Category Archives: Books

The Garden City Horse Sculpture

Friday, December 8, 2017 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

The transition from graduate student to faculty is perhaps even harder than writing one’s dissertation, if only because the time allotted to turn one’s attention from the latter task to the former endeavor is so brief. No sooner had I finished defending my dissertation in the late spring, 2004 (and it was not a slam-dunk; not everyone on my committee believed that what I had written deserved their signature) and submitting a revised version to the graduate office at UCSD than I was heading to Idyllwild to teach for six weeks, and then back to San Diego to teach a summer extension course in poetry, all the while packing to head to Lynbrook, New York and teach English as a Second Language at Nassau Community College.

The drive from where Linda and I lived in Lynbrook to the NCCs campus was about nine miles on surface streets, and one day we ended up taking a different route. About three miles from the campus, we noticed a park with a statue of a horse and got out and took some photographs.

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“Welcome to the Village of Garden City” declares an oval sign, at a spot on its breastbone where a medallion might hang. NCC was in Garden City, a place I’d first heard of when I looked on the copyright pages of books published by Doubleday, and saw its headquarters listed as Garden City, New York. The company was located on Long Island for about three-quarters of a century (1910-1986) and I believe the building it occupied on Franklin Avenue is still in use.

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As a youth, I had not the slightest idea where Garden City might be, nor did I care. It seemed odd to me that a publishing company in New York wouldn’t be located in Manhattan itself, but with the exception of a half-dozen writers, Doubleday’s authors were never of much interest to me. That Doubleday found itself being packaged and repackaged as part of the corporate expansion into the cultural domain was hardly a surprise. I don’t know of many people who worry that its backlist might perish from the conversation (e.g., Form and Value in Modern Poetry (Doubleday Anchor) by R.P. Blackmur; or the poems and essays of Robert Graves).

Linda and I remember the statue of the horse with bemused affection, though. While we passed by that park just that once, the occasion in retrospect still seems more than a droll chance encounter. I suppose it might be thought of as kitsch, and yet is it any less appealing than the work of Jeff Koons? He should be so lucky as to have this piece of work to his credit.

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Kevin Opstedal’s Poems in the San Diego Reader

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three New Poems by Kevin Opstedal

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

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”).

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry: Now Online

I met the poet Tim Reynolds back in the early 1980s. He was working as a word processor for ARCO in DTLA and living in a SRO hotel not far from the Japanese-American Museum and the Temporary Contemporary. I don’t remember how I met him, though I do remember the first poem of his that I ever read, in the September, 1967 issue of Poetry magazine.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

I was 19 years old, and it still makes me flinch to think of what a hapless ephebe I was. Not that I wasn’t trying. With floundering attention, I had stood in the aisle of the library at Southwest Community College the previous spring and read John Berryman’s 77 Dreams Songs, all to no avail; I had not been able in any way whatsoever to figure out what he was saying about a character named Henry. This particular issue of Poetry, whic contained work by Jean Garrigue, Galway Kinnell, Josephine Miles, Aram Saroyan, Richard Tillinghast, and Richard Eberhart, was not much more penetrable. It should come as no surprise that the only poem in that issue that really interested me was entitled “Going Home” and was dedicated to Mick Jagger.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

When I finally did meet Tim in person, I mentioned this poem and he said to me that he had not known which of the people on the cover of the Out of Our Heads album was Mick Jagger. He had thought that Brian Jones, who was in the lower right hand corner, was Jagger. “Going’ Home,” of course, was the last song on Aftermath, an album that appeared a year later.

In the years after reading “Going Home,” I had become a slightly more astute reader, and managed to acquire a couple of Tim’s books of poetry. It was a privilege to include his poetry as part of Poetry Loves Poetry, in addition to asking him to read in the Gasoline Alley Poetry Series. He now lives in Long Beach, California.

In 1965, Tim read on Paul Blackburn’s radio program. Blackburn was known for being the host of a poetry program as well as for tape-recording readings at St. Mark’s Poetry Project. It is my understanding that Blackburn assiduously got down on tape a considerable number of readings, many of have been digitized by the Special Collections Department at UCSD, and are now available on-line.

According to Nina Mamikunian, “The collection is available at lib.ucsd.edu/blackburn. Additional information about the collection and its release is available athttp://libraries.ucsd.edu/blogs/blog/paul-blackburn-audio-collection-now-online/.”

But if these links don’t work, try this one:

https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1436376x

The GOP (Grand Offshore Party) and the Perfidy of Imposter Taxation

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Grand Offshore Party

I have not yet had a chance to investigate the Paradise Papers, but is there any need to spend precious time on reviewing what has been public knowledge for quite some time? Over the past several years, corporations have parked billions of dollars of profits in off-shore vaults, waiting for their tax rates to be lowered. It’s all perfectly legal.

It also has consequences. Is each and every dying person in this country receiving sufficient care to ease their travail? Is each child provided with a teacher who inspires imaginative and ethical curiosity? Is each parent of a disabled child given the assistance needed to empower that individual in all the impingements of her or his own life?

Yes, “ordinary” people must contribute to the kind of social program that would answer the above questions with an affirmation, but a society in which the distribution of wealth is skewed by a sanctioned version of double-entry bookkeeping can only endure by magnifying its repressive mechanisms to squeeze those who have the least amount of power. The thin layer of operatives who have extreme amounts of wealth and use but a pittance of it for anything other than furthering their own largesse are currently engaged in the perfidy of imposter taxation. They pretend to be individual citizens, owing no more than a family farmer of less than a thousand acres, or a carpenter, or architect, or teacher, or lawyer doing significant pro bono work, or police officer; yet they pay a proportionately small percentage of taxes than these workers.

This cannot be allowed to persist. I urge you to sign the following internationally based petition:

https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/paradise_papers_loc/?cQMXkab

This is a global vote.

For more information on this issue, go to the following links:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/paradise-papers?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=251595&subid=4769845&CMP=GT_US_collection

Fact Sheet: Offshore Corporate Loopholes

* * *
“At the end of 2016 the giant US technology companies alone were estimated by Moody’s Investors Service to have $1.84 trillion (£1.4 trillion) of cash held offshore. …. The calculations of the economist Gabriel Zucman – analysing discrepancies in countries’ national accounts – suggest that around $7.6 trillion, or 8 per cent of global wealth, is held offshore. That’s up 25 per cent over the past five years.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/offshore-tax-havens-how-do-work-what-done-change-paradise-papers-panama-bermuda-caymans-turks-caicos-a8039916.html

* * *
“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of global wealth, and the top 10 percent owns about 90 percent.”

“Substitute Teacher”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

“Put Your Ears On” was a poetry show on cable TV during the 1990s. “Substitute Teacher” is a prose monologue about the aspirations of an instructor who discusses his personal relationship with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a friend of an old friend, Lenny Durso. She had run across a video of me and wrote a brief note of appreciation. I myself hadn’t viewed it recently, and her kind e-mail made me curious to screen it again. Watching this video this morning, I almost don’t recognize myself. Age perturbs gently, but its enfolding suction is relentless. Just a few years ago, I didn’t seem to be that much different. Now it would be impossible for me to perform “Substitute Teacher” and create quite the same effect. I would almost have to transcribe the tone of voice, and ease it down to a slightly slower, more wistful tone, in order to make this monologue work. Thirty-five years of adult life: “all is transformed: transformed utterly.”

I started “Put Your Ears On” as a television show on the Century Cable’s Public Access program. My first primary goal was to record Leland Hickman reading his poetry, and the programming developed from there in much the same manner as a reading series at a coffee house. It was, in fact, a reading series I did with Cahuenga Press poet Phoebe (MacAdams) Ozuna at the Gasoline Alley coffee house that provided the critical impetus to do this show. Gasoline Alley was not the first reading series I’d done, and I felt a growing exasperation at the lack of any record of poets reading in their “youth.” Public Access TV was just starting to take off in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it proved to be the perfect vehicle.

I hope you enjoy it.

Let it glow: dancing by myself

Friday, November 3, 2017

I am still recovering from the mid-October evisceration of my computer files. I have managed to jot down a few of the notes I remembered from the first draft of my talk on Anne Sexton’s performances of her band, Anne Sexton and Her Kind. My notes for an application to do research on Wanda Coleman’s poetry have proved to be less eidetic.

I took my birthday off as a personal holiday and spent the day moving bookcases around my work room, and was able to move a display case in here, thereby freeing up my room for Linda to work on her paintings in the living room. Even in trying to recover from this disaster, it’s not just the timing of losing the files that is proving to have the wrong bounce of happenstance. We bought a new computer from the campus bookstore, and this afternoon I found out that a sale is going to take place in two weeks that would have saved me $500 if I had bought it then.

I walked past the art department’s galleries the other day and dropped in a show by Mimi Haddon, whose work reminded me a bit of the art on display for the Magical Mystery Tours shows that were organized by Josine Ianco-Starrels. The huge piece of red cloth in the second room was the subject of a one=page typed statement near the entrance. I could barely discern the words, but they jolted me into remembering one of the happiest dreams I ever had: a piece of red cloth gently palpitated from the ceiling above my bed. The dream occurred in the late 1970s in my bedroom in the apartment in Ocean Park. For several minutes in the dream of this piece of cloth, I was exquisitely happy. I was not anywhere that joyous while dancing by myself in the shifting spectrum of Haddon’s show, but I was able to forget the onslaught of recent misfortune, and I hope to see more of Maddon’s work soon. She is hardly a typical MFA student, for she has already withstood the suction of discouragement that causes so many young artists to submit the extraordinary attrition rate that sets in after leaving an educational institution. She appears to have been steadily busy since getting her B.A. in the mid-1990s, so she has a two decade headwind behind her now.

In addition to a front yard scene I saw on my way to work two days after Halloween, here are a few shots from Haddon’s show, as well as links to information about Haddon and Ianco-Starels.

Alumni Profile: Mimi Haddon

http://mimihaddonart.com/about

https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/josine-iancostarrels-papers-6309

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A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

“Enter Here” — Alexis Rhone Fancher (KYSO Flash; 2017)

Sunday, September 10, 2017 (Sunday)

One can become so accustomed to the title of a book referring to the lead poem in the collection that when one has read around in the book and still not found the title, even as a phrase in a poem, the words begin to echo behind each line: first lines, last lines, and every line between. The title of Alexis Rhone Fancher’s recently published collection of poems began to emit that hypnotic shimmer as I read twenty or so poems at random in my first perusal. “Enter Here” is not an unfamiliar imperative, and yet within the domain of imaginative consciousness illuminated by erotic impulses, the book’s presence in one’s hands has an almost premonitory intimacy: “who touches this book touches a woman’s imagination.”

Readers fortunate enough to have started with Fancher’s How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen will happily breathe in the pheromones swirling from these poems. One should be warned, as one often is in literature with directional indicators: reading these poems will arouse you, not so much carnally but with an adamant curiosity about that bondage that sexual desire imposes on us, if we but give it the slightest opening. The photograph on the book’s cover sums up how huge the consent is once we crack the door even slightly.

In Fancher’s poems, the speakers consent to as much intensity as will enable them to entangle themselves in the urgent illusion of the insatiable. In doing so, they risk having their candor taken for granted, as if it were no more than a carefully disguised substitute for self-gratifying narcissism. Fancher guards against that relaxed reading by being explicit only when it is needed. In “To My New Boyfriend with Oversized Blue Lips Tattooed on His Neck,” for instance, there is no dwelling upon “kinky sex.” What that might have been is left to the delicate extremes of the reader’s conjunctions. It is within the satiety of the bower of bliss, however, that revelation most forthrightly takes place:

one night, you let it slip:

how just before she kissed you off
she lead you on a leash,

sat you in the chair,
cupped your chin,

imprinted her lipsticked kiss on your
neck’s throbbing pulse,

and ordered the tattooist to begin.

The extent to which we can trust the narrators in Fancher’s poems is a central factor in her persona. Candor requires accurate memories, and Fancher is honest enough to present memories that do not go unchallenged. “Cousin Elaine from Chicago and I Are Naked” ends with a denial by the other person that the alleged sensual intimacy between the two characters was anything more than a dream. That a dream could have the same equal consequences as an actual encounter is left unconsidered by the character of the cousin.

Indeed, one of the most convincing aspects of Fancher’s delineations of sexual power draws upon the liminality of being awake and dreaming. Is the car the lover who can’t be shared, or is it the narrator’s fellow student in an acting class, Anjelica, who teases and provokes a male voyeur with merciless evasiveness?

“When I confess the affair to my boyfriend, he jacks himself off in the galley kitchen and comes all over his unattainable fantasies. He says that he doesn’t consider sex between women to be cheating, and begs me to set up a threesome. I tell him the T-bird’s a two-seater, and watch his face fall. I could end it, but why? All I can say is that I want her for myself. All I can say is that I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.”
(“Tonight I Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, who Taught me the Rules of the Road”)

The wit in that poem surfaces again in a conversation that more than a few men have had at some point in their lives. As a writer, Fancher takes care to remember the basic rule of giving one’s characters the best possible chance to win a scene. One of the most laconic illustrations of her deft skill comes with protestation at the end of “Morning Wood:

I long to inhabit him.

“Do you think
of your penis

as an “It”
or a “He”?

“Neither,” he says.
I think of it as Me.”

It’s not often that a book of poems has over a dozen poems that will cause anthologists a fair amount of deliberation. In addition to the poems I’ve already mentioned, it would be difficult to stop an initial list with just the following:
“Housekeeping,” “I prefer pussy….,” “this small rain,” “I was hovering….,” “Cousin Elaine…,” “the sad waitress…,” “Bambi Explains It All,” the pair of “Tattooed Girl” poems. And “Dear Mrs. Brown…” “Doggy Style Christmas,” and “Tonight I Dream of My First True Love.”

Fancher’s books of poetry have begun to attract considerable praise from Los Angeles-based poets such as Laurel Ann Bogen, Michael C. Ford, Pam Ward, Gerald Locklin, and Michelle Bitting. Tonight Fancher will read her poems as part of Library Girl series (run by Susan Hayden) at the Santa Monica Airport. It is a sold-out show, and I hope extended applause rewards Fancher’s willingness to risk having the solidity of her poetics questioned by those who feel safest on tamped-down terrain. She is fearless, and should be fearlessly praised. She is on the verge of joining poets such as Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, and Lyn Lifshin as a memorable provocateur in contemporary poetry. Clare MacQueen, the publisher of KYSO Flash, deserves equal praise for assisting the emergence of this poet into the ranks of the most significant risk-takers.

Post-Script:
Years ago, a quarterly magazine called Yellow Silk devoted itself to a celebration of eros, and it was successful enough to generate an anthology in the early 1990s that in turn warranted some sequels. In the preface to the first collection, Richard Russo noted how small a role Eros played in the contemporary literary imagination. “When I sought out small-press and literary magazines available in this country, I found … (the writing) published there often had, and I mean this literally, death in the first paragraph.”

I, too, had noticed how rare it was to find a love poem – let along an erotic poem – in a literary magazine. I have to concur with Russo’s observation. I, too, noticed this almost perverse preference for the glamour of death, and one of my attempts to counter it was my editorial preference for love poems in my second anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry (1985). If Alexis Rhone Fancher had been writing and publishing these poems in Los Angeles thirty years ago, she would have been one of the stars of that anthology.

John Ashbery (1927-2017)

John Ashbery (Born July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017)

An extraordinary number of “contemporary” poets were born in 1927. I put scare quotes around the word because if a poet is dying at 90, the math is fairly straightforward: when Ashbery was 25 years old, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound were all alive. I doubt he thought of them at that point as “contemporaries.” Yet a young poet today might be asked to study an anthology of contemporary poetry in which John Ashbery and Tracy K. Smith are listed in the index as contributors. The word seems to have a peculiarly supple elasticity.

Even though Ashbery is hailed on the occasion of his death’s announcement with the same reverent praise that has been bestowed on him for the past 40 years, such deferential tribute was not always the case. While he was one of the poets in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, he did not stand out in the mid-1960s (as he approached age 40) as one of the top ten poets in that anthology most likely to achieve sustained global acclaim. Yet by the time he was 50 years old, Ashbery’s stature far exceeded that of many poets who had been listed in the index of M.L. Rosenthal’s The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II. Rosenthal’s book was meant to be a comparative study of the major poets who had appeared in either the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or Donald Allen’s NAP. Given that Rosenthal’s book appeared in 1967, when Ashbery was 40, one sees how crucial the years between ages 40 and 50 were to Ashbery’s eventual, immutable maturity, for that period is when he mastered the singular combination of chords and grace notes that make his work as inimitable as it is influential in provoking variations.

Although he was more associated with the world of the visual arts than with music, it is a commentary from the latter that I wish to present for your consideration tonight.

“I greatly admire this piece, but don’t really consider it a song. It’s more a meditation, or – to borrow a term that didn’t exist at the time (Miles) Davis recorded ‘Blue in Green’ – a type of improvised ambient music. …. Indeed, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the work is just a free-form improvisation, without clear beginning or end.
….
“Despite its popularity, musicians need to be brave to call this song at a gig. ‘Blue in Green’ has no catchy hooks or flamboyant interludes, and unless you have earned a chamber music reverence from the audience, you run the risk of losing their attention. I would keep it under wraps at a noisy nightclub, but in the right setting with listeners who are willing to participate in a collective meditation, this work can be a springboard to an experience that almost transcends jazz.”

As the experience of Ashbery’s work almost transcends poetry.

Commentary on “Blue in Green” from Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press, 2012), pages 37-38.

John Ashbery, 1927–2017

Magra Books: To Italy and Back

Chalkboard August Harmony
(Chalkboard near Fourth Street and Temple Avenue, Long Beach, CA)

August 27, 2017

Paul Vangelisti and John McBride were among the most productive editors and publishers of the golden age of small press publishing in the 1970s. The proliferation of MFA programs since 1980 has unfortunately all but erased recent literary history: how MFA program were barely worth mentioning to the majority of those committed to a life as a poet in the mid-1970s. The notion of a “career” as a poet back then was laughable. The production of books and magazines on an antinomian basis was quite serious, however; in fact, that’s all that mattered.

Vangelisti and McBride not only published dozens of books through their imprint, Red Hill Press, but also over two dozen issues of Invisible City, a magazine that deserves to have its entire print run issued in a single full-length volume. The magazine came out on newspaper-size sheets of paper, and although the paper stock is of very high quality, any scholar having to work with two or ore issues at the same time can find the process of notating comparisons a bit cumbersome. It’s a project that a university press (such as the University of California press) should undertake at some point, although it may unfortunately have to wait until the copyright to the poems expires. Fortunately, on the whole, the poems that appeared in Invisible City are exceptional examples of writing that will still hold up in another half-century.

As well as being a prolific and internationally recognized poet, Vangelisti is an inveterate publisher. At Otis College of Art and Design, he founded Seismicity Editions, as well as a pair of magazines, New Review of Literature and OR magazine. He will be retiring from Otis at the end of this coming academic year, but he has already launched another publishing project. Magra Books is a chapbook project, printed in Italy, that will come out on a steady basis as a quartet of chapbooks. In any given increment, all four will have the same color stocks for their covers. The first quartet had a pale blue; the second, a quietly luscious orange that teased the shadows cast by a nearby embankment of red clay.

The poets featured in each set will be familiar to readers of Invisible City and OR magazines. You can find out more information about this project at the website for Magra Books: http://magrabooks.com.

FIRST QUARTET (January, 2017)
Martha Ronk — The Unfamiliar Familiar
Ray Di Palma — For a Curved Surface
Dennis Phillips — Desert Sequence
Marcus Valerius Martialis — Epigrams (translated, with an afterthought, by Art Beck)

Of this quarter, I would especially recommend Beck’s translations of Martial’s epigrams. Beck’s “afterthought” is hardly as casual as the word usually connotes; as an epistolary poem, it uses the cumulative tone of the translated epigrams as a surfer uses an ocean swell, and the resulting glide initiates us as honorary members of his extended family.

Many poets associated with Los Angeles don’t actually write that much about living here, but Martha Ronk embeds herself in this city with quiet candor and rueful compassion for everyone who must endure the casuistries of daily life here. In examining “loss, its flannelly familiarity,” Ronk explores some of the same insinuating wrinkles that bunch up around the domesticated ordinariness of the partially suburban. Her poems in this collection remind me of Dick Barnes’s collaborations with Judy Fiskin. Indeed, “The Unfamiliar Familiar” contains a sequence of poems about photographs of houses, so there might be an influence. In any case, “Twilight Tracks House #3” is one of those rare poems where the rhythm and the images left me hungry to absorb the poem entirely, which is to say that I longed to memorize this elegaic aubade to the keen pitch of having its syllables roll around in my consciousness like sated lovers about to be aroused again. Ronk’s chapbook concludes with poems I remember seeing recently published: a set of homages to Raymond Chandler’s classic novels about Los Angeles.

The late Ray Di Palma’s writing consistently contributed to the dialogue in Los Angeles and on the West Coast from the early 1970s onwards through his appearance in Vangelisti’s sequence of magazines, starting with Invisible City. This chapbook is a fine example of a collage call-and-response between the epigrammatic titles and sardonic clarification.

Dennis Phillips has been writing long poems for a half-century. Of all the poets I’ve ever met in Los Angeles, he is the one who most benefits from having his poems heard with as much duration as possible. As if to urge us to do so, the poems in Desert Sequence are assigned to a quintet of voices, the first of which acknowledges in a prose poem that this chapbook is part of a larger project, Mappa Mundi.
“Here. Hold this open for a long minute because we both know it’s about to go away.
If this is a map then all maps are maps of the world and any sentence is a narrative, but:”
In Phillips’s absorption of the desert’s map in the conjunctions that follow, we are given important cautionary reminders about the cartography of the imagination.

SECOND QUARTET (July, 2017)
Gillian ConoleyPreparing One’s Consciousness for the Avatar
Robert Crosson — The Price of Lemons: Or; Some of the Worst Movies Ever Made
Corrado Costa — The Dodo or The School for Night
Paul Vangelisti and William Xerra — Toodle-oo

I have to confess that I’ve always had some hesitations about Conoley’s poems. While moments in her poems have usually caught my attention, some aspect of her associative logic would inevitably throw me off course. Perhaps, finally, I am beginning to acclimate myself to her distinctive cadences. Oddly enough, it isn’t the title poem of her chapbook that delivers this entryway, but rather “Life on Earth” and “The Right to Be Forgotten.” If I were putting together an anthology of outstanding recent poems, this pair would easily make my short list.

Robert Crosson’s memoir of his life as a young aspiring actor and modest success is one of the most charming and candidly droll accounts of being an artistic ephebe in the early 1950s. It’s the perfect counter-balance to read, after watching your favorite film noir.

Corrado Costa’s Th Dodoreminds me of Ionesco’s early plays, and in all the right ways.

One of the most remarkable qualities of Toodle-oo‘s meditative lyricism (or should I say “its lyrical meditation”) is that it refuses to make the least effort to seduce the reader. To no avail, for I could not help but succumb to the primary gravitational force of the poem: the candor of the immediate. In identifying that factor, it’s crucial not to confuse “the immediate” with “spontaneity” — that trompe l’oeil of mid-century avant-garde nostalgia for some Dionysian avatar. This poem follows much more subtle, actual scents, and as I read, I breathed deeply, slowly, releasing the agitation of my ordinary day.