Category Archives: Books

Beyond Baroque Gala Tickets Now on Sale

Friday, September 21, 2018

Gala Tickets Now on Sale

Tickets to Beyond Baroque’s Gala 50th Anniversary Celebration are now on sale.

beyondbaroque50gala.eventbrite.com

If you want to know why you should splurge for an evening out in Los Angeles — in other words, what are you getting for your money besides knowing that you are supporting a nationally recognized literary arts center — then I urge you to take a peek at the page Beyond Baroque has set up about this event:

beyondbaroque.org/2018gala.html

Tickets for the table I am sponsoring — the PapaBachanalia Table — are now sold out. While there is still room at other tables, I wouldn’t wait too long to decide about attending. There will not be an encore event. I remember when Marie Ponsot read at Beyond Baroque, so many people showed up for the first show that she agreed to do a 10:00 p.m. reading, too.

The 50th Gala evening starts at 5 p.m., and will roll straight through at 10:00 p.m., at which point we will all go home and savor our luck at having been at a very special occasion.

See you there!

The “Headwaters / Manantiales” Reading / Art Tour

WHAT BOOKS / GLASS TABLE COLLECTIVE
is proud to announce the publication of

The Headwaters of Nirvana / Los Manantiales del Nirvana:
Reassembled Poems

by Bill Mohr
(a bilingual edition translated by Jose Luis Rico and Robin Myers)

THE HEADWATERS OF NIRVANA / Los Manantiales del Nirvana is an expanded version of Pruebas Ocultas, a bilingual edition of Bill Mohr’s poems published in Mexico by Bonobos Editores. Both editions reflect the translators’ preferences; in selecting these poems, Jose Luis Rico and Robin Myers aspire to share their perspectives of a poet who is exceptionally difficult to classify. Touching on a multitude of tender as well as sardonic themes, Mohr’s poems are most often associated with a contumacious West Coast poetics centered in Los Angeles. While Mohr has vigorously championed his fellow poets since the early 1970s as an editor, publisher, critic, and literary historian, The Headwaters of Nirvana surpasses his other noteworthy achievements. Mohr now stands poised to claim an enduring place among the handful of American poets whose work will continue to be acknowledged on an international level. As Margarita Cuellar observed in selecting Pruebas Ocultas as one of the two dozen best books of poetry published in Mexico in 2015, “Si hay una palabra qui identifique sus textos esta podria ser ‘vitalidad’.”

The ”Headwaters / Manantiales” Tour

Long Beach Open Studio Tour
Painting by Linda Fry and Bill Mohr
Artist Co-Op Gallery, Studio #2
1330 Gladys Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90804
Saturday, October 20, Noon – 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, October 21; Noon – 2:30 p.m.

POETRY READING: New Unpublished Poems by Bill Mohr
Redondo Beach Public Library
Saturday, October 20 – 3 p.m.
(Reading with Elena Karina Byrne, Suzanne Lummis, and Gabriel Meyer)

Long Beach Open Studio Tour
Paintings by Linda Fry and Bill Mohr
Artist Co-Op Gallery, Studio #2
1330 Gladys Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90804
Saturday, October 27, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 28; Noon – 5:00 p.m.

WHAT BOOKS FALL DEBUT READING
Book Launch: The Headwaters of Nirvana / Los Manantiales del Nirvana
Bill Mohr (also featuring poet Paul Lieber)
Skylight Book Store
1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Sunday, October 21, 2018 – 5 p.m.

BEYOND BAROQUE — POETRY READING
The Headwaters of Nirvana / Los Manantiales del Nirvana
Bill Mohr (also featuring poet Paul Lieber)
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
Saturday, October 27, 2018 – 8 p.m.

THE PAPA BACHALIA TABLE
Beyond Baroque
Gala 50th Anniversary Celebration
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
Saturday, November 10, 2018 – 5 p.ml – 10 p.m.

Ventura Artists Union presents
Bill Mohr
Thursday Night Poetry Series
Hosted by Marsha de la O and Phil Taggart
EP Foster Library – Topping Room
651 E. Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Thursday, November 15, 2018; 7:30 p.m.

The Rapp Saloon Poetry Series
Hosted by Elena Secota
presents
Bill Mohr’s The Headwaters of Nirvana
1436 2nd Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(with Beth Rusico and Leon Martell)
Friday, November 16, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.

The Argonaut’s Obituary for Frank T. Rios

About three weeks ago, I posted a blog entry taking note of the passing of Frank T. Rios, one of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s most loyal companions. Since I am in the midst of trying to finish the final draft of an article on Venice West for Nancy Grace, who is editing a volume of essays on Beat writers and Beat culture, I will limit my entry today to a link to this fine obituary on Frank T. Rios by Kyle Knoll.

A Vessel for the Muse

Before I talked to Mr. Knoll, I opened Rios’s memoirs of a street poet at random and the poem I encountered was entitled, “vote.” If I can get permission, I am going to post it on this blog. It is one of the best “political” poems I have read and should be read by every political persuasion, especially since we are being continually reminded that this upcoming election is the “most important one ever.” So is the breakfast I will east in a half-hour.

At some point down the line, the poetry written by those associated with Venice West will become better known, making the complexity of the West Coast canon all the more intriguing.

Stylus to the Stars (a photographic triptych)

August 28, 2018

“Stylus to the Stars”

I hope the pun in the title is obvious enough. “What do you dislike in particular?” John Lennon was once asked. “Slow people,” he responded. I’m not sure that I would have been sufficiently up to speed for him or his friends, but even so, I can sympathize with his disdain.

I dedicate this sequence of photographs to Jamie Lund, who knows how hard it is to cut the hair of a diva-wannabe.

Stylus to the Stars

Stylus - No. 2

Stylus to the Stars - 3

(copyright (c) Bill Mohr, 2018. All right reserved.

Beyond Baroque in 1998: The 30th Anniversary Rededication Candlelight Walk (Photographs)

Beyond Baroque in 1998

Twenty years ago, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California celebrated its 30th anniversary. Founded in a storefront on West Washington Blvd. by George Drury Smith as the headquarters for his nascent publishing project, Beyond Baroque magazine, the project had spawned a weekly poetry workshop, free and open to the public, that still meets on Wednesday evening, a reading series that has featured some of the most famous poets in the United States (Philip Levine, Mark Strand, John Ashbery, Amy Gerstler) as well as fiction writers, such as Charles Baxter. Under the direction of Alexandra Garrett, Beyond Baroque cultivated a superb library of small press publications, and it still operates a bookstore that can provide any young writer with a chance to peruse books not easily found at Barnes and Noble.

Beyond Baroque will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on November 10th with an extraordinary evening of featured artists, but before I write in this blog about this upcoming event, I first want to share with you some photographs I took of the evening on which poets recommitted themselves to this project. The president and artistic director of Beyond Baroque at that time, Fred Dewey, and I had come up with the idea of holding a brief pilgrimage to mark the 30th anniversary, and so we gathered at the Old Venice City Hall, lit some candles and walked up to West Washington, which now goes by the name of Abbott Kinney.

CandleWalk - BB30

The storefront in which Beyond Baroque operated was the first floor of one of the taller buildings on West Washington. The lot to the south was empty and used only in a minimal manner as a boat building and repair lot; it is occupied by a popular specialty. restaurant, Lemonade. This first picture focuses on George Drury Smith, and it appears that he is gazing offstage at road taken, and retaken, mulling over the changes on Venice Blvd. as we made the 12 minute walk. Just over his shoulder is Harry Northup, and he is facing Frances Dean Smith, one of the first members of the Wednesday night poetry workshop, founded by John Harris and Joseph Hansen.

GDS - BB - 30

This next photograph features John Harris, wearing a blue cap; he is obviously enjoying the company of Barry Simons, who gave several memorable readings at The Bridge on the other side of town in the early 1970s; since Frances Dean Smith could hardly afford the services of a babysitter in the early to mid-1960s, she often brought her daughter, Marina Bukowski, to this very room to listen to poets who now regard Ellyn Maybe (dark hair, blue pullover), the only one of this quartet still alive, as a writer who has truly honored their legacy with her vivacious poetry.

Haris - FDS - BB30

Holly Prado and Harry Northup, who met as a result of Harry reading FEASTS, the first major success I had with Momentum Press in the 1970s, are talking with George Drury Smith in the next photograph.

Holly - Harry - GDS - BB30

Ellyn and Frances again:

Ellyn - FSM -- BB30

John Thomas and Philomene Long drove from the Old Venice City Hall to the original site. John Thomas’s eponymous first book of poem had an extraordinary influence on the first generation of Beyond Baroque workshop poets.

John - Philomene - BB30

David James, on the far left, read his poems on a Friday evening in 1974 with me as the other featured poet. It must be said that David’s poems were far better received than mine were, as they should have been Although he eventually concentrated on film criticism, his poems are still a crucial contribution to my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).

David James - BB30

And now for some “cameo” photographs of other poets in attendance:

BB - 30 - CAMEO-1

BB - 30 - CAMEO2

BB -30 - CAMEO3

(All photographs (c) copyright Bill Mohr. Permission required to reproduce or disseminate these photographs in a form or medium.)

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

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

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

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

“Baseball and Classicism”
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47076/baseball-and-classicism

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_clmt.shtml

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

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2018/08/tom-clark-try-to-look-upon-death-as-a-friend-terence-winch.html

A Calmer Unease: Tom Clark’s Truth Game

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

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

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 early months of 1959, 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 literary acclaim. It must be said that the surviving poets of Venice West never relented in championing underground poets; Rios, for instance, was one of the major forces behind Black Ace books, which produced several issues of a magazine that embedded younger poets in 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.

About the same time as Rios read at the LACMA, the museum also mounted the first production of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s one-act play, “Round Bout Midnite,” which was directed by S.A. Griffin. If anyone in Los Angeles is attuned to the impact that Venice West had on younger poets such as Scott Wannberg and Ellyn Maybe, it would be Griffin, who has sent me the following tribute: “Frank was truly one of the greats, the real deal, committed heart and soul to his wife Joyce, his sobriety and the Lady muse until the last. An inspiration for us all as we carry on in process.”

Frank T. Rios is survived by his widow, Joyce Castagnola, as well as his first wife, Carolyn, and their two daughters, Prima and Zana.

Farewell, Frank. Your poems remain mid-flight.

POSTSCRIPT:

For those who never heard Frank T. Rios talk about his life in Venice West, here is a link to some tapes produced at KCET:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/beat-poet-frank-rios-the-holy-three

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 major poem, “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love”; 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.

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