absurd amount of power we cede to those at the top of the masculine pyramid. The first three husbands would all seem to be at the summit of discourse in that they are trained as doctors, and theoretically are potent agents of domination. The absurdity of the joke’s initial proposition is a necessary component for pointing up how the contingency of the desire for erotic pleasure meets its limits in the imbalance of power created by male control of professional life. The joke plays out the full ramifications of the power of the male gaze in objectifying women. In contrast, the woman’s power in this joke is only in the passivity of her virginity. If the men are not able to have erections, the woman does not assert herself either in that she gives no indication that she enjoyed in the slightest degree the cunnilingus of the poem’s final punch line.

Perhaps the most insidious part of sexual jokes is that it’s very hard to resist their allure. We might regard ourselves as seeing through all the machinations of an interpellative society, and yet in spite of intellectual insights, can find ourselves enjoying humor that is effective only because it is playing off stereotypes of gender and power to which we are very susceptible. A huge number of jokes are about the costs and rewards of sexual power, and to that extent are the jagged nodes of domination. As with gossip, the distortions are repeated one person at a time. The cumulative effect of this circulation is to close off or limit the possibilities of other ways of organizing social life. Jokes, in that sense, contain and control the discourse generated by the doubts that ideology inherently raises. If laughter mutes these doubts, it also springs the traps that power sets for itself and us in maintaining its grip on the comedy of life.

Citation reference for this article
MLA Style
• Mohr, Bill. “The Gossip of Ideology” M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture
APA Style
• Mohr, B. (2003, Nov 10). The Gossip of Ideology. M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture, 6,

M/C Journal: “Joke”


EditorialTheme one: Transgressive Joking
Paul Denvir, E. Sean Rintel

• On Sexism in Conversational Joking
Example 1: Stan and Dave
Phillip Glenn


• Problems with the Attitudinal Endorsement Theory of Joke Appreciation
Aaron Smuts

• Viagra and ‘Getting it up’It’s a joke if you can’t and it’s a joke if you can!?
Tiina Vares

• The Gossip of IdeologySexual Jokes and the Tumescence of Power
Bill Mohr

• Performativity and Metacommentary in Jewish American Mother Light Bulb JokesNotes
Diane R. Wiener

• Sitting Targets and the Joking Relationships
Robert V. Lloyd

•. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore: Zizek, Cynicism and Laughter
Gemma Blackwood

• Big ThingsLarrikinism, Low Art and the Land
Stephen Stockwell, Bethany Carlisle

M/C Journal and “The Aging Comedian as Letter N”

Saturday, November 28, 2020

As I was working on my dissertation at UC San Diego back in 2003, I noticed a call for papers on the subject of humor from a peer-reviewed journal coming out of Australia. Here is their self-description:

M/C Journal
M/C Journal was founded (as “M/C – A Journal of Media and Culture”) in 1998 as a place of public intellectualism analysing and critiquing the meeting of media and culture. M/C Journal is a fully blind-, peer-reviewed academic journal, open to submissions from anyone. We take seriously the need to move ideas outward, so that our cultural debates may have some resonance with wider political and cultural interests. Each issue is organised around a one-word theme (see our past issues), and is edited by one or more guest editors with a particular interest in that theme. Each issue has a feature article which engages with the theme in some detail, followed by several shorter articles.

I have no idea of how I ended up seeing a CFP (“Call for Papers”) for M/C Journal, but I remember quickly pounding out a first draft of what was basically a personal essay and sending it off. “Uh, where are the footnotes?” the editorial staff asked. They were interested in my approach to the theme of “joke,” but wanted at least a touch of an academic tone. I really didn’t have time to do much research, so I worked up a pair of citations and that proved to be enough.

I’m going to post the article tomorrow, but wanted to give this background information first. In a certain way, I can see how this article served as a creative bookmark. I recently wrote a long prose monologue, “The Aging Comedian as Letter N,” which Paul Vangelisti recorded for Magra Radio. One of the jokes that is cited in the article in 2003 turns up again in that monologue.

I like M/C Journal very much and wish I had time to read every issue. I admire the way that the editorial control shifts with every issue, so that the magazine’s participation in the ideal of “open access” is a viable actuality.I would love to see a volume of the “thirty best” essays, followed by a list of other representative essays that have achieved some distinction or even notoriety.

For those who would like to contribute to a magazine that takes popular culture seriously but doesn’t talk down to its reader, then I would highly recommend taking a look at it. If you might even consider writing something yourself, you should know that the next three issues will be on the theme words of: “BUBBLES”; “DARK”; and “ZOOM.”

The current issue (Vol. 23, No. 6 – 2020) is on the theme of exclusion and is edited by Susanne Eichner and Corinna Luthje.

Past theme words include:

Resilient (Vol. 16, No. 5 (2013)
(Please note that in this issue – Vol. 11, No. 1 – 2008), one of the articles is entitled
“Couchsurfing, Delocator, and Fallen Fruit: Websites Respond to a Crisis of Democracy”)
Joke (Vol. 6, No. 5 – 2003)

Lewis Warsh (1944-2020): “Leaning against a door frame”

Post-Script at the Start
Saturday, November 28, 2020

After I posted the entry on Lewis Warsh this past Monday, I remembered that Phoebe (MacAdams) Ozuna would probably be the only person I could ask for a personal recollection of him. She just wrote me and shared this image of him:

“The long lean figure of Lewis Warsh is gone, from the world but not from my mind. I hardly knew him, remember him with Anne when they published Angel Hair, and lived in the apartment on St. Mark’s Place, a great gathering place. I think of him leaning against a door frame. Later he was with Bernadette Mayer, publishing United Artists Magazine in Lenox, Mass. Recently I have been reading about him: writer of many books of poems, publisher, active supporter of young poets, beloved teacher at Long Island University in Brooklyn, father, grandfather.

Farewell, Lewis, lean figure of my youth, one of the people I wish I had known better.”

Phoebe added, “Strangely, the best write-up I have found about him is on Wikipedia. He deserves better than that!”

Indeed, I would love to hear from anyone who knew Lewis and would care to share their memories of him.

Monday, November 23, 2020

I’ve been waiting for the New York Times to recognize the death one of the most important literary lives on their local scene in the past half century, but nothing has yet appeared except for the standard “Legacy” column. I would urge William Grimes to write a formal article about Warsh. He is at least as important as Paul Violi, the subject of one of Grimes’s featured obituaries almost ten years ago. It’s not just all of Warsh’s accomplishments that deserve recognition. It’s also that he collaborated with writers and literary activists whose passing will most certainly be noted down the line. Even people who receive the homage of a journalist’s summary often never have their names cited in other obituaries. Eventually, though, when Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer make the debut of their “closing night” on the Obit page, Lewis Warsh will be once again present in those recitations.

I never met Warsh and I feel no personal loss, other than the wish that I could have spent some time up in Northern California when he lived there. Given all the work he did on behalf of other writers, it’s astonishing that he got as much writing done and published as he did. I can think of very few people who made full use so many of the impact points on Darnton’s communication circuit. His capacity to simultaneously contribute to a scene as a writer, editor, and publisher was extraordinary and demonstrated in an exemplary manner what it means to live fully committed to the imagination’s recuperative powers. I send my condolences to his family and his colleagues and all of his former students. The students, in particular, were more lucky to know him than they ever realized at the time.

Of the following poems by Lewis Warsh in POETRY magazine, my favorite is “Message,” which is in the first link.

Finally, it’s hard not to reflect on the list of male poets and playwrights born between 1941 and 1950 as it grows longer and longer.

Tom Clark (March 1, 1941 – August 18, 2018)
William Matthews (1942-1997)
Sam Shepard (November, 1943 – July, 2017)
James Tate (December 8, 1943 – July 8, 2015
Lewis Warsh (November 9, 1944 – November 15, 2020)
Leslie Scalapino (July 25, 1944 – May 28, 2010)
Paul Violi (July 20, 1944 – April 2, 2011)
Lewis MacAdams (October 12, 1944 – April 21, 2020)
Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2014)
Thomas Lux (December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)
Steve Dalachinsky (1946–2019)
Larry Levis (1946 – 1996)
Jerry Estin (1947-1993)
Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)
David Citino (March 13, 1947 – October 17, 2005)
Len Roberts (1947-2007)
Ai (1947-2010)
Ron Allen (1947-2010)
Frank Stanford (1948-1978)
Sekou Sundiata (1948-2007)
Jim Carroll (1949-2009)
Janice Gould (1949-2019)
Michael Gizzi (1949-2010)
Kate Braverman (February 5, 1949 – October 12, 2019)
Steven Jesse Bernstein (1950-1991)
F.A. Nettlebeck (1950-2011)
Deborah Digges (February 6, 1950 – April 10, 2009

L.A. Poets at Beyond Baroque, Summer, 1997

PREFACE: For some reason, my post “Paragraphs by Walter Lowenfels” is getting a surprising amount of attention. Most curious.

Sunday, November 22. 2020

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected to the Presidency with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. When he failed to break 50 percent when he ran for re-election, it was in part because people were angry that he had broken his promises about job training programs for laid-off workers. That broken campaign promise, followed by the trade deals he negotiated that led to factories closing down in the United States, is one of the main reasons that we ended up with Trump for four years. The decision to concentrate on health care reform in 1993 instead of job training programs was his major political debacle. The Lewinsky scandal got more press, but Clinton’s famous comment to a potential voter in 1992 — “I feel your pain” — was just make-believe empathy. He didn’t give a shit about anyone other than Bill Clinton. He conned working people, and set them up to be conned by an even more audacious confidence man.

My first wife, Cathay Gleeson, and I had both lost our jobs by the mid-point of 1995. By that time, we had separated, and I ended up moving to San Diego two years later to begin studying for a Ph.D. at age 50. It seemed to many people at the time a very odd move, but many friends gathered at Beyond Baroque in the summer of 1997 to wish me farewell. Laurel Ann Bogen had written me when I was staying at Dorland Mountain Arts colony in the winter of 1997 and asked if I would still be around town long enough in the summer to drop by Beyond Baroque and see everyone before I left for San Diego.

Lea Ann Roddan took some pictures of the gathering, and I want to thank the Roddans for sending me the negative. These photographs are (c) Lea Ann Roddan and any permission to use them might be obtained from her in writing.

The people who appear in the following photographs include:
Brooks Roddan
Paul Vangelisti
Jim Krusoe
Fred Dewey
Laurel Ann Bogen
Suzanne Lummis
Michael C. Ford
Ellen Sander
Holly Prado
Cecilia Woloch
Phoebe MacAdams
Tim Reynolds
John Thomas
Philomene Long
Peter Levitt
Dick Barnes
John Harris
Jimm Cushing

Beth Ruscio: An Interview with the Actress-Poet

Saturday, November 21, 2020

“Confident and poised, (her poems) own the stage of these pages. I am on my feet, applauding them and their maker.” — Gail Wronsky, author of Imperfect Pastorals

Mariano Zaro recently interviewed the actress-poet Beth Ruscio, whose poems I first remember hearing at an open reading at the Poetry Festival in Idyllwild back in its glory days, when it was being run by its co-founders Cecilia Woloch and John Maguire. Beth first attended a poetry workshop at Idyllwild when she won the Patricia Bibby Scholarship the second year it was awarded. Unlike many people in Los Angeles County who have only a very vague notion of how to get to Idyllwild, Beth was familiar with the place because also her playwright spouse, Leon Martell taught at the Idyllwild summer arts program. Martell is one of the best and most under recognized playwrights in the country and currently teaches at UCLA Extension.

Beth Ruscio’s first full-length book of poems, SPEAKING PARTS, was the winner of the Brick Road Poetry Prize and has just been published by Brick Road Press. Anyone making a list of the year’s best books of poetry needs to read SPEAKING PARTS before making their final choices. If you don’t bother to read it before making such a list, you have no excuse but laziness that verges on curiosity reduced to imaginative illiteracy. There are a number of books that I would add to this list of required reading, including Susana H. Case’s DEAD SHARK ON THE N TRAIN.

It would help Beth’s cause, of course, if she could give readings. Unfortunately, the pandemic has shut down any public presentations, but Beth will be giving a reading on Zoom on December 6. In the meantime, enjoy her company in this interview.

To get Beth’s book in time to give it as a holiday present:

Beth Ruscio
As a daughter of actors, and part of a working class family of artists, actors, teachers and writers working in California, my poetry has been honored with Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations, as well as finalist honors: The Wilder Prize, The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, The Tupelo Quarterly Prize, The Ruth Stone Poetry Award and The Two Sylvias Prize.

“Buoying us fearlessly through theatrical make-up sessions, costume changes, death, love, and itchy wigs, the luminous poems in Beth Ruscio’s debut collection SPEAKING PARTS speak to us in a language that’s inviting, insightful, and alive. Even while acknowledging that ‘sorrow bleaches us,’ and observing that here’s a ‘grammar of anger in the color of ice,’ these poems somehow always uplift. Confident and poised, they own the stage of these pages. I am on my feet, applauding them and their maker.” — Gail Wronsky, author of Imperfect Pastorals

“The elegant enactments and lyrical meditations of SPEAKING PARTS remind us that to speak for others also allows us to speak most eloquently for those many interior aspects of ourselves. In this inventive and precisely staged book oof poetry, those disparate voices braid together into a single luminous choir.” — David St. John, author of The Auroras

“In Beth Ruscio’s ingenious, turn-on-a-dime poems, performance is all. There is no ‘true’ self for her speaker to uncover, and no canned epiphanies for readers, either. There are only the unsparing imperative of improvisation — timing, cunning, abandon, ruse. Each moment’s desire met and then deflected. Wha does it take to play ou/selves Everything.” — Dorothy Barresi, author of What We Did While We Made More Guns

157,000,000 Votes in 2020: The Constitutional Referendum

THE SIX MILLION MARGIN UPDATE: On the evening of Friday, November 20, 2020, the margin of votes for Biden was announced as exceeding 6,000,000: 79,783,857 for Biden, and 73,763,789 votes for Trump, who still refuses to admit that almost 80,000,000 people truly detest him.

November 24, 2020 — Change “almost” 80,000,000 people truly detest him to OVER 80,000,000 people loathe and detest him. Biden has officially surpassed the 80,000,000 vote mark.

Thursday, November 18, 2020

Not a Choice of Politicians; but a Referendum on the Constitution!

Voting ended over two weeks ago, and the vote count and recount (in Georgia) is slowly wrapping up. Trump is still refusing to admit defeat, even though he has received only 47.2 percent of the popular vote, and Biden has received a majority of it. Once again, let’s consider context:

Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election with 50.8 percent of the popular vote.
Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election with 50.75 percent of the popular vote.
George W. Bush won his second term in office in 2004 with 50.73 percent of the popular vote.
Joseph R. Biden will win the 2020 election with 51 percent percent of the popular vote.

It is not that easy to get over 51 percent of the total vote in a national election. The only presidents in recent decades, in fact, to break the 51 percent threshold are Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Elections in which the winner attracts that level of support have profound consequences. Barring a last-minute coup d’erat, as of this morning, this country still possesses constitutional continuity. Whether people want to recognize it or not, this election was as grave a moment as this country has faced since Fort Sumpter. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself whey a record number of people turned out to support a losing candidate. It’s simply because they fantasized that they were in danger of losing their “rights,” the same rights that used to be called “state’s rights” sixty years ago.

As of this morning, it appears that around 157,000,000 people voted in the 2020 national election. Around 138,000,000 voted in 2016’s national election. It’s startling to realize that 19,000,000 people who didn’t vote in 2016 comprehended that the Constitution as they understood it was on the ballot in 2020. Please note that I am not indicating party preference in that last sentence. Each side has a different notion of how the Constitution should be interpreted, and this vote was a referendum on that interpretation. That the union is imperfect is a staggering understatement. The “very fine people” on one side of the interpretive fence include members of terrorist organizations such as the KKK, not to mention most recent collaborations such as those accused of plotting to kidnap Wisconsin’s governor.

There has been considerable hand-wringing about how “off” the polls were. While polls of individual states may reflect an inability to gauge the preferences of individual states, the polls were amazingly attuned to the national sentiment. Look at the job approval ratings for President Trump. “DISAPPROVE” has averaged around 52.5$ the past four years. Sometimes it would fluctuate towards 54%, sometimes closer to 51%.

Biden received 51 percent of the total vote. Given that polls allow for a three percent margin of error, it would seem that the disapproval rating of Trump was not some fantasy of pollsters. The majority of people in this country disapproved of Trump’s behavior and policies the past four years, and they weren’t kidding. They may not have felt any passion for Biden’s proposals, but they loathed Trump. How can anyone doubt this correlation? This contempt for Trump is not new. As I pointed out ten days ago, he has lost the popular vote in a national election TWO TIMES IN A ROW! No one has done that in the past 60 years! In fact, Trump once again failed to exceed even the percentage of the popular vote that Hillary Clinton received in 2016. He likes to boast, “I’m not a politician.” No kidding, dude. If twice in a row you can’t get a larger percentage of the popular vote than a woman you demeaned throughout your first campaign, how can you expect to be regarded as anything other than an amateur who got lucky on his first try.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for Trump supporters to accept will be the notion that if the majority of people don’t like someone, they should not have to put up with him. And yes, it’s personal. It’s not just your policies, which are often reprehensible, Mr. Trump. It’s your personality, in and of itself, which imposes the vacuity of its narcissism on the Constitution. We, the people, are the ultimate Senate, and we find you unworthy of the high office to which you were elected by a chance throw of dice in the Electoral College. The election was our impeachment trial. Farewell, Trump. In fact, scam!

Thursday morning, November 19, 2020 (4:45 a.m. Pacific Time)

BIDEN: 79,333,327
Trump: 73,522,396

Margin: 5,810,932

Wednesday morning — mid-morning, November 18, 2020

BIDEN: 79,191,666
Trump: 73,408,656

Total Vote for Biden and Trump: 153,600,322
NOTE: An additional 2.8 percent of the voters chose a third candidate.

At mid-day, 12:53 p.m.
BIDEN: 79,303,415 votes (51.0%)
Trump: 73,470,939 votes (47.2%)

306 electoral college votes. Joseph R. Biden Jr. Winner
232 electoral college votes. Donald J. Trump

Link to video of W-E Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The above link will give you a chance to listen to the reading that occurred this past Sunday as the latest installment of a project that was launched by Lynn McGee and Susana H. Case last spring. They serve as the East Coast curators, and a few months ago they recruited Carolyne Wright to assist in the selections of West Coast poets.

On Sunday, the line-up was supposed to be four poets:
Ellen Bass, Gary Copeland Lilley, Jessica Greenbaum, and Bertha Rogers. 

Unfortunately, Gary Copeland Lilley ran into technical difficulties and was not able to participate in the zoom broadcast. However, the other three poets read very well and the 90 or so people who tuned in reported to us that they enjoyed the reading very much.

Ellen Bass is a poet I have long admired. Several years ago, when I had a chance to put together a summer poetry workshop at CSU Monterey Bay, and she was one of the poets I asked to be part of the two-week program. The other poets were Douglas Kearney, Juan Felipe Herrera, Marilyn Nelson, and Cecilia Woloch. It was truly an extraordinary ensemble. It was especially fortunate that I asked Juan Felipe Herrera just before he was appointed the nation’s poet laureate and that he is one of the most generous poets I have ever met in honoring his commitments. Marilyn Nelson’s rendition of her masterpiece, “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” is one of the most memorable experiences readings I have ever attended.

It was a pleasure to hear Ellen Bass read again and an honor to have an opportunity to introduce her again. She read at CSU Long Beach several years ago, and my colleagues agreed to let me to do the introduction. I reprint that introduction as well as the briefer one I gave on Sunday.

INTRODUCTION OF ELLEN BASS (“W – E Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic”
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Ellen Bass’s work first came to my attention shortly after I encountered the writing of future Los Angeles poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy, which is to point to that increment in the 1970s when a feminist canon began to gather substantial momentum. The anthology she co-edited, NO MORE MASKS, was one of those crucial turning points a half-century ago, and her own poetry has subsequently accentuated the trajectory of those poems that are essential to the intertwined continuity of American poetry.

There is a palpable theatricality to the images in her images, which is redoubled by her felicitous similes. They lure us within their domain — onto the very stage itself of the startling juxtaposition — so that we don’t merely perceive the metaphorical compression but inhabit it, too, until our consciousness becomes something otherworldly and yet very much of this world.

To use a word that is rarely pronounced at readings by contemporary poets, Ellen Bass’s poetry is edifying, not in the old sense of reassuring listeners in some ponderous didactic manner about moral certainties handed down by patriarchal nincompoops, but the new ethics of a queer aesthetic encompassing the gendered, inclusive enlightenment of communities of mutual affirmation.

I present to you, Ellen Bass.

Monday, October 27, 2014; Soroptimist House

During the past 20 years I’ve had the pleasure to work every summer at Idyllwild Arts and to teach a class in fiction writing to some very talented teenagers. This past summer, I retired from that job, and handed it over to one of my favorite writers, Tyler Dilts. In addition to the students, what I will miss most about teaching up in Idyllwild every summer is easy access to the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, whose founding organizer Cecilia Woloch read here a couple weeks ago. Today I have the pleasure to present to you one of the poets whose readings at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival have stood out in a constellation of extraordinary poets. When one looks at the line-up of poets who have read in that festival, one realizes that it’s a microcosm of contemporary American poetry: Yusef Komunyakaa, Terrence Hayes, Natasha Trethewey, Lucille Clifton, Marilyn Nelson, Carol Muske-Dukes, Robert Wrigley, Chris Abani, the late Carolyn Kizer, Naomi Shihab Nye, David St. John, not to mention our own Charles Harper Webb. I have made it a goal to ask as many of the poets whose work I heard at Idyllwild to read here as possible. In recent years, Charles Webb brought Richard Garcia here, and I brought Eloise Klein Healy two years ago. Slowly, we’re working our way through this distinguished list, which I mention in order to give you a sense of the stature of tonight’s poet: in the very front of the first rank.

Her poems have won many awards and prizes, which is certainly an affirming experience for any poet. More important than that, though, is the esteem felt by a wide range of poets for her writing, which has the rare capacity to encompass the diversity of human experience with generous sympathy and transformative compassion. At this point, it is traditional in an introduction of a poet to quote some of the speaker’s favorite lines of poetry by the poet who is about to read, but I am always reluctant to do so because I want to hear the poet read those lines, not the person doing the introduction. So, I will close this introduction with a simple request: Please read “For My Daughter on Her Twenty-First Birthday.” It is the poem that provides the titular metaphor of your collection, Mules of Love, which came out in 2002 and won the Lambda Literary Award. Other books include, Like a Beggar, which was published earlier this year by Copper Canyon Press and The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press; 2007), which was named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday; 1973). In addition to all this, she has written many important non-fiction books, including Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (1996).

Enough background, though. Let’s bring Ellen to stage, and have her celebrate the love that should enable all of us to help transform the world.

*. *. *. *

Once again, here’s the link to the recorded reading on Sunday, November 15th.

The W-E Reading Series: This Sunday, featuring Ellen Bass


Ellen Bass, Gary Copeland Lilley, Jessica Greenbaum, and Bertha Rogers. 

I will be happy to send you the link to this program if you write me at:

William Mohr:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ONLY, here is the link to the Facebook event for November 15: 

NOTE: This is the Facebook link, NOT the link to the show on Sunday. See the link with the word “zoom” in it (above) to get into the event on Sunday. 

On Sunday, November 15 — 7 p.m. east coast; 4 p.m. west coast — W-E, Bicoastal Poets of the Pandemic and Beyond is excited to present Ellen Bass (Santa Cruz, California), Jessica Greenbaum (Brooklyn, New York), Gary Copeland Lilley (Port Townsend, Washington) and Bertha Rogers (Delhi, the Catskills, New York).

This event is a unique opportunity to hear four of America’s finest poets as we cross link many geographic poetry communities. For the zoom link, reach out to W-E hosts Susana H. Case and Lynn McGee (east coast) and William Mohr and Carolyne Wright (west coast). 
Please do not share the link in a public forum.We can’t wait to see you on November 15 as we celebrate these amazing poets. Stay safe and well. Keep reading, writing and whatever keeps you strong!

ELLEN BASS’s newest collection, Indigo, was published by Copper Canyon Press in April 2020. Her other poetry books include Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. Her poems appear frequently in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and many other journals. She coedited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! Among her awards are Fellowships from the NEA, the California Arts Council, three Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award, The Pablo Neruda Prize, The Larry Levis Prize and the New Letters Prize. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Bass teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University. To purchase a copy of Indigo by Ellen Bass, visit learn more about Ellen Bass, visit


JESSICA GREENBAUM’s third book of poems, Spilled and Gone, received the Poetry Society of America’s Agnes Fay di Castagnola Prize in manuscript and came out from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2019. Also a recipient of an NEA grant, she teaches inside and outside academia including recently at Barnard College, Brooklyn Poets, Central Synagogue, and will teach at Vassar this spring. She also teaches communities who have experienced trauma, most recently for Footsteps, the country’s only service agency for people who have left ultra-Orthodoxy, and for The Child Brain Tumor Foundation.  To purchase a copy of Spilled and Gone by Jessica Greenbaum, visit:
To learn more about Jessica Greenbaum, visit

GARY COPELAND LILLEY is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent being The Bushman’s Medicine Show (Lost Horse Press, 2017), and a chapbook, The Hog Killing (Blue Horse Press, 2018). Earlier poetry collections are Alpha Zulu (Ausable Press, 2008), Black Poem (Hollyridge Press, 2005), The Reprehensibles (Fractal Edge Press, 2004) and The Subsequent Blues (Four Way Books, 2004). Originally from Sandy Cross, North Carolina, Gary Copeland Lilley was a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., where he was a founding member of the Black Rooster Collective. He received the D.C. Commission on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry in 1996 and again in 2000, and he earned a MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College in 2002. He now lives, writes, teaches, and plays blues guitar in the Pacific Northwest. He is published in numerous anthologies and journals, and is a Cave Canem Fellow. To purchase a copy of The Bushman’s Medicine Show by Gary Copeland Lilley, visit:…/the-bushmans-medicine…/

BERTHA ROGERS is the author of Wild, Again (Salmon, 2019); Heart Turned Back (Salmon, 2011) and Sleeper, You Wake (Mellen, 1991). Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000, and her translation and gorgeous, original illuminations of the riddle-poems in the thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book were published in the collection Uncommon Creatures in 2019. She co-founded Bright Hill Press & Literary Center of the Catskills in 1992, and although retired, continues to lead literary workshops and edit poetry collections for the Center. She lives on a mountain in New York’s western Catskills. To purchase copies of Wild, Again and & Uncommon Creatures, visit: 

Backstage for “Backstory”

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Backstage for “Backstory”: The View from the Patio

Shortly before I posted the link to the monologue I contributed to the Victory Theater’s presentation of its “Ten Commandments” show on zoom, I took a disposable camera into a shop to have its film developed. The images included a few shots I took of the view from the rear patio of the SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) where my mother spent her last year. Whenever it was sunny, but not too hot, she would get herself hoisted into a wheelchair, and then I would roll her through the dining room where other residents were playing cards or watching television. Many of them never got outside at all. Unless someone visited, patients were kept indoors and deprived of sunlight’s direct caress. A malnutrition of the light’s touch. There was a spot near a large cabinet that was especially perfect for a sunbath on a day that might have a slightly chilly breeze. Due to the vagaries of wind current, the cabinet seemed to deflect any gusts of cool air, and my mother could sit there and enjoy whatever warmth the sun provided.

Since I sit too much in addressing my tasks as a teacher, I often would stand as she enjoyed the sunlight. My view was either the curtained window of the patient’s rooms or the rear area of the theater that I mention in the monologue, the Long Beach Playhouse. The photographs in today’s entry show the front of the theater, with the traditional symbolic masks of theater at the top of the second story, and the odd ensemble of objects on view over the fence. The stanchions of a staircase, with the paint scoured off by deluges of time, were an incarnation of poems by William Carlos Williams. Was the shed for costumes and old scripts?

The script of my conversations with my mother did not change much. Politics was not a potential subject, since she had long ago succumbed to the ideological blandishments of right wing radio announcers. Rush Limbaugh was a little too liberal for her taste. Actually, I don’t know if she was that conservative. When she still lived on her own in Imperial Beach, however, she told me that she would listen to the radio when she couldn’t sleep, and that she preferred the sound of a human voice at 2 a.m. rather than listen to a station playing Frank Sinatra’s recordings. That music, no doubt, brought back too many memories with too little succor.

Here, once again, for easy access is the link to “BACKSTORY”:

“Honorable Discharge: I Want My Life Back”