Category Archives: Books

Frank T. Rios — Venice West Poet (March 22, 1936 – August 20, 2018)

Frank T. Rios, a poet who joined the Venice West poetry scene in the late 1950s and remained one of its most loyal advocates, died early this morning, at age 82, according to his friend, the poet S.A. Griffin. Rios was born in New York and grew up there; he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, where he found kindred spirits, such as Stuart Z. Perkoff and Tony Scibella, who guided his unflinching imagination towards lyrical epiphanies that eventually appeared in collections of poems such as Memoirs of a Street Poet. By turns, the Venice West scene was both contumaciously avant-garde and nostalgically archaic. In the latter manner, their brotherhood of effusive devotion to the Lady, the muse from whom they fervently believed that all of their work flowed, evoked a kind of romantic poetics that one would hardly expect of young poets whose ideological proclivities were more influenced by the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s than the Beat poetics of Kerouac and company.

Perkoff (1930-1974) celebrated their comic confrontation with the straight world in a long poem shortly after Rios and Scibella teamed up with him to rule the Venice Boardwalk.

almost every day frankie & tony & i
three stooge it down the beach into the world
on the sharp lookout for
poems & dope & love &
colors reflecting off the laughter

.. . . .

We’ll water pistol ‘em
We’ll seltzer bottle ‘em

The Venice West scene became well enough known by the late 1950s that Donald Allen, the editor of this past century’s most influential anthology, The New American Poetry, referred to it without feeling any need to demarcate its location. It was, in point of fact, a nationally known Beat scene, largely because Lawrence Lipton had devoted himself to publicizing all of its most transgressive aspects in a book entitled The Holy Barbarians (1959). The scene’s origins never quite recovered, even though other poets showed up to bolster the ranks of those devoted to remaining outside the clutches of outsider success. It must be said that these poets of Venice West never relented; Rios, for instance, was one of the major forces behind Black Ace books, which produced several issues of a magazine that brought younger poets into their provocative utopia.

There are very few people from that scene who still remember Frank T. Rios, but a whole new generation of readers was introduced to him a few years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Rios gave a very fine reading of his poems. He announced that his usual ritual of burning a poem before beginning a reading almost caused him to decline the museum’s invitation to read his poems underneath the classic mural from the old Venice Post Office. At the last minute, he said, the Muse instructed him that he would be exempt this one time, and be allowed to tear up a poem and scatter the pieces wherever they may flutter. He did so, and then read with as solid an intonation of heart-beleaguered vision as I have ever been fortunate to overhear. As Rios intoned his poems, they were already on their way elsewhere: a double journey of time and eternity that only those blessed by the Muse are permitted to record.

Farewell, Tony. Your poems remain mid-flight.

Part Two

For the record, some of the other poets of the Venice West scene were Bruce Boyd, whose poems appeared in Allen’s anthology along with Stuart Z. Perkoff’s; Charley Newman; Saul White; John Thomas; Maurice Lacy; Bob Alexander (the founder of the Temple of Man); Eileen Aronson Ireland; Bill Margolis; Jimmy Ryan Morris; and Barbara Bratton. As significant as this scene was, it probably constituted less than twenty percent of the total activity focused on poetry in that decade in Los Angeles.

For the record: Tony Rios is survived by his widow, as well as his first wife, Carolyn, who taught at Venice Continuation High School for many years.

COLA Awards Exhibit, 2018

June 30, 2018 — COLA Exhibit at Barnsdall Park — Municipal Art Gallery of the City of Los Angeles

Last weekend was the final chance to see the exhibit of artists awarded a recent fellowship from the City of Los Angeles, and the only day I was free to make the trip turned out to be on Sunday, since Linda and I attended a memorial service for the brother of one of her oldest and best friends on Saturday. The exhibit only included the visual artists, since the literary and performance awardees had presented their work in mid-month. I was pleased to see that Peter J. Harris had won one of those awards, and wish I could have attended his event.

Of the visual artists, I was especially impressed with the work of Guillermo Bert, Terry Braunstein, Sandra de la Loza, and Michelle Dizon, and the ways in which daunting journeys are undertaken by both imaginary characters and actual individuals. In evoking the social imaginary of public transportation in Los Angeles, for instance, Sandra de la Loza’s installation made use of redacted copies of newspaper articles about the labor strike in 1903 by several hundred Mexican workers, employed on the construction of the Great Pacific Electric Railway. Her redaction underlines the silencing of the workers themselves. According to de la Loza, not a single one of the workers was quoted in the newspaper reports of that labor strike. I hope that de la Loza is able to place a copy of her text at the Huntington Library, as a document that serves to contextualize the price paid by Mexican workers to help Huntington accumulate the wealth that established this cultural resource.

Michelle Dizon made use of written testimony, too, though in her case her imagined author is her great-great-great-granddaughter, Latipa, who shares that name with the artist’s great-great-grandmother. The temporal trajectory of Dizon’s project is over two centuries, from 1905 to 2123; her project brings to mind the ambitious scope of a writer such as the late Octavia Butler. Indeed, the letter in which the “mirror” characters serve as the imagined writer and reader is as eloquent as the best moments in Butler’s writing.

Guillermo Bert’s project was one of the most poignant testimonies to the crisis of migration and its harrowing risks. “Tumble Dreams” elevated over a half-dozen full-size tumbleweeds about seven feet off the ground and projected the face of a migrant from Guatemala as he spoke of the incessant uncertainties of traversing over 1500 miles to be with his sister and her family in Arizona. A small video screen provided a transcription of his words in the original Spanish as well as an English translation.

Finally, I want to give special praise to the work presented by Terry Braunstein, whose “Ladder” cyclorama exuded a magnetically charged dreamscape of people displaying the human impulse to stay upright, no matter how minimal the requital might be. Both clustered in mutual ascent and compelled to climb in solitude, the social life of transcendence has rarely asked us with such quiet resolve to turn from the meditation of the art to our lives and inquire exactly what it is we hold onto so tightly. In at least one way, Braunstein’s book art of “Broken Vow” speaks of the promises that may be next to impossible to fulfill, and yet we remain haunted by that possibility. It is worth noting that my brother-in-law, Vince, and his friend Marcie, met us at the exhibit, and afterwards they commented on Braunstein’s work was their favorite in the entire exhibit.

One might note a circle of women in the lower right hand corner of the bottom of the following two detail photographs I took of Braunstein’s “Ladder.” This circle reminded me of the meditation engaged in by the Living Theater at the beginning of their play, “Frankenstein,” in which the program noted that the ensemble is trying to levitate, and if they do, the play is over. That effort still remains a tantalizing perspective.

Braunstein - Ladder

Braunstein - Ladder Two

In order to give the recognition accorded to the above artists some context, I would note that these COLA awards have gone in the past to some of my favorite artists in this city, including Kim Abeles, Alison Saar, Luis Alfaro, Nancy Buchanan, Robert Flick, Laura Aguilar, Robert Nakamura, John Outerbridge, Jo Ann Callis, Lita Albuquerque, Fran Siegel, and Suzanne Lacy. The writers who have included Wanda Coleman, Katherine Haake, Eloise Klein Healy, Terry Wolverton, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Jen Hofer, Fernando Castro, Sarah Maclay, Lynne Thompson, Claudia Rodriguez, Peter J. Harris, and Joseph Mattson.

Laurel Ann Bogen’s New and Selected Poems

Monday, June 18, 2018

“The Terror to be a Magician”: Laurel Ann Bogen’s Metaurban Self-Portraits in Psychosis in the Produce Department

Midway through the second decade of the 21st century, American poetry written and published in the first decades of the Cold War has rapidly receded into movements or schools, such as the Beats or Confessional poetry, in which the best known examples seem to isolate themselves into a distant cul-de-sac. Indeed, the current century’s difficulties in accommodating the rapid oscillations of post-modernity have relentlessly enlarged the gap between mid-20th century poetry and contemporary verse. Literary criticism itself is largely responsible for generating this disenabling fiction in which a limited set of canonical writers in the Confessional school, born before the end of World War II, has become a self-enclosed pantheon that precludes their successors from redefining the legacy of that school’s poetic progeny.

The Confessional school is often presented as a closed case; actually, not just a closed case, but as a kind of minor sub-plot within post-modern poetry that does merit having a single anthology dedicated to its practitioners. Given the abundance of anthologies that manage to plump out volumes on comparatively smaller subsets, such as feminist avant-garde poetry, this aporia is extraordinarily puzzling, especially given how many of Confessionalism’s first generation have found their way into anthologies during the past thirty years. The assiduous campaign against this school’s alleged limitations seems to have been successful in confining its success to its mid-century insurrection against academic poetry dominated by New Criticism.

This widespread dismissal has genuine consequences, especially for poets on the West Coast who have chosen to work at least some of the time within the Confessional milieu. Even though Laurel Ann Bogen’s Psychosis in the Produce Department was published well over two years ago by Red Hen Press, I have not been able to locate any reviews whatsoever of it. The neglect would seem in part to be due to the discomfort that Confessional poetry still manages to generate. Stephen Burt, for example, notes that the “confessional model has become so predictable …. that it has become something many sophisticated poets and critics avoid or even disparage.” Confessional poetry in recent years, however, is no more predictable than Beat or Language or Feminist poetry; rather, it is the imagined template of sophisticated critics that is predictable.

Before considering Bogen’s volume of poems, therefore, let us examine the template of Confessional poetry that has become fixated in critics’ views as overly predictable. The confessional poem, according to Burt, derives from a quartet of suppositions, including its self-reflective performance as “part cri de Coeur and part diary; it draws contrasts between present and past self; its lack of obvious structural constraints connotes speech from the heart; and it deploys post-Freudian claims about generational succession, sexual attraction, or gender identity … as central to what and how we know and feel.” Nor is Burt alone in this assessment by contemporary critics. As seen in Miranda Sherwin’s preference for “psychoanalytic poetics” over Helen Vender’s term “Freudian lyric,” the general consensus in framing confessional poetry is to assign it a default mechanism of mental crisis, instability, and psychic redemption.

It is the second item in Burt’s checklist that I want to call particular attention to at this point, for it rather sloppily attempts to square the circle of personal consciousness. The “self” that Burt invokes in regards to confessional poetry is not subjected in his account to any interrogation whatsoever, let alone the kind of layered distinctions he makes in examining Terrance Hayes’s poetry. In Hayes’s case, the self becomes inherently deserving of post-modernist critique: “Is the self (whatever that means) a performance? What makes for a good performance, or an authentic one (what that means)? Such questions have generated enough recent scholarly books to weigh down an ocean liner, but they have proved hard to make into good poetry.” If so, these questions were not too hard for Terrance Hayes to take on with efficient playfulness, Burt would argue, and I would agree, but also add that so, too, have a number of poets working in the Confessional mode.

Furthermore, the uses of psychoanalysis and mythic figures as generative imaginative strategies for addressing emotional distress, vulnerability, and trauma are more widespread than has been critically acknowledged. While Bogen’s writing has been primarily categorized as belonging to the “stand up school,” as defined by Charles Harper Webb, her poetry is also an intriguing instance of the hidden heterogeneity of more recent practitioners of the Confessional School. It is in the ways that her poetry goes beyond the Confessional that we will find its most appealing value, though it is in being a permutation that it derives the primary impetus for its longevity.

Within the original poetic domain, Bogen’s title for her most comprehensive collection of poems, Psychosis in the Produce Department: New and Selected Poems 1975 2015 steps on stage with the casual confidence that a mature actress has exuded ever since she was a demurely witty, droll ingénue. As her title suggests, the intensity of mental breakdowns careers throughout the selection. Echoing rather deliberately the psychological travail of the narrator in Allen Ginsberg’s “With Walt Whitman in the Supermarket,” the easy way to categorize Bogen would be to consign her to the confessional bracket, and the book’s title rather flamboyantly – almost flippantly – announces the ordinariness of this debilitating mental condition. Even in the midst of plenty, the title suggests, one can easily dissolve into a state of acute mental distress.

Indeed, there are more than a sufficient number of poems in Psychosis in the Produce Department to stamp Bogen’s union card in the Confessional School. Titles such as “27 Years of Madness,” “The Power Lines Are Down,” “Vulnerable Street,” “Bones Dig This Dream,” “cold cold cold,” “Spankings I’ve Known,” “Doppelganger Redux,” “Guilt,” “I Eat Lunch with a Schizophrenic,” and the mordantly witty “The Virginia Woolf Guide to Rock Collecting” all intimate a coruscating set of self-portrait canvases. However, if a vulnerable candor underscores Bogen’s free verse lyricism, it entails a more rigorous imagination that one might expect from the confessional impetus. In a poem from the 1970s, she confronts the seductive ministrations of institutional psychiatry:

The hospitals were clever

They said: you have the gift
why do you want to destroy it?
And I will tell you now
it is not a gift
to know that words are not your own
to know you can produce
a prism from nothingness
it is a terror to be a magician

The dispossession of words, in this instance, is not meant to serve as a swift detour to the confrontation with language as it has played out in various avant-garde guises since the early 1970s. Rather, it is paradox and metaphor that Bogen summons as emotional states of consciousness aligned with that supreme emotion, surprise, without which all over emotions lose their internal momentum. To be a magician is to have the capacity to conjure both presence and absence.
In Bogen’s vision of the social identity of a poet, this polar paradox of affirmation and negation – “words are not your own” // “ a prism from nothingness” – goes to an extremity of absence-presence in “Live Steam at 8:40 a.m.”:

In this poem there are no words
all language has stopped
but the pumps boil
live steam
live team
live steam at 8:45

Heart poach / we rip at skin
alone and without noise
to get at the beat
the color
and where the words are
but this is a poem
where there are no words
and all the colors are extinct
rising like steam
that hisses in our throats
like wordless lies

In this poem the words sizzle
and evaporate

in this poem the words rise crazy

In this poem ourbodies ache
our fingers can nurder us
but even though we fear death
we offer ourselves to each other
as if the muscle and breath
of our bodies can also heal

This poem cradles in its palm
those things that cannot be said

It asks that you touch this page.

The deictic accentuation of “Live Steam at 8:45 a.m.” is far from the only poem in Psychosis in the Produce Department that pushes through the familiar boundaries of Confessional poetry and suggests that other discourses are at work, including the performative self-transformation of an imagined self within a specific urban environment. Among the poets who both live in Los Angeles and frequently perform their poems in a manner befitting the city’s flaunted ambiance, Laurel Ann Bogen stands out for the profuse invocation of her milieu as a trampoline for metaphors. It is the city’s incandescent awareness of itself as the producer of the individual’s theatricality that gives her poems a haunting plasticity. As in the case of that expert witness of flaneurship, J. Alfred Prufrock, Bogen is on very familiar terms with the significant role that fantasy plays in reassuring one’s fallibility, and how the dialogue between absence and presence coils and recoils; the erasure of intimate revelation by a voice “at home in the shadows” continuously palpitates in her poems.

In whose dreams will these stars shimmer
100 light years from now?
Their blown-up images snipped
of imperfections – the errant mole,
an ingrown hair, when paste
does not pass for diamonds.

Confined by fame, Pilates and exfoliation,
tucked in canyons, behind gated walls,
some corner the market on chihauhuas
others collect bags of kudos.
They tell me Rodeo Drive is a state of mind.

As for mine,
it skims along
Hollywood Boulevard like a chauffeur.
From the back seat
I hear my voice
at home in the shadows –
I don’t want to sleep yet, Bogen,
Drive.

I can see and not be seen – invisible to a world
in which I was born. Now you see
me, now you don’t.

If the first half of the poem critiques both the illusions of immortality and the limitations of rewards and public recognition, the second half savors both the self-determined control and the pleasure of evasion. The poem anticipates the sleep that will bring dreams that are no more than “a state of mind.” The iconic street itself, with all its quotidian tawdriness, promises a more substantial cinematic arousal in which the narrator can embolden one’s imaginary biography. If Bogen’s poems concern themselves with the resilient vulnerability of her self-consciousness, they do so with a deliberate display of the consequences to the singular identity.

Funny how failure and falling
sound alike – the firings failing
and falling pling pling pling
in my brain
my managed care brain
my climate control brain
That fiction and fission
sound alike is funny
this friction and fiction
sound alike, ha-ha.

The final two parts of this eight part poem both point to the endless present tense of self-portrait work in an epiphora of apparent singularity.

The friction of my life
against my life is my life.

The fission of my life
despite my life is my life.

The singularity of “my life” is deceptive, though, for it is always already splitting into the fissures of other lives and other imagined roles, including that of the quintessential Los Angeles figure, the private detective, or as Bogen stamps her calling card: L.A. Bogen, Detective Supremo:

My very name
rolls on the tongue
like an apertif
or a recalled cheese
an open parenthesis of mayhem
on the make
in the sulky afternoon
of Los Angeles

The “private surveillance” she offers the reader, however, is that of the guidance that leads to unexpected encounters:
And suddenly
the bougainvillea greet you
like a happy extortionist

and it’s Cinco de Mayo
everywhere you look
as I melt into crowds
just one step behind you.

In this instance, the poet enables the reader to see the possibility of reconciliation between the self and the things of the world. The bougainvillea’s audacity is that it demands we surrender the “cherished image” that the “hardened arm” so deliberately clings to and experience the flowering in and of itself as the holiday of independence from self-dependency. It is not “crowds” of people that the Detective Supremo flows into, but crowds of meaning.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this collection is the number of poems that have little to do with any personal crisis. Bogen’s ability to distance herself as the author or even the protagonist of the poems would seem to run counter to Confessional poetry’s privileging of the first person pronoun. Indeed, even though there is a steady undercurrent / groundswell of references to the typical topics of confessional poetry such as guilt, corporal punishment, suicide, etc., Bogen’s poetry uses these topics as a means of grounding the transformation she has yearned for all the while, a transformation that can only be fully accounted for and comprehended if one embeds Confessional poetry within the discourse of the feminist poetry of the 1970s.

In thinking of the development of feminist awareness in the 1970s, when Bogen was first writing, publishing, and reading her poems in public, one must remember that group activities such as consciousness-raising were an important – indeed, crucial – ritual in breaking free of patriarchal domination. To read poets, born after World War II, who aligned themselves with the Confessional movement without emphasizing a feminist context is to oversimplify their literary project. As Alan Williamson has pointed out, “confessional poetry – almost from the moment that unfortunate term was coined – has been the whipping boy of a half a dozen newer schools.” Or instead of “whipping boy,” should we say “nasty woman,” which might clarify that point of the attacks on confessional poetry. Feminist poetry was the single area of poetic activity in the 1970s, but in poetry’s politics, it would not have been acceptable to cast aspersions on feminist agency. Dismissals of confessional poetry, however, were far more palatable, and accomplished a severance of the links between confessional and feminist, thereby reducing the power of continuity within the critical discourse.

In a poem such as “I Dream the Light of Reason II,” Bogen demonstrates that her confessional poetry has not confined her imagination to the genre of memoir-in-verse. As if dealing from a deck of cards to a table full of patriarchal gamblers, each face card demands to be played, “as it lays.”

The Reasonable Woman is a hope chest, a locked cabinet.

The Reasonable Woman is pleasant enough.

The Reasonable Woman is the converse of sex.

The Reasonable Woman is a durable good, a sound diagnosis.

The Reasonable Woman is a subordinate clause.

The Reasonable Woman is childproof, although Heidi is already up to her knee.

The Reasonable Woman is a skillet, a war bond.

The Reasonable Woman is a fugue heard on the intercom.

The Reasonable Woman is a graph of stock options, the percentage of return.

The Reasonable Woman is open to suggestion.

The Reasonable Woman is a string bean, a cauliflower, a field of potatoes.

The Reasonable Woman is a packet of Alka-Seltzer in the Accounts Payable file.

The Reasonable Woman is considering bankruptcy.

The Reasonable Woman is a stacked heel, a running shoe.

The Reasonable Woman is a pair of pantyhose in the bathroom sink.

The Reasonable Woman is fat free.

The Reasonable Woman is a shadow of herself.

Why would The Reasonable Woman become unreasonable?

Bogen’s sardonic titular character enumerates the options and expectations imposed on women as a collage list of grievances and conditions that can have but one outcome. To be “unreasonable” would be to make herself the primary clause of a sentence; it would mean that self-definition takes place in a social economy activated by a contract not dependent on war bonds, stock options, and the economic repression of bankruptcy.

The remote chance of success in this metamorphosis has been obvious from the start of Bogen’s calculations. In an early poem from the late 1970s, “The Disappearing Act,” the anonymous female narrator admits that:

women are such fools
I am like those fools
with my shackled independence
tunnel vision
of soiled diapers
and dishes

For this narrator, the choice to become otherwise will require the capacity to laugh at the outcome in choosing to be an author:

a pen to save me from the cold
my wits
forced autonomy

Yes, there is something to be said for farce

Nevertheless, Bogen reminds us of the power within each person’s grasp to confront these velleities and use the symbolic power she invokes in “The Red Pencil” and to start anew, even if crossing that boundary requires the surrender of everything marked with inextricable sentiment:

My fingers still close
around red pencils
still move blindly
across paper
canceling time and recrimination
like an exile returning without baggage.

Bogen’s poetry is unlikely to get the full measure of attention it deserves, but that could easily be said of a thousand working poets in this country right now. That it will not receive even a minimally sufficient recognition is more dismaying. Nevertheless, the work will find its own intriguing path in the years to come. Bogen has produced a body of work over a forty year period that has a vibrato of tonal consistency while being able to look into more than the mirror of her own self-consciousness, and the poems taken as a whole shimmer on the tongue of a reader’s memory unlike any other aftertaste. The difficult trek of a mind and body at odds with each other resolves in a quiet advice:

The unopened gift is still a gift. It is given like a forecast or traffic report – backgound to common cash and carry or extraordinary good fortune. There’s a high pressure front ahead: A hand is offered.
Take it.

Bill Mohr / Summer, 2017 / Long Beach, CA
(Accepted for publication in Poetry Flash a year ago. Printed in my blog out of frustrated impatience.)

(Note: An earlier version of this review was presented as a paper at a panel on poetry organized by Steven Gould Axelrod at the PAMLA conference in Pasadema, CA, in October, 2016. My thanks to those who attended and made comments and suggestions.)

D.H. Lawrence and Topanga Canyon

June 22, 2018

Last summer, Linda and I spent a fair amount of time driving from Long Beach to Topanga Canyon, where her sister Brenda was living in the rear rooms of a house on a side road. Sometimes we conveyed her to the City of Hope hospital; other times we just visited and tried to provide her some company. In her final year and a half, the family helped her financially so that she had a place to live near her two extraordinary sons, Mason and Luca.

On one of my morning walks in the area near where she lived, I spotted this covered boat and thought of D.H. Lawrence’s famous didactic poem about the end of one’s life. It has been a little over six months since Brenda set sail. We pray that the voyage has been an unexpectedly joyous one, far beyond what she anticipated, and that she has all the buoyancy she needs.

Topanga Ship of Death - Two

A Triangular Compression

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It’s been over 10 days since my last post, and I may well go another 10 days before the next post appears. There are three places that have absorbed this time: California State University, Long Beach, where I work as a professor in the Department of English; Beyond Baroque, for which I serve as a member of the Board of Trustees; and Sunrise Assisted Living, where my 96 year old mother lives right now, but will soon be living elsewhere.

As for CSULB, I will simply comment that I have been on campus at work Monday through Friday two weeks in a row. Only a very small minority of tenured faculty are on campus five days a week, and not all of them do the same amount of committee work. I will be 71 years old this year, and hope to start teaching part-time in the near future, at which point I will be freed from all committee work.

This is not my first term on the Board of Trustee on Beyond Baroque. Back in the late 1990s, when I was living in San Diego, I helped keep Beyond Baroque afloat through various interventions that included more than one instance of helping Fred Dewey get his grant applications to the post office with only 10 minutes to spare. The last minute requests (and I emphasize the plural) to do this kind of work were just part of what I did, most of which is completely invisible to those who ask me to do work now at that organization. This erasure is no different than at CSULB, where no one remembers the single most important contribution I have made in the past 12 years, despite the fact that it was indeed a turning point for the entire campus. Many others came together to make that moment happen, but I don’t think any of them had to get by on an average of four hours of sleep a night for an entire month in bringing that effort to fruition. The sacrifices of others are always negligible, once those who enjoy the benefits of power have made their requisitions.

My mother must move soon to another, less expensive facility. Although I have five siblings, three of whom live in San Diego, I am the only one of my mother’s six children who has seen her in the past year and a half. The struggle to provide adequate care for my mother’s final years has been an ongoing challenge ever since she turned 90, and very reluctantly began to acknowledge that independent living was beyond her capacity. She surrendered control over her affairs in a manner that required every effort I made to be redoubled in each successive year. I have had a brief respite since last summer, but now the burden of my responsibility has returned once again.

By mid-summer, I hope to return to posting some commentary on contemporary poetry. In the meantime, I leave you to savor the things you hope to accomplish in your own life.

Johanna Drucker on Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary

Friday, April 6, 2017

George Drury Smith, the founder of Beyond Baroque, recently gave a talk there in which he shared a number of details of his life that had not been known even by people who worked with him back in the institution’s earliest days. Johanna Drucker, a professor at UCLA, has just had an article published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in which she reports on Smith’s talk and interweaves its details with a reevaluation of the notion of “provincialism.”

Fifty Years of Beyond Baroque: 1968–2018

One of the most important factors in Beyond Baroque’s growth and longevity was the ability of Smith to attract people to his idealistic yearning for a renewed avant-garde. Smith has frequently spoken of the disparity between his own hopes for literary experimentation on a large cultural scale and the preferences of other writers in the Los Angeles and the West Coast. His genius, in part, as a cultural worker was his uncanny ability to provide space for people such as Alexandra Garrett, Jim Krusoe, Manager Gamboa, and Dennis Cooper. Garrett founded the Beyond Baroque Library, which Drucker has led the way in cataloguing with the assistance of her students at UCLA. Krusoe began as a poet who was frequently acknowledged as the person most admired by a cross-section of L.A. poets,; he has subsequently become one of the most respected novelists in the United States. Gamboa went on from his position of leading Beyond Baroque to found community-based writing projects in East L.A. and Long Beach. A park near where I live in Long Beach has a cultural center named in his honor, with a poem on one of its exterior walls. Dennis Cooper has become of the leading gay writers of the past 75 years, and the way that writers rallied to his defense when the behemoths of technological ingenuity attempted to eradicate his writing was quite remarkable. In fact unprecedented. That Cooper triumphed against considerable odds was the cause of much quiet satisfaction.

One of the features of Beyond Baroque is the free poetry workshop that takes place on Wednesday nights. There will be another free workshop, last eight weeks, that will meet on Tuesday nights starting on May 8. This workshop will focus on Los Angeles poetry, and will include instruction as well as an opportunity for each participant to make her or his own contribution to this body of writing. Laurence Goldstein’s Poetry Los Angeles will serve as a common textbook and major reference point.

For details, go to Beyond Baroque’s website or call (310) 822-3006.

http://www.beyondbaroque.org

https://www.send2press.com/wire/beyond-baroque-to-mark-50th-anniversary-in-2018/

Kathryn McMahon — An Emergency Appeal

Monday, April 2, 2018

Kathryn McMahon, an old friend who is going to have a major operation, is in need of assistance during her period of recovery, and a former student of hers has started a GoFundMe campaign. Kathryn taught in what was then the Women’s Studies Department at CSU Long Beach for many years, though she had retired by the time I started my job in the Department of English.

Kathryn is probably best known as the founder of CAST (Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking), and it would be my hope that all of those who contribute to that organization at its annual fundraiser would now also contribute with equal generosity towards her recovery at this point in her life. Those of you who know of her life understand the unlikely context of her being the instigator of such an important project, and how it would behoove us to honor her for her extraordinary courage and determination.

https://www.gofundme.com/surgery4kathryn

Thank you in advance for helping her out.

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

My brother, Jim, sent me a photograph of his first grandchild, Mila, last Easter, and in moments of discouragement I have frequently looked at it and found myself smiling. By the time my youngest nephew, Mitchell, got married, she was beginning to walk, and this Easter Jim has sent me another photograph; this time, she needs far less support.

On this weekend on which Passover and Easter have intermingled, my family in its largest sense of the word sends you our wishes for a joyous Spring!

Mila First Easter

Mila Easter 2018

The Jackson Wheeler Poetry Reading Report

Friday, March 30, 2018

French Concrete One

Linda and I drove up to the Carnegie Arr Museum in Oxnard, California this past weekend for the reading with Vincent Mowry, a poet from Ojai who deserves to be much better known. The plan for the return trip was to stop by Linda’s sister house and relieve her of her care for Linda’s mother for a couple of days.

The reading went better than I ever could have expected. Almost 40 people showed up, which is over two dozen more than usually show up for readings in Los Angeles. I was especially grateful that several poets I knew as a youth showed up: Ricardo Means-Ybarra, Florence Weinberger, ellen, as well as their painter friend, Annie. The reading started with some earnest, intriguing work by a young poet, Sarah Krashefski, and then Marsha de la O introduced me with some very kind remarks.

I led off with “Big Band, Slow Dance,” and followed with “Why the Heart Does Not Develop Cancer”; I then read “The Eviction,” “Wrinkles,” “In the Ocean of Nothingness,” an untitled haiku that was recently published in Hummingbird, and a large section of “Scorpio in Transit,” which appeared in KYSO.

Vincent Mowry read several very fine poems, including one exquite poem that almost eerily served as a parallel vision to one of the poems I had read in the first half of the reading. I have almost never been combined with another poet in a reading whose work I don’t know ahead of time and found that we had much in common; somehow, though, it turned out that Vincent’s poetry had more in common with mine that either of us could ever have expected. His poem about a dream of swimming in the ocean took on the bleakness of Dickinson’s “without even a report of land / To justify despair” and broke through to another realm of vision, closer to that occasion she describes as being a vision of “morning’s nest.” Mowry’s poem about that vision was one of the best I have heard in recent years.

After the reading, neither Vincent nor I had any books for sale, so we mingled with the audience. The museum, though, made copies of Was I Asleep: New and Selected Poems by Jackson Wheeler available for purchase. The reading series is named in his honor, and he deserves it. Marsha read an extraordinary poem that Wheeler wrote about a visitation by his dead father, a World War II veteran, to his bedroom the night before leaving his Appalachian hometown. It’s as deeply moving and poignant as anything in Winesburg, Ohio. In other words, a classic poem. I have been reading Wheeler’s book since I returned, and certainly hope to review it by this summer.

By chance, in Oxnard the next morning, we happened to meet one of Linda’s oldest friend, Vicki, who was having breakfast with her companion, who turned out to a manager for a concrete delivery company. I told him that I had always liked those trucks and like many very young boys thought about driving one of them when I grew up. I mentioned to him that such a truck had recently been in my neighborhood to pour concrete for a roundabout at the intersection where we live, and I had taken photographs of its massive cylinder. When I showed him the photographs, he said, “That’s my company,” which turns out to be owned by a French family. In fact, he explained, the three dots inside the triangle represent the three generations of the family’s commitment to the company.

As Darwin pointed out, the success of any individual in an evolutionary scheme can be gauged by whether its offspring have offspring. It’s as true in poetry as it is in concrete. Here is to the names of the poets I have invoked in my lifetime of work being written in concrete along with their solemnly joyful affirmations of our shared journey.

Once again, thanks to Marsha and Phil for being kind enough to include me in this series.

French Concrete Two

Reading at the Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Late in the evening

I had to give my students their mid-term exams this past week at CSULB, so it’s been a busy time of helping them prepare, and then giving the exams, which had to be revised to account for my different approach to the subject matter of each course this semester. Over the past dozen years, I’ve taught each one several times (English 474/574: Survey of 20th Century American Literature; and two sections of English 386: Survey of Poetry), and enjoy the books I am using, but I am beginning to feel my age. I can no longer easily teach three courses in one day, so I teach my section of 474/574 and one section of 386 on Mondays and Wednesday; and the other section of 386 on Tuesday-Thursday. Of course, it’s not the teaching that wears one down, but disproportionate committee work.

I wish I had had more time this week to publicize my reading tomorrow in Oxnard at the Carnegie Art Museum. Marsha and Phil are very kind to ask me to read my poetry there, especially considering that I have no books of poems to sell. Of course, I no longer dream as I did when I was young about getting another book of poems out. My chance for recognition as a poet — at least in this country — grows smaller every day. While the Glass Table collective has plans to issue a book of mine this coming fall under the What Books imprint, I doubt that more than a half-dozen people will buy a copy. I gave a reading at Beyond Baroque several months ago. Two people showed up. I gave a reading at Gatsby Books in Long Beach around that same time; only a half-dozen folding chairs were needed to seat the audience.

Thinking of these experiences only makes me more grateful for how I have been welcomed as a poet in Mexico the three times I have gone there to read. My primary encouragement these days comes from thinking of the efforts of Bonobos Editores and my translators in Mexico. My poems have also been translated into Japanese, Croatian, and Italian, as well as Spanish. Maybe I need to find someone to translate my poems into English, since the verse I write in this country seems like a foreign language to my fellow citizens. It’s a small miracle that the writers who make up the Glass Table Collective have been able to disregard the indifference that my poetry is treated with in this country.

I have to admit that I am exhausted, and it is hard to summon the energy that will be needed to make the drive from Long Beach to Oxnard. Spring break starts today, but all that means is that my wife’s siblings and my siblings expect me to use this “free time” to help care for Linda’s mother and then to address my mother’s needs.

Take a deep breath, Bill. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let it out slowly.

Set the alarm clock. I must get up early to finish several tasks before I start the lone drive to Oxnard. I will have to be up there by mid-afternoon, since if I leave any later than 2:00 p.m., I am not likely to be on time for the reading, for which I am the opening act. Out-of-print poets are usually relegated to the “warm up the audience slot” for the featured poet. I did so for Mark Salerno and Ellyn Maybe at Beyond Baroque several years ago; and for Dale Herd more recently.

Take a deep breath, Bill. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let it out slowly.

Onward.

Saturday, March 24 – William Mohr and Vincent Mowrey
6:00 p.m.
Poetry at the Carnegie Art Museum
The Jackson Wheeler Series 2018

424 South C Street, Oxnard
Host: Marsha de la O

costs $5 / members free

Candidates for the set list:

“Why the Heart Never Develops Cancer” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“The Eviction” — from Milk Magazine

“The Headwaters of Nirvana” — from Caliban on-line magazine

“Scorpio in the Summer” — from hidden proofs (Bombshelter Press, 1982; out of print)

“On the Poetry of the Barbarians” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“Wrinkles” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“In the Ocean of Nothingness” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“Untitled” poem from Hummingbird magazine

“Scorpio in Transit” from the new anthology from KYSO

“Gravestone Song” (unpublished)