Category Archives: Anthologies

DARK INK: An Anthology of Horror Poems

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Beyond Baroque presented over a dozen poets this past Saturday night who read poems they had contributed to a new anthology edited by Eric Morago. DARK INK is one of the best theme-oriented collections I have run across in the past decade, and I was especially impressed by the work of those who have yet to have a substantial volume of poems published. The best single rendition of a poem, in fact, was by a young poet I’d never encountered before, Nicole Connolly, whose “Self-Portrait as Exactly the Kind of Monster Men’s rights Activists Warn Each Other I Am” was delivered with a subtle, somber pleasure at what she saw in the full-length mirror. On my subsequent reading in the volume, her poem’s three dozen or so couplets seemed shorter on the page than it did when read out loud, though I don’t mean this comment to suggest that the poem dallied unnecessarily on any given image when she read it out loud. If anything, my attention Saturday evening was fully absorbed by its contraventions of patriarchal logic, and I would gladly have listened to an even longer version. Sonia Greenfield’s adaptation of Hemmingway’s “For Sale Baby Shoes Never Worn” was also a triumphant free solo climb of a sheer cliff of trauma, and the one poem in the volume that addressed that most transgressive use of horror, the endangered child. Armine Iknadossian’s “Vagina Dentata” also extended its metaphor with a dextrous plasticity right through its chilling last line: “a wedding band rolling down the marble hallway.”

It was perhaps no surprise that so many of the poems read on Saturday night had cinematic contexts. Frank O’Hara urged the mothers of America to let their kids go to the movies, and it would seem that permission was granted to see “The Sound of Music,” but that a whirlpool of turbulent fascination caused them to duck into another theater instead. However, the pleasure of this collection does not depend upon the reflected glory of the movie screen, and is more comprehensive in its cast of transgressive violence than might be expected for a book coming out of Los Angeles. Robin Axworthy and Terri Niccum, for instance, choose myth and legend in the form of Medusa and Lizzie Borden, with Niccum’s poem being one that wouldn’t be safe for a high school student to tote around as an unattributed, transcribed copy in her or his backpack on campus. The poem is deliciously dead serious, and gives an ax-sharp edge to Borden’s inner tribulations.

A fair number of L.A. veterans contributed some very fine poems: Michael C. Ford (“Sometimes We Provide for Ourselves Our Own Horror”); Laurel Ann Bogen (“Also Frankenstein”); Ron Koertge (“Dear Dracula”; “Mrs. Victor Frankenstein”), and Charles Harper Webb (“Night of the Lepus”) are among the liveliest poems in Morago’s anthology. Missing in action was Jack Grapes’s “The Count,” which is probably as close as any “horror” poem can get to deserving canonical status; and a poem from Edward Field’s collection, “Variety Photoplays” should probably have been included, even if it had required a royalty reprint fee. Not every poem, however, is as successful as it might have been. I would love to see Jennifer Lee Rossman reduce the number of her rhyming couplets by about 40 percent. “The Dog who Walked with Zombies” has more than enough wit to justify additional effort, and I hope she commits to doing so.

Morago’s Moontide Press is starting to become a welcome addition to a region that deserves to have more than Red Hen Press as its primary literary outlet. Moontide, of course, faces a much different retail environment than Red Hen did in its early years. The Borders bookstore chain, for instance, provided much more visibility as a outlet for regional projects a quarter-century ago. One wonders if Red Hen would be able to thrive to the extent it has if it were launching its first titles now.

As grim as the book distribution scene is, I urge you to get a copy of this volume (in which, in the interests of full disclosure, I do have a pair of poems). You will find in DARK INKS many more poems than I have listed that will give you reassurance of your powers to resist and endure, even as you grow more alert to the irony of human projections: “In this world, wild to kill / us all, some things are still too cute to be monsters.”

Eric Morago, Editor-in-Chief
Moon Tide Press #166
6745 Washington Avenue
Whitteri, CA 90601

An Anniversary Affirmation

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My parents got married in Los Angeles on this day, 1945. Both of them were enlisted in the U.S. Navy “for the duration.” World War II was over within nine months, but they did not spend any time together until 1946. The delay involves a fairly dramatic story, but that is something to be addressed in another genre.

Yesterday, I went down to UC San Diego to visit the Special Collections Department of its library. During my intermittent visits to the campus since attaining my Ph.D. in 2004, I noticed a steady increase in new buildings, but the pace of construction seems to have quadrupled almost overnight. UCSD was regarded as a primary economic engine in San Diego County at the end of the last century. Given the expansion’s goal of accommodating yet more students, UCSD may well become of the leading employers in Southern California.

The Archive for New Poetry continues to be a resource for scholars, and my hope is that I will be able to place my literary archive there, alongside my editorial archive. Many of the Los Angeles poets whose work I have admired and anthologized have their archives there: Paul Vangelisti, Leland Hickman, Dennis Phillips, Harry Northup, Holly Prado, and Bob Crosson. Doug Messerli most certainly would have been in “POETRY LOVES POETRY,” but he arrived in town just as the book was being published. Other poets or editors who have archives there include Donald Allen, Ron Silliman, Clayton Eshleman, and Paul Blackburn.

One of the things I asked about is whether my mother’s handwritten memoir of her life could be included as a document in my archive, as a contextual account of the childhood and youth that led to my undertaking of a literary life. It was agreed that that could be included, and I cannot think of a better way to commemorate this wedding anniversary than to have this knowledge. My mother, still alive, does not remember having written this memoir, though she still recognizes me, at least.

A Poet in His Youth: Reading in NYC; October, 1977

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In the course of editing Momentum magazine in the mid-1970s, I began to realize that a new anthology of Los Angeles poets was needed to reflect the growing scenes. I took it upon myself to test this material out “on the road,” first with a reading in Boulder, Colorado, and then with a reading at Bragr Times Bookstore in NYC, in late October, 1977. At both places I read the work of Leland Hickman, Jim Krusoe, Peter Levitt, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, Dennis Ellman, Eloise Klein Healy, and Sandi Tanhauser, the last of whom read with me in Boulder, Colorado. The anthology I eventually put together was The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (1978). It was officially published at the very end of December, 1978, and there was a party at my apartment in Ocean Park which was more crowded than I ever anticipated. I believe that it was at that party that Jim Krusoe met Michael Silverblatt for the first time.

Four months later, Robert Kirsch ran a review in the LA Times that called my anthology indicative of a “golden age” in Los Angeles poetry. Other reviews by Robert Peters, Stephen Kessler, and Laurel Ann Bogen soon appeared. I realized as time went by that I really should have

Here are some photographs of me reading in NYC, taken by Reavis Hilz-Ward.

Bragr Times - 3

Bragr Times - 1

Bragr Times - 2

Ron Silliman’s Blog is Back!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Ron Silliman has posted three times since New Year’s Day, 2019, and while it might be far too early to say whether he intends to keep this pace up, it is heartening to see him in critical action again. How he ever managed to produce so much writing about contemporary poetry, finish his magnificent long poem “The Alphabet,” and meet the responsibilities of a full-time/with overtime job in addition to raising a family is beyond my capacity to imagine, and I wouldn’t fault him in the least if he never posted a blog entry again.

He does, after all, have other projects to work on, now that he has retired from the computer workforce. My recollection is that he has said that working on “The Alphabet” prepared him to write a long poem, “Universe,” which is now underway and might be finished many, many decades from now. For those who want to read one of the best long articles about Silliman’s The Alphabet, I recommend that you dig up my 4,000 word effort, ” ‘I want to describe description’: Ron Silliman’s Alphabet,” which appeared in issue No. 3 of Paul Vangelisti’s “OR” magazine (publication date, October 10, 2009).

Given my general enthusiasm for Silliman’s work, I do have a few questions about some of his remarks in the post of January 7th, however.

“what gave birth to the New American Poetry was a hiatus occasioned by World War 2 when the number of books being published in the US was curtailed by the cost of paper and ink, and the absence of males from the continent. As it was, the number of books of poetry published in the US shrank from around 100 to just half that until well after the war.”

Silliman is certainly correct about the impact of material supplies on publication during World War II. After a total of three printings and guess how many total copies (4500!), Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury went out of print during that cataclysm, However, when exactly does the rebound take place. If poetry publishing was a “bear market,” at what point “well after the war” did a uptick begin to gain substantial momentum? In addition, it does seem as if a phrase is missing in that proposed statistic:
Shouldn’t it read: “the number of books of poetry published per year in the US shrank from around 100 to just half that until well after the war”?

Silliman lists nearly a score of people who might well have appeared in his anthology IN THE AMERICAN TREE, if he had edited it close to the actual publication date (Curtis Faville, David Gitin, Abigail Child, Beverly Dahlen, Leslie Scalapino, Darrell Gray, Andrei Codrescu, Norman Fischer, CD Wright, Joan Retallack, Doug Lang, Phyllis Rosenzweig, Joseph Ceravolo, Judy Grahn, Michael Lally, Lorenzo Thomas, Jim Brody, Simon Ortiz, and Nathaniel Mackey). One wonders how Paul Vangelisti does not make this list. Vangelisti was included in a list of poets who should be included in an imaginary, massive anthology of post-modern poets that Silliman wrote about back in the 2013. “Life is messy,” Silliman concedes, and it would seem that part of that messiness is how an extraordinarily fine poet such as Paul Vangelisti complicates the Langpo metanarrative. For those of you who want to begin to discover why Vangelisti will have to be included in any anthology that aspires to address avant-garde poetry after 1970 in the United States, I urge you to dig up the Summer 2005 issue of the Chicago Review (“Likelihood: Paul Vangelisti’s Avant-Garde Poetry,” a review of Paul Vangelisti’s Embarrassment of Survival: Selected Poems (1970-2000); pages 277-284). Equally puzzling is the absence of any mention of Douglas Messerli, who ranks as one of the most important poet-editor-publishers of the baby boom generation. Perhaps the answer can be found at the Archives for New Poetry, which are located at UCSD, although I note that the on-line catalogue states that Ron Silliman’s “(c)orrespondence with Douglas Messerli in Box 12, folder 20 may not be quoted or published without prior written permission from Ron Silliman.”

“The question of articulating any movement of poetry in a world in which there exist some 50,000 publishing ones is one hell of a lot harder than it was when the number was 2,000 or so just 30-plus years ago.”

I have no idea of where Ron is getting these figures. Thirty years would place us in the late 1980s, when Codrescu’s UP LATE anthology appeared, a collection that among many other things reflected the impact that my anthology POETRY LOVES POETRY had in terms of providing some visibility to a significant number of younger L.A. poets. Is “thirty-plus years” meant to expand the temporal suburbs of what appears to be a very subjective census to 1980? If so, is Ron truly suggesting that somehow all of the mainstream publishing as well as the extraordinary outpouring of small press activity in the 1970s was being generated by a total of 2,000 poets???? Bean counter alert!

On the other hand, I see no reason to doubt his 50,000 publishing poets figure as we head towards the end of this decade. The point at which the there is a “population” of 2,000 publishing poets, however, would more likely be the case in 1968, before the Baby Boom generation came along to the ranks quite rapidly.

The central tension in this post by Silliman appears to be the oscillations generated by “movement” versus “moment.” Indeed, how does one finalize the “beat movement” when three of its best-known figures are still alive? It’s not just those figures who should matter in making this statement, though. What about women beats who are just now emerging from the patriarchal repression of their work? Eileen Aronson Ireland, praised by Stuart Perkoff and cited by John Thomas in the first poem of his first book in 1972, is finally getting her first book of poetry published this year, a book that will include new poems and not just the work she wrote while being part of the Venice West scene. The beat movement is still ongoing, and the post-Beat (towards which I have made a few very minor contributions) is more lively than ever.

Being committed to avant-garde poetics, Ron Silliman has little use for a dialectical synthesis. The point of an avant-garde is to sweep the previous version into a “dustbin,” where it should languish in the disdain of everyone who now is “hip.” I prefer to think of that process as being more beneficial if it is regarded as more akin to a garden, and mulching.

Finally, I would suggest that Ron Silliman provide a short list of the best blog articles he has written in the past on the subject of this post. For instance, his entry on February 15, 2013 is probably the best single commentary I know of on the most recent edition of Paul Hoover’s anthology of post-modern poetry (and it should be noted that Paul Vangelisti does appear in one of Silliman’s lists in that article). Young poets who are beginning to publish could use a guide to find the blog entries by Silliman that address the themes he has reiterated at the start of 2019.

Bolinas Visitation: Ellen Sander’s HAWTHORNE (Finishing Line Press)

Bolinas Arrow - 1996

I have only visited Bolinas once, back in the summer of 1996; it was part of a five-day trip north that included a visit to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. I was preparing for my time as a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute in the Fall, and wanted to take a look at the archives of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights. There was also an exhibit at the library; a fair-sized room presented, in well-secured glass cases, a representative collection of materials of Beat writers. In all of the placards explaining the Beat movement to the visitors, the only scenes mentioned were in the Bay Area and Greenwich Village. There was not a single citation of Venice West. It was typical of the period to obliterate Venice West from any account of the Beat movement during the mid-century.

When I finished my work at the library, I rode out to Bolinas with Ellen Sander, a poet who had lived there for many years. First known as the one of the first — if not the very first — significant female rock critic, Ellen Sander went on to become the poet laureate of Belfast, Maine a few years ago. Finishing Line Press published her account of her home in Bolias and its place in the artistic community: Hawthorne, A House in Bolinas.

Hawthorne, a House in Bolinas by Ellen Sander

I had first heard of Bolinas in the very early 1970s as a place where poets had taken refuge from the chaos of New York City. As the century wore on, the poetry traffic between Los Angeles and Bolinas was probably among the most unusual circulations in American literary history; the best anthology to contextualize this exchange is the one I worked on with Neeli Cherkovski, Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. No other book brings together poets who have shared the same eco-cultural domains as a matter of positive freedom. In addition to Ellen Sander, I am thinking of Joe Safdie (who moved from Los Angeles to Bolinas, and now has moved back down the coast — to San Diego), as well as Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna and Lewis MacAdams, who both eventually moved from Bolinas to Los Angeles.

Should you want a poet’s take on the Bolinas scene, you should definitely set aside time to read Kevin Opstedal’s article in Big Bridge, “Dreaming As One.”

It is an incredibly substantial and detailed account of a community of the famous (Robert Creeley, Bobbie Louise Hawkins; the Jefferson Airplane) and the obscure (Jack Boyce), all of whom made this backwater a major harbor of imagination’s counterpoints. Each of the eighteen segments has a set of photographs to give the reader some glimmer of the youthfulness of this scene.

There were other circulations north and south, too. About the same time that poets were moving to Bolinas from New York City, Stuart Z. Perkoff moved north and spent two productive years in Northern California. John Thomas, on the other hand, had moved back from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, though he did not then settle back in Venice, but in the Echo Park area, where he became friends with Charles Bukowski and mentored a young poet named Wanda Coleman. There is another anthology yet to be assembled, where the poets of Bolinas, who appeared in a collection entitled On the Mesa, edited by Joel Weishaus (City Lights, 1971) intermingle with those of Cross-Strokes.

Bolinas - Pink Flowers

Bolinas Mural

Tom Clark (Poet; Editor; Biographer): R.I.P.

Tom Clark (March 1, 1941 – August 18, 2018)

No sooner had I finished a draft of yesterday’s blog post than I learned of Tom Clark’s death. I had known that Frank Rios was dying, for it was a great disappointment a week earlier to everyone gathered at KCET’s video recording for the Venice West segment of “Lost Los Angeles” that Frank was not well enough to attend the shoot. Clark, though, was killed as a result of being a hapless pedestrian in an area of Berkeley regarded by automobile drivers as their privileged domain. The abruptness of his passing has shocked his many admirers and friends.

Along with Ted Berrigan, James Schuyler, and Peter Schjeldahl, Clark was one of the leading influences from various strands of the New York School of Poets and their poetic progeny on the Los Angeles scenes between 1978 and 1985. Certainly his poem, “Baseball and Classicism” was among the favorites of AIB (Artists Interested in Baseball), an informal group of poets and artist friends who attended Dodger baseball games as a group back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Baseball and Classicism”

The best two commentaries I can pass on to you at this moment are Terence Winch’s commentary and Erik Noonan’s long article in Tupelo Quarterly.

A Calmer Unease: Tom Clark’s Truth Game

Noonan’s article is long and substantial enough to catch the average reader off-guard, if only because so few poets receive an in-depth consideration of their books in the 21st century. Clark taught at the New College of California for many years, and it’s possible that Noonan’s critique reflects his appreciation for Clark’s work as a teacher and mentor.

Clark’s literary efforts were fairly comprehensive. In addition to poetry, he wrote biographies of several other poets (Edward Dorn; Charles Olson; Ted Berrigan; Jack Kerouac, and Robert Creeley) and a fair amount of reviews. He was one of the few critics outside of Los Angeles to pay attention to the poets in the scenes here back in the 1980s. Not only was he one of the very first to take notice of Amy Gerstler, but he also had considerable praise for another much under-appreciated project, Peter Schneider’s Illuminati Press. My guess is that Clark will be the subject of more than one biography. He certainly will be a presence in many other biographies, if only as an antagonist who made it clear that poetry was a matter of serious gambling: one is playing for the whole casino. Nothing less is on the table. The fact that Clark grew up in the Midwest, attended college in Michigan, and was then a major presence in New York City in the early 1970s and Bolinas, California in subsequent decades will enable Clark’s biographers to work with a shifting backdrop of landscape and cultural horizons. It is a tempting project.

Mike (The Poet) Sonksen reads from “Poetry Loves Poetry”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

In terms of anthologies of American poets, perhaps no other year in the past century marked the appearance of three distinctively influential volumes, In the American Tree, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, and Poetry Loves Poetry: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets, all published in 1985. I was the editor and publisher of Poetry Loves Poetry, and I certainly appreciate the attention that Mike (The Poet) Sonksen gives to it in a recent video. In addition to a brief excerpt from my introductory essay, Sonksen reads the poems of several poets who were featured in that anthology: Lewis MacAdams; Michelle T. Clinton; Wanda Coleman; and Michael C. Ford. He also highlights the presence of poets such as Suzanne Lummis and Laurel Ann Bogen in my collection, both of whom were part of the poetry performance troupe, Nearly Fatal Women. In addition to Charles Bukowski, Ron Koertge, Nichola Manning, and Charles Harper Webb as representatives of an emerging “Stand Up” school of poets, other poets I included were James Krusoe, Peter Levitt, Leland Hickman, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, and Eloise Klein Healy, all of whom also appeared in my earlier anthology, The Street Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets. This earlier collection tends to get pushed to the side, as do Paul Vangelisti’s incredibly important collections, Specimen ’73 and An Anthology of L.A. Poets. One cannot fully appreciate Poetry Loves Poetry, however, unless one is familiar with all three of these earlier surveys of various communities of Los Angeles poets. It is worth noting, of course, that poets as well-known as Bert Meyers and Henri Coulette do not appear in any of these collections. The definitive survey of poetry in Los Angeles between 1950 and 2000 has yet to be assembled.

Kevin Opstedal’s Poems in the San Diego Reader

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three New Poems by Kevin Opstedal

Several months ago, the poetry editor of the San Diego Reader wrote me and requested that I spread the word that he was looking for submissions, and so I contacted several of my favorite poets on the West Coast, ranging from Carol Ellis in Portland and Kevin Opstedal in Santa Cruz to Cecilia Woloch and Gail Wronsky in Los Angeles. I have just heard from Kevin Opstedal that the current issue of the San Diego Reader features three of his poems: “Mona Lisa in a Sombrero”: “Spilling the Kool-Aid”; and “Folded into the Azure Origami of Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”

Opstedal’s poems have been published in a multitude of chapbooks as well as larger volumes, and he was one of the poets featured in a recent anthology I co-edited with Neeli Cherkovski, “CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” You can find my commentary on Opstedal’s work in entries in this blog on January 28, 2016 (“The Poet Laureate of PCH”) and April 21, 2017 (a review of “Pacific Standard Time”).