“Bell Lap” Decade

January 4, 2020

Even though it’s not likely that a runner would lose count of the number of laps she or he or they have completed in a middle-distance race (e.g., two-mile), the final lap is traditionally signaled by the reminder of a sustained, unmistakably loud ringing of a bell: “the bell lap.”

While I can’t be certain how much of this decade I will be active in, the odds are that this is my personal “bell lap.” The uncertainty of any prediction seems magnified, however, beyond the merely personal. Given, for instance, how California is far overdue for a catastrophic earthquake, this may well be the “bell lap” for the state as we have known it. The state will eventually recover, regardless of how severe the earthquake is. I can only hope that I am not at work in the MHB building at CSULB, when that earthquake strikes.

I have several major projects that I would like to complete in the next ten years, but to accomplish them all would probably necessitate a span of 12 to 20 years. Such a gift of time is beyond the realm of presumption, and so each day in this decade is one not to be wasted in trivial employment. Each moment is an implicit precipice. A free solo on the canyon wall of eternity. No doubt there will be prolonged treks of tasks that are counter-productive, imposed on me by those who believe that others should be exempt from that labor. For that inequity, there is little remedy but to remember that the reversals of Surprise, that supreme virtue of the imagination, have compensated me in unexpected ways in the past decade.

As noted in this blog a few days ago, the tenth anniversary of my extremely close call with mortality will fall on the day of this year’s general election. I don’t expect wickedness to go unrewarded, and so I have already braced myself for the inevitable disaster of Trump’s reelection. Perhaps, though, the reaction to his extended ineptitude will result in the final half-dozen years of this coming decade providing the planet with a chance for a last-minute redemption. We must not despair.

For at least a year after I nearly died, I was fairly pessimistic about my chances for any longevity whatsoever, but somehow the return to the classroom and full-time teaching a mere four days after I was released from the hospital did not inflict immediate damage to my health, though the impact of that decision by my employer is still playing out. Somehow, I not only found the strength to keep going, but I was eventually able to take on the burden of being the one who accompanied my mother to the final foothold of the past decade. Before that task intervened, and during its execution, a number of things happened that I would have had no way of foretelling:

1) a collaboration with the sculptor Mineko Grimmer, which took place in early September, 2011. You can view a video of “BARELY HOLDING DISTANT THINGS APART” on-line. It’s not like anything that anyone who attends AWP conventions on a regular basis would have a way of appreciating. For those of you with affiliations outside of AWP’s predictability, this video is worth your consideration.

2.) It had always been a dream of mine to have a hardcover book, but it was not to be. Even though the original contract promised a hardcover book, the University of Iowa Press reneged on that commitment and published HOLDOUTS in a paperback version. However, despite poor proofreading by the press, the book received over a half-dozen very favorable reviews, and I remain especially grateful for the commentary of Frank Kearful and Joe Safdie.

3.) Stephen Axelrod invited me to present papers at several sessions of the American Literature Association, and these efforts have enabled me to savor the kinship of scholars in a way that I do not experience as a poet. For his kindness, I count myself more fortunate than I deserve.

4.) Paul Vangelisti’s support of my work is the one constant in my literary life. He was among the very first editors of any literary magazine to publish my work in the early 1970s, and he published several of my poems and reviews in OR magazine, and in 2018 recorded “THE COMEDIAN AS LETTER N,” which you can also access on the internet. We will be recording a new version of this comic monologue in a few weeks, which I am looking forward to.

5.) A few months after my collaboration with Mineko Grimmer, I received an e-mail from José Rico, a poet and translator, who wanted to include my work in a portfolio of American poets in CIRCULO DE POESIAS. He went on to translate, along with Robin Myers, a full-length volume of my poetry, PRUEBAS OCULTAS, in a bilingual edition published by BONOBOS EDITORES at the decade’s mid-point. To my astonishment, a group of three critics in Mexico selected it as one of the two dozen best books of poetry published in Mexico in that year.

In addition to a reading in Mexico City that led to a connection with Bonobos Editors, I was a featured poet at poetry festivals in San Luis Potosi and Xalapa, Veracruz. The readings at San Luis Potosi are among the most revered of my memories, especially the graceful renderings of my poems by my translator as well as Rocio Arrellano.

6. Translations of my poems into Croatian and Italian followed in the next few years.

7. Beyond Baroque bestowed the George Drury Smith Award on me at one of the annual awards dinners. I was subsequently asked to serve on the Board of Trustees, the only GDS award winner to take on such renewed responsibility.

8. I was invited to give a plenary talk at a conference in Dijon, France during the Thanksgiving week of 2016.

9. Nancy Grace and Ronna Johnson invited me to write an article on Venice West, which was published in the JOURNAL OF BEAT STUDIES, and I subsequently wrote an article for a volume on TEACHING THE BEAT, which we all hope will soon be accepted for publication by Clemson University Press.

10. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art asked me to give a talk on Venice West, and also staged the first production of Stuart Perkoff’s verse play, ROUND BOUT MIDNIGHT, since its original production well over a half-century earlier. S.A. Griffin’s assistance in this venture was absolutely essential to its success, though I regret that it was not recorded.

11. UCLA, my alma mater, asked me to give a talk at the special collections, and the talk was subsequently published in 5 Trope.

12. WHAT BOOKS agreed to publish an expanded version of the bilingual edition published in Mexico, and THE HEADWATERS OF NIRVANA appeared in October, 2018. Although the book has remained almost completely invisible on an institutional level, the lack of presence in SPD’s catalogue has not completely restricted the distribution of copies of LOS MANANTIALES DEL NIRVANA, which has found its way into the hands of many people who have attended my readings in the past year at venues across several counties in Southern California.

13. The success of Beyond Baroque’s programming during its celebration of its 50th anniversary remains one of the most empowering memories of the past decade on the “local” level. That I was able to nominate the poetry of Carol Ellis for publication in Beyond Baroque’s Pacific Coast Series of books this year only makes this institution’s ability to endure all the sweeter. I hope to review LOST AND LOCAL in this blog in the next month.

14. On January 1st, 2010, at age 62, I was still only an assistant professor. I was promoted to associate professor later that year, and then promoted to full professor six years later.

15. In 2014, I retired from teaching a fiction workshop at the Idyllwild Arts summer camp. When I took over the class twenty years earlier, it was only a single two-week session. I built up enrollment in the class so that three two-week sessions were scheduled, and are still underway. Eventually, I will have to stop teaching at CSU Long Beach, and I hope my contributions to teaching 20th century American literature linger there, too.

16. In addition to Paul Vangelisti, I am grateful to the editors of the magazines and anthologies that published or reprinted my writing in the past decade:
Al Markowitz and Mary Franke, Blue Collar Review
Clare MacQueen, KYSO FLash (Knock Your Socks Off)
Larry Smith, Caliban On-Line
Christopher Buckley, Miramar magazine
Marie Lecrevain, Poetic Diversity
Dennis Phillips, Nausikka’s Isle: A Tribute to Paul Vangelisti
Alexis Rhone Fancher, Cultural Weekly
Joseph O’Brien, San Diego Weekly
Nancy Eldredge, The Same
Elena Karina Byrne, The Enchanted Verses
Suzanne Lummis, editor, WIDE AWAKE: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond
Doren Robbins, 5 Trope (magazine)
Christopher Merrill, The Rat Anthology
Eric Morago, Dark Ink: An Anthology of Horror Poems
Tommy Thomas, Redshift magazine
CX Dillhunt, Hummingbird Magazine
Tony Barnstone, guest editor, special issue of Pratik magazine
Shannon Phillips, Carnival
Abel DelBritto, Milk
Danny Baker and Apryl Skies, Edgar Allan Poet magazine
Bambi Here, FDE&D magazine
Bill Harding, San Diego Poetry Annual
Zach Mann, Los Angeles Review of Books
Andrew Nette, Sticking It to the Man

17. Linda and I are especially grateful to Nicole M. Street and Erik Horsley for their generous hospitality this past summer and for the invitation to read at Kauai Community College.

18. I want to thank Brooks and Lea Ann Roddan for their kindness in opening their home so that we could visit them in San Francisco and commence production work on Eileen Aronson Ireland’s first book of poetry, to be published this spring.

19. I want to thank Jane Collins for driving down to Long Beach from UCLA to record an oral history with me for UCLA’s Oral History Project.

20. I want to thank Lynell George for nominating me to be poet laureate of Los Angeles.

21. I want to thank Lynn McGee for a reciprocal interview that was published in Owl Light News, “Methods and Materials: The Sojourns of Affinities.”

Methods and Materials: The Sojourns of Affinities

22. I want thank Terry Braunstein for recommending Linda and me as tenants for studio space at the Loft in San Pedro, and to Meeson Pae Yang for welcoming us to a community that includes such fine artists and curators as Michael Stearns. I want to thank the Artist’s Coop in Long Beach for giving Linda and me space to show our paintings in open studio tours.

23. I am especially grateful to my brother Jim, for being there to lead the way in getting our mother’s home sold so that she could receive care in her final years.

24. Part of the challenge of taking care of my mother involved retrieving her from Lansing, Michigan, where her older sister hand lived and died. For reasons too complex for anything but a novella, my mother decided to move from San Diego, where she had lived for a half-century, to Michigan. As she became too weak to care for herself, she had to get moved back. On a trip there to arrange that transition, I had the extremely good fortune to be invited to visit with Laurence and Nancy Goldstein, and my stay at their home redeemed an arduous task. This visit came about because the LeAnn Fields at the University of Michigan asked me in late 2012 to serve as the “blind reviewer” of POETRY Los Angeles: Reading the Essential Poems of the City, which was published in 2014. My friendship with Larry and Nancy has been one of the constant pleasures of the past decade.

25. Finally, I am grateful to the readers of this blog. Sometime in the next three months, KOAN KINSHIP will have accumulated three million hits since its inception. The blog has averaged 900,000 hits a year since 2017. I don’t know exactly how many people have read one of my posts, but there have been enough of you to make it worth the effort.

It is, of course, difficult for me to believe that the coming decade will reveal an equal number of unexpected confirmations of my dedication to a literary life. It is far more likely that the past decade will be what I savor as the culminating “bell lap,” and that the years remaining will have more the aura of a tired runner, sitting in a sweat shirt, and taking off his running shoes. But maybe the above is merely the prelude to the best decade of all.

I am not running for all I’m worth. The running is what has made it worth it.