Category Archives: Books

“Velvet”: The Guardia Civil and ICE

Monday, January 20, 2020

Yesterday’s NYT Book Review devoted a full page to LORD OF ALL THE DEAD: A Nonfiction Novel by Javier Cercas (translated by Anne McLean). The review took note of how Franco’s tyrannical repression may have technically ended with his death in the mid-1970s, but Spanish society was only able to begin immersing itself in contemporary culture in subsequent decades because it subjected itself to what Norman Klein has described as “the social imaginary.” In this instance, Spain committed itself to complete silence about Franco’s “killing fields” and its vigilant brand of fascist rule.

Nowhere has the permeating intransigence of this silence been so palpable as in the delightful “Velvet,” which is the most charming soap opera I have ever watched. In fact, it’s the only soap opera I’ve ever watched, unless one counts “Project Runway” and “Mad Men” as soap operas; in point of face, “Velvet” has more than a slight echo of these American programs. The acting “Velvet” is superb, and on occasion the directing is as acutely alert to oblique angles as one could hope for. The story takes place over a long enough period of time that one sees the effects of age on the cast, and one finds oneself attracted to the characters as if to an hitherto unknown imaginary family of very distant cousins. The second half starts to drag, in terms of plot, and one could easily stop after the first two “seasons,” but by then one is hooked on the passions of the characters.

The story is set in Spain in the 1950s and 1960s. In not a single frame, however, does a member of the Guardia Civil appear, wearing his distinctive hat and carrying a submachine gun. My recollection is that they would patrol, at a minimum, in pairs, and they were still ubiquitous in the early 1970s. If anything, they seemed more on the alert, given the influx of hippie-type youth and the various leftist insurgencies of the late 1960s.

The erasure of the police state from “Velvet” remains a haunting image in and of itself. The show was apparently a major hit in Spain, before becoming internationally recognized, and surely critics in Spain must have taken note of this aporia. But perhaps not. If the scorn of the Frankfurt School for the seductive undertow of the culture industry is still accurate, then it is in such a show as “Velvet” that one can observe how willingly those engaged in commercial culture erase oppression and its consequences.

I wonder, therefore, what the equivalent might be forty years from now, if a “Velvet” type story — say of a social media company instead of a fashion house — were to be set in Los Angeles. It would probably not include any agents of ICE at work, with all the urgency of their commander-in-chief to “cleanse” American society. A novel is waiting to be written in 2050: “Lord of All the Departed…. And Refused.”

Post-Script: As noted in the NYT Book Review, Javier Cercas is also the author of “SOLDIERS OF SALAMIS,” first published in Spanish to considerable acclaim in 2001. Anne McLean also did the translation into English, and the book is available in a paperback edition.

Elizabeth Warren and the “Elephant in the Room”

January 15, 2020

NOT JUST AN ELEPHANT: Up to Our Asses in Elephant Dung

California voters begin casting ballots in less than a month. The one question that needs to be asked continues to be neglected; in fact, in last night’s debate in Iowa between Democratic candidates for the party’s presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren was the only one to bring up “the elephant in the room,” which is the aging population. At a phenomenal pace, the number of 70 year olds in the United States is escalating at a rate that would cause the Federal Reserve to panic, if inflation were equivalently soaring. The density of this shift is exacerbated by the fact that many of these Baby Boomers had their economic lives wiped out by the Great Recession.

The economic strangulation of the first increment of the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1954) was not a sudden reversal of good fortune, however; rather, it can be traced to a stasis that was in full force a quarter-century ago. Read the following paragraph, which opened an article the Santa Monica Evening Outlook on Wednesday, July 19, 1995 (page B1):

“Raises will sink to historic lows in California next year, and employees will play a growing share of medical costs, according to an annual job survey, released Tuesday.”

The Great Recession was indeed devastating to the Baby Boom generation, but this was only the culmination of a sequence of “minor” recessions (1974; 1982; 1992-1997 — yes, in Los Angeles County the recession lasted that long — and much of the first half of the first decade of this century). In between these recessions, stagnant wage growth and constant job attrition combined to force all too many baby boomers to deplete their scant retirement accounts.

The result will show in about ten years, when 80 year olds need assisted living care and nursing home assistance; I assure you that the nation will turn its back on this cohort, and kick them to the sidewalk. How do I know this?
Four years ago, Bernie Sanders proposed a pittance of an increase in social security for aging baby boomers. In contrast, he offered young people a free college education. As far as I can tell, he has not learned anything from his failure to grasp the enormity of the problems faced by aging baby boomers.

Do I feel hopeless in the face of this economic repression?

Yes, because I didn’t see anyone on the stage last night who is capable of defeating the incumbent President. If nominated, Elizabeth Warren might well win the popular vote by an even wider margin than Hillary Clinton did, but she will lose the Electoral College because Trump will cheat, in ways similar to elections in 2000 and 2004, not to mention his own campaign in 2016. Cheating in the United States, unfortunately, carries minimal penalties. Did the Astros cheat in the World Series? Of course they did! Did they lose their World Series title? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Of course not. Instead of the MLB Commissioner vacating their title from the record books — leaving only the contestants’ names and an Astro-asterisk “Cheater” — and demanding the trophy back, he all but said that the trash can the Houston players banged on to transmit the stolen signs should be installed in the Astros’ Hall of Fame.

President Trump is, in fact, currently under indictment for an act of cheating committed well over a year before the ballots will be counted. The evidence is strong enough that it is likely he will only be saved by a packed jury, aka Senate Republicans whose loyalty sleeps soundly in the lair of stupendous corporate wealth.

President Trump: 2016-2024. The thought itself is beyond repulsive, and yet it points to the essence of the intertwined connivance at the heart of this country’s deceptive pretensions to self-governance. What is truly needed is a constitutional convention that mandates that the presidency is determined by total popular vote. Short of that, corporations will continue to control the Electoral College, and the hard-working citizens of this country will not share proportionately in the wealth that their knowledge and efforts make possible.

In the face of certain defeat, however, I refuse to surrender without some semblance of resistance. I will still vote, and I intend to cast my vote for Senator Warren in the California primary. I don’t intend to let Senator Sanders’s opinion that a woman can’t win the Presidency deter me. And I don’t blame her for not shaking his hand after the debate. On national TV, he called her a liar.

Even if a major miracle were to occur, and she were nominated and elected in November, the task she faces is more overwhelming than she realizes. It’s not a question of an “elephant in the room.” This country’s military-industrial complex is a mansion full of elephant dung. Any country as addicted to military prowess as this one will only free itself from this bondage when it comes to terms with the full costs of empire.

I suppose I sound like the kind of disputant that I dislike in Bernie Sanders’s approach to campaign rhetoric. His constant scolding, no matter how justifiable, wears thin very quickly. He is a doctor who has the right diagnosis, but absolutely no bedside manner whatsoever.

Mea culpa etiam.

Finally, if someone were to ask why Amy Klobuchar shouldn’t also be considered a woman who could defy Sanders’s prognostication, I would say that the Minnesota senator has no more chance than Walter Mondale did in 1984. Klobuchar is a younger version of Joe Biden, someone who is all too willing to let the military-industrial complex continue to prosper along with the credit card companies whose usury is enforced by a global system of weapons of mass destruction.

Part II

In case anyone thinks I am exaggerating the crisis for working people in this country, I would point to the following three articles to underline the urgency of supporting Warren’s policies.

“The stock market is near record highs, but working class Americans (often defined as those without college degrees) continue to struggle. If you’re only a high school graduate, or worse, a dropout, work no long pays. If the federal minimum wage in 1968 had kept up with inflation and productivity, it would now be $22 an hour. Instead, it’s $7.25.

“Who Killed the Knapp Family? — OPINION by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
The New York TIMES, Sunday, January 12, 2020; Sunday Review: Ideas, Opinion, News Analysis; Page 4

*. *. *. *. *

“Wage inequality is surging in California — and not just on the coast. Here’s why”

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-10-10/wage-inequality-is-surging-in-california-and-not-just-on-the-coast-heres-why

*. *. *. *

“Report: Six Banks Reaped $18 Billion Last Year from Trump Tax Cuts”

https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/17/headlines/report_six_banks_reaped_18_billion_last_year_from_trump_tax_cuts?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=5fb1a5c5d5-Daily_Digest_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-5fb1a5c5d5-191637761

The “V” in Valentine’s Day Stands for “Vote”

Tuesday, January 14, 2019

The “V” in Valentine’s Day stands for “Vote”

I am posting a notification about the upcoming “Writers Resist” event at Beyond Baroque on a TUESDAY as a means of reminding people that the upcoming Election Day, in California, will be on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

While I support such presentations as “Writers Resist,” the most useful way that writers can act as engaged citizens is to spread the word about California’s Voter Choice Act!

If you live in one of the following counties in California, you will receive a ballot in the mail 28 days before the upcoming primary election: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Tuolumne. Mark Valentine’s Day on your calendar. Will you may “like” two or three or even four candidates, you can vote for only one: so on Valentine’s Day, tell Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Amy Klobuchar that you love “love” their policy platforms by mailing in your ballot.

In other words, California primary voting will be underway less than a month from now!

I have to confess that it will seem odd not to go to a polling place on Election Day itself; I don’t know that I have ever mailed in a ballot. Since elections profoundly affect our public as well as private lives, I have always enjoyed the public aspect of voting. While the Voters Choice Act will, on a technical level, allow me to vote in person, it will no longer necessarily be at a place that I can walk to, another aspect I have always enjoyed about voting.

I do have one key question, though: how do we know that our ballot was delivered?

Did anyone consider an electronic confirmation? This is to say that every mailed ballot should have a scannable code on it, and when the local Registrar receives it, the ballot is scanned and a message is sent (via text message on a phone, or to an e-mail address) in which a voter receives a formal acknowledgement of the receipt of the ballot.

As far as I can tell, one of the needs for making this change has not been widely mentioned: the difficulty of getting workers for the polling stations. At a time of wide-spread employment, finding responsible individuals who can monitor polling stations on a 14 hour shift for relatively low pay is not that easy. The new approach will eliminate the time-consuming task of recruiting workers for an underpaid civic task.

For further information, go to:
https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voters-choice-act/about-vca/

For the California Primary, the following dates should be noted:
Last Day to Register to Vote Feb 18, 2020
New Citizen (sworn in after February 17, 2020) Voter Registration Period Feb 18 – Mar 3, 2020
Last Day to Request Vote-By-Mail Ballot Feb 25, 2020
Election Day (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) Mar 3, 2020

WRITERS RESIST IV: Los Angeles
Sunday, January 19, 2020, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
681 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA
Admission free.

David St. John, Jim Natal, and Jan Wesley again will be presenting a contingent of raised literary voices on Sunday, January 19, 2020 from 1:00-4:00 PM. The venue remains Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice.

This year’s list of participating readers features many of Southern California’s finest upcoming and established poets and writers:
Doug Brown / Shonda Buchanan / Kate Gale / Brian Ingram / Dana Johnson / Casandra Lane / Suzanne Lummis / Sarah Maclay / Doug Manuel / Marsha de la O / Judith Pacht / Alicia Partnoy / Phil Taggart / Amy Uyematsu / David Ulin / Gail Wronsky

The initial Writers Resist reading was held in January, 2017, just prior to the inauguration of our current president. It was presented in conjunction with a national and international day of literary protest and attracted an overflow crowd of concerned citizens. It has been presented in Los Angeles annually in January since then.

Writers Resist is not affiliated with any political party. The focus of Writers Resist events is on the future, and how writers can be a unifying force for the protection of democracy. The only thing we “resist” is that which attacks or seeks to undermine those most basic principles as set forth in the United States Constitution.

In chaotic times like these people look to writers and poets for hope and inspiration. Writers Resist is our way of doing something to provoke positive change. Please join us. And then VOTE!

Follow Writers Resist Los Angeles on Twitter: @WritersResistLA
Find Writers Resist Los Angeles on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1406112592890424/
Contact us via email: writersresistLA@gmail.com

***PLEASE FEEL FREE TO FORWARD THIS ANNOUNCEMENT***

Beth Ruscio and the Repertory of LA Poets

Saturday, January 11, 2020

I first saw Beth Ruscio act at the Padua Hills Theater Festival back in the early 1980s, when she performed in one of Leon Martell’s plays, Hoss Drawin’. Thirty years later, I was even more impressed by the poems she read during one of the early evening presentations at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. Her maturation as a poet not only reflects a significant personal accretion, but perhaps marks the tipping point for a future anthology of Los Angeles-based poets. Just as it would be a fairly easy task to assemble an anthology of poets in New York City whose lives and writing are embedded in the visual arts world, an anthology of actress/actor-poets in Los Angeles would probably be the only one of its kind. Perhaps such an anthology should only — at least in the first decade of its iterations — be published in an on-line version, allowing the poets to change the work that represents them. In a sense, each poet would be allowed the pleasure of a personal repertory. Perhaps, in fact, an emphasis on selecting poems in varied combinations — the same way that an established theater company blends past favorites with premieres — would be one pragmatic way of continuing to deconstruct the inclination of canon formation to perpetuate itself with as little dialectical conflict as possible. As a poetics of anthology construction, a repertory derived from “plasticity” — a force-field that seems second-nature to this cluster of Southern California poets as a direct effect of their theatrical training — might also enable poets elsewhere to reimagine the palpitating imperative of a poem’s enveloped habitat.

In the meantime, Alexis Rhone Fancher has chosen three of Beth Ruscio’s poems to feature in the most recent issue of Cultural Weekly.

Beth Ruscio: Three Poems

Note on the Featured Poet: Beth Ruscio is the current winner of the Brick Road Poetry Prize, and her collection SPEAKING PARTS will be published in Spring, 2020. Her poetry has been Pushcart Prize nominated and won finalist honors for several prizes and awards, including The Wilder Prize, The Sunken Garden Prize, The Tupelo Quarterly Prize, The Ruth Stone Poetry Award, and The Two Sylvias Prize. Beth is also an accomplished award winning actress, and a mentor at Otis College of Art and Design.

POST-SCRIPT: That Beth Ruscio would have gravitated to the Padual Hills Theater Festival is not surprising, given that its founder, Murray Mednick, is both a poet and playwright. In fact, Mednick’s poetry was included in my anthology POETRY LOVES POETRY (1985) along with other L.A. poets who had theater as part of their artistic practice, including Laurel Ann Bogen; Suzanne Lummis; Lee Hickman; and Michael Lally.

Homo Erectus: exit, stage left; Homo sapiens: exit, stage right

The following article is the best summary I have recently encountered about the evolution from Australopithecines to Homo sapiens:

Twenty years of discoveries changing story of human evolution

Reading Brooks Roddan’s post, “The Last Writer In San Francisco,” (Monday, January 6, 2020) led me to think this morning about what it might be like to be the last writer, not just in San Francisco, but on the entire planet. I don’t mean creative writer. I mean a writer of any language.

Consider what the above article reports: about 130,000 years ago, the island of Java experienced climate change, and homo erectus faltered in adjusting to the new environment. Exit, stage left.

What if current planetary climate change leads to Homo sapiens exiting stage right, and artificial intelligence becomes the sole perpetrator and adjudicator of conscious logic? Robots totter forth as the only direct survivors of the Anthropocene’s protagonist. Would artificial intelligence invent its own alphabet to record its imaginative conjectures, and thereby begin engaging in altering ecosystems? Or would ambient computer codes become simply a tepid replication that functioned within the planet’s environment with about the same level of self-willed direction as amoeba?

John Baldessari (1931-2020): The Salvage Yard of Absurdity

January 5-6, 2020

John Baldessari (June 17, 1931 – January 2, 2020)

“Remember the old days when you had snow on TV, and people would try to see something in it? I miss that.” — John Baldessari

In the Fall of 1966, I was a sophomore at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and the financial situation was grim. One of my classmates was the son of the mayor of San Francisco, or so I had heard. I don’t remember ever meeting him. My father was a stock clerk in a pharmacy; and I was hardly a straight A student, so a scholarship was out of the question. I was already $1500 in student loan debt. I had arrived there with the intention of majoring in English, but I began reading contemporary playwrights on my own initiative, and decided that I would switch to theater.

In the spring, 1967, still 19 years old, I attended Southwestern Community College for a semester and took several courses in writing and theater. I remember on one occasion dropping by the art gallery on campus for a student art show. It didn’t impress me. Nevertheless, I still wonder how my ideas about poetry might have been affected if I had signed up for an art class with John Baldessari, who was teaching there at the time. Baldessari had been born in National City, and I had grown up in Imperial Beach. If any two cities in southwestern San Diego represented the bottom of the social hierarchy, NC and IB were fierce competitors for the basement bunkbed. His origins would only have given him more credibility, from my point of view as an impoverished ephebe.

I never met him, though I encountered his work more frequently than anyone would ever have anticipated back when he was working at a community college that truly was little better than that classic put-down of junior colleges: “high schools with ash trays.” In all fairness, the library was better than Imperial Beach’s library or my high school’s library. I first encountered John Berryman’s poetry as I perused its shelves one afternoon, though I found the work too slippery for my still feeble imaginative logic.

There may have been a point of contact (a “degree of separation”) between Baldessari as a young artist and my earliest days as an aspiring writer. I first posted this entry on Sunday, January 5th. The next morning, I woke up thinking about my father, whose first job in the South Bay Area, after he finished serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy, was working in a salvage yard. I remember how hard it was for him to have to work for minimum wage, with a family of six children to feed, and suddenly I wondered if my father worked with (or even for) Baldessari’s father.

PART TWO

https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2020-01-05/john-baldessari-dead

https://www.artforum.com/print/197308/pointing-hybrids-and-romanticism-john-baldessari-37986
(This third link, from ARTFORUM’s October, 1973 print issue, was sent to me, mid-day, Jan. 6th, by Brooks Roddan, and added to this post.)

https://www.vulture.com/2020/01/john-baldessari-was-anything-but-boring.html
(This fourth link was sent to me by one of my favorite painters, Marie Thibeault.)

“They keep telling me I have genius, as if that made up for all their incomparable advantages,” D.H. Lawrence is supposed to have once commented. Nobody, as far as I know, was telling John Baldessari that he was a genius when he was in his mid-30s, and teaching at Southwestern Community College. Somehow, he had enough gumption to refuse to quit, which was hardly a refusal on his part, since he didn’t really see any other option.

That he was able to develop as an artist and to inspire so many younger artists to take risks beyond their initial expectations marks him as one of the most indissoluble cultural instigators of post-World War II American art. The growth of Los Angeles into a transmission city of contemporary art is underscored with Baldessari’s influence. His quintessentially subversive impetus, still generating new work in his late 80s, assures that his influence will continue to distract young artists from the trends that yearn to make them conform to notions of a “career” in art.

If Baldessari was “arguably America’s most influential Conceptual artist,” as Christopher Knight claims, then it is Peter Schjeldahl who cites the distinctive ingredient that Baldessari brought to his projects: “a poet of the wrongness that aesthetic devotion visits upon flawed, shaggy, mere individuality. He repeatedly evokes the experience … of feeling devalued by what one loves: just not good enough, unworthy, even fraudulent. This is an embittering experience for many. Baldessari absorbs it with consummate humor.”

But from Baldessari’s point of view, it is not an amorphous sense of humor, a social skill that is primarily useful in deflecting with droll banter the unintended as well as intentional sleights and routine humiliations of daily life. Instead, he seems to have regarded his stoicism as a logical response to the willy-nilly algorithms of contingency.

In an interview early in the past decade, Baldessari rebutted the familiar characterization of his work as humorous. The interviewer prefaced Baldessari’s comment by noting that “since much of his work has a clever, even mischievous quality to it, he’s become known for his humor. That makes him uncomfortable.”

BALDESSARI: “You know it always makes me shudder for some reason because I don’t regard myself as an artist who does humorous work. I have a great sense of the absurd. It’s one of the ways that helps me get through life and understand the world. I’m very serious about that, but for other people they see that as being humorous.”
(https://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/feb/10/john-baldessari-cant-take-national-city-out-boy/)

Perhaps, though, the reaction of “humor” on the part of the audience is simply the classic defense mechanism to that which makes people uncomfortable. If art has the punch lines, Baldessari’s willingness to play the “straight man” with unmitigated sincerity made him stand out fifty years ago as an artist intent on avoiding the slightest compromise with the art market.

As a young artist, Baldessari’s “sense of the absurd” would have developed within a context in which that term has a literary context stretching from Kafka to Beckett, both of whom were extremely popular within artistic circles between 1950 and 1970, the year in which Baldessari burned all of his early paintings and salvaged his artistic isolation in National City. This extreme gesture lingers in a chiasm that is all too familiar to those who experience role reversals in their lives: “I still read about myself and say, who is this person? You can take the boy out of National City, but you can’t take National City out of the boy.”

One aporia that interviewers seem to have overlooked is the social context of National City. At the time that Baldessari was growing up there and working as a young artist, it is not a particularly safe environment. Now it may be the case that Baldessari, at 6 feet, 7 inches, may not have noticed how he was spared the predator intimidations that smaller and less physically agile people experience. In which case, his absurdity has a blind spot. On the other hand, his art is not “safe.” It does not provide a “safe” place for the viewer to find refuge from the degradations of basic needs unrequited. And in that danger zone, his art goes to work to salvage the damages of absurdity.

As a post-script, it is not just coincidence that many poets in Los Angeles employ humor in their work to a far greater degree uthan other poets in this country. If Ed Smith’s poetry, for instance, has re-emerged from neglect, it is largely because readers are beginning to appreciate the Smith’s sense of absurdist humor. For those of you who admire Baldessari’s art, I would recommend “PUNK ROCK IS COOL FOR THE END OF THE WORLD” as the best possible way to experience the marginality that Baldessari would have felt in 1965 National City.

https://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-review-ed-smith-poems-punk-la-20190718-story.html

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/06/toy-time-bombs-the-poems-of-ed-smith

https://courtgreen.net/issue-14/ed-smith

“Bell Lap” Decade

January 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methods and Materials: The Sojourns of Affinities

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For all practical purposes, a declaration of war” (aka “American Justice”)

January 3, 2020

The context for Suzanne Lummis’s presentation of “TWEETS FROM HELL” at Beyond Baroque tonight has radically shifted. Without any consultation with Congress whatsoever, President Trump ordered at some very recent point in time the execution of Major General Qassim Suleimani; a missile attack by an American MQ-9 Reaper drone is reported to have taken place yesterday at the Baghdad International Airport that utterly obliterated a pair of cars leaving the airport with Suleimani and his entourage.

All commentary on the political stature, in Iraq, of Suleimani would indicate that he was regarded in Iran as a combination of figures that would require an action-hero conflation for the American public to grasp the gravity of this presidential decision. Imagine someone who is a combination of Henry Kissinger, William J. Casey, and Oliver North, and you can begin to comprehend that this is not just another day’s work at the Drone Strike Radar Center, which is no doubt located somewhere in the 100 acre American embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq. The comparison of the trio of K-C-N to Suleimani is not meant, of course, to indicate that I have any admiration for them. I equally disdain all of them and their belief in war as a justifiable hunting license on behalf of patriarchal pathologies.

“The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” — Senator Christopher S. Murphy (D-Connecticut)

Note: “100 acre American embassy” — that is not a typo. 100 acres is five times the size of my high school campus, which included a baseball field and a football field, in addition to a gymnasium and enough classrooms for several hundred students. I wonder what the total budget was for the construction of this embassy, not to mention its continued operation. If you wondering why climate change continues unimpeded under Trump’s reign, remember that the paramount concern of foreign AND domestic policy is “our interests wherever they are around the world,” according to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper. Translation: “our CORPORATIONS’ interests wherever they are around the world.”

« L’Amérique – et le monde – ne peuvent pas se permettre une escalade des tensions qui atteigne un point de non-retour. » — Nancy Pelosi, quoted in LE MONDE

Look in your rear-view mirror, folks. You can still see the faint glow of a billboard-sized message: “un point de non-retour.”

Welcome to Hell…. aka “our interests around the world….” Front and center.

P.S. No doubt JARED KUSHNER knew about the strike before anyone in Congress did.

Eliot Katz’s Unofficial Study Guide for “Tweets from Hell”

January 2, 2020

As a way of prepping for Suzanne Lummis’s world debut presentation of “Tweets from Hell” at Beyond Baroque tomorrow evening (Friday, January 3; 8 p.m.), I would recommend as an unofficial study guide the long excerpt from Eliot Katz’s manuscript in progress, which has just been published in Dispatches from the Poetry Wars:

Excerpts from President Predator: Poems for the Trump Years 

For those in the NYC area, Katz will reading with NY State Poet Laureate Alicia Ostriker and Colorado-based poet Jim Cohn (www.poetspath.com) at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery, near Houston, NYC) on Monday evening, January 27, from 6-7:30 p.m. More information about this reading is posted on the Calendar section of www.bowerypoetry.com.

Sneak Preview: Suzanne Lummis’s “Tweets from Hell”

January 1, 2020

Suzanne Lummis wrote me on the last day of the decade that “Tweets from Hell” is “composed of 71 stanzas, most of them 280 characters, about, none over, some shorter. It’s in eleven sections, in several voices–that is, different ways of talking–with two postscripts and one addendum.”

She has given me permission to share with you a very brief excerpt, in the form of the first two tweets of the seven that make up Part Three:

Things I never told anyone. Usually. Those Republicans, those ones in Congress, I never liked them, most of them. I never liked them paddling along behind me like flocks of geese, making their goose sounds, or dancing behind me like talented rats trained for a back…

yard circus, clean white rats from a pet store. Geese, rats, all of them wanting to peck, nip at my power and get away with a bloody mouthful. I didn’t like them, but when they opposed me, I hated them. My cabinet bored me—though I liked how they had to sit there and listen.

WORLD PREMIERE: “Tweets from Hell”
Written, directed, and performed by SUZANNE LUMMIS
at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(301) 822-3006

FRIDAY, January 3, 2020
Time: 8:00 p.m.

Get in line early to buy your tickets.

Happy New Year!