Category Archives: Books

Bill Mohr reads in Hawaii

Monday, June 17, 2019

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Hawaii Reading Poster

(Thank you, Nicole Street, for setting this up!)

Potential “set list”:

Portrait in McVicker’s Garden
Rules for Building a Labyrinth
How to Play Ping-Pong with a Mirror
The Restoration
In the Ocean of Nothingness
One Miracle
Waiting in Line at Pancho’s Tacos
The Bulldozer
An Answer
The Haiku Sequence in KYSO
Real Days Off
The Remission
Why the Heart Never Develops Cancer

Kevin Killian (1952-2019) and Nan Hunt, R.I.P.

Sunday morning, June 16, 2019

Yesterday afternoon, Linda and I drove up to Venice for the book launch, at Beyond Baroque, of Ed Smith’s PUNK ROCK IS COOL FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, edited by David Trinidad and published by Turtile Point Press (Brooklyn, NY). Given that Ed Smith left Los Angeles a long time ago, and has been dead for almost a decade and a half, the event was very well attended. It didn’t hurt that the line-up of presenters included Amy Gerstler, Jim Krusoe, Benjamin Weissman, Michael Silverblatt, Jack Skelley, Jane DeLynn, Sheree Rose, and myself, as well as his book’s editor, David Trinidad. It was almost a reunion party, though a bit of a somber one, since it was shadowed by the news of Holly Prado’s death. David, in fact, started the event by reading one of her poems.

Amy read a single poem of Ed’s that meditated on the history of civilization and non-civilization, and in conflating both Saphho and dinosaurs in a manifesto of sorts, Ed Smith’s poetry demonstrated its continued relevance to the maturation of our current scenes. All the readers are superb veterans, but I especially want to note Benjamin Weissman’s ability to recreate the tone and cadence of Ed Smith’s own delivery. It was the personal highlight of the entire event, along with Michael Silverblatt’s very fine choices of Smith’s poems. His selection comprised a mini-volume, in fact, that was like an EP of Smith’s work. In addition, Michael delivered some deeply heartfelt recollections of Ed’s ability to perform. The best single line of the event was Michael’s observation, “You wouldn’t believe how Ed could work the room, even when there was nobody in the room.”

After Linda and I got home, we found out that Nan Hunt has just died. In addition to a fine pair of books of poems (Myself in Another Skin; The Wrong Bride), she was an activist in our community as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets, a reading series that nurtured many poets in this area at a time when there were not that many well-curated series of any substantial duration. I hope that Laurel Ann Bogen and I can place her literary archives at a local university. They deserve such a repository.

I have also just learned (from a Facebook post by Brian Kim Stefans in response to my post on Holly Prado) that the poet, playwright, actor, and editor Kevin Killian has also died. My first thought was that he must have died in the past few days, and I was just now hearing about it, but when I went to the Wikipedia page, today (June 16) is listed for the day of his death, so this must have happened sometime in the wee hours. I am fairly sure that I saw him walking with a friend at the AWP conference in Portland just a few months ago, so his passing comes as abrupt news. If “to queer a text” is to valorize its non-normative potential, then Killian’s work in every phase of his imaginative endeavors will prove to be a major resource for future scholars, and it would be my hope that Ed Smith’s work would benefit from that expanded context and be equally aligned for its transgressive accomplishments.

Holly Prado (1938 – 2019)

Friday, June 14, 2019 — midmorning — I just got home from ordinary errands and heard the devastating news from my spouse Linda, who had been called only a few minutes earlier by Laurel Ann Bogen: Holly Prado died last night. In one of her poems, Holly invoked the presence of poets both living and dead as our most cherished companions in the imaginative journey. “Why go on without such a family?” The first time I read that line, I was immediately struck with the full force of its pertinent acuity. Holly was one of the Great Aunts in the family of poetry, nourishing so many of us with her poems, her prose, and her wise teaching. Our family of poets, especially in Southern California, has suffered an enormous loss.

Holly Prado was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1938, and graduated from Albion College in Michigan in 1960. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s. In the middle of that decade, she started teaching English at Marshall High School, and also joined Alvaro Cardona-Hine’s poetry workshop. Her first published poem was in Apple magazine, a magazine I remember finding at Either/Or Bookstore in Hermosa Beach. It was well done poetry magazine for that time, with a kind of physical production that spoke of quiet craft rather than slick flash. That poem was also chosen by Paul Vangelisti, Neeli Cherry, and Charles Bukowski for their “An Anthology of L.A. Poets” (1972). Her first book of poetry was nothing breaks off at the edge (New Rivers Press).

In 1974, Prado resigned from her high school teaching position, and committed herself to a full-time life as a poet and teacher of creative writing. She was the first Southern California regional coordinator for the California Poets in the Schools program. She also started leading private workshops that put a special emphasis on journal writing. Her writing began to appear in a number of Los Angeles-based magazines, including several issues of Momentum, Bachy, Invisible City, Beyond Baroque, and Temblor. She was one of the ten poets featured in my first anthology, The Streets Inside (1978), and was also featured in POETRY LOVES POETRY (1985). She appeared in over a dozen other anthologies, including Suzanne Lummis’s GRAND PASSION and WIDE AWAKE.

In the mid-1970s, I published her novella-length piece of autobiographical fiction, FEASTS. Among its many memorable lines, one in particular has served as a kind of mantra in my life: “to turn our gold into ordinary ground, the best possible solution.” So much of the ground of Southern California poetry gleams with the radiant palimpsest of our poetry’s debt to her inspiring verse as well as long-time endeavors as a teacher. The family of poets in Los Angeles joins together in sending our mutual sympathy to her husband, the poet-actor Harry Northup, with whom she founded a poets publishing cooperative, Cahuenga Press, over a quarter-century ago. In addition to Holly and Harry, the founding members of that cooperative were Phoebe Ozuna, Jimm Cushing, Cecilia Woloch, and myself. I had the honor of typesetting Cahuenga’s first book, Holly Prado’s Specific Mysteries. Cahuenga Press also published her massive volume of selected poems, These Mirror Prove It. In addition to writing poetry reviews for the Los Angeles Times, she had a compilation of “spoken word” entitled “Word Rituals,” produced by Harvey Kubernik, and released on the New Alliance record label.

Her literary archive is at the Archive for New Poetry at the Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego. The placement of her papers in the middle of the last decade proved to be a fortunate gift, for both Prado and Northup lost all of their possessions in a fire caused by an electrical problem in their apartment, in 2017. It was a mark of the affection the community possessed for these two remarkable poets that $20,000 was raised to help them get resettled. At the time of her death, Holly was living at the Motion Picture Retirement Home in Woodland Hills.

Holly Prado is survived by her husband, Harry Northup, and her stepson, Dylan Northup.

Ed Smith — L.A.’s Droll Punk Poet

Tuesday, June 11

This coming Saturday, June 15th, Beyond Baroque will host a book launch for a collection of writing by Ed Smith, whose work appeared in such magazines as Jim Kruose’s Santa Monica REVIEW and Jack Skelly’s BARNEY, in addition to being featured in my 1985 anthology, POETRY LOVES POETRY. Smith’s archive is located at New York University, and I remember reading some of the pages from his journals when I was doing research at its special collections. I had always admired Smith’s poetry. I knew exactly where Tim’s Bunnies was located on my book shelves, though other volumes by more famous poets were packed away in a storage shed.

The ensemble of writers, poets and literary commentators who will be gathering at Beyond Baroque to celebrate Smith’s life and book is remarkable. All of us who care about the preservation of L.A.’s literary history should make an effort to pay tribute not only to Ed Smith, but to his editor David Trinidad, whose meticulous research has assembled a volume that will interest anyone who is curious about the ambiguous domains of popular culture, art, and poetry.

Turtle Point Press’s publicity statement:

LA’s Punk Poet Ed Smith blazed onto the Los Angeles poetry scene in the early ’80s from the hardcore punk scene. The charismatic, nerdy young man hit home with his funny/scary, off-the-cuff-sounding poems. Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith brings together Smith’s published books, unpublished poems, excerpts from his extensive notebooks, photos, and ephemera. Come celebrate the irreverent, tweetable, ludicrous, painful, wondrous work of this “punk Dorothy Parker” with Jim Krusoe, Michael Silverblatt, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Bill Mohr, Sheree Rose, Bruce Hainley, Jack Skelley, Benjamin Weissman, and Jane DeLynn.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Saturday, June 15
5 p.m.

On War and Disarmament

June 7, 2019

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the landing at Normandy. (The anniversary of the landing at Anzio was hardly noted, as far as I can tell. Quick quiz: name the most famous literary character to take part in that debacle?)

It seemed very odd to have a president at that ceremony whose only protest against the War in Vietnam consisted of his concern to avoid military service. Of course, that would also be more or less be the case if his main opponent in the 2016 election had won instead.

But this is not the most depressing aspect of the current push to expand this country’s military might, all in preparation for another major global conflict. The sad fact is that even the most liberal of the current political candidates have made only the most tepid of commitments to fielding a policy built on the following premise:

A military is strong only in proportion to its capacity to engage in comprehensive disarmament.

I keep getting “personal” e-mail requests from Democratic candidates to support their party. Why should I feed the War Machine, which enjoys feeding at their trough just as much as it does at Trump’s?

Richard Beban – Paris May 31st

Friday, May 31st

It is 8:45 a.m. in Long Beach, California. “June gloom” has gotten off to an early start this year; the Memorial Day weekend in L.A. County included rain. In the quiet of the neighborhood’s morning, I find myself thinking of the poet Richard Beban, for whom a memorial service was held in Paris today by his spouse and fellow poet, Kaaren Kitchell. At this point, she is gathering with all who loved Richard to finish the day of mourning with a special ceremony. I have cut and pasted below the information that I have found on it, should anyone want to join in spirit with this memorial procession.

Richard’s Memorial Celebration at Père Lachaise
#richardbeban #memorial #ceremony # #tributetorichard #thankyoukareen #soulconnection
“C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante” Antoine de St Exupéry
Richard’s Memorial Celebration at Père Lachaise
#richardbeban #memorial #ceremony # #tributetorichard #thankyoukareen #soulconnection

I am taking the liberty to quote Kaaren’s account of a small, but telling encounter in the aftermath of Richard’s death. It seems appropriate that the “light” of a poet being quoted should have been the “rendezvous” that has strengthened her in the ordeal of grief.

Our thoughts radiate to Paris, and to Kaaren and her dearest companion, now enfolded in the tenderness of memory.

“The light on Richard’s side of the bed went out. It wasn’t the bulb, which I replaced. It was the lamp itself. I took it to an electrical appliances store on Blvd Henri IV. The electrician who fixed it in ten minutes quoted Paul Eluard to me. “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas de hasard, rien que des rendezvous.” This city of beauty and light that Richard loved so deeply enfolds me in its arms. He goes with me everywhere I go now.” — Kaaren Kitchell

Long Beach’s Biennial MidCity Studio Tour (and Femmebit in DTLA)

Long Beach, California — A Celebration of Painters and Sculptors

This city was a very important contributor to the poetry renaissance that took place in Los Angeles County between 1970 and 1985. One of the ways, in fact, that Northern California and Southern California mirrored each other’s poetry scenes is that both the Bay Area (San Francisco; Berkeley; Oakland; Bolinas) and Los Angeles (Venice; Ocean Park; East Hollywood; West Los Angeles; Hermosa Beach; Long Beach) had their “local” communities. In southern Los Angeles County, the Chelsea Bookstore was one of the places that any serious non-academic poet had to read it at some point.

Despite the best efforts of Gatsby Bookstore to make an equivalent contribution, the poetry scene in Long Beach is on a decidedly quiet scale this century. However, visual artists have begun edging out into local prominence in the past couple years, and anyone in this area who is curious has an exceptional chance to do a comprehensive survey this coming weekend.

Long Beach’s MID-CITY STUDIO TOUR (MCST), a biennial event, is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and June 2. See the following link for addresses of all the studios.
Artists include: Slater Barron, Sue Ann Robinson, Katie Stubblefield, Marka Burns, Sarah Soward, Michael Stearns, Connie DK Lane, Craig Cree Stone, Linda Fry, Ho Chan, Carol Roemer, Juan Gomez, Cynthia Evans, and many more (in addition to Mohr).


For those in Los Angeles County for whom Long Beach is too far to drive, I would recommend another celebration of artists this weekend: FEMMEBIT, in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles).

When: Friday, May 31, 6pm–2am; Saturday, June 1, 11:30 am–2am; Sunday, June 2, 11:30am–8pm
Where: Civic Center Studios (207 S. Broadway, Suite 1, Downtown, Los Angeles)

Curated by Sharsten Plenge, Dahn Gim, and Kate Parsons, this exhibition includes the work of over 50 women working in sound and light art, as well as various kinds of projective media. The absence of Audri Phillips from this weekend’s exhibit is a serious omission.

A Festival of Innovative Tech Art from 75-Plus Women Artists in Los Angeles

“Native Country of the Heart” — Cherrie Moraga

“The Shortlist” column in this past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review section concentrated on a quartet of family memoirs: “The Known, the Secret, the Forgotten” by Joan Wheeler (Norton); “Lost without the River” by Barbara Hofbeck Scoblic (She Writes Press); “The Donigers of Great Neck: A Mythologized Memoir” by Wendy Doniger (Brandeis University); and “Native Country of the Heart” by Cherrie Moraga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The reviewer least enjoyed Scoblic’s “oral-history-turned chronicle” of the author’s family; while the depictions of rural life in South Dakota have “charm,” the final sentence of Hoffman’s assessment suggests a petulant weariness awaits any potential reader: “Those who aren’t kin might feel they’ve already stayed too long at the reunion.” Perhaps the length of the book contributed to the reviewer’s grouchy impatience to get back to his own life; the book is the longest of the four under consideration. Nevertheless, I am eager to take a look at Scoblic’s sketches of the upper midwest. I wish the reviewer had remembered that having “kinship” to this environment is not restricted to a matter of birthplace.

Doniger’s memoir suggests that even though a memoir is very different from an autobiography, in that the former concentrates on one central trope or theme while the latter embraces the entire trajectory of one’s life, both are dependent on recitation. The memories are not spontaneous, but have been carefully rehearsed. “My story exists along a continuum from the factual to the mythological. We do not remember the past; we remember our memories of the past.” The reviewer’s attraction to this theory of self-portraiture is understandable; it is, after all, our memories of other people’s lives that give a memoir or autobiography a profound three-dimensionality. (One definition that I have long offered to students is that an interesting autobiography is little more than interwoven biographies of the narrator’s most intense relationships. In fact, an autobiography could contain relatively little direct detail about the author’s feelings, and still be a compelling, intimate self-portrait, if it is honest about the impact of the lives on others on the author.) Of the two books set in California, I have only read Moraga’s, in part because I have admired her writing ever since I met her in the mid-1970s. Her first published poem appeared in an issue of RARA AVIS magazine, in which I also had a poem. Indeed, her play “Shadow of a Man” is one of my favorite works to include on a syllabus. I wish I could have taught it more often, but that is the problem with teaching both creative writing and literature on the undergraduate and graduate level.

Moraga gave the Helena Maria Viramontes Lecture several weeks ago at CSU Long Beach, and in the course of talking about her memoir, she asked the audience to consider a question that is not that easy to answer: “How do we decolonize ourselves?” My initial response was that any process that begins with a recitation of a memory is a false start. Moraga’s “Native Country” avoids that particular cul-de-sac by embedding her family’s entanglements with race, class, and cultural identity within the extraordinary uncertainty of her own setting off into a literary life. Each page of her book retains a touch of that distant impetuosity. If you should feel discouraged at your prospects, set aside your travails for the moment, and recover your balance by listening to Moraga’s passionate wisdom.

Lawrence Lipton Tape Archive of Venice West at USC

Friday, May 17, 2019

“The Lost Sounds of Venice West”

I first heard of Lawrence Lipton’s archives when I read John Maynard’s VENICE WEST, the first monograph to study the emergence of a Beat-influenced community of poets and artists in Southern California. Lipton was a poet, novelist, and cultural commentator who became most famous for a best-selling, non-fiction book, The Holy Barbarians (1959). His literary archive ended up being divided between two institutions: UCLA, which has most of his manuscripts and correspondence; and USC (the University of Southern California), which has had a trove of ever more fragile, reel-to-reel tape recordings in its special collection vaults for several decade. The correspondence at UCLA, especially the exchange of letters between Kenneth Rexroth and Lipton, is essential background reading for anyone working on West Coast poetry at mid-century. The tape recordings provide an even more compelling survey of the cultural environment of Southern California at that time.

For scholars, as well as afficianandoes of the Venice West scene, the wonderful news is that many of the most pertinent tapes have been digitized and are now available for listening on-line. Bill Dotson’s article about this archival development and our expanded access to this material will give you a better idea of its importance than anything I have time to write at the present moment.

Here is a link to “The Lost Sounds of Venice West,” Bill Dotson’s announcement:

You can explore / browse / listen to the collection from this page here:

In addition to Bill Dotson, I especially want to acknowledge the work done by Claude Zachary, special collections librarian at USC, for their support of this project.

Post-Memorial Service Thoughts

Saturday, May 11, 2019

I have just returned from the memorial service for Jessie Bingaman, which was held at Bixby Park at 3:30 p.m., and attended by about 80 people. It is not for me to repeat in detail what I learned about her life or the extraordinary qualities of personal intgrity and compassion that she possessed. I will leave that process of discovery up to you. I am, however, able to say that only now am I beginning to realize how grievous a loss our neighborhood has suffered.

I would note that a representative of the Long Beach Police Department spoke at the memorial service, and he claimed that serious conversations were taking place in the department in the aftermath of this event. He seemed sincere when he said that the LBPD was willing to listen to anyone in the community who was affected by this event.

I would suggest that transparency would be a good place to start. According to my understanding of California law, the Long Beach Police Department bears no financial responsibility whatsoever for the consequences of this police pursuit. Since there is no chance of legal action, then why not hold a public forum in which the process of apprehending a criminal suspect is presented and discussed by the entire neighborhood?

My guess is that the LBPD has no interest in changing anything, however. They hope that our neighborhood will be mollified with a report that conversations are taking place. It doesn’t suffice, as far as I’m concerned.

At the staging area for Jessie Bingaman’s memorial service, there was an enlarged photograph of her sitting in meditation. The back of her T-shirt read, with a humor befitting her journey of enlightenment as well as her professional passion:

And then we pick it up.

I will let you figure out the punch line yourself.

Sunday, May 12, 2019 — Postscript: