Category Archives: Poetry Readings

Laurel Ann Bogen’s New and Selected Poems

Monday, June 18, 2018

“The Terror to be a Magician”: Laurel Ann Bogen’s Metaurban Self-Portraits in Psychosis in the Produce Department

Midway through the second decade of the 21st century, American poetry written and published in the first decades of the Cold War has rapidly receded into movements or schools, such as the Beats or Confessional poetry, in which the best known examples seem to isolate themselves into a distant cul-de-sac. Indeed, the current century’s difficulties in accommodating the rapid oscillations of post-modernity have relentlessly enlarged the gap between mid-20th century poetry and contemporary verse. Literary criticism itself is largely responsible for generating this disenabling fiction in which a limited set of canonical writers in the Confessional school, born before the end of World War II, has become a self-enclosed pantheon that precludes their successors from redefining the legacy of that school’s poetic progeny.

The Confessional school is often presented as a closed case; actually, not just a closed case, but as a kind of minor sub-plot within post-modern poetry that does merit having a single anthology dedicated to its practitioners. Given the abundance of anthologies that manage to plump out volumes on comparatively smaller subsets, such as feminist avant-garde poetry, this aporia is extraordinarily puzzling, especially given how many of Confessionalism’s first generation have found their way into anthologies during the past thirty years. The assiduous campaign against this school’s alleged limitations seems to have been successful in confining its success to its mid-century insurrection against academic poetry dominated by New Criticism.

This widespread dismissal has genuine consequences, especially for poets on the West Coast who have chosen to work at least some of the time within the Confessional milieu. Even though Laurel Ann Bogen’s Psychosis in the Produce Department was published well over two years ago by Red Hen Press, I have not been able to locate any reviews whatsoever of it. The neglect would seem in part to be due to the discomfort that Confessional poetry still manages to generate. Stephen Burt, for example, notes that the “confessional model has become so predictable …. that it has become something many sophisticated poets and critics avoid or even disparage.” Confessional poetry in recent years, however, is no more predictable than Beat or Language or Feminist poetry; rather, it is the imagined template of sophisticated critics that is predictable.

Before considering Bogen’s volume of poems, therefore, let us examine the template of Confessional poetry that has become fixated in critics’ views as overly predictable. The confessional poem, according to Burt, derives from a quartet of suppositions, including its self-reflective performance as “part cri de Coeur and part diary; it draws contrasts between present and past self; its lack of obvious structural constraints connotes speech from the heart; and it deploys post-Freudian claims about generational succession, sexual attraction, or gender identity … as central to what and how we know and feel.” Nor is Burt alone in this assessment by contemporary critics. As seen in Miranda Sherwin’s preference for “psychoanalytic poetics” over Helen Vender’s term “Freudian lyric,” the general consensus in framing confessional poetry is to assign it a default mechanism of mental crisis, instability, and psychic redemption.

It is the second item in Burt’s checklist that I want to call particular attention to at this point, for it rather sloppily attempts to square the circle of personal consciousness. The “self” that Burt invokes in regards to confessional poetry is not subjected in his account to any interrogation whatsoever, let alone the kind of layered distinctions he makes in examining Terrance Hayes’s poetry. In Hayes’s case, the self becomes inherently deserving of post-modernist critique: “Is the self (whatever that means) a performance? What makes for a good performance, or an authentic one (what that means)? Such questions have generated enough recent scholarly books to weigh down an ocean liner, but they have proved hard to make into good poetry.” If so, these questions were not too hard for Terrance Hayes to take on with efficient playfulness, Burt would argue, and I would agree, but also add that so, too, have a number of poets working in the Confessional mode.

Furthermore, the uses of psychoanalysis and mythic figures as generative imaginative strategies for addressing emotional distress, vulnerability, and trauma are more widespread than has been critically acknowledged. While Bogen’s writing has been primarily categorized as belonging to the “stand up school,” as defined by Charles Harper Webb, her poetry is also an intriguing instance of the hidden heterogeneity of more recent practitioners of the Confessional School. It is in the ways that her poetry goes beyond the Confessional that we will find its most appealing value, though it is in being a permutation that it derives the primary impetus for its longevity.

Within the original poetic domain, Bogen’s title for her most comprehensive collection of poems, Psychosis in the Produce Department: New and Selected Poems 1975 2015 steps on stage with the casual confidence that a mature actress has exuded ever since she was a demurely witty, droll ingénue. As her title suggests, the intensity of mental breakdowns careers throughout the selection. Echoing rather deliberately the psychological travail of the narrator in Allen Ginsberg’s “With Walt Whitman in the Supermarket,” the easy way to categorize Bogen would be to consign her to the confessional bracket, and the book’s title rather flamboyantly – almost flippantly – announces the ordinariness of this debilitating mental condition. Even in the midst of plenty, the title suggests, one can easily dissolve into a state of acute mental distress.

Indeed, there are more than a sufficient number of poems in Psychosis in the Produce Department to stamp Bogen’s union card in the Confessional School. Titles such as “27 Years of Madness,” “The Power Lines Are Down,” “Vulnerable Street,” “Bones Dig This Dream,” “cold cold cold,” “Spankings I’ve Known,” “Doppelganger Redux,” “Guilt,” “I Eat Lunch with a Schizophrenic,” and the mordantly witty “The Virginia Woolf Guide to Rock Collecting” all intimate a coruscating set of self-portrait canvases. However, if a vulnerable candor underscores Bogen’s free verse lyricism, it entails a more rigorous imagination that one might expect from the confessional impetus. In a poem from the 1970s, she confronts the seductive ministrations of institutional psychiatry:

The hospitals were clever

They said: you have the gift
why do you want to destroy it?
And I will tell you now
it is not a gift
to know that words are not your own
to know you can produce
a prism from nothingness
it is a terror to be a magician

The dispossession of words, in this instance, is not meant to serve as a swift detour to the confrontation with language as it has played out in various avant-garde guises since the early 1970s. Rather, it is paradox and metaphor that Bogen summons as emotional states of consciousness aligned with that supreme emotion, surprise, without which all over emotions lose their internal momentum. To be a magician is to have the capacity to conjure both presence and absence.
In Bogen’s vision of the social identity of a poet, this polar paradox of affirmation and negation – “words are not your own” // “ a prism from nothingness” – goes to an extremity of absence-presence in “Live Steam at 8:40 a.m.”:

In this poem there are no words
all language has stopped
but the pumps boil
live steam
live team
live steam at 8:45

Heart poach / we rip at skin
alone and without noise
to get at the beat
the color
and where the words are
but this is a poem
where there are no words
and all the colors are extinct
rising like steam
that hisses in our throats
like wordless lies

In this poem the words sizzle
and evaporate

in this poem the words rise crazy

In this poem ourbodies ache
our fingers can nurder us
but even though we fear death
we offer ourselves to each other
as if the muscle and breath
of our bodies can also heal

This poem cradles in its palm
those things that cannot be said

It asks that you touch this page.

The deictic accentuation of “Live Steam at 8:45 a.m.” is far from the only poem in Psychosis in the Produce Department that pushes through the familiar boundaries of Confessional poetry and suggests that other discourses are at work, including the performative self-transformation of an imagined self within a specific urban environment. Among the poets who both live in Los Angeles and frequently perform their poems in a manner befitting the city’s flaunted ambiance, Laurel Ann Bogen stands out for the profuse invocation of her milieu as a trampoline for metaphors. It is the city’s incandescent awareness of itself as the producer of the individual’s theatricality that gives her poems a haunting plasticity. As in the case of that expert witness of flaneurship, J. Alfred Prufrock, Bogen is on very familiar terms with the significant role that fantasy plays in reassuring one’s fallibility, and how the dialogue between absence and presence coils and recoils; the erasure of intimate revelation by a voice “at home in the shadows” continuously palpitates in her poems.

In whose dreams will these stars shimmer
100 light years from now?
Their blown-up images snipped
of imperfections – the errant mole,
an ingrown hair, when paste
does not pass for diamonds.

Confined by fame, Pilates and exfoliation,
tucked in canyons, behind gated walls,
some corner the market on chihauhuas
others collect bags of kudos.
They tell me Rodeo Drive is a state of mind.

As for mine,
it skims along
Hollywood Boulevard like a chauffeur.
From the back seat
I hear my voice
at home in the shadows –
I don’t want to sleep yet, Bogen,
Drive.

I can see and not be seen – invisible to a world
in which I was born. Now you see
me, now you don’t.

If the first half of the poem critiques both the illusions of immortality and the limitations of rewards and public recognition, the second half savors both the self-determined control and the pleasure of evasion. The poem anticipates the sleep that will bring dreams that are no more than “a state of mind.” The iconic street itself, with all its quotidian tawdriness, promises a more substantial cinematic arousal in which the narrator can embolden one’s imaginary biography. If Bogen’s poems concern themselves with the resilient vulnerability of her self-consciousness, they do so with a deliberate display of the consequences to the singular identity.

Funny how failure and falling
sound alike – the firings failing
and falling pling pling pling
in my brain
my managed care brain
my climate control brain
That fiction and fission
sound alike is funny
this friction and fiction
sound alike, ha-ha.

The final two parts of this eight part poem both point to the endless present tense of self-portrait work in an epiphora of apparent singularity.

The friction of my life
against my life is my life.

The fission of my life
despite my life is my life.

The singularity of “my life” is deceptive, though, for it is always already splitting into the fissures of other lives and other imagined roles, including that of the quintessential Los Angeles figure, the private detective, or as Bogen stamps her calling card: L.A. Bogen, Detective Supremo:

My very name
rolls on the tongue
like an apertif
or a recalled cheese
an open parenthesis of mayhem
on the make
in the sulky afternoon
of Los Angeles

The “private surveillance” she offers the reader, however, is that of the guidance that leads to unexpected encounters:
And suddenly
the bougainvillea greet you
like a happy extortionist

and it’s Cinco de Mayo
everywhere you look
as I melt into crowds
just one step behind you.

In this instance, the poet enables the reader to see the possibility of reconciliation between the self and the things of the world. The bougainvillea’s audacity is that it demands we surrender the “cherished image” that the “hardened arm” so deliberately clings to and experience the flowering in and of itself as the holiday of independence from self-dependency. It is not “crowds” of people that the Detective Supremo flows into, but crowds of meaning.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this collection is the number of poems that have little to do with any personal crisis. Bogen’s ability to distance herself as the author or even the protagonist of the poems would seem to run counter to Confessional poetry’s privileging of the first person pronoun. Indeed, even though there is a steady undercurrent / groundswell of references to the typical topics of confessional poetry such as guilt, corporal punishment, suicide, etc., Bogen’s poetry uses these topics as a means of grounding the transformation she has yearned for all the while, a transformation that can only be fully accounted for and comprehended if one embeds Confessional poetry within the discourse of the feminist poetry of the 1970s.

In thinking of the development of feminist awareness in the 1970s, when Bogen was first writing, publishing, and reading her poems in public, one must remember that group activities such as consciousness-raising were an important – indeed, crucial – ritual in breaking free of patriarchal domination. To read poets, born after World War II, who aligned themselves with the Confessional movement without emphasizing a feminist context is to oversimplify their literary project. As Alan Williamson has pointed out, “confessional poetry – almost from the moment that unfortunate term was coined – has been the whipping boy of a half a dozen newer schools.” Or instead of “whipping boy,” should we say “nasty woman,” which might clarify that point of the attacks on confessional poetry. Feminist poetry was the single area of poetic activity in the 1970s, but in poetry’s politics, it would not have been acceptable to cast aspersions on feminist agency. Dismissals of confessional poetry, however, were far more palatable, and accomplished a severance of the links between confessional and feminist, thereby reducing the power of continuity within the critical discourse.

In a poem such as “I Dream the Light of Reason II,” Bogen demonstrates that her confessional poetry has not confined her imagination to the genre of memoir-in-verse. As if dealing from a deck of cards to a table full of patriarchal gamblers, each face card demands to be played, “as it lays.”

The Reasonable Woman is a hope chest, a locked cabinet.

The Reasonable Woman is pleasant enough.

The Reasonable Woman is the converse of sex.

The Reasonable Woman is a durable good, a sound diagnosis.

The Reasonable Woman is a subordinate clause.

The Reasonable Woman is childproof, although Heidi is already up to her knee.

The Reasonable Woman is a skillet, a war bond.

The Reasonable Woman is a fugue heard on the intercom.

The Reasonable Woman is a graph of stock options, the percentage of return.

The Reasonable Woman is open to suggestion.

The Reasonable Woman is a string bean, a cauliflower, a field of potatoes.

The Reasonable Woman is a packet of Alka-Seltzer in the Accounts Payable file.

The Reasonable Woman is considering bankruptcy.

The Reasonable Woman is a stacked heel, a running shoe.

The Reasonable Woman is a pair of pantyhose in the bathroom sink.

The Reasonable Woman is fat free.

The Reasonable Woman is a shadow of herself.

Why would The Reasonable Woman become unreasonable?

Bogen’s sardonic titular character enumerates the options and expectations imposed on women as a collage list of grievances and conditions that can have but one outcome. To be “unreasonable” would be to make herself the primary clause of a sentence; it would mean that self-definition takes place in a social economy activated by a contract not dependent on war bonds, stock options, and the economic repression of bankruptcy.

The remote chance of success in this metamorphosis has been obvious from the start of Bogen’s calculations. In an early poem from the late 1970s, “The Disappearing Act,” the anonymous female narrator admits that:

women are such fools
I am like those fools
with my shackled independence
tunnel vision
of soiled diapers
and dishes

For this narrator, the choice to become otherwise will require the capacity to laugh at the outcome in choosing to be an author:

a pen to save me from the cold
my wits
forced autonomy

Yes, there is something to be said for farce

Nevertheless, Bogen reminds us of the power within each person’s grasp to confront these velleities and use the symbolic power she invokes in “The Red Pencil” and to start anew, even if crossing that boundary requires the surrender of everything marked with inextricable sentiment:

My fingers still close
around red pencils
still move blindly
across paper
canceling time and recrimination
like an exile returning without baggage.

Bogen’s poetry is unlikely to get the full measure of attention it deserves, but that could easily be said of a thousand working poets in this country right now. That it will not receive even a minimally sufficient recognition is more dismaying. Nevertheless, the work will find its own intriguing path in the years to come. Bogen has produced a body of work over a forty year period that has a vibrato of tonal consistency while being able to look into more than the mirror of her own self-consciousness, and the poems taken as a whole shimmer on the tongue of a reader’s memory unlike any other aftertaste. The difficult trek of a mind and body at odds with each other resolves in a quiet advice:

The unopened gift is still a gift. It is given like a forecast or traffic report – backgound to common cash and carry or extraordinary good fortune. There’s a high pressure front ahead: A hand is offered.
Take it.

Bill Mohr / Summer, 2017 / Long Beach, CA
(Accepted for publication in Poetry Flash a year ago. Printed in my blog out of frustrated impatience.)

(Note: An earlier version of this review was presented as a paper at a panel on poetry organized by Steven Gould Axelrod at the PAMLA conference in Pasadema, CA, in October, 2016. My thanks to those who attended and made comments and suggestions.)

“Route 66 through the Eyes of Poets”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tomorrow evening, seven Los Angeles poets will gather at the West Hollywood library for a follow-up reading to last year’s “Sunset Blvd. through the Eyes of Poets.” Sticking with a vehicular trope, Kim Dower selected Route 66, the subject of a famous song that has been reworked quite often over the years by a variety of musicians and bands.

The event is free, and starts at 7 p.m. Each poet will read for seven minutes.
The reading will feature Laurel Ann Bogen, Elena Karina Byrne, Brendan Constantine, Yvonne Estrada, Bill Mohr, Lynne Thompson, and the poet laureate of West Hollywood, Kim Dower.

625 N. San Vicente Blvd.
Wednesday, April 25

I will reading a poem that was published in Rob Cohen’s fine magazine of the 1990s, Caffeine, in addition to debuting a new poem, “The One Exception,” that I finished revising a few weeks ago. It’s the first “stand up” poem I’ve written in some time, and I’m looking forward to reading it very much.

A literary party in Venice, California

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Linda and I enjoyed the company of a score of people interested in writing, acting, as well as cinema, in the early part of the evening. I don’t know who catered the event, bu the sandwiches and cookies were far above the usual quality of such a repast. Several of the people in attendance had recently moved from Northern California to the Los Angeles area, and it was refreshing to hear their appreciation for what this city and region has to offer in terms of its cultural environment.

FOR THE RECORD:
My original account of a reading at Beyond Baroque on April 21, 2018, featuring Matthew Mauldin, Don Kingfisher Campbell, and Kerry Tepperman Campbell has been removed because it has been brought to my attention that it contained erroneous information about how Mr. Mauldin and Mr. Campbell came to be a part of that evening’s program. Though I was not the source of this misinformation, and though I had no reason to doubt its veracity at time of writing my blog post, I sincerely regret repeating it in my account of the program. I apologize to Mr. Mauldin and Mr. Campbell for any imputation that they were placed on the bill through anything other than the normal process by which artists are booked at Beyond Baroque, or that they were awarded their reading for any reason beside their own merit. It should be noted that Mr. Mauldin, in particular, as an honest writer and performer, solicited his inclusion as a featured reader at Beyond Baroque with complete integrity, truthfulness, and forthrightness at every step of the process, which includes his nomination of Mr. Campbell as an additional solo performer.

The Jackson Wheeler Poetry Reading Report

Friday, March 30, 2018

French Concrete One

Linda and I drove up to the Carnegie Arr Museum in Oxnard, California this past weekend for the reading with Vincent Mowry, a poet from Ojai who deserves to be much better known. The plan for the return trip was to stop by Linda’s sister house and relieve her of her care for Linda’s mother for a couple of days.

The reading went better than I ever could have expected. Almost 40 people showed up, which is over two dozen more than usually show up for readings in Los Angeles. I was especially grateful that several poets I knew as a youth showed up: Ricardo Means-Ybarra, Florence Weinberger, ellen, as well as their painter friend, Annie. The reading started with some earnest, intriguing work by a young poet, Sarah Krashefski, and then Marsha de la O introduced me with some very kind remarks.

I led off with “Big Band, Slow Dance,” and followed with “Why the Heart Does Not Develop Cancer”; I then read “The Eviction,” “Wrinkles,” “In the Ocean of Nothingness,” an untitled haiku that was recently published in Hummingbird, and a large section of “Scorpio in Transit,” which appeared in KYSO.

Vincent Mowry read several very fine poems, including one exquite poem that almost eerily served as a parallel vision to one of the poems I had read in the first half of the reading. I have almost never been combined with another poet in a reading whose work I don’t know ahead of time and found that we had much in common; somehow, though, it turned out that Vincent’s poetry had more in common with mine that either of us could ever have expected. His poem about a dream of swimming in the ocean took on the bleakness of Dickinson’s “without even a report of land / To justify despair” and broke through to another realm of vision, closer to that occasion she describes as being a vision of “morning’s nest.” Mowry’s poem about that vision was one of the best I have heard in recent years.

After the reading, neither Vincent nor I had any books for sale, so we mingled with the audience. The museum, though, made copies of Was I Asleep: New and Selected Poems by Jackson Wheeler available for purchase. The reading series is named in his honor, and he deserves it. Marsha read an extraordinary poem that Wheeler wrote about a visitation by his dead father, a World War II veteran, to his bedroom the night before leaving his Appalachian hometown. It’s as deeply moving and poignant as anything in Winesburg, Ohio. In other words, a classic poem. I have been reading Wheeler’s book since I returned, and certainly hope to review it by this summer.

By chance, in Oxnard the next morning, we happened to meet one of Linda’s oldest friend, Vicki, who was having breakfast with her companion, who turned out to a manager for a concrete delivery company. I told him that I had always liked those trucks and like many very young boys thought about driving one of them when I grew up. I mentioned to him that such a truck had recently been in my neighborhood to pour concrete for a roundabout at the intersection where we live, and I had taken photographs of its massive cylinder. When I showed him the photographs, he said, “That’s my company,” which turns out to be owned by a French family. In fact, he explained, the three dots inside the triangle represent the three generations of the family’s commitment to the company.

As Darwin pointed out, the success of any individual in an evolutionary scheme can be gauged by whether its offspring have offspring. It’s as true in poetry as it is in concrete. Here is to the names of the poets I have invoked in my lifetime of work being written in concrete along with their solemnly joyful affirmations of our shared journey.

Once again, thanks to Marsha and Phil for being kind enough to include me in this series.

French Concrete Two

Alexis Rhone Fancher on Margaret Tynes Fairley’s Poetry

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Don’t let the civility of a bygone century deceive you. Upon first reading, these poems to nature, gathered by season, highlight the surface transparency of Margaret Tynes Fairley’s work. All are beautifully crafted gems. All celebrate nature in her capricious glory. Yet on closer examination, each of these complex, exquisite poems contains facets somewhat off; the natural world, its order gone slightly awry. The human enters the equation, sometimes with joy, but often with heartbreak. Underneath the natural order: disorder. Even chaos. ‘The dark conspiracy of spruce.’ And below that, ‘a hint of insurrection;’ below that, a knowing calm. The earth’s pull, a centering, as the years swirl around the recurrent themes of birth, death, and renewal. Fairley, ‘dressed in motley,’ ‘playing the fool,’ delves into a nature so profound that it takes on and explores a chameleon persona – lover, sister, protector, and yes, beloved mother.

“Margaret Tynes Fairley transcends the centuries with poems lyrical yet terse and biting enough to satisfy the 21st century sensibilities in each of us.”

– Alexis Rhone Fancher, author of State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, poetry editor, Cultural Weekly

Both Alexis and I drove up from the South Bay area to Beyond Baroque this past Sunday to celebrate the publication of Fairley’s collection poems, The Years Wear the Seasons, by Bambaz Press. Alexis drove from San Pedro with the smoothest flow of traffic that one could hope for; and Linda and I were equally fortunate. All three of us were exceptionally impressed by the passionate renditions of Fairley’s poems by her granddaughter, Rose, who works as a nurse in North Carolina.

I was also pleased to meet Matthew Hetznecker, who had a book entitled A.S. for sale, which was published four years ago. I have just begun to read its quartet of short prose installations: “Loose Ends”; “Ties That Bind”; “Laced”; “Knots.” The titles seem reticent to admit the subtle rambunctiousness of Hetznecker’s notations. His writing reminds me of the kind of work that George Drury Smith was seeking — and having a hard time finding — when he started his literary magazine, Beyond Baroque, a half century ago. Sometimes one must wait a long time for the right antecedent to show up.

Beyond Baroque Celebrates the Deep State of the Beat Mind

Sunday, March 4, 2018

BEYOND BEAT at BEYOND BAROQUE: “It’s not a generation. It’s a state of mind.” — Diane Di Prima

I drove up to Venice yesterday afternoon to attend George Drury Smith’s talk about his life before he founded Beyond Baroque in 1968. There was also a meeting of a half-dozen members of the Board of Trustees to discuss a major event in November. When I walked into the main lobby, the first thing I saw was a flyer for this coming week’s celebration of Beat inspired poetry, music, and art. Organized by S.A. Griffin, who was one of the editors of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, “Beyond Beat” is a five-day crash course in a literary movement that is well over 60 years old. Contrary to the claims of the Language and post-avant poets, Beat poetics is still an active principle in contemporary American poetry and therefore constitutes the eldest surviving movement of literate consciousness in the United States.

The entire program can be found at:
https://carmabum.blogspot.com/

“Beyond Beat” starts on Thursday, March 8 and runs through Monday, March 12th. Poets, performers, and presenters include Frank T. Rios, Will Alexander, Phoebe MacAdams, Paul Vangelisti, Brian Chidester, David Amran, Linda J. Albertao, Jack Brewer, Eve Brandstein, Pegarty Long, Laurel Ann Bogen, Rich Ferguson, Lorraine Perrotta, Michael C. Ford, Marc Olmsted, Gayle Davis, Joseph Patton, and Neeli Cherkovski.

I will be giving a talk on Venice West on Saturday, March 10, at 1:00 p.m. and moderating a panel from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Beyond Beat: March 8 – 12, 2018
Organized by S.A. Griffin

“Enter Here” — Alexis Rhone Fancher (KYSO Flash; 2017)

Sunday, September 10, 2017 (Sunday)

One can become so accustomed to the title of a book referring to the lead poem in the collection that when one has read around in the book and still not found the title, even as a phrase in a poem, the words begin to echo behind each line: first lines, last lines, and every line between. The title of Alexis Rhone Fancher’s recently published collection of poems began to emit that hypnotic shimmer as I read twenty or so poems at random in my first perusal. “Enter Here” is not an unfamiliar imperative, and yet within the domain of imaginative consciousness illuminated by erotic impulses, the book’s presence in one’s hands has an almost premonitory intimacy: “who touches this book touches a woman’s imagination.”

Readers fortunate enough to have started with Fancher’s How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen will happily breathe in the pheromones swirling from these poems. One should be warned, as one often is in literature with directional indicators: reading these poems will arouse you, not so much carnally but with an adamant curiosity about that bondage that sexual desire imposes on us, if we but give it the slightest opening. The photograph on the book’s cover sums up how huge the consent is once we crack the door even slightly.

In Fancher’s poems, the speakers consent to as much intensity as will enable them to entangle themselves in the urgent illusion of the insatiable. In doing so, they risk having their candor taken for granted, as if it were no more than a carefully disguised substitute for self-gratifying narcissism. Fancher guards against that relaxed reading by being explicit only when it is needed. In “To My New Boyfriend with Oversized Blue Lips Tattooed on His Neck,” for instance, there is no dwelling upon “kinky sex.” What that might have been is left to the delicate extremes of the reader’s conjunctions. It is within the satiety of the bower of bliss, however, that revelation most forthrightly takes place:

one night, you let it slip:

how just before she kissed you off
she lead you on a leash,

sat you in the chair,
cupped your chin,

imprinted her lipsticked kiss on your
neck’s throbbing pulse,

and ordered the tattooist to begin.

The extent to which we can trust the narrators in Fancher’s poems is a central factor in her persona. Candor requires accurate memories, and Fancher is honest enough to present memories that do not go unchallenged. “Cousin Elaine from Chicago and I Are Naked” ends with a denial by the other person that the alleged sensual intimacy between the two characters was anything more than a dream. That a dream could have the same equal consequences as an actual encounter is left unconsidered by the character of the cousin.

Indeed, one of the most convincing aspects of Fancher’s delineations of sexual power draws upon the liminality of being awake and dreaming. Is the car the lover who can’t be shared, or is it the narrator’s fellow student in an acting class, Anjelica, who teases and provokes a male voyeur with merciless evasiveness?

“When I confess the affair to my boyfriend, he jacks himself off in the galley kitchen and comes all over his unattainable fantasies. He says that he doesn’t consider sex between women to be cheating, and begs me to set up a threesome. I tell him the T-bird’s a two-seater, and watch his face fall. I could end it, but why? All I can say is that I want her for myself. All I can say is that I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.”
(“Tonight I Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, who Taught me the Rules of the Road”)

The wit in that poem surfaces again in a conversation that more than a few men have had at some point in their lives. As a writer, Fancher takes care to remember the basic rule of giving one’s characters the best possible chance to win a scene. One of the most laconic illustrations of her deft skill comes with protestation at the end of “Morning Wood:

I long to inhabit him.

“Do you think
of your penis

as an “It”
or a “He”?

“Neither,” he says.
I think of it as Me.”

It’s not often that a book of poems has over a dozen poems that will cause anthologists a fair amount of deliberation. In addition to the poems I’ve already mentioned, it would be difficult to stop an initial list with just the following:
“Housekeeping,” “I prefer pussy….,” “this small rain,” “I was hovering….,” “Cousin Elaine…,” “the sad waitress…,” “Bambi Explains It All,” the pair of “Tattooed Girl” poems. And “Dear Mrs. Brown…” “Doggy Style Christmas,” and “Tonight I Dream of My First True Love.”

Fancher’s books of poetry have begun to attract considerable praise from Los Angeles-based poets such as Laurel Ann Bogen, Michael C. Ford, Pam Ward, Gerald Locklin, and Michelle Bitting. Tonight Fancher will read her poems as part of Library Girl series (run by Susan Hayden) at the Santa Monica Airport. It is a sold-out show, and I hope extended applause rewards Fancher’s willingness to risk having the solidity of her poetics questioned by those who feel safest on tamped-down terrain. She is fearless, and should be fearlessly praised. She is on the verge of joining poets such as Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, and Lyn Lifshin as a memorable provocateur in contemporary poetry. Clare MacQueen, the publisher of KYSO Flash, deserves equal praise for assisting the emergence of this poet into the ranks of the most significant risk-takers.

Post-Script:
Years ago, a quarterly magazine called Yellow Silk devoted itself to a celebration of eros, and it was successful enough to generate an anthology in the early 1990s that in turn warranted some sequels. In the preface to the first collection, Richard Russo noted how small a role Eros played in the contemporary literary imagination. “When I sought out small-press and literary magazines available in this country, I found … (the writing) published there often had, and I mean this literally, death in the first paragraph.”

I, too, had noticed how rare it was to find a love poem – let along an erotic poem – in a literary magazine. I have to concur with Russo’s observation. I, too, noticed this almost perverse preference for the glamour of death, and one of my attempts to counter it was my editorial preference for love poems in my second anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry (1985). If Alexis Rhone Fancher had been writing and publishing these poems in Los Angeles thirty years ago, she would have been one of the stars of that anthology.

The Fifth Street Theater Poetry Festival (1980)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Four years after the Valentine’s Day reading at Beyond Baroque, the Fifth Street Theater hosted a poetry festival that paired poets who wrote in English and poets living in Los Angeles who wrote in another language. It was the first event I know of in this area that gave immigrant poetry an equal share of prominence in a reading series. This would seem to be the kind of thing that was recently cited by the new poet laureate of Los Angeles as her primary interest. In setting up programming, she may want to look at this early example, which was curated by Paul Vangelisti. I have reproduced the programming as listed on the original program, but have also broken the lists into clusters of poets as they would have been seen at that point.

Paul Vangelisti (co-editor; co=publisher: Invisible City/ Red Hill Press)
Martha Lifson (Martha Ronk)
John Thomas (deceased)
Robert Crosson (deceased)
Robert Peters (deceased)
Dennis Cooper (editor and publisher: Little Caesar Press; now lives elsewhere)
Ron Koertge
Bill Mohr (Momentum Press)
James Krusoe
Harry Northup
Holly Prado
Leland Hickman (deceased) (1934 – 1991)
Wanda Coleman (deceased)
Peter Levitt (now lives elsewhere)

Of the poets writing in other languages, here are links to the writing of the four best-known of them:

Chungmi Kim – Korean
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/chungmi-kim
http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/poetry/poets/names/kim-chungmi/
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52903/my-sin
http://washingtonart.com/beltway/kim.html

Richard Exner – German (1929-2008)
http://www.independent.com/news/2008/dec/24/richard-exner-1929—2008/

Alurista – Spanish/English (born: Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia, 1947)
http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/alur3.html

XICANO DUENDE: A SELECT ANTHOLOGY by Alurista

Gina Valdes – Spanish / Nahuatl (born 1943)

Gina Valdés – Omens


https://www.asu.edu/brp/backlist/poetry/GVal1p.html
https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2010/may/05/poetry-english-con-salsa/

Banaj Basu – Bengali
Nguyensa – Vietnamese
Cao Dong Knanh — Vietnamese
Saebang Lee — Korean
P.D. Sharma – Creolese-English
New Caribbean Man: Poems 1972 -1976 (Carib House, 1981)
Yuri Lechtholz – Russian
Kev Mak — Russian

Fifth Street Poetry Festival - 1

Fifth Street Poetry Festival - 2

Bao Phi’s “THOUSAND STAR HOTEL”

Friday, July 21, 2017

In addition to Michael C. Ford’s publication reading on Sunday, which was announced on this blog earlier this week, I would like to mention the following pair of readings by a poet visiting from Minnesota, Bao Phi, who will be reading from his second book of poetry, THOUSAND STAR HOTEL from Coffee House Press.

http://coffeehousepress.org/shop/thousand-star-hotel/
http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/07/20/537580283/the-poet-bao-phi-on-creating-a-guidebook-for-young-asian-americans

BEYOND BAROQUE – 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291 (310) 822-3006
22 July Saturday 6:00 PM
BAO PHI AND SCOTT KURASHIGE: A READING AND DISCUSSION
Bao Phi will read from his second book of poetry, Thousand Star Hotel and Scott Kurashige will read from his book The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the Political Crisis Began in Detroit. FREE.

The Great Company — 1917 Bay St, Fl 2nd, Los Angeles, California 90021
23 July Sunday, 7:30 PM Doors, Show at 8 pm
Bao Phi: Thousand Star Hotel Book Release LA
Hosted by BEAU SIA
Bao Phi will be reading from his newly released book of poetry, Thousand Star Hotel, as part of his national book tour. Books for sale and author signing after. FREE and Open to the Public
NOTE: The entrance of The Great Company (where the reading will be held), is actually in an alley off of Wilson St. between Violet & Bay.

As for a notation on how I spent the day, I want to thank Amelie Frank, Janice Lee, Lynne Thompson, and Jessica Ceballos for their willingness to talk at length about the challenges of a life devoted to one’s own writing while at the same time helping other writers sustain their commitment to imaginative cultural work. Here are some links to their work.

https://www.tldrmagazine.com/single-post/2017/07/05/The-Wolf-Janice-Lee=
Janice Lee is the author of several books, including Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). After living for over 30 years in California, she will be moving to Portland, Oregon this summer to teach at Portland State University.

www.tldrmagazine.com
True Living; Documented Relentlessly – edited by Russell Jaffe.

JESSICA CEBALLOS:
http://www.jessicaceballos.com/about.html

AMELIE FRANK:
http://www.home.earthlink.net/~pero/ameliefrank.html

LYNNE THOMPSON:
Three Poems (from Cultural Weekly):
Hammer & Pick
Lost Spirits
White Flight: Los Angeles, 1961
https://www.culturalweekly.com/lynne-thompson-three-poems/

Bill Mohr – San Diego Reader: Three Poems
https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/jul/19/poetry-imperial-beach-remains-remote-intolerable/

And, last but not least, listen to a poem by Gerry Locklin being read on The Writer’s Almanac:

The Writer’s Almanac for July 21, 2017

“Suddenly // we are within the sound that we have made…”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ann Stanford, one of the Los Angeles poets whose work I quoted in Holdouts, has not appeared in any of the past half-dozen anthologies of Los Angeles poetry, even though her work has inspired many Los Angeles poets, including Harry Northup and Michael C. Ford. The title of today’s post comes from a poem by Stanford that Ford used as an epigraph in his 1977 chapbook, West Point, which recorded one of his many cross-country jaunts over the past half-century. I have dipped into this obscure publication for today’s title because I love her description of how consciousness itself both creates that liminal ripening of poetic sound and records the instant of enveloping transition. Embedded in attuned self-awareness, Ford is one of the very few poets who has an uncanny ability to sketch with accuracy on the palimpsest of nostalgia’s delicate aura. At the same time, his poetry has maintained its droll critique of American’s cultural proclivities, while not allowing us to indulge in the sentimentality of fantasy role reversal. “Would we really do much better if we were in charge?” The answer is yes, but Ford gently instructs us as to what it would require to attain that power. Perhaps the best place to study his suggestions is his 2014 recording from Hen House Studios, Look Each Other in the Ears. I believe that his volume of “Selected Poems 1970-1995, ” which was published by Amaranth Editions in 1998 under the title “Emergency Exits,” is also still available. That book did not include, however, any poems from West Point.

For a chance to hear Michael C. Ford read from his new book, set aside this coming Sunday afternoon and head to DTLA.

Sunday, July 23

4 PM

Michael C Ford’s Women Under The Influence
Book Launch & Signing.

Featuring readings by: S.A. Griffin, Mike Sonksen, Gail Wronsky, Jerry Garcia, Hannah Thompson-Garner, Paul Cummins & Surprise Guests!

$10 Admission includes Drinks.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Produced by Susan Hayden & Alexis Rhone Fancher @the gorgeous Fine Art Bookstore of Michael Delgado.

A.G. Geiger Fine Art Books
502 Chung King Court (at Hill Street)
Los Angeles, CA 90012

“His poems are alive and full of fresh phrases and words and insights… often dazzling bolts of images.” – Ann Stanford

“All the things I like in poems: original, serious, humous… a thrilling language-depth that only a true poet can achieve.” – Holly Prado

“Not only is he one of our premiere language artists, Ford is a writer who can bring to his readers a kaleidoscope of voices, all of which touch both the spirit and the heart.” – David St. John

“He’s one of the voices with an American sound of pure jazz.” — William Matthews

“Welcome to the work of a man who has devoted his life to poetry, who evidently, always knew the emergency exits. His is performance that is not sell-out entertainment. In his contagious, genuine enthusiasm, metaphorical intelligence, heartbreak and rebellion, he opens the sealed door to this poor world, a “Suburb of Los Angeles.” – Sharon Doubiago