Category Archives: Ground Level Conditions

The Direct Election of the Next L.A. Poet Laureate

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Direct Election of the Next L.A. Poet Laureate

One of the things I intensely dislike about the entire process by which a poet laureate is chosen is the social hierarchy that its bureaucratic administration reinforces. It mimics the manner in which direct control of governmental decisions is ceded to an indirect system, a kind of Electoral College of Art. Let me put this bluntly: it is time for poets in Los Angeles to demand an election in those who care enough about poetry – and this includes those who read it as well as those who write it – have control over the choice. In fact, anyone who is a resident of Los Angeles should be able to vote, though I would guess that the majority of those who would end up voting would prove to be readers and writers of poetry.

Obviously, the ballot could become unwieldy, but I am certain that a combination of practices that make use of internet communication can easily solve this challenge. There should certainly be more minimum requirements in place for the poet laureate. I would be in favor of a combination of length of residency in Los Angeles in the years directly before the appointment and some form of literary activism that had a direct impact on a community as a way of establishing eligibility. Luis J. Rodriguez, for instance, moved back to Los Angeles before becoming poet laureate here, but when he did move back, his projects were focused on empowering the cultural scenes of this city. He would easily qualify under the combination of residency and activism. Needless to say, the first poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy, would have qualified for the ballot, too.

In looking forward to the process of selecting the next poet laureate of Los Angeles two years from now, I can safely predict one thing: a large number of the semi-finalists will be poets who have been published by Red Hen Press. There were 18 semi-finalists in the pool that led up to the selection of the current poet laureate, Robin Coste Lewis. I have no doubt that several of those semi-finalists had been published by Kate Gale. If not, then something was very skewed in the Cultural Affairs Department. Red Hen’s backlist is a truly impressive accomplishment. Kate Gale, who is a fine poet herself, has made an enormous difference in making certain that the hard work done by poets in the 1970s and 1980s in Los Angeles continues to flourish. Here is a list of some of Red Hen’s authors who live and work in Los Angeles or in its pertinent adjacent cities:
Chris Abani
William Archila
Tony Barnstone
Laurel Ann Bogen
Jeanette Clough
Brendan Constantine
Kim Dower
Eloise Klein Healy
Charles Hood
Douglas Kearney
Ron Koertge
Douglas Manuel
Holaday Mason
Keith Antar Mason
Deena Metzger
Jim Natal
Austin Straus
Amy Uyematsu
Charles Harper Webb
Terry Wolverton
Gail Wronsky

I have to say that it would be gratifying to have the next poet laureate be someone who has been published by a press based in Los Angeles. The current poet laureate has spoken of the need for more attention to be paid to poets whose lives reflect the multitude of immigrant communities. William Archila has not been particularly prominent in the discussion so far, and yet I would encourage him to begin thinking about making himself a candidate who would certainly merit finalist status as much as such poets as Lynne Thompson, Suzanne Lummis, Marisela Norte, and Gail Wronsky.

So much of literary politics involves personal connections. I want to go on record, however, as saying that I have no recollection of ever meeting Archila other than on the pages of anthologies in which we have both appeared. In that regard, I would point both to Wide Awake, which was published by Beyond Baroque Foundation, as well as the anthology, Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles, which has an introduction by Luis J. Rodriguez and is published by Tia Chucha Press. (Oddly enough, Robin Coste Lewis does not have work in the latter anthology.)

I have learned that William Archila is reading at the Pasadena Museum of California Art tomorrow, Friday, June 2nd. The reading, which will also include Douglas Manuel and Lisa C. Krueger, offers you a chance to hear someone who may well be poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2020. Especially if the poets and those who read poetry have a direct say in the matter.

Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 E. Union Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
Reading: 6 p.m.
Free admission.

The Always Already Redefining of L.A. Poetry

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Always Already Redefining of L.A. Poetry

https://entropymag.org/redefining-la-poetry-robin-coste-lewis-and-the-emerging-poets/

Jessica Ceballos has forwarded me an article by Mike Sonksen (aka Mike the Poet) which was recently published in Entropy magazine. Mike’s articles and reviews the past half-dozen years have in general been the most invigorating commentary on the current scenes in Los Angeles, and he has done his homework on the history of the city’s literary communities. I have to disagree with him, though, when he says that Robin Coste Lewis is “an excellent choice to carry on the work that Luis Rodriguez pioneered as poet laureate” and that “literary Los Angeles is thrilled with her appointment.” I can’t be thrilled with someone who demeans the work I’ve done for over 40 years.

There are several dozen poets I would have been thrilled to hear announced as the next poet laureate, and I named them when I wrote the Cultural Affairs Department and its laureate selection committee several months ago: Douglas Kearney, Sesshu Foster, Amy Uyematsu, Will Alexander, Gail Wronsky, Cecilia Woloch, Elena Byrne, Laurel Ann Bogen, Brian Kim Stefans, Ron Koertge, Charles H. Webb, Paul Vangelisti, Jack Grapes, Holly Prado, Harryette Mullen, Carol Muske-Dukes, Martha Ronk, and Suzanne Lummis.

My list of potential poet laureates reflected the long-standing relationship of these poets with the development of poetry scenes in Los Angeles, and it was not meant to be comprehensive. One could have assembled a list of the most likely potential finalists, though, by combining my list with those named in Mike’s article (December 9, 2016) that surveyed the field of potential candidates: https://www.kcet.org/arts-entertainment/the-rich-history-of-los-angeles-poetry-scene-who-will-be-the-2017-poet-laureate

In addition to many of the poets I listed, he pointed to Gloria Endedina Alvarez, Chiwan Choi, Brendan Constantine, Kamau Daaood, Peter J. Harris, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Ruben Martinez, Marisela Norte, Pam Ward, and Terry Wolverton. Between Mike’s list and my list, one has a compilation of over two dozen poets with sustained continuity to the L.A. scenes. These poets have “always already” been redefining Los Angeles poetry as a multi-cultural phenomenon that reflects the contingencies of urban life and postmodern identity as it plays out in configurations of class, gender, and race. That Robin Coste Lewis did not appear in either list is perhaps a reflection of her dearth of community work as an activist in L.A. poetry scenes. Art is not a democracy, however, and she was chosen by the Mayor to be our representative public figure.

Back when I took what little money I had left over from my wages and “invested” in a magazine and small press that promoted the work of Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo, I envisioned a city that would have a flourishing set of poetry scenes. Thanks to the hard work of dozens and dozens of poets and cultural activists in Los Angeles who joined me in that effort in the past four decades, Ms. Lewis has at her disposal the resources of a diverse and crisis-tested region of poets. I look forward to learning of her specific plans as to how to strengthen the long-standing resistance of these poets to the “manufactured image of L.A.” First, though, she needs to do something she ought to have done before she applied to become poet laureate of Los Angeles: become articulately familiar in detail with the history of that resistance.

Robin Coste Lewis, the New Poet Laureate of Los Angeles

Sunday, May 28, 2017

“The Very Manufactured Stereotype of L.A.”: Robin Coste Lewis and the Past Half-Century of Los Angeles Poetry

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-door-to-robin-coste-lewiss-los-angeles/

Slightly over a year ago, the newly appointed poet laureate of Los Angeles, Robin Coste Lewis, had an interview published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. According to Ms. Lewis, LA poetry possesses a media-embolded image promulgated by writers who are “white, Venice Beach, a little Beat, folks who came here and invested in the very manufactured stereotype of L.A.” Ms. Lewis did not cite any of these poets by name; perhaps she feels there are so many who fit that description that there is little point in reciting a laundry list of the usual suspects; or maybe she was hoping to nudge the main offenders into voluntarily undertaking a revival of self-criticism, as practiced back in the 1960s. If so, then here’s how I line up: White: check. Venice Beach. Well, I lived in Ocean Park, which is just north of Venice for 20 years, and I certainly hung around Beyond Baroque enough in those years, so: check. “a little Beat.” As with Venice Beach, I suppose there’s enough of a post-Beat aura about my writing to say, check. And yes, I did come here from elsewhere.

But now let us pause, and consider the way that Ms. Lewis’s rhetoric constitutes a classic case of how politicians operate when they want to smear a community and its affiliates and supporters. Political hit jobs work by first establishing an accurate or sufficiently accurate description of the target, and then one moving on to the inaccurate, which is meant to undermine the opponent’s legitimacy. Ms. Lewis obviously scorns the “folks who came here and invested in the very manufactured stereotype of L.A.,” as do I. The problem is that she regards me as one of those folks. I have no idea of how and why she would align me with the hegemonic ideology of the culture industries. Nevertheless, this is what has done, and let there be no mistake about it: she intends to smear all the work I’ve done as being no different in its values as those promoted by the entertainment industries and its concrete effects on the notion of success.

Nor does Ms. Lewis want there to be any ambiguity about her position. She proclaims that she plans to advocate for a group of poets who will enable her to “redefin(e) what ‘LA Poet’ means”; these poets include Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo, as well as Juan Felipe Herrera. “Do you know what I mean?” she inquires.

I do know what she means. I’ve just tweeted:

“L.A. poetry is Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo,” whom (RCL ought to know, but doesn’t) I was the first to publish.

I don’t expect anyone appointed as the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles to be an assiduous scholar of Southern California literary history. I do expect, however, the poet laureate of Los Angeles to have a basic familiarity with those who created a critical mass of “scenes” sufficiently prominent to make it feasible for a position such as poet laureate to be bureaucratically anointed by the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles.

Back in the mid-1970s, I took the money I had saved from two years of working as a blueprint machine operator and started a poetry magazine, Momentum. By the second issue, I had become the first editor to publish the poetry of Wanda Coleman and Garrett Hongo. My support of Coleman’s and Hongo’s poetry was complemented by my friend, Leland Hickman, whose editorial efforts included them in his first undertaking as an editor. I went on to publish the writing of many LA-based poets, including Aleida Rodriguez and Manazar Gamboa. Yes, it’s true that the overwhelming majority of the poets I published in my magazine fit the general category of “white and a little Beat,” but it would be quite a stretch to describe them as being collaborators with the culture industry. Has Ms. Lewis read the books I published by gay poets (Leland Hickman, Joseph Hansen, Jack Thomas) or the poetry I published that was aligned with one of the most important feminist institutions of the period, the Woman’s Building? Holly Prado’s Feasts remains one of the underground classics of that era; Kate Braverman’s Milk Run is probably one of the hundred best first books of the post-World War II American poetry. Deena Metzger’s Dark Milk contains forthright meditations on the political struggles of the period.

By the time I edited my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” in the mid-1980s, the range of poets working in Los Angeles was exceptionally intriguing, and no one group was dominating the conversation. If anything, the scenes were only getting more complicated: thanks to the arrival of Douglas Messerli at the very moment PLP was getting its first reviews, the poets interested in avant-garde poetics received an enormous boost. Leland Hickman’s Temblor magazine (1985-1990) hardly qualifies as a representative instance of a scene that is “a little Beat.” On the other hand, S.A. Griffin, Scott Wannberg, and Doug Knott were “holdouts” in reinvigorating the Beat legacy. With ever increasing prominence in this later period, the poetry performing troupe of Nearly Fatal Women (Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, Linda Albertano) invigorated the coalescence of the Stand Up poetry movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as championed by Charles Harper Webb. During the last dozen or so years of the past century, Lummis organized a city-wide celebration of poetry, the L.A. Poetry Festival, that reflected the multi-cultural maturity of the city’s expanding poetry scenes.

The diversity of Lummis’s festival was hardly a new feature of the region’s literary ecology. In the mid-1970s, Beyond Baroque launched its first wave of book publications with a volume of poems by K. Curtis Lyle, one of the charter members of the Watts Writers Workshop, and Beyond Baroque reiterated its belief in his poetry when it published Electric Church. Many people associate Beyond Baroque’s first two decades with the leadership provided by James Krusoe, Jack Grapes, and Dennis Cooper, but it also proved to be a crucial training ground for poets such as Michelle T. Clinton, whose poetry was first anthologized in “PLP”, and who then went on to co-edit an anthology entitled Invocation L.A., which proclaimed itself the first multi-cultural anthology of L.A. poets.

Perhaps, though, the most telling aspect of Ms. Lewis’s comments on L.A. poetry concerns her elision of small press activity in this region. Although she mentions in her interview in LARB how she worked at Kitchen Table Press when she first arrived in New York City, her knowledge of literary magazine production in Los Angeles during the past 60 years seems to be abysmally blank. Professionally trained in New York and New England, and published by Knopf, it can hardly pass unnoticed that Ms. Lewis seems to have a typical East Coast attitude towards Southern California poetry magazines and small presses. Her failure to acknowledge the editorial work of John Martin, Paul Vangelisti, Aleida Rodriguez, Leland Hickman, Dennis Cooper, Jack Grapes, Doren Robbins, Harvey Robert Kubernik, Douglas Messerli, Kate Gale and Tim Green verges on outrageous. What about the publishing projects of Luis J. Rodriguez and his Tia Chucha Press? Is Ms. Lewis completely unaware of David Kippen’s important work at Libros Schmibros?

If Ms. Lewis is to serve as some kind of spokesperson for Los Angeles poets for the next two years, I would appreciate a more inclusive generosity on her part. She may have been born in Los Angeles, and feel entitled to use that fact to bolster her street cred, but those of us who have worked here for several decades to create a viable ecology of poetic variety, in which immigrant voices are welcome, have done nothing that deserves her sneering conflation of our efforts with the corporate media. The film and television industries are industrial projects with global domination in mind. Rather than conjuring up some self-serving fantasy of L.A. poetry history, in which she plays the redeemer rushing to the rescue, Ms. Lewis could make better use of her recent appointment by building on the long-standing resistance of poets in this city to those who would use their cultural capital to dominate and exploit. Being poet laureate of Los Angeles is not so much an honor for her, as it is her responsibility to respect those whose ill-paid labor the past half-century has brought the multitude of scenes in Los Angeles to this crucial point. I, too, want to keep redefining what it means to be a L.A. poet. I hope that her appointment encourages all the poets in this city to reexamine the definitions to which their activism first gave public credibility.

In Memory of Len Roberts (1947-2007)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LEN ROBERTS: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death
Born: March 13, 1947, Cohoes, NY
Died: May 25, 2007, Bethlehem, PA

“I admire very much the technical achievement in Len Roberts’s poetry. This will probably come as a surprise because one would normally identify technical skills with a different kind of poetry than his, a poetry more formal, more contrived, an stiff. This is missing the whole idea of what the technical is in poetry. It is that which applies pressure to the reader to pay attention. It is that which liberates, and makes terribly important, what the poet is saying. What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” — Gerald Stern, author of Lucky Life, winner of the Lamont Prize

Back when I did Momentum Press, I was often improvising when it came to the production of the book itself. Most of the books didn’t have anything on the back covers, and as I recounted in one of a half-dozen long interviews this past summer for the Oral History project at UCLA, this starkness was thought by one person to reflect the influence of Black Sparrow. John Martin’s books didn’t have any promotional material on the back covers of his books, and I remember someone asking me in the early 1980s if my books were designed in his manner.

As much as I admired Martin’s book production, I didn’t consciously copy that aspect. Rather, in my case, I simply didn’t have time to get the authors to round up commentary for the books. It was also the case that most of the writers I knew didn’t have the kind of connections or affiliations that would have enabled them to snag “blurbs.” In the case of Len Roberts, though his first book (Cohoes Theater) had a single blurb, by Gerald Stern, which leads off today’s blog entry. Subsequent books published by other presses had even more generous assessments, which I will post at the end of my notations.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Len Roberts, a poet I never met in person. I imagine that most of the people who take a peek at this blog think of me as an editor and publisher of Los Angeles poets, but I aspired to be more than a local publisher. (If the economy hadn’t been sundered between 1978 and 1984 by a vicious case of inflation followed by devastating recession, perhaps I would survived as a small press publisher. But that’s another story.) In point of fact, not only did I publish books by poets who lived outside of California, but to this day I still have not met Jim Grabill, who was one of the first poets to have a book come out from Momentum Press. Jim lived in Ohio at the time; he moved to Oregon sometime in the early 1980s, I believe, and has lived there ever since.

I become familiar with Roberts’s poetry because he sent some to Jim Krusoe at Beyond Baroque for consideration in BB’s magazine, and on the rejection note Jim suggested that he send some poems to me at my magazine. Indeed, Len’s long lines and long poems immediately struck me as the kind of work I was looking for, and he ended up sending me a manuscript entitled “Cohoes Theater.” The title poem, “Cohoes” was a ten-page six part poem that probably seemed inordinately long to most editors in those early poems of McPoem’s hegemony, but “Cohoes” felt only slightly longer than normal to a young editor whose ambition it was to be the publisher of Leland Hickman’s “Tiresias.” Somewhere along the line, someone put out the story that Allen Ginsberg was responsible for sending me Len’s manuscript. I had very little contact with Ginsberg over the years, and he played no role whatsoever in my reception and support of Len’s poetry. According to his widow, Nancy, Len did spend several hours talking with Ginsberg, which is twenty times the amount of time I spent in conversation with him, and perhaps the blurb that Ginsberg eventually contributed to one of Len’s books somehow attached itself to someone’s misunderstanding of Ginsberg’s contribution to the first book publication of Len’s poetry. I am proud to recall that Cohoes was cited by the Elliston Prize committee as one of the better books published in 1980, joining the other books I published in 1980 as the highwater mark of my publishing career.

I recently wrote his widow, Nancy, and asked for permission to reprint a couple of his poems on this anniversary memorial post. There are at least two dozen poems that I would post if I had the time to type them up: from Sweet Ones (Milkweed Editions, 1988), for instance, I would love to present you with “The Block” or with the haunting poem, “The Odds”; or “Beauty and the Nuclear Reactor at Three Mile Island” from Cohoes Theater, or the magnificent love poem, “Wrapping”; but as my initial entry, I believe I will start with “Stealing,” from From the Dark.

STEALING

Last night I woke up the in the dark knowing
my father was with me,
like the night I stole down the cold hall stairs
to take change from his breadman’s purse,
the green work pants hung on the peg,
boots placed neatly under the chair,
and then, as I hushed the click inside my shirt,
his soft breathing as I looked up
to see the lit cigarette rising and falling.
I don’t wonder anymore
that he didn’t sleep nights
only to rise before light
to perk coffee, shave, whistling
with the low tunes of the radio.
I don’t need to call him back from peddling bread
to the three-foot drifts
to ask how he could forgive
that night gathering now in my chest,
or how he could make me take
the coins he placed gently into my hands,
and silently wave me away.

Len Roberts deserves a COLLECTED POEMS. He published over a half-dozen volumes of very, very fine poems, and his achievement can only be appreciated if one sits down and allows oneself to absorb a large number of his poems. If you are in a hurry to find someone you think you can imitate in some way because copying a “successful” poet will hope you achieve success, move on to some other poet with all due impetuous haste. Roberts may seem to be writing in a mode made familiar by other poets of his generation, but something indefinable is pressing down on his poems that makes them memorable beyond the power of memorization to contain. His poems demand an inner recitation on the bare stage of one’s soul. Only then will you as the reader realize that you have encountered a poet whose writing possesses the nuanced heft of a major novelist.

“Sometimes the facts of Len Roberts’s world are raw, nearly coarse, the questions that it asks of experience nearly brutal, but there is always in the poems a gentle sensibility, a probing intelligence and an acute attentiveness to what is urgent in our lives that tempers the poems, and that situates them firmly in that precious space between poet and reader which is our common bond, and common exaltation.” — C.K. Williams

Sweet Ones is a fearless and beautiful book. I love its unwavering truthfulness and unwavering mercy – somehow the mercy always equal to the truth – its sweetness, and its subtle, powerful music. The intensity of emotion in these poems is stunning, yet they have a calmness which gives them the feeling of deep balance. When I read Len Roberts I feel my heart being broken and put back together stronger.” – Sharon Olds

“Discovering these new poems I was pleased – the compositions are readable and natural, real, American, they’re narrative epiphanies Pip’s asphalt accuracies, First Kiss’ lightning landscape, for instances, among many strong clear-minded poems. Marden Hartley’s Lewiston Is a Pleasant Place and your From the Dark are grounded in native humane & objective perceptions.” – Allen Ginsberg

“Len Roberts knows that indirectness of feeling is the poet’s (or anyone’s) greatest asset of: to love children one most fear the dark, etc. This is what makes ordinary things take on value without tricks of rhetoric. His poems are marvelous examples, simple, lucid, and powerful, and reading them gives me a continuous sense of the mythic process that not only enriches my understanding but entertains me vastly.” – Hayden Carruth

Frond Bandana

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Frond Bandana

Photograph by Bill Mohr
(c) Copyright 2017 Bill Mohr

Kevin Opstedal’s “PACIFIC STANDARD TIME”

Kevin Opstedal. CALIFORNIA REDEMPTION VALUE, University of New Orleans Press, 2011.
Kevin Opstedal — PACIFIC STANDARD TIME: New & Selected Poems. Edited by Noel Black and Julien Poirier. Brooklyn, New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016

At the beginning of 2016, I posted an entry on the poetry of Kevin Opstedal entitled “The Poet Laureate of PCH.” That commentary focused on a set of chapbooks Opstedal has had published over the past couple of decades. Last summer, around August, Ugly Duckling Presse inquired about whether I would be interested in a review copy of Opstedal’s Pacific Standard Time: New & Selected Poems. “PST,” however, was not the first full-scale book in Opstedal’s ongoing saga of publication to arrive on Molino Avenue in Long Beach. My recollection is that a copy of California Redemption Value (“CRV”) had arrived shortly after my January post, so this past Fall found my desk being inhabited by two overlapping collections of “selected” poems by Opstedal.

It is difficult to recommend one of these volumes over the other, since both enable a reader to defamiliarize her or his usual habits of imaginative comprehension. This is to say that anyone who still believes in the consciousness-altering possibilities of reading needs to sit down with both these books and flense the preconditions that one has become all too comfortable with. A half-century ago, one would probably have been urged to imbibe various pharmaceuticals as a way to reconstructing reality. Opstedal’s poems offer the advantage of a much safer passage to renewed perceptions of the ordinary moment.

Lest one fear that some harrowing confrontation is in the offing, let me hasten to reassure you that Opstedal is not one of these visionary poets whose goal is to be your tutelary avatar. While his poems do possess, in fact, a peculiar seductive power, they exude a calm reassurance even in the midst of radiant uncertainty, and they do so with no sense of the writing being an effort to self-mythologize the author. This degree of equilibrium is different than that proposed by Walt Whitman’s shamanic aurora: “How quickly would the sunrise kill me / Could I not now and always send sunrise out of me.” Instead of turbulent pyrotechnics, Opstedal’s acrobatic centering takes place in slow motion, enabling your commitment as a reader to enfold itself with the palpable immanence of his imagery.

I wonder about the day, the way the sun climbs
inside its own radiance & warms the pavement
I think it’s akin to snorkeling but
just exactly how this can be so I’m not sure

This kind of reverent deferral represents yet one more extension of negative capability into an ecology of mutual recognition between environment and self. The next stanza both lures the speaker deeper into this particular chronotope and jolts him into a distant dimension: “waves strum a little pre-Cambrian / rhythm & blues.” Opstedal’s intermingling of the contemporary moment and evolutionary perspective suggests a transplanting of Charles Olson’s surveillance of Gloucester within a geological framework, and it does not take much perusing of Opstedal’s poetry to find another such instance:

The pier was all lit up
like Mortuary Day
the word on the street was
strung out along insect balconies
like drifting sand in the Paleolithic diorama

Olson, however, would never dream of titling his poems in a manner such as Opstedal does in the above two instances: “Performing Brain Surgery with a Crowbar” and “Meat Pie in Paradise,” respectively. The disjuncture between the sardonic titles and the lyrical renitence underscoring the verses themselves might well stem from Opstedal’s truculent skepticism about the immediate future of his native state: “Everything here is a natural disaster.” Rather than succumbing to a dystopic vision, however, Opstedal reinvigorates the potential of the planet to assist human beings in regaining access to its solemn spheres of wonder. If this sounds well nigh impossible within the intellectual and aesthetic currents of the present moment, I can only testify to the singular effervescence of Opstedal’s poetry. One can open Pacific Standard Time at random and find oneself gliding with the language’s undulations with an ease that belies the encompassing grip of the images. I can recall very few such instances of such “oneness” with the words on the page. Opstedal’s poems glow as if they have absorbed season after season of incandescence, and yet allow one to stare directly at the center of the vision without the least squint from too much glare. Get this book and start to live with it.

Post-Script:
For a review of Pacific Standard Time as a prime instance of “surf noir,” I would highly recommend Mike Sonksen’s recent article (Feb. 7, 2017) in Entropy magazine; it is the best single appreciation of Opstedal’s poetry I have read by any poet-critic in the United States. Sonksen does a superb job of providing the contextual literary history of small press publishing relevant to Opstedal’s development as a poet alongside insightful commentary on the poems themselves.

https://entropymag.org/pacific-standard-time-the-surf-noir-poetics-of-kevin-opstedal/

“From a Secret Location….”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

More Secret Locations

About: From Book to Web

Momentum

I began working on a literary history of some of the communities of poets in Los Angeles County in the mid-1990s. I had no realization whatsoever how long this account and accompanying contextual analysis would take to complete. As I worked on the initial outline, however, worrying about the publication date was a luxury I could not afford, for it was primarily a project motivated by dire circumstances. After many years of making a living as a typesetter, I was unemployed and had no likelihood of ever finding work again in that occupation. One evening, in mid-November, 1995, I spotted a flyer on a lobby counter at Beyond Baroque. The Getty Research Institute was requesting applications from scholars and cultural workers who would contribute to a year-long seminar on Los Angeles. I set to work on a proposal that I spend two months doing research on the poets in Venice West, and turned it in on the last day of the application date. In mid-Spring, I received a special delivery notice that I had received one of the visiting scholar awards. It was a radical shift in my life, in that it led to a decision to engage in graduate study at UC San Diego, starting in 1997.

The first few years that I was in grad school were impatiently devoted to doing the coursework for a Ph.D., during which time I felt encouraged by the publication of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side. It was the kind of book that emanated a lifetime of passionate involvement in the underground publication of poetry in the two decades after Donald Allen’s anthology first appeared, and it bespoke the necessity of my own project, which I saw as a spoke on the Great Wheel of this compendium by authors/archivists, Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips. At the many points at which I felt discouraged, I thought of their book as proof that Holdouts was more than individual nostalgia for what L.A. Times book critic Robert Kirsch had called the “golden age” of Los Angeles poetry.

As was the case with Holdouts, in which I had to leave out vast amounts of information, A Secret Location was merely the first major sifting of the period under examination (1960-1980). In making the entire original book available for anyone with a computer and internet access to read, Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips have performed an extraordinary act of scholarly generosity. They have taken the project further, though, and added entries for other notable magazines and small press outfits, such as Abraxas, Extensions, Luna Bisonte Prods, New American Writing, Oink, Streets and Roads, Sugar Mountain, the, Tooth of Time Review, Grist, Long News in the Short Century, Sunshine, Unmuzzled Ox, Search for Tomorrow, and Tansy.

For those who missed the post a few days back, you can also listen to David Wilk’s recently posted interview with me as a way of hearing about some of the books that are mentioned in the checklist on this very personal instance of a Secret Location.

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Mohr

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Going in Style”: The Politics of Masculine Critique

When Linda Fry, Laurel Ann Bogen, and I went to see “The Last Word” a week ago, the previews included the upcoming release of a remake, “Going in Style.” I was disappointed instantly. The original starred a trio of men, and the remake has recast it with three males. As much as I enjoyed the original film back in 1979. I equally remember my main problem with it. The story-line involves three old men who decide that the possible benefits of robbing banks would probably outweigh the penalties, given that none of them had much likelihood of serving even a small portion of any lengthy prison sentence. As a comic premise, it served its purpose, but let us consider that the majority of individuals who might entertain that option as a solution to their predicaments would most likely be women. Impoverished old women confined to bleak circumstances far outnumber men, and if the comic requires the unexpected, a trio of aging women would easily provide a multitude of punch-lines and gags using the same premise.

The gender shift I proposed in my critique of the first “Going in Style” did in fact show up in a middle-aged variant a year later. The success of “9 to 5,” which starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton, demonstrated that a comedy in which women took the law into their own hands was certainly a viable project. If one were to propose a remake, I would be more inclined to see this one in a theater rather than the upcoming release featuring Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine.

However, given the patriarchal backlash in this country right now, it is not surprising that this remake of “Going in Style” blithely presents the crisis of masculinity as the bedrock for its antics. The context for this remake has been building for years. At the end of the last century, Susan Faludi’s Stiffed, for instance, examined the challenges that working men faced within the economics of gender. Nevertheless, to have three men react to the loss of their pensions by launching careers as senescent criminals only serves to distract us from the machinations of an aging baby boomer in the recent presidential election. Trump and his inner circle are giving us a new definition of “style” and they don’t intend the aftermath to be comic.

David Wilk Interviews Bill Mohr on “Writerscast”

Friday, March 24, 2017

While many cultural activists bemoan the disappearance of independent bookstores, another important link in the chain of cultural transmission that has also become endangered in the past 15 years is the book distributor. One of the most important figures in this regard in the United States during the past half-century is David Wilk, who ran Inland Book Company after first launching a Midwest book distribution project called Truck. David got in touch recently and asked to interview me for his radio program, Writerscast. I was delighted to have a chance to talk and catch up with him as well as to answer his questions about Momentum Press and the other editors who were working alongside me in Los Angeles County in the 1970s and 1980s.

The interview was conducted by phone from my office on campus on a chilly Sunday afternoon. The office lacked heat, but the memories were warm. You can listen to our conversation at the following link:

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Mohr

The Realigning Equinox

Monday, March 20, 2017

What, then, is to be done?

First, remember what is already being done.

March equinox! Happy spring or fall

The Earth is circling the sun at 17,000 miles per hour. Sit with as much stillness as possible and feel this extraordinary speed. Imagine your spine as being in alignment with this “magic prison” of a planet being centered on its axis. Breathe with those alignments.

What would be the point of a social revolution that did not provide the wherewithal for each human being, fed and clothed sufficiently, to be able to do this for at least an half-hour several times a week?

Happy equinox!