Category Archives: Ground Level Conditions

An Alternative Cartography of Pangaea

Saturday, June 16, 2018

My faculty office at CSULB is in a nine-story building at the southern edge of the campus. Due to the columns of metal slats on the eastern nd western sides of MHB (McIntosh Humanities Building), the students refer to it as “the toaster building.”

The restrooms alternate from the third floor up, with odd numbers having facilities for men and even numbered floors being designated for women. For the past dozen years, the third floor restroom has provided me with an interesting abstraction on the divider between the urinal and the toilet on the other side.

Whenever I walked in, it seemed as if Duchamp’s “Fountain” had transformed into a cartographic diptych, in which an alternative map of Pangaea’s continental drift presented itself for my momentary consideration. If others wish to impose a commentary about man’s impact on the planet to today’s post, that is their privilege.

Urinal Divider Gaia - 2

Urinal Divider - Gaia

The Typesetter in “The Post”: “The Hand of Labor”

December 23, 2017

Yesterday, Linda and I took Laurel Ann Bogen out to a movie and dinner as a Christmas present. She wanted to see “The Post,” which turned out to be a surprisingly good film for its category. The main driving point is the publication of “The Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The latter paper is facing a financial bind, and the hopes of providing some relief on that pressure depend on a successful stock sale, which is up for grabs at the very time that its publisher (Kay Graham) and its editor (Ben Brantley) must decide whether to challenge a court injunction that blocked the New York Times from further publication of this material.

Rather than add to the commentary of the typical aspects of a review, I have decided to concentrate on two very, very minor moments in “The Post.” This idiosyncratic preference for minuscule meaning drove my English teachers crazy when I was a freshman in college. Obviously, this is one other feature of a blog that I truly love. I get to do what I want.

Laurel, Linda, and I all worked at newspapers at various times in our lives, and each of us at dinner expressed the pleasure we got from the film during its moments when it displayed the production process of the paper itself. Bringing a newspaper into a reader’s hands, each of us knew, was not some magical process, but involved considerable physical labor, effort, and concentration. Towards the end of the film, the publisher stands behind a typesetter. Not a word is spoken, but the body itself of the typesetter was remarkably full of history. A Korean War veteran, most likely, whose son had forestalled being drafted by going to college. This typesetter was not a combat veteran like the protagonist of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In fact, he had learned to be a typesetter in the military. Did he vote for Humphrey or Nixon in 1968? Or did he vote at all? To a certain extent, he is a more representative character than anyone else in the film of the pressures that have faced the American electorate the past half-century. Yet he does not have a voice, only the nimble fingers that reflect “The Hand of Labor.”

The second moment in the film that I want to comment on involves a scene where the publisher, played surprisingly well by Meryl Streep, is sitting on the edge of a bed. The left third of the screen is taken up by a lamp on a small table. The camera does not move for quite some time. No doubt it was less than 90 seconds, but it seemed more like three minutes. I had an odd “Fluxus” moment: I wanted the whole screen to fill up with the image of the lamp and for the soundtrack of John Williams’s fine understated music to play without any human voice, and then for the people who worked at the factory that made the lamp to appear and for them to begin to speak, out of history to history. If a newspaper is the “first rough draft” of history, it is their words that need to be recorded in its opening paragraphs and in the intonement of its final pronouncements.

Note: It was hard to resist making the headline of my blog post today about a milestone in my blog: 1,000,000 total hits. At some point in the next few hours, my blog will surpass that symbolic figure. When I woke up and checked this morning, the official number was 999,751, so it won’t be long before my blog’s dispersal over the past year and a half reflects a wider audience than it was getting in its first two and a half years. I am not under any illusion that this mean my blog has some kind of wide readership. That is hardly the case. To a large extent, I write this as a version of an intermittent diary, albeit one that is available for others to read. To those of you who read it, and have on occasion written me, thank you for your attention and care.

The GOP (Grand Offshore Party) and the Perfidy of Imposter Taxation

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Grand Offshore Party

I have not yet had a chance to investigate the Paradise Papers, but is there any need to spend precious time on reviewing what has been public knowledge for quite some time? Over the past several years, corporations have parked billions of dollars of profits in off-shore vaults, waiting for their tax rates to be lowered. It’s all perfectly legal.

It also has consequences. Is each and every dying person in this country receiving sufficient care to ease their travail? Is each child provided with a teacher who inspires imaginative and ethical curiosity? Is each parent of a disabled child given the assistance needed to empower that individual in all the impingements of her or his own life?

Yes, “ordinary” people must contribute to the kind of social program that would answer the above questions with an affirmation, but a society in which the distribution of wealth is skewed by a sanctioned version of double-entry bookkeeping can only endure by magnifying its repressive mechanisms to squeeze those who have the least amount of power. The thin layer of operatives who have extreme amounts of wealth and use but a pittance of it for anything other than furthering their own largesse are currently engaged in the perfidy of imposter taxation. They pretend to be individual citizens, owing no more than a family farmer of less than a thousand acres, or a carpenter, or architect, or teacher, or lawyer doing significant pro bono work, or police officer; yet they pay a proportionately small percentage of taxes than these workers.

This cannot be allowed to persist. I urge you to sign the following internationally based petition:

This is a global vote.

For more information on this issue, go to the following links:

Fact Sheet: Offshore Corporate Loopholes

* * *
“At the end of 2016 the giant US technology companies alone were estimated by Moody’s Investors Service to have $1.84 trillion (£1.4 trillion) of cash held offshore. …. The calculations of the economist Gabriel Zucman – analysing discrepancies in countries’ national accounts – suggest that around $7.6 trillion, or 8 per cent of global wealth, is held offshore. That’s up 25 per cent over the past five years.”

* * *
“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of global wealth, and the top 10 percent owns about 90 percent.”

A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:


Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

“Our Country Seems So Far Away” by Harry E. Northup

Our Country Seems So Far Away

Our country washes itself with grief
Our country celebrates division
Our country brags about class
Our country continues war indefinitely
Our country refuses to cross the aisle
Our country right or wrong or left behind
Our country scolds minor rock throwers
Our country the church of middle ages
Our country chips away at Mount Rushmore
Our country jumps off Pikes Peak into the Royal Gorge
Our country does not cross the Continental Divide
Our country says John Milton who, Edmund Spenser who
Our country builds railroad tracks over its pastoral poets
Our country denies horizons, clean rivers
Our country never misses a chance to go abroad & destroy
Our country kills civilians abroad & at home
Our country washes its football jersey with blood of the flag
Our country crosses borders with drones
Our country celebrates a vision of cruelty
Our country cut a cross in the heart of death

9 29 17
Harry E. Northup

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

Sunday, September 24, 2017

This evening I will be at the Beyond Baroque Awards dinner, which is being held once again at the Church in Ocean Park (235 Hill Street, Santa Monica, CA 90406). I have been asked to make the presentation speech for the George Drury Smith Award, which will go to Paul Vangelisti this year. Prior winners include Eloise Klein Healy, Wanda Coleman, David St. John, Holly Prado, and myself.

For those who cannot attend, here is what I plan to say.

The Exquisite Prolongation of Immediacy: The Translation of Life and Poetry by Paul Vangelisti

In one of my blog posts about a year and a half ago, I cited John Holten to the effect that “a good form of torture for any serious writer would be to deny them reading anything other than works produced in their own language or country.” If anyone could be said to have led the resistance to monolingual tyranny in Los Angeles the past half-century, it would have to be Paul Vangelisti, whose devotion to the art of translation goes far beyond any mere literary metamorphosis. Indeed, his writing is nothing short of an inspiring reminder of the daily necessity of accounting for each day of this quirky journey, and of how that accounting demands nothing less than the imperative: “You must translate your life.”

In translating his life, Paul is the single most ambidextrous person I have ever encountered. His accomplishments are manifold, and while they are too numerous to sum up easily, Paul would be the first to delineate how much others have assisted him over the years. The virtues of collaboration are much like those of translation: audacity, candor, commitment; and Paul has enabled those with whom he has worked to strengthen those virtues in their own lives. If Paul has inspired so many people with whom he has collaborated, it is largely because simply to be in his presence distills and effaces one’s own uncertainties and self-doubts, and enables one to renew that personal covenant with the imagination that insists on having a immediate connection with social reality.

Notwithstanding the scope of his generative collaborations, it remains Paul who has been the cynosure of the effort to make Los Angeles a place worthy of being at least a provincial capital in the world republic of letters. If Pascale Casanova’s description of literary enfranchisement meant that a truly representative body of arbitration within the realm of the imagination could actually function, then there would be little doubt that the person we should elect as our senator should be Paul Vangelisti.

He has earned this stature with a multi-decade production of superb poetry, but with a personal masthead of magazines, books, and anthologies featuring the work of other poets, especially within the maverick avant-garde. Yet no matter how much he accomplishes, he remains rigorously engaged with the increment yet to come. I have recently talked with Paul about the need for an anthology that presents the canon of West Coast poets. Every anthology on my bookshelves at best includes a smattering of West Coast poets, and it is time for California, Oregon, and Washington, along with Baja California and Vancouver, Canada, to assert itself as an autonomous site of poetics. Paul’s reaction to my suggestion was an emphatic “Let’s do it,” but of course in certain ways he has already done it, for that anthology will largely draw on those who have appeared in the dozens of issues of magazines that he has edited or co-edited or published, magazines such Invisible City, New Review of Literature, Ribot, and OR, as well as on the books of poetry published by his subversive enterprises, Red Hill Press and Seismicity Editions. The anthologies he himself has worked on, beginning in the early 1970s, will be the kernel of this future volume’s vision.

I should mention that I am the stand-in tonight for the person who would traditionally give this awards speech, but last year’s award winner, Holly Prado cannot be here in person tonight, due to the unfortunate fire that recently scorched the apartment she shared with her husband, the poet and actor Harry Northup. I happy to report that their recovery from this incident is going well, in large part because we as a community came together in their support. When it became apparent Holly would not be able to make this event, I suggested Dennis Phillips be asked to have this honor of presenting the award to Paul, since Dennis after all served as President of Beyond Baroque in the mid-1980s and would be the perfect intermediary at this gathering. In taking on this assignment, I knew one thing from the start, and that was I was going to quote Dennis Phillips as a way of featuring their deep bond. I have one ready-made advantage in doing this, for Dennis was the driving force behind a book, Nausikaa’s Isle, that was published two years ago to honor Paul on his 70th birthday. In the preface to that book, Dennis observed that “As a poet, a translator, an editor, a publisher, an educator, and for all the right reasons, an administrator, Paul Vangelisti has created a force of gravity felt by his readers, several international generations of poets, and his students, that brings to mind the similar influence of Pound.” In completely agreeing with Dennis, I would especially note this important understanding of the nature of that “force of gravity”: it is the quintessential trialectic gift exchange of space and time that generates history with more than literary meaning. Indeed, it is, as Dennis observes, “how deeply integrated in his work – and I mean all his work – are the poetic and the political.”

All of this magnitude has not gone unrecognized. In addition to NEA grants for both his own poetry and to assist his translation projects – and it should be noted that very few poets are at a level of this double achievement — he has also received numerous awards for his translations, including Italy’s Flaiano Prize and the PEN USA Prize for Translation in 2006. In 2010, the Academy of American Poets gave the Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize. Paul is most certainly not without honors, accolades and awards as a writer and a translator, but there have been too few occasions in Los Angeles for Paul to receive a full measure of our appreciation for his enormous contribution to our cultural maturation. We are about to mark the 50th anniversary of Beyond Baroque, and two years after that celebration, it would only be appropriate for Beyond Baroque to hold a celebration of a half-century of editorial and publishing endeavors by Paul Vangelisti that have enabled so many poets and writers to attain an international audience. In the meantime, however, let this award serve as an initial installation. Paul has frequently configured his experience in Los Angeles as one of exile, and while I do not wish to contravene that assessment, I hope that for one night – tonight – he can briefly imagine himself at home, as we award him the 2017 George Drury Smith Award. Please join me in welcoming Paul Vangelisti to the stage for the bestowal of this award.

The Temporary Disappearance of This Blog

Wednesday night, September 20, 2017

About a week ago, I received an e-mail from a friend who say, “Did you know that your blog was down?” I had suspected something was wrong, as a matter of fact, because I had tried to log on last Thursday morning, and something was sufficiently “off” about the protocol that I decided not to sign in. I wondered if it were a “fake” sign-up scene that had shown up as a means of trying to obtaining my information.

It took me several days, but I finally found out what the problem was. My domain’s host got shifted onto another server, but GoDaddy decided to move only his domains onto that server. and languished on the old, dispossessed server, with the result that no one could access my blog. Why GoDaddy couldn’t notify my friend about the process they were about to put in motion and then sent me a warming about what their plans is utterly beyond me.

My apologies to anyone who tried to log on, and met with frustration. Trust me that I was even more frustrated.


The Diurnal Chronicles: Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Ethnic Cleansing

September 8, 2017

At 9:49 p.m. last night, an 8 plus magnitude earthquake began somersaulting in the Chiapas region of Mexico, and shuddered and rippled for hundreds of miles both north and south, killing at least 32 people. Unlike the earthquake in Mexico in 1985, which caused over 400 buildings in Mexico City to collapse and took at least 5,000 lives, the epicenter of this quake was far enough away from the capital that it only led to widespread, through brief, pandemonium in Mexico City in which those asleep in buildings dashed out of their apartments and down to the sidewalks. Their trepidation was encouraged by electrical generators bursting like ripe seed pods. Reports include testimony that the Angel of Independence statue in Mexico City began to sway. The earthquake also extended into rural areas of Guatemala, resulting in an unknown amount of damage.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the eastern coast of Mexico and is due to hit the state of Veracruz and the city of Xalapa, where I read this past spring. The hurricane will be arriving with less force than has hit several Caribbean islands, though apparently Haiti was spared the worst of its recent passage. The state of Florida is expecting to be pummeled by Irma in the next few days in a manner similar to the devastating storm that engulfed Houston at the end of August.

Some of the people affected by both the hurricanes and the earthquake will become “internally displaced people,” which is to say that they will be little better off than refugees in their own country.

Other hurricanes on this planet are caused by human perfidy. Both Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, as recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, have called upon Aung San Suu Kyi to do more than stand in front of television cameras and deny that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Myanmar. Suu Kyi is fully aware of what is taking place, and she has to take responsibility for authorizing these atrocities. Is this what house arrest for many years taught her to plan for when she achieved power?

The Angel of Human Sanity is beginning to sway.

“The Distinguished Citizen” (2016)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey has flooded close to 300 square miles of Texas in the past several days, and the damages will total far more than a hundred billion dollars. The congressional membership of Texas will no doubt immediately vote for federal aid, which was not their immediate reaction when parts of New Jersey were obliterated a few years ago. Those who support Trump see no contradiction whatsoever. After all, the level of flooding in Texas is reported to be an event that is likely to happen only once every thousand years, so it will be sometime before Texas needs this much help from the other 49 states again. Surely we can pitch in just this one time.

It’s hard to say how much longer California will exist in its familiar state. North Korea claims to have made yet another advance towards hurling a nuclear bomb at the United States. Most likely, North Korea would like the United States to recognize that it merely wants to join the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) club. This is to say that one country does not attack the other because the consequences of retaliation are too grim. The logic is hideous beyond any ethical defense, but even mentally ill societies have somehow managed to avoid harming each other in this manner so far. If some other perverse plan is in motion, however, we in California can rest assured that President Trump would be happy to sacrifice our entire state if it would enable him to become seen as a heroic commander-in-chief.

(For an extended consideration of this issue, see:
“Actually striking the United States would be suicide. But the capability could help the North deter an invasion and wield increased global influence. “

In the meantime, a major fire is doing its mountain rim walk in Los Angeles County yet once again; and the MLB team with the worst record last year (and one of weakest pitching staffs in the first half of the season that one could possibly assemble) somehow seems destined to play at least one postseason game during the first week of October. Bravo Twins! Bring back the Cow-Cow-Boogie of yesteryear!

The heat wave in Los Angeles County remains very debilitating, so much so that I gave up trying to write earlier this evening and watched a movie that Linda and I came across on Netflix: The Distinguished Citizen is a chapter-divided account of how a writer’s self-exorcism turns into rebarbative destiny. A Nobel Prize winning author who lives in an unusual degree of luxury in Barcelona, Spain, decides to revisit his hometown, which he left 40 years earlier just after his mother died. He also left behind at that time his girl friend, who has never ceased loving him. He discovers upon his return to Salas, Argentina that his best friend ended up marrying the girl friend on the rebound, and the story turns slightly incestuous in the manner of a Greek tragedy with sardonic comic overtones. Even if you have never written a page of a story, you will find this character’s attempt to reconcile the imagined distant past with the actual superficies of one’s origins to be a compelling drama.

The fictional writer, Daniel Montovani, is played by Oscar Martinez with pitch-perfect ability to register and interweave layers of benign amusement with nostalgic loathing. Montovani first begins to realize that his decision to break an unofficial vow and never return to his birthplace was a miscalculation when he arrives on a long flight from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. (Oddly enough, though he is scheduled to stay there only four days, there is not the slightest hint of jet lag, no doubt due to the long siesta he took on the plane after the captain announced his presence on the transatlantic flight, which he responded to by pulling a blue sleep mask over his eyes.) The man waiting for him at the airport has been well chosen: an oaf who directs him to a cheap, uncomfortable car (instead of a larger, sleek model parked alongside) for the seven hour ride to his provincial origins. “Six hours,” the driver informs him. “I know a shortcut.” The shortcut consists of veering onto a bad country road prone to causing a flat tire. Of course, the driver is too poor to afford having a spare. The driver also has no cell phone. They spend the night there, using pages from one of Montovani’s books to start a fire to stay warm during the chilly night as well as for toilet paper at the morning’s latrine. Around the improvised, nocturnal campfire, Mr. Montovani tells the driver one of his stories, reminiscent of Maupassant, about a pair of twins who yearn for the same woman. The Cain and Abel outcome has a twist, in Montovani’s rendition, and this story foretells the violent confrontation between Montovani and his best friend as they go pig hunting.

The screenplay, by Andres Duprat, must have been a pleasure to read; the directors, Gaston Durprat and Mariano Cohn, make it look easy to have summoned empathic performances from Andrea Frigerio (as Irene), Gustavo Garzon (as Gerardo Palacios, the writer’s childhood friend) and an almost too charismatic performance as the couple’s daughter, Julia, by Belen Chavanne. Montovani, not knowing this woman is their daughter, spends the night with her, and at one point divulges his pleasure at scoring a groupie. Chavanne’s performance is so alluring, however, and her personality so strong that one finds it hard to believe that she is still in town, though she claims to want to escape as soon as possible. Perhaps this will take the death of her mother to give her egress, even as it required the death of Montovani’s mother to make use of his passport. It’s quite clear that the daughter will no more want to return to the town for her father’s funeral one day than Montovani did for his father. The scene in the bar in the chapter entitled “Volcan,” in fact, probably reveals how Montovani as a young man realized that his widower of a father had been less than faithful to his deceased mother, and that it didn’t take long for him to pack his bags and head to his version of Wittenberg.

If this were a novel, or a play, I could imagine an additional very tender flashback: a scene between Montovani’s mother and his young girlfriend. Set in this remote town, which is caught with perfect fidelity as to its austere limitations, it would have been a scene deserving of Chekhovian compassion. That one can imagine that scene for oneself is part of the reverberation of the film’s final scene.

On a much more mundane level earlier today, I had to rectify the haphazard work of those who have been working on the water pipe system on Molino Avenue the past six weeks. By chance, a man who pushes his paralyzed wife around in a wheelchair on a daily basis hailed Linda as she stood on the porch at mid-afternoon, and pointed to the manhole cover that was perched in eclipse mode over its proper slot. The rod that had lifted it out was still hooked into one of its peripheral notches, fortunately, so I was able to go out and slowly dial it around until it fit smoothly into its retaining circle. One always thinks that nothing would have happened if it had not been noticed, and rectified, and yet I remember all too well how my first wife suffered a badly broken leg because of a similar sloppiness by workers. It is hard to believe that anyone could walk away from a job and leave things in dangerous disarray, but it goes to show that as desultory as life seemed to be in the city I grew up in (Imperial Beach), an insidious indifference towards the vulnerability of others is an all too common trait.

To end on an upbeat note, though, I wish to thank our neighbors Jill and Geoff for helping us, early Saturday morning, loosen up the panel door of our electrical fuse box at the rear of the house so that we could get our electricity going again after it had gone out the previous night.



Magra Books: To Italy and Back

Chalkboard August Harmony
(Chalkboard near Fourth Street and Temple Avenue, Long Beach, CA)

August 27, 2017

Paul Vangelisti and John McBride were among the most productive editors and publishers of the golden age of small press publishing in the 1970s. The proliferation of MFA programs since 1980 has unfortunately all but erased recent literary history: how MFA program were barely worth mentioning to the majority of those committed to a life as a poet in the mid-1970s. The notion of a “career” as a poet back then was laughable. The production of books and magazines on an antinomian basis was quite serious, however; in fact, that’s all that mattered.

Vangelisti and McBride not only published dozens of books through their imprint, Red Hill Press, but also over two dozen issues of Invisible City, a magazine that deserves to have its entire print run issued in a single full-length volume. The magazine came out on newspaper-size sheets of paper, and although the paper stock is of very high quality, any scholar having to work with two or ore issues at the same time can find the process of notating comparisons a bit cumbersome. It’s a project that a university press (such as the University of California press) should undertake at some point, although it may unfortunately have to wait until the copyright to the poems expires. Fortunately, on the whole, the poems that appeared in Invisible City are exceptional examples of writing that will still hold up in another half-century.

As well as being a prolific and internationally recognized poet, Vangelisti is an inveterate publisher. At Otis College of Art and Design, he founded Seismicity Editions, as well as a pair of magazines, New Review of Literature and OR magazine. He will be retiring from Otis at the end of this coming academic year, but he has already launched another publishing project. Magra Books is a chapbook project, printed in Italy, that will come out on a steady basis as a quartet of chapbooks. In any given increment, all four will have the same color stocks for their covers. The first quartet had a pale blue; the second, a quietly luscious orange that teased the shadows cast by a nearby embankment of red clay.

The poets featured in each set will be familiar to readers of Invisible City and OR magazines. You can find out more information about this project at the website for Magra Books:

FIRST QUARTET (January, 2017)
Martha Ronk — The Unfamiliar Familiar
Ray Di Palma — For a Curved Surface
Dennis Phillips — Desert Sequence
Marcus Valerius Martialis — Epigrams (translated, with an afterthought, by Art Beck)

Of this quarter, I would especially recommend Beck’s translations of Martial’s epigrams. Beck’s “afterthought” is hardly as casual as the word usually connotes; as an epistolary poem, it uses the cumulative tone of the translated epigrams as a surfer uses an ocean swell, and the resulting glide initiates us as honorary members of his extended family.

Many poets associated with Los Angeles don’t actually write that much about living here, but Martha Ronk embeds herself in this city with quiet candor and rueful compassion for everyone who must endure the casuistries of daily life here. In examining “loss, its flannelly familiarity,” Ronk explores some of the same insinuating wrinkles that bunch up around the domesticated ordinariness of the partially suburban. Her poems in this collection remind me of Dick Barnes’s collaborations with Judy Fiskin. Indeed, “The Unfamiliar Familiar” contains a sequence of poems about photographs of houses, so there might be an influence. In any case, “Twilight Tracks House #3” is one of those rare poems where the rhythm and the images left me hungry to absorb the poem entirely, which is to say that I longed to memorize this elegaic aubade to the keen pitch of having its syllables roll around in my consciousness like sated lovers about to be aroused again. Ronk’s chapbook concludes with poems I remember seeing recently published: a set of homages to Raymond Chandler’s classic novels about Los Angeles.

The late Ray Di Palma’s writing consistently contributed to the dialogue in Los Angeles and on the West Coast from the early 1970s onwards through his appearance in Vangelisti’s sequence of magazines, starting with Invisible City. This chapbook is a fine example of a collage call-and-response between the epigrammatic titles and sardonic clarification.

Dennis Phillips has been writing long poems for a half-century. Of all the poets I’ve ever met in Los Angeles, he is the one who most benefits from having his poems heard with as much duration as possible. As if to urge us to do so, the poems in Desert Sequence are assigned to a quintet of voices, the first of which acknowledges in a prose poem that this chapbook is part of a larger project, Mappa Mundi.
“Here. Hold this open for a long minute because we both know it’s about to go away.
If this is a map then all maps are maps of the world and any sentence is a narrative, but:”
In Phillips’s absorption of the desert’s map in the conjunctions that follow, we are given important cautionary reminders about the cartography of the imagination.

Gillian ConoleyPreparing One’s Consciousness for the Avatar
Robert Crosson — The Price of Lemons: Or; Some of the Worst Movies Ever Made
Corrado Costa — The Dodo or The School for Night
Paul Vangelisti and William Xerra — Toodle-oo

I have to confess that I’ve always had some hesitations about Conoley’s poems. While moments in her poems have usually caught my attention, some aspect of her associative logic would inevitably throw me off course. Perhaps, finally, I am beginning to acclimate myself to her distinctive cadences. Oddly enough, it isn’t the title poem of her chapbook that delivers this entryway, but rather “Life on Earth” and “The Right to Be Forgotten.” If I were putting together an anthology of outstanding recent poems, this pair would easily make my short list.

Robert Crosson’s memoir of his life as a young aspiring actor and modest success is one of the most charming and candidly droll accounts of being an artistic ephebe in the early 1950s. It’s the perfect counter-balance to read, after watching your favorite film noir.

Corrado Costa’s Th Dodoreminds me of Ionesco’s early plays, and in all the right ways.

One of the most remarkable qualities of Toodle-oo‘s meditative lyricism (or should I say “its lyrical meditation”) is that it refuses to make the least effort to seduce the reader. To no avail, for I could not help but succumb to the primary gravitational force of the poem: the candor of the immediate. In identifying that factor, it’s crucial not to confuse “the immediate” with “spontaneity” — that trompe l’oeil of mid-century avant-garde nostalgia for some Dionysian avatar. This poem follows much more subtle, actual scents, and as I read, I breathed deeply, slowly, releasing the agitation of my ordinary day.