Category Archives: Books


Bob Edwards, the Walter Cronkite of the Baby Boom Generation

February 16, 2024

I was working on the final draft of my Ph.D. dissertation in the spring of 2004 when I heard that Bob Edwards was being fired from his job at NPR. The notion that he was too old to serve as a drawing card depressed me, not least because I had been on the academic job market, and I had had only two job interviews, and one job talk at that point. In 2005, I did not get a single job interview, even with a Ph.D. degree in hand,

Edwards was not that old when he lost the only job he’d known for almost a quarter century. He was born, after all, the same year I was. The announcement of his death very close to twenty years after NPR and he went separate ways hits home because our lives shared an awareness of the same major points of cultural and political demarcation.

Of all of his interviews, one I recall in particular was with a homeless man in a park in Washington, D.C. The compassion in his voice was as palpable as the the contradictory altruism and abjection of the man he was interviewing. Rarely have I ever heard a conversation in which so much inner anguish has been revealed with such subtle urgency.

Maybe somewhere there’s a tape: “The Best of Bob Edwards.” If I ever get to retire completely from my job, I’d love to spend a few days listening to it.

R.I.P., Mr. Edwards.

Robert Alan Edwards (May 16, 1947 – February 10, 2024)’’


Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez (1949-2024): the voice that summoned in “Diva”

THe opera star of “Diva” recently died, and though it is an all too brief post on Valentine’s Day, I simply must take note of her passing. The excerpt of Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez singing in a suspense thriller built around a “bootleg” tape of an artist who doesn’t believe in the commodification of her voice is one of the most poignant experiences of my entire life. I just listened to it once again, and it is more enrapturing than ever. I regret that I never had a chance to hear her perform live.

Oddly enough, my guess is that this film, which was released over 40 years ago, has probably not been seen by the majority of filmgoers between the ages of 18 and 30.

May the most exquisite operatic voice I have ever heard rest in eternal reverberation.


Wanda Coleman’s “American Sonnets” and Terrance Hayes

Sunday, February 11

This weekend I’ve been preparing to lead a discussion of MFA students about Terrance Hayes’s “American Sonnets for My Once & Future Assassin.” I’ve just finished jotting down notes on each of his sonnets and realized that I should have assigned Wanda Coleman’s sequence to them, too. While it’s too late for me to insist that they do so, I would like to post this brief note today (at 5:45 p.m., PST) to let my readers know that they can be found on-line:

There are dozens of poets whose work deserves close attention and at least some brief commentary, and the sad part of being a devoted reader of contemporary American poetry is the fact that no one could meet that demand, even if she or he were paid a full-time salary. Nevertheless, it’s almost incumbent on any serious reader to record a small portion of their insights into a few poets.

In Hayes’s case, I would like to apply a rule I heard about years ago that claimed anyone who wanted to know what one of Shakespeare’s plays was about only had to read the line of poetry that was at the exact center of the play. I thought that was an interesting premise, even if it was nothing more than a premise meant to bolster and augment one’s motive for indulging in Bardolotry.

In the “Once and Future Assassin” collection of poems, the rule turns up a haunting line, which in fact circles back to the very first “American Sonnet.” You’ll find that line in the middle of the sonnet on page 43: “To be dead and alive at the same time.” That kind of simultaneity is exactly what happens when Orpheus draws an “X” across the eyes of the beloved.

Hayes is an astonishing poet, and I have more to say about this book on another morning.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Don’t Look Back, Taylor Swift: J. Ivy’s Won Two in a Row!

Monday, February 5, 2024


“our muscle memory is made out of miracles” — J. Ivy

Even as Jay-Z gave a stirring acceptance speech after receiving the Dr. Dre Global Impact Grammy, let us remember that over a half-dozen years ago Chicago poet J. Ivy began to agitate for the Grammy Awards for “Spoken Word” to have a separate category for poetry. This is something that should have happened a long time ago. If it had, Michael C. Ford would certainly have an actual Grammy sitting on whatever stands in for a mantel where he lives. Ford was once nominated for a Grammy, and he will continue to share that honor along with the others who were nominated with J. Ivy for the 2024, which went for the second year in a row to J. Ivy.


I wasn’t able to scribble down all the names of J. Ivy’s collaborators in making “THE LIGHT INSIDE,” but here is a partial list:
Torrey Torae
Christian McBride
Jimmy Jam
Greg Majors
Omar Keith
Dj Jazzy Jeff
Anthony Hamilton
Bootsy Collins
Michael Jamal Warner
Maurice Brown

Tarrey Torae
“our muscle memory is made out of miracles”


First Win

J. Ivy wins for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album

Jay-Z’s acceptance speech:


Why Does It Have to Rain on My Grammy After-Party? Storm Watch: Thursday (Feb. 1) through Tuesday (Feb. 6)

Storm Watch: Thursday (Feb. 1) through Tuesday (Feb. 6)

Monday, February 5
UPDATE: Classes at seven CSU campuses were shifted to Zoom today, though the amount of rain in Long Beach was less than overwhelming in my neighborhood. However, the sewage spill into the Pacific Ocean that almost always occurs when more than two inches of rain hits Los Angeles County took place with a kind of aquatic fatalism.
5-million-gallon sewage spill prompts Long Beach to close all swimming areas

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Yesterday, I drove my 1998 Oldsmobile to Allen Tire on Carson Boulevard and got new tires put on. I hope to be able to drive the car another year or so, and the old tires had reached their limit. My decision to set aside time for this chore was in large part due to the storm that’s coming in. We got a sneak preview just a while ago: as of 10 a.m. Thursday, February 1, 2.3 inches of rain had fallen overnight at Long Beach Airport, while 2.4 inches had fallen at LAX. The local deluge barricaded a portion of the 710 Freeway near PCH, and a nearby railroad underpass was also impassible. Floodwater nearly completely submerged several vehicles in the area. Other streets in Long Beach were only partially closed.Right hand lanes on Seventh Street, for instance, were engorged with rainwater, and traffic oozed its way along, reduced to the left lanes only. Parts of PCH in Huntington Beach, however, were closed in both directions. Elsewhere, the CHP reported at least 50 spinouts and crashes on freeways and roads in the central Los Angeles area Thursday morning. Flooding also embroiled the southbound side of the McClure Tunnel in Santa Monica. A foreboding hint of another possible residential catastrophe in the Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates, after the next storm will have passed, also surfaced with reports of mud flows on Thursday on the peninsula’s roadways.

As of Saturday morning, February 3, two inches of rain are predicted for tomorrow, followed by an inch of rain on Monday. The storm will begin tuning up with a twelve-hour spate of showers that commence on Sunday, at midnight. By noon, the rain will begin falling in earnest and not let up until noon Tuesday, after which light rain and showers can be expected for another 24 hours. The storm will taper off on Tuesday, with less than a half-inch predicted.

The Grammy Award presentation focuses its broadcast on the songs and bands who will draw the biggest audiences. If only as a gesture of respect to those whose writing and performing is more aligned with various poetry scenes in Los Angeles than the bands who be featured tomorrow, here is a partial list of nominations for the Spoken Word Grammy this year:
The Spoken Word Nominations this year are:

Best Spoken Word Poetry Album
When The Poems Do What They Do == Aja Monet

Best Spoken Word Poetry Album
The Light Inside — J. Ivy

Best Spoken Word Poetry Album
Grocery Shopping With My Mother. — Kevin Powell

Best Spoken Word Poetry Album
A-You’re Not Wrong B-They’re Not Either: The Fukc-It Pill Revisited. — Queen Sheba

Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling Recording
It’s Ok To Be Angry About Capitalism

NOTE: J. Ivy won the inaugural Best Spoken Word Poetry Album Grammy in 2023 for “The Poet Who Sat By The Door.”


In San Diego, slightly less than two weeks ago, an overwhelming deluge brought left the trolley system only functioning in a small portion of the county, and flooded several freeways. In National City, which is south of downtown San Diego, floods damaged many houses and apartment buildings, and approximately 100 people have been evicted from now uninhabitable buildings and are in desperate need of permanent shelter.

Four or more inches fell at:
Otay Mountain; Point Loma; National City, 4.21 inches; and Palomar Mountain.
Three or more inches fell at:
La Mesa; Fallbrook; Dulzura Summit, San Diego International Airport and Carlsbad Airport; Lake Cuyamaca; and Santee, 3.05 inches.

Oceanside and Kearney Mesa got two and a half inches; the mountain town of Julian received over two inches, as did San Marcos.


Jack Skelley: “Fear of Kathy Acker” (the theatrical adaptation)

Last year, Semiotext(e) published Jack Skelley’s “Complete Fear of Kathy Acker,” the compilation of a project that began as a very small pamphlet in the early 1980s, or at least that’s when I remember seeing the first one. I have yet to obtain a copy of the finished edition, but I am hoping to have a chance to read it before I attend the theatrical adaptation that will have a brief run at the end of this month at Illusion Magic Lounge in Santa Monica located at 1418 4th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401.The performances will begin at 8:00 on February 27th, 28th, and 29th.

If Skelley’s work seems somewhat familiar to readers of this blog, but you can’t quite place it, let me give you a little hint. My review of his book, “Pleased to Meet You Beastmaster 666,” was one of the top three dozen most visited posts in my blog during the past two years.In addition to his widely admired first book, “MONSTERS,” from Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar Press, Skelley was also the editor and publisher oF BARNEY magazine in the early 1980s. In addition, he played in several bands, including PLANET OF TOYS with poet-performance artist Bob Flanagan, and curated the musical presentations at Beyond Baroque under the banner, “Beyond Barbecue.”


D.R. Wagner — Poet and Artist (1943-2023)

January 25, 2024 —

This morning, soon after a brief meditation and while doing some stretching on a yoga mat, I thought to myself, “maybe January 25the will the date for the anniversary of my death.” It’s a Thursday, I thought, so there’s a blending of Merwin and Vallejo. And it had been raining before dawn, when I first got up.

While I have no idea of course on what day I will die, I will remember this date as the one when a friend told me that D.R. Wagner, poet and artist, died a month ago, at age 80. I suppose I first heard of him over a half-century ago because of a magazine he edited called THE RUNCIBLE SPOON. Ah! Those were the glory days of poetry, when no one ever thought of it as a “career.” The AWP seemed like some obscure splinter group of a right wing political faction; it was of little relevance to the ever accelerating small press movement that D.R. Wagner was emblematic of.

Truly, may he rest in the muse’s dreams as one who spent his time on earth as only a poet can.

Some of Donald R. Wagner’s boos include:

The Lost Carnival and Other Places (Death Crater, California: Molly Moon Press, 1969. 22pp.)

Cruising’ at the Limit: Selected Poems 1968-1978 (1982)

April 15, April 16 : poems

Confessional poem to free the mind of its hang ups and keep the underworld free of its goofy
Cat’s Pajamas Press, 1970.

Round, earth, poems (Milwaukee : Gunrunner Press, 1969)


The CFA Strike Starts Today — No Rain Delay!

An Historic Benchmark: The Largest Ever Union Strike at any U.S. Academic Institution

This morning I was out on the picket line, protesting the insult of a pay cut by the Chancellor’s Office of California State University. They would claim that their imposition of a five percent pay raise adequately addresses the inflation that has ravaged our incomes the past two years.

I’ll grant that it was a damp, chilly, and at times rainy morning, but I was surprised by the absence of several colleagues on the picket line and can only hope that they are not betraying the effort and sacrifices made by those who understand that only collective action will alter things.

The only faculty who would have an excuse for staying home would be at San Diego State. San Diego had a major downpour today, with 2.7 inches falling there. Wind speeds up to 48 miles per hour were reported in Imperial Beach. The 5 Freeway near downtown was flooded. Water up to three feet high forced people — both adults and children — to flee to the second floors of buildings.


Gary Griswold, a colleague who was on the picket line with me this morningG, has given me permission to disseminate a statement he wrote about the strike. here it is:

One of my colleagues, Dr. Gary Griswold, worked up the following explanation of the strike, which he has given me permission to share with you. Professor Griswold, as he notes, received his first two degrees from CSU Long Beach, so he has a long institutional memory. I thank him for permission to distribute this statement.

From the desk of Dr. Gary Griswold:

“I would like to give you some context for the strike.

“Faculty play the pivotal role in the University’s core mission to provide a high-quality education to an increasingly diverse California. Yet, while faculty continue to invest their time and energy needed to promote student success, they find themselves struggling to support their families, afford housing, and make student loan payments.

“But to have the best learning conditions, you need to have the best employment conditions for faculty. Instead, the CSU Board of Trustees and the CSU Chancellor’s Office are currently raising student tuition by an alarming 34% over the next five years, have raised the salaries of CSU Presidents up to 29%, and hired a new Chancellor whose salary, combined with housing and car allowances, amounts to close to a million dollars of yearly compensation.

“All this, while they just walked early during negotiations with faculty and imposed a measly 5% raise, which doesn’t even cover inflation, claiming to be too impoverished to agree to our union’s proposal to increase faculty pay, limit class sizes, and hire more counselors/advisors for students.

“The total cost of our union’s proposal would be around 386 million dollars. That sounds like a lot of money until you find out that CSU system is an extremely healthy and lucrative corporation with an ever-increasing surplus that surpasses 6 billion dollars.

“I emphasize that this strike is not just about a faculty pay raise, but also about our students. We have proposed, and the CSU Administration has rejected, increased counseling and advising services for students as well as limitation on the continual increasing of class enrollment sizes. This last issue has a direct effect on how much individualized attention students may receive from faculty.

“I myself and a product of the CSU system. I earned both a BA (1987) and an MA (1989) in English right here at CSULB. In my more than 40 years at this campus, first as an undergraduate, then a graduate student, temporary staff member, temporary lecturer/instructor, and finally, in 2002 as a full-time professor, I have witnessed a gradual decline in civil, respectful treatment of the faculty by both CSULB and system-wide (Chancellor’s Office) administration, especially in the last decade or so.

“What was once the largest, most respected, and affordable system of public higher education ever seen, held up throughout the world as a model of investment in the future of our students, and subsequently, California, has turned in to a corrupt, top-down tyrannical corporation, whose only interest is in increasing profits at the expense CSU students, faculty, staff, and all California tax-payers.

“Thank you for your understanding and support.”

— Dr. Gary Griswold
Department of English

Professor William Mohr seconds this statement.

Bill Mohr, Ph.D.
Department of English

As I prepare to go to the picket line tomorrow morning, I have quickly improvised a portion of a song lyric:

I put my money where my mouth is —
I’m on strike and I won’t get paid.
The chancellor collects her salary
for spewing a hypocritical tirade.

She gets paid a million a year
to offer faculty a cut in pay
The governor says she’s doing fine
“Cajole, ignore, and egregiously delay.”

“Remind them it’s a privilege
to teach the young at a college level;
And emphasize their gratitude
Shows best when they begin to grovel.”

Yes, faculty deserve no better
than wages now worth less than yesterday
Let them eat margarine, not butter
And feel humiliated next payday.

The strike might be a big mistake.
The CSU has wealth beyond belief
and sleeps on it when we’re awake — .
For once, though, the bite of our teeth!!!!


Cauleen Smith’s Los Angeles Cinematic Baedeker: “The Wanda Coleman Songbook”

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Arts & Leisure section of today’s New York’s includes a full-page article on a new film about Los Angeles: “THE WANDA COLEMAN SONGBOOK.” Since Cauleen Smith’s film is having its debut screening at the 52 Walker Gallery in New York City, I can’t comment on the film, but I do want to call attention both to this article about this filmmaker and urge all of us in Los Angeles to celebrate long-distance with this posthumous cinematic and musical explication of one of this city’s most respectfully cherished poets. Just two months ago, Beyond Baroque named its downstairs performance space in her honor. It is, in fact, the space in which Wanda Coleman and Kate Braverman served to inaugurate Beyond Baroque’s move from West Washington Blvd. to Venice Blvd. in the fall of 1980. While Friday night readings and other events had already been taking place at the Old Venice City Hall for several months, the reading by Braverman and Coleman was listed on BB’s schedule as the “Gala Grand Opening Poetry Reading.”

“POETRY AMONG MILES OF STRIP MALLS” (My comment: Is that really the best The NY Times could do as a title for this article?)

In lieu of being able to view Smith’s film, here is a link to a clip of her talking about the power of art:

As for article in the New York Times, I would have appreciated less empty space in the photograph of the author so that Siddhartha Mitter, the journalist, could have alerted readers to specific titles of Coleman’s poetry, such as the recent volume edited by Terrance Hayes, WICKED ENCHANTMENT.


“Vogliamo Tutto” (“We Want Everything” — or at least 12%): CFA Goes On Strike!


As I mention in an earlier post, one of the books I picked up at the PAMLA conference, in Portland, this past October was Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything.” Hyperbole, quoted chirpily.

With the CFA’s call for a five day system-wide strike of the CSU by the faculty for the first week of the spring semester, however, I think it’s appropriate that I dust off an old piece that I banged out several years ago in the weeks before a strike ended up being called off at the last minute because the Chancellor’s Office decided that the right thing to do was to give us the cost-of-living increase we deserved..

This time the Cnacellor’s Office of the CSU system has decided that a five percent pay raise is sufficient to mitigate the erosion of our paychecks by the massive inflation of the past two years. The faculty bluntly disagrees. The CO is imposing a pay cut on us. Let’s make it clear that is exactly what is happening. The CO is not offering to increase our pay. Rather, the CO wants us to accept a pay cut.


I’m striking at the brain factory
‘cuz the Chancellor’s refractory.
Five percent’s a drop in the bucket.
Seven percent barely cuts it.

The Chancellor loves to heap the praise
But clams up tight when we want a raise.
All we’re asking is the cost of living
To compensate for what we’re giving.

If knowledge is prosperity,
then why so much austerity?
Five percent is a drop in the bucket.
Seven percent barely cuts it.

I’m striking at the brain factory.
Sublime, intellectual glory
won’t buy a house or pay the rent.
It affords enough to buy a tent.

Five percent is a drop in the bucket.
We say COLA, and they say, “F–k it.”
I’m striking at the brain factory
‘cuz the Chancellor’s refractory.

“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”
“Vogliamo Tutto!”


(Reprint addendum)

Friday, December 22, 2023

One month from now, either a decent contract === or on strike!!! (SEE ABOVE)

The leadership of the California Faculty Association has called on the entire faculty at all campuses of the California State University system to go on strike during the first week of classes in the Spring semester, 2024. The CFA wants to obtain for both tenured and adjunct faculty a salary commensurate with the skills and knowledge we bring to the training of the future work force. The five percent pay raise offered by the Chancellor’s Office is a pathetic joke, given the extraordinary inflation that has undermined the purchase power of our income in the past eighteen months. The fact that inflation seems recently to have leveled off does not mean that faculty have somehow magically found themselves on an even economic keel again. We are still reeling from the enormous increases in everything from rent to food to car insurance. And many of us rent. How could we possibly afford to buy a house in Southern California, where almost half of the 450,000 students enrolled in the CSU system study.

Quite bluntly, what the CSU is offering amounts to a pay cut. There’s no other way to put it. In point of fact, the California Faculty Association is not asking for a pay raise. Instead, we want to put a stop to the constant erosion of our salaries; and if CO needs a reminder of why we do not trust them, let us consider how CSU faculty were promised a four percent raise after the last contract was voted on and approved by the CFA (though I myself voted “no,” since I suspected a double-cross was in the works). What happened to that four percent? Funny you should ask. It was reduced to three percent because the legislature and the governor thought that trimming one percent from the union approved agreement would send the CFA a signal of how little power they have. Well, we have no desire to be sucker-punched again and we intend to show you how much power we do have.

CSU faculty are of course not the only workers who have felt the impingements of inflation. Other workers have flexed their muscle, and the outcome has been a mitigation of the inroads that inflation has made on their income. As a quick review of other employers who have recognized the extent that inflation has hampered the ability of workers to make ends meet, here are some other results:

July, 2023
“United Airlines pilots will get immediate wage-rate increases of 13.8% to 18.7%, depending on the type of plane they fly, followed by four smaller annual raises”

Full-time United Parcel Service (UPS) drivers got at least a ten percent pay raise this year in their new five year contract.

Here is the pay raise schedule that was agreed upon by the United Teachers Los Angeles:
3% retroactive to July 1, 2022
4% retroactive to Jan. 1
3% effective July 1, 2023
4% effective Jan. 1, 2024
3% effective July 1, 2024
4% effective Jan. 1, 2025

Why should CSU professors accept only a five percent raise in 2023-2024 when a high school teacher is getting seven percent between July 1, 2023 and January 1, 2024? That raise is in addition to a retroactive raise meant to compensate teachers for the extraordinary amount of inflation in 2022-2023.

Once again, let me reiterate the actual jump in the cost of living.

“Inflation may be cooling — but drivers can’t seem to catch. break” by Elisabeth Buchwald, 8:08 a.m. August 12, 2023

“It will cost 19.5 percent more to repair your car now than it did a year ago, according to July’s Consumer Price Index report, released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. …. (C)ar insurance (is) up 17.8 percent from a year ago.”

The CO has claimed that it has “deep respect” for the work that faculty do, but that “rapidly escalating costs of operation” preclude any pay raise beyond five percent. Their recalcitrance has a long history. In my own case, even after a half-dozen years of work following my promotion to full professor, my actual income has only minimally budged from the salary I was offered when I was appointed an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach in 2006. The effects of inflation over the past 18 years have been that devastating.

CSU Faculty have given the Chancellor’s Office a more than fair warning. This past semester included a one-day strike at four different campuses. Apparently, the CO believes that one day is the most that we are willing to walk on a picket line. We’ll see how things stand once the second week of classes start in late January and still no students are learning what they paid tuition for.

In the meantime, the money that was promised faculty as a very small raise starting in July, 2023 is five months overdue. Brotman Hall claims that it takes considerable time for each person’s paycheck to be calculated, but my guess is that by stalling the payment of this money, the CO has used the funds to invest in short-timer, high interest loans, thereby swelling its coffers through the use of money we have already earned.

In case you somehow think that the CO’s accountants don’t know how the capitalist game is played, think again. When students pay their fees in advance of the semester, that money doesn’t just sit around twiddling its manicured thumbs. That liquidity is used to make more cash ASAP. It’s the education business, and the business of education pays its administrators very well. Those who do the educating are asked to settle for “deep respect.”