Category Archives: Books

Backlit by Blackness: Kerry James Marshall’s “Mastry” at MOCA

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Backlit by Blackness: Kerry James Marshall’s “Mastry” at MOCA

A couple of weeks ago, Hye Sook Park reported that Kerry James Marshall’s retrospective exhibition at MOCA was a must-see event. Even before her enthusiastic commentary, in fact, I had made a note in my memory’s calendar of the closing date of his show, which grew ever closer as the month has gone by. Getting time to see his show has not been easy: my teaching work glided straight from the end of the spring semester into the summer session course I am teaching without the slightest pause.

Two days ago, on Friday, we might have headed north, but on Thursday the place where my mother is being cared wrote me and said that her doctor would be visiting her on Friday; since I had never talked to him face-to-face in the past eight months, that priority cancelled any other possibility. We did drive up to Beyond Baroque that evening, though, and heard David St. John read from The Last Troubadour, and Christopher Merrill read an account of his long friendship with Agha Shahid Ali. As always, it’s a long trip from Long Beach to Beyond Baroque, but this time it was truly worth it. David is one of this country’s very best poets, and Christopher’s recollections made Ali a living presence in the room. I would have liked to have heard Christopher read some of his poems, too, but his choice to read a single piece made it all the more memorable.

On Saturday, with a rare empty square on the kitchen calendar, we saddled up and headed north. Marshall’s show is easily worth more than one visit, and I hope to return before it closes, if only to spend more time with an unframed painting from 2003 entitled “7 a.m. Sunday Morning.” Before I briefly talk about that painting, I want to list several pieces that impressed me almost as much: “Beach Towel”; “Slow Dance”; “Red (If They Come In the Morning”; “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein”; “School of Beauty, School of Culture”; “Heirlooms & Accessories”; “Chalk Up Another One”; “Fingerwag”; and “The Actor Hezekiah Washington as Julian Carlton Taliesen Murderer of the Flank Lloyd Wright Family.” If I have not included the housing project paintings in this list, it is only because they have already drawn more than sufficient critical attention.

The scale of Marshall’s work is often startling in its acute depictions of personal identity within the encompassing hemispheres of economic and racial confinements. Circling in a room of fermenting ordinariness, the figures in “Slow Dance” are both holding tight to each other’s poignant desires for more than has been allotted them, and grateful that at least they have each other for the moment. It more honestly addresses the romantic plight of marginal individuals, no matter what their race, than any painting I have ever absorbed into my memory.

The room the dancers inhabit is exactly what could have been foreseen by anyone who looks closely at the furniture of an engagement scene in a cheap restaurant. Even if one imagines the couple looking back at each other, and then unclasping to reach for a celebratory sip of their drinks, one would hardly expect either one to feel more comfortable in the minimally padded chairs the restaurant has provided them. Their fond ebullience is as much a performance meant for themselves as the onlookers they are posing for. The mise-en-scene of the restaurant extends to the smallest details of an urban backyard: the pink flip-flops being worn by the sunbather in “Beach Towel,” for instance. Equally pertinent in scope, one should not overlook the oversized earrings of “Fingerwag.” Marshall has a profound ability to augment his excavation of that which the ideological normative would prefer not to be present at all.

Jed Rasula mentions the contrast between “the politics in the poem, and the politics of the poem” in his intriguing study of American poetry anthologies. One could use the same distinction to talk about Marshall’s work, too, since in his case the politics in a painting such as “Red (If They Come in the Morning” are equally about the cultural politics of abstract painting and its reluctance to accept work done in that domain by African-American painters.

The street scene depicted in “Sunday Morning, 7 a.m.” has no overt politics, and yet the speeding white car that the running child seems to avoid by not much than a second and a half can hardly be separated from the more obvious repression cited in “Chalk Up Another One.” The adults in the post-dawn background stay safely on the sidewalk with its immediate access to the liquor store. The child has other comforts in mind. What might await that young man is hinted at in the right hand portion of the painting, in which Marshall’s synaesthetic handling of urban light portends some future visitation. Softened by a prismatic uncertainty, as if a late spring day will fulfill its potential for revelation, one can almost hear Whitman’s pure contralto sing the organ loft of some unanticipated destiny. Redemption is not an option, so don’t get carried away with hope, this light suggests. On the other hand, there is no reason to settle for mere survival of one’s ideals.

This show will be up through next weekend. As hard pressed for time as you might be, make every effort to catch this show. I agree with Christopher Knight’s concluding assessment in the LA Times: “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” is the first time in a long time that MOCA’s exhibition program has felt essential. Don’t miss it.”

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-kerry-james-marshall-moca-20170320-htmlstory.html

In Memory of Len Roberts (1947-2007)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LEN ROBERTS: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death
Born: March 13, 1947, Cohoes, NY
Died: May 25, 2007, Bethlehem, PA

“I admire very much the technical achievement in Len Roberts’s poetry. This will probably come as a surprise because one would normally identify technical skills with a different kind of poetry than his, a poetry more formal, more contrived, an stiff. This is missing the whole idea of what the technical is in poetry. It is that which applies pressure to the reader to pay attention. It is that which liberates, and makes terribly important, what the poet is saying. What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” — Gerald Stern, author of Lucky Life, winner of the Lamont Prize

Back when I did Momentum Press, I was often improvising when it came to the production of the book itself. Most of the books didn’t have anything on the back covers, and as I recounted in one of a half-dozen long interviews this past summer for the Oral History project at UCLA, this starkness was thought by one person to reflect the influence of Black Sparrow. John Martin’s books didn’t have any promotional material on the back covers of his books, and I remember someone asking me in the early 1980s if my books were designed in his manner.

As much as I admired Martin’s book production, I didn’t consciously copy that aspect. Rather, in my case, I simply didn’t have time to get the authors to round up commentary for the books. It was also the case that most of the writers I knew didn’t have the kind of connections or affiliations that would have enabled them to snag “blurbs.” In the case of Len Roberts, though his first book (Cohoes Theater) had a single blurb, by Gerald Stern, which leads off today’s blog entry. Subsequent books published by other presses had even more generous assessments, which I will post at the end of my notations.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Len Roberts, a poet I never met in person. I imagine that most of the people who take a peek at this blog think of me as an editor and publisher of Los Angeles poets, but I aspired to be more than a local publisher. (If the economy hadn’t been sundered between 1978 and 1984 by a vicious case of inflation followed by devastating recession, perhaps I would survived as a small press publisher. But that’s another story.) In point of fact, not only did I publish books by poets who lived outside of California, but to this day I still have not met Jim Grabill, who was one of the first poets to have a book come out from Momentum Press. Jim lived in Ohio at the time; he moved to Oregon sometime in the early 1980s, I believe, and has lived there ever since.

I become familiar with Roberts’s poetry because he sent some to Jim Krusoe at Beyond Baroque for consideration in BB’s magazine, and on the rejection note Jim suggested that he send some poems to me at my magazine. Indeed, Len’s long lines and long poems immediately struck me as the kind of work I was looking for, and he ended up sending me a manuscript entitled “Cohoes Theater.” The title poem, “Cohoes” was a ten-page six part poem that probably seemed inordinately long to most editors in those early poems of McPoem’s hegemony, but “Cohoes” felt only slightly longer than normal to a young editor whose ambition it was to be the publisher of Leland Hickman’s “Tiresias.” Somewhere along the line, someone put out the story that Allen Ginsberg was responsible for sending me Len’s manuscript. I had very little contact with Ginsberg over the years, and he played no role whatsoever in my reception and support of Len’s poetry. According to his widow, Nancy, Len did spend several hours talking with Ginsberg, which is twenty times the amount of time I spent in conversation with him, and perhaps the blurb that Ginsberg eventually contributed to one of Len’s books somehow attached itself to someone’s misunderstanding of Ginsberg’s contribution to the first book publication of Len’s poetry. I am proud to recall that Cohoes was cited by the Elliston Prize committee as one of the better books published in 1980, joining the other books I published in 1980 as the highwater mark of my publishing career.

I recently wrote his widow, Nancy, and asked for permission to reprint a couple of his poems on this anniversary memorial post. There are at least two dozen poems that I would post if I had the time to type them up: from Sweet Ones (Milkweed Editions, 1988), for instance, I would love to present you with “The Block” or with the haunting poem, “The Odds”; or “Beauty and the Nuclear Reactor at Three Mile Island” from Cohoes Theater, or the magnificent love poem, “Wrapping”; but as my initial entry, I believe I will start with “Stealing,” from From the Dark.

STEALING

Last night I woke up the in the dark knowing
my father was with me,
like the night I stole down the cold hall stairs
to take change from his breadman’s purse,
the green work pants hung on the peg,
boots placed neatly under the chair,
and then, as I hushed the click inside my shirt,
his soft breathing as I looked up
to see the lit cigarette rising and falling.
I don’t wonder anymore
that he didn’t sleep nights
only to rise before light
to perk coffee, shave, whistling
with the low tunes of the radio.
I don’t need to call him back from peddling bread
to the three-foot drifts
to ask how he could forgive
that night gathering now in my chest,
or how he could make me take
the coins he placed gently into my hands,
and silently wave me away.

Len Roberts deserves a COLLECTED POEMS. He published over a half-dozen volumes of very, very fine poems, and his achievement can only be appreciated if one sits down and allows oneself to absorb a large number of his poems. If you are in a hurry to find someone you think you can imitate in some way because copying a “successful” poet will hope you achieve success, move on to some other poet with all due impetuous haste. Roberts may seem to be writing in a mode made familiar by other poets of his generation, but something indefinable is pressing down on his poems that makes them memorable beyond the power of memorization to contain. His poems demand an inner recitation on the bare stage of one’s soul. Only then will you as the reader realize that you have encountered a poet whose writing possesses the nuanced heft of a major novelist.

“Sometimes the facts of Len Roberts’s world are raw, nearly coarse, the questions that it asks of experience nearly brutal, but there is always in the poems a gentle sensibility, a probing intelligence and an acute attentiveness to what is urgent in our lives that tempers the poems, and that situates them firmly in that precious space between poet and reader which is our common bond, and common exaltation.” — C.K. Williams

Sweet Ones is a fearless and beautiful book. I love its unwavering truthfulness and unwavering mercy – somehow the mercy always equal to the truth – its sweetness, and its subtle, powerful music. The intensity of emotion in these poems is stunning, yet they have a calmness which gives them the feeling of deep balance. When I read Len Roberts I feel my heart being broken and put back together stronger.” – Sharon Olds

“Discovering these new poems I was pleased – the compositions are readable and natural, real, American, they’re narrative epiphanies Pip’s asphalt accuracies, First Kiss’ lightning landscape, for instances, among many strong clear-minded poems. Marden Hartley’s Lewiston Is a Pleasant Place and your From the Dark are grounded in native humane & objective perceptions.” – Allen Ginsberg

“Len Roberts knows that indirectness of feeling is the poet’s (or anyone’s) greatest asset of: to love children one most fear the dark, etc. This is what makes ordinary things take on value without tricks of rhetoric. His poems are marvelous examples, simple, lucid, and powerful, and reading them gives me a continuous sense of the mythic process that not only enriches my understanding but entertains me vastly.” – Hayden Carruth

“Side-Yard” Succulent Tsunami

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In addition to calculating final grades for the past semester, I spent part of yesterday working on a brief speech in praise of my undergraduate student, Melissa Tang, who wrote a superb syllabic poem in one of my classes and was awarded the Beatrice and John Janesco Prize at the English Department’s annual banquet to honor its best students. Several of my colleagues gave very fine comments about our students’ writing, especially Patty Seyburn, George Hart, and Lisa Glatt.

Mid-day, on a walk to get just a bit of exercise, I noticed that the lobes of an enormous cactus appeared to touch the window of an adjacent second floor apartment. I didn’t have a camera with a telephoto lens, but I am sorely tempted to splurge on equipment just to get such a shot.

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Eileen Aaronson Ireland and Bill Mohr — Two Readings

Saturday, May 6, 2017
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

4:00 p.m.

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Laurel Ann Bogen, Eileen Aaronson Ireland, and Richard Modiano on the front steps of Beyond Baroque; Saturday, May 6, 2017, after Eileen’s reading.

Early Saturday afternoon, I picked up Eileen at the Cadillac Hotel, on Dudley in Venice, where she had spent the night after arriving at Union Station the day before. We drove around Ocean Park, where both of us had lived for many years. Unbeknownst to me, she resided at an apartment building just north of Ocean Park Blvd. I tended to walk on the south side of OP Blvd., so it’s more likely that Kita Shantiris (who also lived just north of OPB, too) might have crossed paths with Eileen in those days. Considering that it was her first public reading, Eileen read superbly, and I am looking forward to hearing her again tomorrow. Thanks again to Susan Hansell, editor of Spot Lit Magazine for her unwavering support of Eileen’s poetry.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Eileen gave an even stronger reading at Gatsby Books on Sunday than she did the day before at Beyond Baroque. Among other poems, she reprised “Sharpeville” and “Jerusalem Duet.” A small but attentive audience of about 15 people showed up on a rainy afternoon, and each of them received a free copy of a back issue of SPOT LIT magazine that contained some of her poetry. I wish to thank Susan Hansell for her generosity in providing these back issues for this event and to Sean for hosting the reading at Gatsby. Afterwards, as a small gesture of appreciation for her kindness in making this long journey from New Mexico to read in Los Angeles, I took Eileen out to dinner at La Paraloccia in Long Beach. The next day, she caught a train back home.

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UNAM Poetry Workshop; FILU in Xalapa

Sunday, April 30, 2017

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I received an invitation from Magali Velasco to read at the FILU book fair in Xalapa, Mexico several months ago, but she received a post-doc fellowship and turned over the planning to others. Fortunately, continuity in planning was maintained and thanks to the efforts of Eliza Rodriguez Castillo and many others, I was able to travel to Xalapa this past week and read my poetry on a panel with Rachel Lewitsky, as well as attend panels on translation featuring David Shook and Forrest Gander. On Thursday, David did a superb job of translating for Rachel and me as three different TV stations and newspapers conducted almost non-stop interviews.

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Rachel Levitsky and David Shook (with genius loci) in Xalapa

My first stop on Wednesday, April 26, though, was Mexico City, where I taught a three-hour poetry workshop to a large group of students at a campus of UNAM. I was very impressed with the quality of their writing and hope I get a chance to work with them again. I wish to thank Professor Aurora Piñeiro, Elizabeth Andión, and Amber Aura for organizing and coordinating this gathering.

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(left to right: Ana Laura Araujo, Bill Mohr, Daniela Zárate, Emilia Alcalá)

After the workshop, I had a bite to eat in mid-afternoon and then reconnoitered with David Shook and Rachel Lewitsky to make a four-hour trip to Xalapa. Rachel and I read together the next afternoon, and David read on Friday. I have rarely enjoyed the company of two poets as much as I did theirs this past week. It was one of the special accompaniments of the past dozen years. Our only regret was that Anthony Seidman, who was also one of the original poets invited to FILU, was unable to make the trip due to circumstances beyond his control. However, both David and I were pleased to be standing near a book fair booth when we heard a voice intone the name Forrest Gander in a microphone and we turned around towards a stage in a corner of the convention hall. Indeed, Forrest was sitting at a table on a stage, but it turned out that his name was being sounded out in appreciation by the moderator. We had arrived too late for that panel, but he did speak again the next day, and I was pleased to catch that presentation. All in all, it was one of the more gratifying weeks I have ever spent as a poet and teacher.

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Laura Emilia Pacheco and Forrest Gander (after their panel on translation, Friday, April 28)

“From a Secret Location….”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

More Secret Locations

About: From Book to Web

Momentum

I began working on a literary history of some of the communities of poets in Los Angeles County in the mid-1990s. I had no realization whatsoever how long this account and accompanying contextual analysis would take to complete. As I worked on the initial outline, however, worrying about the publication date was a luxury I could not afford, for it was primarily a project motivated by dire circumstances. After many years of making a living as a typesetter, I was unemployed and had no likelihood of ever finding work again in that occupation. One evening, in mid-November, 1995, I spotted a flyer on a lobby counter at Beyond Baroque. The Getty Research Institute was requesting applications from scholars and cultural workers who would contribute to a year-long seminar on Los Angeles. I set to work on a proposal that I spend two months doing research on the poets in Venice West, and turned it in on the last day of the application date. In mid-Spring, I received a special delivery notice that I had received one of the visiting scholar awards. It was a radical shift in my life, in that it led to a decision to engage in graduate study at UC San Diego, starting in 1997.

The first few years that I was in grad school were impatiently devoted to doing the coursework for a Ph.D., during which time I felt encouraged by the publication of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side. It was the kind of book that emanated a lifetime of passionate involvement in the underground publication of poetry in the two decades after Donald Allen’s anthology first appeared, and it bespoke the necessity of my own project, which I saw as a spoke on the Great Wheel of this compendium by authors/archivists, Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips. At the many points at which I felt discouraged, I thought of their book as proof that Holdouts was more than individual nostalgia for what L.A. Times book critic Robert Kirsch had called the “golden age” of Los Angeles poetry.

As was the case with Holdouts, in which I had to leave out vast amounts of information, A Secret Location was merely the first major sifting of the period under examination (1960-1980). In making the entire original book available for anyone with a computer and internet access to read, Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips have performed an extraordinary act of scholarly generosity. They have taken the project further, though, and added entries for other notable magazines and small press outfits, such as Abraxas, Extensions, Luna Bisonte Prods, New American Writing, Oink, Streets and Roads, Sugar Mountain, the, Tooth of Time Review, Grist, Long News in the Short Century, Sunshine, Unmuzzled Ox, Search for Tomorrow, and Tansy.

For those who missed the post a few days back, you can also listen to David Wilk’s recently posted interview with me as a way of hearing about some of the books that are mentioned in the checklist on this very personal instance of a Secret Location.

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Mohr

John Harris, In Memoriam

Friday, March 10, 2017

John Harris, Poet and Owner of Papa Bach Bookstore

I first met John Harris back in the early 1970s when he was the co-leader of the Wednesday night workshop. By the fall of 1973, he had been appointed the new poetry editor of Bachy magazine. I was moving on from that position to start my own magazine, and the owner of the bookstore fortunately accepted my nomination of John as my successor. John went on to purchase the store in the mid-1970s, and he continued to subsidize the magazine for many years, as well as publish several fine books by L.A. poets such as William Pillin and Bert Meyers.

It is also important to note how much John Harris’s faith in Leland Hickman as an editor of Bachy magazine had consequences no one could have foreseen. The Language poets often point to Hickman’s Temblor magazine in the late 1980s as one of the crucial magazines that enabled their poetry to gain academic acceptance. Temblor would never have happened if John had not chosen and supported Lee’s first initial editorial work on Bachy’s final ten issues. Lee learned how to navigate the sometimes treacherous playing field of contemporary poetry under John’s aegis, and the experience Lee gained gave him a confidence that he did not always find easy to access in other parts of his life. It can be said without any exaggeration whatsoever that John indirectly had a profound impact on the course of American avant-garde poetry. All in all, it was quite a special time for LA poetry, and John was one of the poets who made it so memorable.

He loved Richard Hugo’s verse. I remember being up in the loft at the rear of the store one afternoon, and John pulled out one of Hugo’s books and read one of the poems to me with as much vigor and devotion as if he had written the words himself. John was a fine poet himself, but he cared even more for the art itself than for any personal acclaim. I think his last public reading would have been at the German Center for Culture in the Pacific Palisades. I remember that he read several poems that were not among his best known. He brought all the passion of a young poet to that reading, which must have been about seven or eight years ago. It was not long after that reading that I heard he had become ill. Truly, John, rest in peace.

Thomas Lux (1946 – 2017)

TOM LUX (December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)

Larry Goldstein was in town this past week, and we had lunch together at the Long Beach Museum of Art, where the upstairs gallery currently features some superb photographs of the Long Beach port. On our way to the museum, as I drove on Seventh Street, Larry mentioned that the Cortland Review was dedicating its next issue to the late Thomas Lux. I hadn’t heard that Tom had died, and I was as grateful for the slow traffic, as for the street’s familiarity. To have been told the same news on the 90 freeway last Friday night, as rain sliced down, might have had a different outcome, for the 90’s lane markers at night are very faint to begin with, and I struggled to detect exactly which lane I was traversing.

I first met Tom back in the early 1990s, when he was on a Southern California reading tour. He started at the Chateau Marmont on a weekend, headed over to Loyola Marymount at the start of the school week, and ended up at California State University Long Beach, by which time we ended up playing pool in the Student Union after his reading. I remember how surprised Tom was when I showed up at the second reading with a copy of Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy. He probably thought at that point that he had met everyone who had a copy of that early book. Not quite, I told him. Contrary to popular allegations from an individual he used to know in New York City, there were more than a handful of astute readers in Los Angeles.

Tom was a superb reader, and his poems fit perfectly into the Stand Up school that Charles Harper Webb was beginning to promote. Indeed, he unquestionably deserved his place in the second edition. He returned to the Los Angeles area in the late 1990s; along with Naomi Shihab Nye, he was the first poet-in-residence at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. Idyllwild was the last place I saw him, in large part because my life as a scholar has diverted my creative energies outside of the contemporary poetry nexus. It was over a decade ago that we last wrote each other. His poems have been a constant presence in my teaching, though.

Thomas Lux radiated a multi-dimensional love of poetry that went beyond anything I have ever encountered in all but a few other people. If it seems that he is present now in my memory’s eye as a living presence, reciting lines of poetry by Hart Crane or Theodore Roethke to illustrate his point, then it is a measure of how much his invisible companionship has meant to me the past dozen years.

This sense of personal loss extends to Charles Harper Webb, one of my fellow poets at CSULB. I asked if he would be willing to contribute to this blog post about Tom Lux’s writing and presence in our lives and he immediately sent the following eulogy:

“I was beyond bummed to hear of the death of Tom Lux, one of the truly good guys in American poetry. Just last December, I sent him my new book of essays on poetry, and he promised to send me a copy of the collection of Bill Knott’s poems which he’d just finished editing. It never crossed my mind that I’d never see, or even e-mail him again. Since we lived on opposite sides of the country, I didn’t see him much; but he was my friend, and a world-class ally in the fight for clear, entertaining poetry. I love Tom’s poems. I wish I’d written them. Every virtue that I praise in my essays, his poetry exemplifies. Wit, passion, impropriety, brilliance of metaphor and conception—he gave it all to the world in clear, concise language that sounds like no one else. Because there was no one else like him. It’s our good fortune that, although his body’s gone, his voice still sings out of his books, loud and quirky, brave and clear.”

The Collected Poems of Tom Lux will be a book worth waiting for, and the second half of Charles’s assessment would be a spot on blurb for that book. In that kind of volume, it is a common practice to include an index of titles as well as first lines. I would recommend including an index of last lines, too, in that book as a way of giving young poets one more axis of inspiration. I have seen many determined and talented young poets emerging in the past twenty years, but few have the gift of Tom Lux’s quirky, encompassing, comic sense of poignant elucidation.

If I were to take part in a memorial reading, I would be hard pressed to choose which one of his poems to read. “Refrigerator, 1957” would probably be my choice, though given its popularity, someone else would probably have read it by the time I got to the podium. It is certainly one of the best poems to have first appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/thomas-lux/refrigerator-1957/
https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/thomas-lux/refrigerator-1957/
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1997/07/28/refrigerator-1957
http://happopoemouse.blogspot.com/2013/11/number-326-thomas-lux-refrigerator-1957.html

And for a view of that poem “across the pond,” go to:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/16/selected-poems-1986-to-2012-thomas-lux-review

One of the better articles I’ve found on his poetry can be found at:
http://www.cerisepress.com/01/01/life-on-a-piecemeal-planet-god-particles-by-thomas-lux/view-all

https://www.pshares.org/issues/winter-1998-99/about-thomas-lux-profile
Issue 77 / Winter 1998-99 – Stuart Dischell
http://www.news.gatech.edu/2017/02/07/campus-atlanta-communities-mourn-loss-thomas-lux-director-poetrytech
https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2017/02/thomas-lux-obituary/516354/
http://www.dailyo.in/voices/tom-lux-death-poet-poetry-eulogy-tribute-vijay-seshadri/story/1/15523.html

Kevin Starr (1940 – 2017)

Kevin Starr (September 3, 1940 – January 14, 2017)

On page five of Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992, I cited Kevin Starr’s distinction between the kind of novels written about Los Angeles and the poetry produced by the poets living here. His comment echoes an observation made many years earlier by Paul Vangelisti, though I doubt that Starr was aware of Vangelisti’s commentary. In any case, we all owe an immense debt to Starr’s lifetime of work.

If by the final decade of the past century the Los Angeles novel had become stigmatized by its “phantasmagoric quality,” according to the primary chronicler of California history, Kevin Starr, the poetry scenes in Los Angeles had contrastingly produced a body of work that yielded “a most extraordinary connection between poetry and life, between poetry and the daily facts of Los Angeles” (480-481). Starr then optimistically conjectures that “someday, someone would figure out why the L.A. novel went one way while poetry took another path” (481).
(HOLDOUTS, page 5)

Starr is quoted from Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge 1990-2003. New York: Vintage Books, 2004

A New Year’s Sketch

January 1, 2017

I have only a little time this morning to jot a few quick notes, for Linda and I are heading to Ramona, California to visit her sisters and their families. We saw Anita and her grandson Brayden on the day after Christmas in Thousand Oaks, at Sharon Cleary’s home, but we haven’t seen Pam and Earl and her family in quite some time, and we are looking forward to the visit. I must admit that I feel nervous about the trip. My extended family has been involved in two serious automobile accidents in the past month, neither of which was their fault in any way. My mother handed in her driving license, at age 92, of her own volition and without any prompting whatsoever, because she said that she’d never been in any accidents during 70 years of driving and wanted to keep that perfect record. I doubt that many people in urban areas these days will be able to make the same claim at the end of this century.

I have a particularly challenging year awaiting my immediate attention: if I am up at 6:00 and writing my entry to this blog, it is because there is a long list of things to do to assist in my mother’s care. At this point, I am the one with power of attorney for a 95 year old woman. Each and every day there is some detail or a distinct errand to bear down on. Sometimes it is only a matter of luck that things get resolved. I was at my mother’s home branch of her bank in Imperial Beach this past Wednesday, and in talking with Ms. Hernandez I found out about a certain financial procedure, which two days later someone at my local branch of the bank in Long Beach said couldn’t be done. I suggested she call Ms. Hernandez, and the issue got resolved, but if I hadn’t visited my mother’s branch of the bank (over 100 miles from where I live) on Wednesday, I would have been out of luck in a very crucial matter on Friday.

I will be meeting with my brothers, Jim and John, later today to talk about my mother’s situation and what she can afford in terms of assisted care living. One other brother and two sisters are either cut off from the family or live elsewhere. There is a chance tomorrow that I will have a day without having to manage as aspect of my mother’s life. I have packed a couple of books to take with me, if that proves to be the case. One of them is James M. Cain’s Serenade, a novel about a down-and-outer in Mexico whose view of that nation and its citizens makes Donald Trump’s tweets seem diplomatically astute. I’ve long been a fan of Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano; and Cain’s book in its own way is as equally well written. On a technical level, the control of tone and the rhythm of his sentence is masterful. Whether you want the narrator’s company for 200 pages is another matter. He certainly wins the Ancient Mariner award in my recent reading.

I hope to post reviews and commentary on several poets in the upcoming weeks, including Charles Harper Webb (in part three of a series on his editing and writing), Michael Hannon, and Kevin Opstedal. Opstedal’s collection of poems, Pacific Standard Time, is probably my favorite book of poems right now. I recommend that everyone get a copy of it right now and spend the first week of 2017 strengthening one’s imagination through an encounter with a poet who will enable you to alter the reality proposed by politicians and their compliant bureaucrats.

Finally, while we seek each other’s comfort in the struggles ahead, let us not forget that the divisions within this country are viewed as opportunities by nefarious individuals for their private profit. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3,000,000 votes. I had predicted a margin of almost 5,000,000 votes, so I was off considerably, but nevertheless this was not a close election, especially considering the Russian interference and complementary activism by agents within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. More people believed that Clinton was qualified to be President than Trump. That President-Elect Trump wants us to “move on with our lives” is a bit ridiculous, given his insistence on the need to investigate Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server.

Of the many concerns we should have about Trump, not least is his policy on nuclear weapons. That these weapons are intended to kill non-combatants, and in particular women and children, makes them immoral and evil beyond the reprehensible scale of ordinary war. If Trump does not care to remember what his advocacy of an increased number of these weapons means in regards to his moral well-being, then we will need to remind him in no uncertain terms that it is time for a reckoning with his conscience that cannot be tweeted away.