Category Archives: Obituaries

In Memoriam: Brenda Frye

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Linda and I drove to Topanga this morning for a gathering meant to help us heal from the death of the youngest sister in my wife’s family. Linda was the second child and the first daughter in her cluster of seven siblings. Five girls followed. Their mother is still alive, and now has a total of 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wish to thank Gleen Fisher, the father of Brenda’s two very special teenage sons, and Jill Ha for hosting the gathering at Irony Gallery, the newly opened art exhibition space in Topanga.

Brenda was very much her own person, as the saying goes. “Quirky” was her preferred self-description, according to Sharon. One of her sisters, Pam, told a story of when Brenda was five years old and about to head out of the house to play with her friend across the street. She paused at the kitchen door, looked up at her mother, Noreen, and asked, “Do bugs have ears?” Maybe the “e” Brenda added to her last name stood for the “ears” with which she listened to a different set of grace notes than most of us had the flexibility to absorb. Most certainly I do not have sufficient courage to endure what she did in her battle with breast cancer the past half-dozen years.

Farewell for the moment, Brenda. “Teach peace.”

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Brenda Frye (1965 – 2017)

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Austin Straus: In His Youth (the recollection of a close friend)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Austin Straus: In His Youth (the recollection of a close friend)

A little over a month ago, a letter showed up in my mailbox at school. I didn’t recognize the name in the return corner of the envelope, but I don’t get that many letters with my name and work address written by hand, so I was curious enough to open it immediately. The author of the letter turned out to be a childhood friend of the late poet, Austin Straus, who wrote me a second letter with some additional information about Austin. The letter itself was handwritten, too, which was a pleasure to read.

October 9, 2017

Dear Professor Mohr,

Looking at the websites pertaining to the death of Austin Straus, I gather that not much is known about his life before he moved to Los Angeles. In light of his upcoming memorial service I have written down some of my memories of that part of his life.

Austin was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in June 1939 (June 9, I think), a working class neighborhood of mainly East European Jewish immigrants and their children.

While he was in the early years of elementary school (about eight years old, or so) his parents bought a house in East Flatbush, a middle class neighborhood, and moved from Hopkinson Ave. to Albany Ave., across the street from where I lived, my parents having made the same move a few years earlier. From then until his early twenties, Austin lived in that house together with his parents, Roz and Fred (only after moving to San Diego upon retiring did he call himself Franklin, which, unbeknownst to us, was apparently his name all along), and his younger (by 2 years) brother, Dennis, with whom he shared a bedroom. The third bedroom was occupied by his grandmother. As she was not comfortable speaking English, Austin picked up a fair knowledge of Yiddish. There was also a family dog, Lucky, a tan cocker spaniel. All in all, a fairly typical upbringing.

Austin and I became very close friends (I was a year older), a friendship which lasted from elementary school through our teenage years into our early twenties. While attending Hebrew school, Austin was part of a group of us who were religiously observant.

His father worked on a U.S. mail train, which meant that he was away for several days and nights and then home for several days and nights. While home, he would often take Austin, Dennis and myself in the old family car to play ball in Prospect Park. Fred was an excellent athlete. In summer, we used to go swimming in Riis Park.

As teenagers, Austin, Lucky, and I would take long walks at night, often ending up in Brownsville, the neighborhood where we both were born. Brooklyn was still safe in those days. We often played handball together (pink ball). He was a good handball player and I remember vigorous games in the hot summer sun in Lincoln Terrace Park at the age of 20 or 21.

Austin started attending Brooklyn College but transferred to City College Downtown (now known as Baruch College) which was primarily a business school with the intention of majoring in accounting. I suspected this idea came from his parents. Needless to say, it was not a good fit and Austin changed his major to psychology (or possibly philosophy, not sure of this). After graduating, he pursued a Master’s degree in Philosophy at NYU.

It was about this time that Austin broke away from his conventional upbringing, choosing a bohemian (so-called at the time) lifestyle, moving into a tiny Greenwich Village apartment with a girlfriend. By this time, I was married and also attending graduate school to pursue an academic career. We saw each other less frequently. He had demonstrated talent as an artist while young but the first time I recall him being interested in poetry was when he read a poem of his to me when he was 24. My overall impression of Austin as we grew up was that he was intelligent, imaginative and sensitive, prone to enthusiasms over people and ideas, often followed by disappointments.

I do not know how he met Ann Moody, but he did come with her to visit my wife and myself in our Brooklyn apartment. Some years later, when the marriage was in difficulty, I saw her again when Austin asked me to use the van I was driving to remove his belongings from the apartment they shared in the Bronx. We were no longer in regular contact but I was called upon again to remove his things from the Upper West Side apartment of his second wife, Patrocina (?), a lovely young Panamanian woman to whom he was married only very briefly. Austin told that she expected a more conventional marriage and way of life.

Shortly thereafter he moved to California and our only direct contact was an occasional phone call. Indirectly, I heard about him through my mother, who kept in regular contact with Austin’s mother, Roz, then a widow living in San Diego. She told my mother that Austin phoned her every day. Since he never pursued a career as such, he had frequent financial difficulties. At the age of 55 he was desperately trying to get into the California educational system, apparently unsuccessfully. He told me he could not be considered for a full-time position at Los Angeles City College, where he taught English as an adjunct, because his master’s degree was in philosophy. It was only in his last phone call to me, about a month or so before his death, that I learned of the success of his one-of-a-kind art books.

Despite his illnesses, diabetes, and a previous bout with prostate cancer which he thought might be returning, he sounded very upbeat, saying that he was dating again, looking for the fourth Mrs. Straus. He had begun the conversation by saying that he thought he ought call me before one of us kicked the bucket. I don’t know whether he had a premonition of what was to come, but sadly, shortly thereafter, he died.

These are some of my memories of a very close friendship that lasted for over a decade and a half, and was less close thereafter. I shall, of course, try to answer any questions about the earlier part of Austin’s life that I am able to answer.

Sincerely yours,
Nathan Greenspan

October 30, 2017

Dear Bill,

A few more thoughts concerning Austin – Unlike most of his generation, myself included, born at the tail-end of the Great Depression, Austin did not seem overly concerned with earning a living. Unlike most of us, I do not recall him working during summer vacations. My wife, Vicki, had a summer job supervising a children’s playground at P.S. 235, the same public school Austin and I attended, which was very near his house. She went there during lunchtime to eat her brown bag lunch and chat with Roz Straus, Austin’s mother. One of her vivid memories is of Austin lying in a hammock in his backyard on one hot and sunny afternoon, and Roz calling out to him, “Austin, do you want your strawberries and sour cream now or later?”

Decades later, Austin phoned from California when I wasn’t home and spoke to Vicki (they knew each other well) for a long time, talking about his relationship with Wanda and other things going on in his life. She told me that all she said was “yes” or “um hum” every once in a while. At the end of the call Austin said to her excitedly, “You’re a great conversationalist!” We both had a good laugh over that. He was definitely more interested in talking about himself than in listening to others.

Austin and his two years younger brother Dennis were close growing up, sharing a bedroom as I mentioned in my previous letter. On one of his calls to me from California he mentioned that he and Dennis were not in contact with teach other. The break apparently came at Dennis’s initiative. He and his wife, Sheila Ascher-Straus, are published writers, describing themselves, I believe, as post-modernist.

…….Best regards,
Nate

(Nathan Greenspan)

Nathan Greenspan taught for about forty years full-time at Brooklyn College and Staten Island Community College, which later become the College of Staten Island. He also did some administrative work, serving as the political science coordinator for about a quarter-century.

The Austin Straus Memorial: “How’s it going, kid?”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A week ago, in the midst of much personal travail, I drove up to Beyond Baroque to take part in the memorial service for Austin Straus, the late widower of Los Angeles poet Wanda Coleman. About 20 people attended, and I shared with them a letter that had been written to me by a friend of Austin’s who now lives in Oregon. I also cited some of the recollections of Austin’s childhood and youth that had been sent to me in a letter by Nathan Greenspan. Not wanting to speak longer than anyone else, I refrained from reading one of Austin’s poems, but did mention that if I had had time, I would have chosen Austin’s “The All Purpose Apology Poem.” It turned out that Laurel Ann Bogen had intended to read that poem, and she delivered a knock-out rendition. Michael C. Ford contributed an amusing account of poetic rivalry between Austin and Michael that played out based on the slight difference in their birth months in 1939. One of the most touching moments occurred when the relatives of Ann Moody got up to speak about Austin. Ann was one of the civil rights protestors who sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter and refused to accept segregation. She was also Austin’s first wife and the mother of his only child, Sasha, who works as an artist.

With the permission of Richard Hammerschlag, I present his fond memories of Austin.

Remembrance of Austin Straus
Richard Hammerschlag
Portland, Oregon
October 19, 2017

“Birthday buddies” was Austin’s sweet term for us. Our friendship began with his knock on my door one evening in the mid-1980s, a Falstaff-like guy fundraising for Santa Monicans for Renters Rights. His request for demographic information to validate my donation led to the happy discovery that Austin and I were both born in 1939 on the very same June day in New York City. The friendship, borne of that chance encounter and longer-odds coincidence of birth, was maintained over thirty years, mainly by phone after I moved to Portland and he to Lancaster.

From a young age, our lives had traveled separate paths, his to the Arts, mine to Science, and we often talked about the economic inequalities resulting from the different manner that societal value is coupled to remuneration for the two professions. And yet, Austin and I were each fascinated by the types of challenges the other faced in living creative lives.

Our friendship was also enriched by a shared love of Borscht-belt humor, with Austin often recommending YouTube sites for me to re-live the hallowed stand-up routines of such stalwarts as Henny Youngman, Buddy Hackett, Mel Brooks and Lenny Bruce.

Austin and I, from our New York upbringing, also shared an abiding passion for the Dodgers. Never mind, as Austin wouldn’t let me forget, how Walter O’Malley snuck the team out of Brooklyn in the dead of night, and was a silent party to the city of Los Angeles’ removal of much of the populace of Chavez Ravine in a land acquisition to build Dodger Stadium. Somehow, our youthful inoculation of Dodger lore (highlighted by the storied beginnings of Jackie Robinson and Vin Scully) trumped the back room conniving of management.

Up to his passing in mid-July, Austin closely followed the exploits of this year’s amazing Dodger team. At this writing, in mid-October, it appears (I know you are smiling Austin) that this will be one of those ‘Next Years’ that Dodger fans are always waiting ‘til’.

So, here’s to you, Austin… multi-talented artist, and compassionate friend to so many of us. It was a great pleasure to know and hug you and Wanda. I know you’ll call me next June 12 and each June 12 after that.

John Ashbery (1927-2017)

John Ashbery (Born July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017)

An extraordinary number of “contemporary” poets were born in 1927. I put scare quotes around the word because if a poet is dying at 90, the math is fairly straightforward: when Ashbery was 25 years old, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound were all alive. I doubt he thought of them at that point as “contemporaries.” Yet a young poet today might be asked to study an anthology of contemporary poetry in which John Ashbery and Tracy K. Smith are listed in the index as contributors. The word seems to have a peculiarly supple elasticity.

Even though Ashbery is hailed on the occasion of his death’s announcement with the same reverent praise that has been bestowed on him for the past 40 years, such deferential tribute was not always the case. While he was one of the poets in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, he did not stand out in the mid-1960s (as he approached age 40) as one of the top ten poets in that anthology most likely to achieve sustained global acclaim. Yet by the time he was 50 years old, Ashbery’s stature far exceeded that of many poets who had been listed in the index of M.L. Rosenthal’s The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II. Rosenthal’s book was meant to be a comparative study of the major poets who had appeared in either the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or Donald Allen’s NAP. Given that Rosenthal’s book appeared in 1967, when Ashbery was 40, one sees how crucial the years between ages 40 and 50 were to Ashbery’s eventual, immutable maturity, for that period is when he mastered the singular combination of chords and grace notes that make his work as inimitable as it is influential in provoking variations.

Although he was more associated with the world of the visual arts than with music, it is a commentary from the latter that I wish to present for your consideration tonight.

“I greatly admire this piece, but don’t really consider it a song. It’s more a meditation, or – to borrow a term that didn’t exist at the time (Miles) Davis recorded ‘Blue in Green’ – a type of improvised ambient music. …. Indeed, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the work is just a free-form improvisation, without clear beginning or end.
….
“Despite its popularity, musicians need to be brave to call this song at a gig. ‘Blue in Green’ has no catchy hooks or flamboyant interludes, and unless you have earned a chamber music reverence from the audience, you run the risk of losing their attention. I would keep it under wraps at a noisy nightclub, but in the right setting with listeners who are willing to participate in a collective meditation, this work can be a springboard to an experience that almost transcends jazz.”

As the experience of Ashbery’s work almost transcends poetry.

Commentary on “Blue in Green” from Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press, 2012), pages 37-38.

John Ashbery, 1927–2017

Austin Straus Obituary — by Rev. Roscoe Barnes III

Friday, September 1, 2017

It’s a scorching afternoon in Long Beach, California, and the only relief from the heat has been the arrival of an e-mail from Reverend Roscoe Barnes III, who first wrote me about ten days ago and asked what I knew about the life of Austin Straus, a Los Angeles poet whose death I had taken note of in my blog. In particular, Rev. Barnes was curious about how much I knew about his life before he arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

“Not much,” I responded. “In fact, almost nothing at all.”

For those of you who share that response, I am pleased to post today the link to the first serious obituary of Austin Straus.

http://roscoereporting.blogspot.com/2017/09/poet-austin-straus-former-husband-of.html

My profound thanks to the Rev. Barnes.

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier

Friday, July 28, 2017

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier
Bill Collings (August 9, 1948 – July 14, 2017

“Why did the sound of some guitars haunt me while others didn’t?” the luthier Bill Collings remembered asking himself as a young man.

One could ask the same question about poems, and inquire why more poets don’t take the tonal and thematic propensities of their writing more seriously. In poetry, the question that haunts is whether the poem not merely deserves but demands translation. This does not require that the poem be perfect. Imperfection will be inherent in the original, as it was in every guitar that was turned out by Bill Collings’s company, and then put to equally imperfect use by some of the best-known masters of songwriting, including Lyle Lovett, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Keith Richards.

The impact of acknowledging imperfection’s role in the process turns out to be one of the prime motivations for building guitars. “Can you pick the perfect piece of wood? …. Can you make it the perfect thickness?” Collings asks, knowing all too well what the response is. “No, but you can get really close. …. Success is succession, over and over and over, and it comes from failure. Failure, failure, failure — knowing that if you stop, you’re done.”

Bill Collings, Luthier

Austin Straus (1939-2017)

Thursday, July 20, 2017; 10:30 a.m.

I just received a call from Laurel Ann Bogen to inform me that the poet and book artist Austin Straus has died. Born in Brooklyn in 1939, Austin moved to Los Angeles in 1978, and immediately settled into an ongoing renaissance of poetry in Southern California. He was the founder and cohost of “The Poetry Connexion,” on KPFK-FM, from 1981 to 1996. His guests included many of the most prominent poets in Los Angeles.

His books of poetry include Laureate without a Country, Drunk with Light, and Intensifications. His late wife, the poet Wanda Coleman (1946-2013), and he collaborated on a sequence of poems celebrating their three decades of marriage, The Love Project: A Marriage Made in Poetry. His poems were reprinted in many anthologies, including “Poetry Loves Poetry,” Suzanne Lummis’sGrand Passion, Charles Harper Webb’s Stand Up Poetry, Steve Kowit’s The Maverick Poets, and Men in Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America.

Austin considered himself to be primarily a book artist, and that work can be found in many collections, including Chapman College, Occidental College, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. However, his poems will also remain a steadfast part of the community of poets he joined almost forty years ago.

You can hear Austin reading some of his poems and being interviewed by Lois P. Jones on KPFK at:

Austin Straus on Poets Cafe

The poets who appeared in my anthology “Poetry Loves Poetry” (Momentum Press, 1985) who are now dead include:
Dick Barnes
Charles Bivins
Charles Bukowski
Wanda Coleman
Robert Crosson
John Harris
Bob Flanagan
Leland Hickman
Carol Lewis
Robert Peters
Peter Schneidre
Ed Smith
Austin Straus
John Thomas
Marine Robert Warden

“Quickly Aging Here”: Denis Johnson (1949-2017)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

QUICKLY AGING HERE: Denis Johnson (July 1, 1949 – May 24, 2017)

An anthology published in 1969 entitled Quickly Aging Here derived its title from a line of poetry by its youngest contributor, Denis Johnson. The anthology itself, edited by Geoff Hewitt, was dominated by younger poets inaugurating the literary onslaught of those born in the first increment of the “Baby Boom.” I believe that the guiding rule of the anthology was that the poet could not have had a full-length volume of poems yet published, and fortunately that rule did not have the age limit of 40 imposed by the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or the Yale Younger Poets award. One of the oldest poets was Alfred Starr Hamilton, who eventually did get a substantial collection published. Mary Ellen Solt’s work stood out as emblematic of the expanding interest in so-called “concrete poetry” at that time. It was the anthology in which I first read the work of the Ray DiPalma, William Witherup, and Sophia Castro-Leon.

Even though Johnson went on to write a collection of poems, The Incognito Lounge, which was selected for the National Poetry Series, and to have a hefty “new and selected poems” published as well, very little of his work in this genre ended up being cited in his first obituary in the New York Times, let alone in the appreciation by Michiko Kakutani that appeared soon after.

It’s possible that Johnson will find himself left out of future anthologies that focus on poets born between 1940 and 1960 because of the way that his novels constitute the bulk of his reputation. This in itself suggests that much of what is regarded as editing poetry anthologies is merely the perfunctory checklist of genre affiliation: being regarded as a poet would seem to involve a devotion to a peculiar ritual of shaping language that isolates one from the bulk of literate people. No doubt jazz ends up exerting the same counter-weights to the gravitational tugs of popular music.

Restlessness in a writer is rarely rewarded, and Johnson himself acknowledged his impatience with any self-prescribed formula. The Poetry Foundation’s entry on Johnson quotes him in an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2014, “I get bored quickly and try another style, another genre, another form. … To me the writing is all one thing, or maybe I should say it’s all nothing. The truth is, I just write sentences.”

The test, of course, is how quickly the sentences age. Not everyone was overly impressed by Johnson’s sentences, as evidenced in a scathing review that appeared ten years ago in the Atlantic Monthly. Jonathan Galassi, on the other hand, issues a comment after Johnson died in which he called Johnson “one of the great writers of his generation. He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.” How well Johnson’s poetic empathy will age is not a matter that can be settled in an instant. Slowly, in another decade or two, we will begin to find out if Johnson’s sentences deserve to endure.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/books/denis-johnsons-poetic-visions-of-a-fallen-world.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/books/denis-johnson-dead-author-of-jesus-son.html

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/05/26/us/ap-us-obit-denis-johnson.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/12/a-bright-shining-lie/306434/

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/denis-johnson

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

Delayed Memorial (for David Antin)

My mother, age 95, in her current residence, April, 2017

My mother, age 95, in her current residence, April, 2017

FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2017

David Antin (February 1, 1932 – October 11, 2017)

I not only had the pleasure of hearing some of David Antin’s talks during the last quarter century of his life, but I also had the honor of transcribing them. One summer, towards the end of working on my dissertation at UCSD, I spent a couple weeks listening to his tapes and typing up his talks, thereby providing him with the material he would shape into a finished text.

Antin’s ability to enter a self-generated labyrinth of spontaneous logic and keep his neo-Socratic inquiry one step ahead of the audience’s expectations was truly uncanny, though I did detect one fairly predictable move. I suppose a dependency on – well, why not call it a preference for – a certain pivot halfway through a game can be spotted even in the greatest of the chess grandmasters. In Antin’s case, it was the “Je me souviens” moment. Antin appeared to have had a huge number of intellectually ambidextrous aunts and uncles. After attending several of his talks, I began to notice how a reminiscence of some member of his extended family would glide into his musings and slowly but deftly enable him to come “full circle,” by which I mean not some “closure” as might be employed by a poet featured on Garrison Keillor’s radio program, but an extended consideration of the poetics of Happenings and Hans Reichenbach’s theory of probability.

I was fortunate enough to take two seminars with David when I was a student at UCSD, and enrolled in yet another with Eleanor Antin. David ended up being the outside reader for my Ph.D. dissertation, in fact, though he was rather disgruntled at my final draft. The last time I saw him was at the PAMLA conference in San Diego two years ago. He had grown frail, it seemed to Linda and me, and we had a hard time talking about it on the drive back to Long Beach. At UCSD, he had still seemed like a man who was in his late 50s, physically and intellectually ebullient.

Last week, when I was in Xalapa, Mexico, Rachel Levitsky mentioned that the impact that David’s death had on those who knew him, and I felt myself halt mid-step. “David died?” I asked her. I hadn’t known, and I immediately began to wonder why I hadn’t heard.

The photograph of my mother, Sylvia Mohr, age 95, at the start of today’s post is certainly part of the explanation for how I managed to not know about David Antin’s death. A year ago, my mother was living in an assisted care facility with no proximity to any relative other than a niece, who lived a three hour drive away. Her granddaughter, who had been living nearby, had moved to another state, and my mother’s situation at this residence was becoming untenable. The staff seemed incapable of making certain that her regular routine of prescribed drugs was administered to her. After I spent ten days with her in July, 2016, I began to make preparations for her move to a place near where I live, and in late August she arrived at LAX with my sister as a companion passenger.

Fortunately, my mother had not been disruptive on the flight, but after landing she became cantankerous. It required four hours to get her to move from the airplane seat to the back seat of a taxi. I finally delivered her into the care of a place in Stanton, run by the Quakers, but within less than a week they had sent her by ambulance to a psychiatric institution in Newport Beach. I was not consulted in advance about her institutionalization. I was called by the facility after the ambulance had already delivered her to the wards. It took me two weeks of constant effort to get her released, after which she spent a month in a hell-hole that refused to give her solid food, could not remember to put a pillow case on her pillow, and played loud rock music as she sat in a room with people who were mentally afflicted. Towards the end of that month, she came very close to succumbing to pneumonia, after which I moved her to a place about five miles south of me, where she has received much better care and has managed to stabilize.

In the meantime, beginning in early October, I had to begin the process of getting one of my brothers out of her house, which he had completely and totally trashed. I am not the only person who has had to endure the consequences of a sibling addicted to hoarding, but it took the next four months to get the place cleaned out and ready for sale. Without my brother Jim’s help, it would never have happened. I was, of course, teaching at CSU Long Beach the entire time. To say that I felt as if I had two full-time jobs is understating the case.

I am currently the only one of my mother’s six children who lives in her vicinity. One sister lives in Israel; another in Tennessee. Three brothers live in San Diego County. The picture in this blog post was taken when I visited her a few days ago, bringing along some clothes that Linda bought in a used clothes store. Linda herself is having to address the crisis of her own mother’s aging. Noreen is in her mid-80s, and is still capable of getting around with the aid of a walker, whereas my mother’s mobility is limited to getting in and out of a wheelchair.

At this point, coming to the end of the spring semester, I am completely and utterly exhausted. There was no break between semesters. I spent New Year’s Day at my mother’s former residence in Imperial Beach, for instance, filling bag after bag with disgusting, slimy trash. I didn’t have any good memories of living in that house 50 years ago. The whole experience of rescuing my mother from her own willful refusal to adjust to the circumstances of aging left me having my face rubbed ever more vigorously in my childhood humiliations. New Year’s Day was just the start of weeks and weeks of making round-trip drives and overnight stays in San Diego that broke me physically and financially.

I have not written of any of the above details in my blog during the past year because it would have distracted the blog from its main concerns. I bring it up now because it turned out that I missed David’s memorial service at the Getty. In early February, I was completely absorbed by the combination of teaching and trying to provide for my mother’s care. All I can say is that I hold David’s memory more tightly in my heart at this moment than I would have had I been there that day.

How Long Is the Present: RIP, David Antin (1932–2016)

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/poet-david-antin-dies-701612

http://jacket2.org/commentary/david-antin-obit

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/david-antin-poet-and-critic-known-for-his-talk-poems-dies-at-84/2016/10/18/a7cade68-9546-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html?utm_term=.18f39267c8e6

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/books/david-antin-dead.html?_r=0