Category Archives: Poetry

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:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

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.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

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.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

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

“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.

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.

“With Saintliness” — Harry E. Northup

Harry E. Northup is the author of many collections of poetry, including Eros Ash and Enough the Great Running Chapel, both from Momentum Press, as well as The Ragged Vertical, the images we possess kill the capturing, Reunions, Red Snow Fence, and East Hollywood: Memorial to Reason, all published by Cahuenga Press. He made a living as an actor for over 30 years, and appeared in a substantial number of films by some of the finest directors ever to work in Hollywood. He starred in the film, Over the Edge, which is enjoying a new surge of appreciation. He is also an activist in the poetry communities of Los Angeles; he founded and directed the Gasoline Alley Poetry Series in the mid-1980s, and has also organized poetry readings, such as a full-length presentation of Thomas McGrath’s Letter to an Imaginary Friend.

His poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Beyond Baroque NewLetters, Bachy, Momentum, ONTHEBUS, Barney, Pearl, Chiron Review, and Solo. New Alliance Records released two full-length compilations of his poems, recorded with producer Harvey Robert Kubernik. His poems have also been reprinted in several anthologies of Los Angeles poets, including The Streets Inside, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” Wide Awake, and Grand Passion.

I first heard Harry Northup read his poetry at the Wednesday night poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque in the early 1970s. Without Northup’s presence at the workshop, it is doubtful that it would have ever caught the attention of Lee Hickman at that particular time, and it is very unlikely that Hickman would ever have gone on to meet many of the poets whose work he went on the champion as editor of a series of magazines: Bachy, Boxcar, and Temblor.

The following poem first appeared in his blog, and is reprinted here by permission.

With Saintliness

With sainted water
With faraway canoe
With tremulous care
With sainted oars
With sainted light
With joy saintliness
With focused centre
With sainted arrows
With sainted circle
With sainted closing
With joining light
With saving hand
With sainted blemish
With circumference blue
With climbing saintliness
With joy eliminated
With saintliness diffused
With sainted hope
With closing hand
With sainted mouth
With joining hearts
With shining road
With long gone cascade
With sainted sound
With sainted search
With saintly doom
With connected light
With sainted substance
With light flowing down

8 17 17

Harry E. Northup

https://timestimes3.blogspot.com/2017/08/with-saintliness.html

Elena Karina Byrne’s “Enchanting Verses” Anthology of American Poetry

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Elena Karina Byrne has edited an anthology as part of The Enchanting Verses series of annual collections that focus on a specific country. This anthology focuses on poetry from America, and constitutes issue XXV in this sequence. Over sixty poets have had poems selected for this issue, and Byrne’s editorial acuity is unusual in its willingness to incorporate the writing of a substantial number of West Coast poets into an overview of renown figures more typically associated with the East Coast. Here is the link to this exceptional collection, which I would recommend to poets and teachers everywhere as a resource for their friends and students in the coming semester.

http://www.theenchantingverses.org/issue-xxv-august-2017.html

Issue XXV – August 2017
(Silver Jubilee Edition)
Poetry from America
edited by Elena Karina Byrne

featuring poems by
Kim Addonizio
Kaveh Akbar
Maureen Alsop
Ralph Angel
Tony Barnstone
Molly Bendall
Laurel Ann Bogen
Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Elena Karina Byrne (Editor, Issue XXV)
Helene Cardona
Victoria Chang
Jennifer S. Cheng
Cathy Colman
Brendan Constantine
Meg Day
Travis Wayne Denton
Stuart Dischell
Jawanza Dumisani
Kim Dower
Lynnell Major Edwards
Angie Estes
Kathy Fagan
Katie Farris
Vievee Francis
Richard Garcia
Ramon Garcia
Terrance Hayes
Juan Felipe Herrera
Mark Irwin
Douglas Kearney
David Lehman
Suzanne Lummis
Tom Lux
Sarah Maclay
Holaday Mason
Sebastian Matthews
Jeffrey McDaniel
Christopher Merrill
Constance Merritt
Gabriel Meyer
Jennifer Militello
Bill Mohr
Sawnie Morris
Rusty Morrison
Kelli Anne Noftle
Candace Pearson
Martha Rhodes
Atsuro Riley
Don Share
David St. John
Brian Kim Stefans
Lynne Thompson (Editor’s Choice)
Quincey Troupe
Sarah Vap
William Wadsworth
Charles Harper Webb
Phillip B. Williams
Jane Wong
Gail Wronsky
Matthew Zapruder
Mariano Zaro
plus translations, essays, and interviews

Sunday, August 20th Update: $23,000 Raised on Behalf of Holly and Harry

Sunday morning, August 20, 2017

A week and a half ago, a half-dozen Los Angeles poets (Amelie Frank, Laurel Ann Bogen, Steve Goldman, Lynne Bronstein, Luis Campos, and Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna) launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Holly Prado and Harry Northup, who recently lost their possessions in a nocturnal electrical fire in their apartment that nearly took their lives. Two hundred and twenty-five people have responded to the appeal, and slightly over $23,000 has been raised. The original goal was $20,000, and it speaks to the stature that Holly and Harry have within Southern California poetry that writers, readers, and artists have responded with such generosity to their need. If 75 more people contributed $25 each, the campaign would then have 300 total contributors to a $25,000 fund.

I do want to reiterate that once they are settled back in their residence, it would help them immensely to have a working library again. I would like to suggest that Beyond Baroque hold a book party to which the poets and readers of poetry of Los Angeles contribute as many books as possible. One possibility would be to have a “library committee” of poets go through the piles of books, pick out volumes they believe would most interest Holly and Harry, and then invite them to make their choices, after which we could haul their new library to East Hollywood.

Tuesday evening update:

The GoFundMe campaign to assist Holly Prado and Harry Northup has almost reached the $16,000 level of donations. The project is at the 80 percent mark. Over 170 people have contributed so far. If another forty or fifty people would make a small donation, we would all be able to savor the generosity of our community in helping two of our own recover from a devastating loss.

Once again, my thanks to all of you who have helped these old friends.

Tuesday morning, August 15, 2017

OVER HALFWAY TO THE GOAL OF HELPING HOLLY AND HARRY

Almost 150 people have responded to the GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help Holly Prado and Harry Northup recover from the fire that devastated their apartment recently. After only four days, almost $13,000 has been pledged to their support. We are only $7,000 away from completing this project. I realize that many of the people who have given have already asked their friends and artistic colleagues to contribute, too, so this final third of the fundraising will not be as easy as the initial push. Nevertheless, I believe there are still many people who would be willing to contribute if they knew about Holly’s and Harry’s plight. Both of them are poets who have responded with absolute imaginative integrity to Cary Nelson’s question at the end of Repression and Recovery: “What is the social value of a life devoted to poetry?”

Harry and Holly met in the mid-1970s, shortly after I had published Feasts, Holly’s novella of “autobiographical fiction.” According to Harry, he felt inspired to meet Holly after reading Feasts. They have been inseparable since then.

Should any of you need quick and easy links to send to people who may not be familiar with Harry’s and Holly’s writing, please avail yourself of the following:

(for Holly Prado)

https://www.culturalweekly.com/holly-prado-three-poems/

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt3199q9f8/
http://www.worldcat.org/title/feasts/oclc/610178149&referer=brief_results

(for Harry Northup)

http://articles.latimes.com/1993-05-21/news/va-37959_1_harry-northup

http://timestimes3.blogspot.com/2014/03/for-my-love-sleeping-by-harry-e-northup.html?view=sidebar

http://www.worldcat.org/title/enough-the-great-running-chapel/oclc/8506024&referer=brief_results

GoFundMe for Two Beloved Poets — Holly Prado and Harry Northup

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A fire recently obliterated much of the apartment in which Los Angeles poets Holly Prado and Harry Northup have lived for the past several decades. I gather from the accounts of friends who have talked to them that the fire started in the middle of the night, and that the cause was a problem in the electrical wiring. I have also heard that they barely escaped with their lives. Several poets have launched a GoFundMe campaign in order to help them reestablish their household and modest furniture. Some things, such as their working library as poets, are irreplaceable, and perhaps when they are settled again, we can all bring some extra books over and help them in that regard, too.

In the meantime, practical assistance is needed. I gather that Holly, for instance, has lost all of her clothing. I would urge everyone who can make the slightest contribution to go to the GoFundMe site and help out. If you are unable to make a donation, then please post this notice on whatever social media you have access to.

https://www.gofundme.com/help-holly-prado-harry-northup

For those of you who do not know of Holly Prado and Harry Northup’s poetry and writing, I would recommend that you go to CahuengaPress.com and read their biographies, and then purchase through Small Press Distribution some of the very fine books this publishing co=operative has issues in the past 25 years.

Thank you. The community of poets in Los Angeles thanks you.

KYSO Flash — Issue Number Eight (Clare MacQueen, editor and publisher)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Issue number 8 of KYSO Flash is now available:
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/ContentsIssue8.aspx

Clare MacQueen is one of the best editors now working in the United States. In many ways, she reminds me of the late Marvin Malone, editor of the Wormwood Review, in her ability to help writers find what most needs to be worked on in the next draft. She has an uncanny ability to see the alternative ways of configuring the material that the writer is focusing on, and I encourage anybody who is fortunate enough to get her detailed feedback to take advantage of her acute editorial imagination.

KYSO Flash is a prime example of how much publication on the internet has matured in the past 15 years. I remember glancing at a few on-line magazines back then, and laughing out loud at the drivel that was being self-published. One early exception that showed a shift in making use of the internet’s accessibility was Tarpaulin Sky, which demonstrated that editors working on the small press model of a literary magazine from the 20th century could reach an audience with stunning immediacy. By now, not only have many magazines such as Patty Seyburn’s Pool shifted from print to on-line, but we also see an older magazine that had a complete life span such as Larry Smith’s Caliban being vigorously resurrected on-line. MacQueen’s magazine achieves its particular distinction due to her commitment to short prose, which she divides into two sections in each issue, micro-fiction (up to 500 words) and flash fiction (from 500 to 1000 words). For those who might want to submit their writing to KYSO Flash, the word limit (1000 words) is a very strict rule, and it includes the title!

In addition to haibun and prose poetry, MacQueen also publishes lineated poetry, and in the past has given a “featured author” section to Alexis Rhone Fancher, whose new book, Enter Here, is also published by Clare MacQueen. Issue number eight’s featured author is John Olson, whose poetry I discovered a year and a half ago in Bird and Beckett Bookstore in San Francisco. Olson is one of the most overlooked poets in the United States, and I applaud MacQueen for giving his writing a substantial forum. In addition to several of Olson’s poems, issue eight includes an essay and an interview with him.

Along with Brooks Roddan’s blog at IF/SF Publications, Olson’s blog is one of the best around:
http://tillalala.blogspot.com

One feature of KYSO Flash that I am just now beginning to fully appreciate is the author index:
http://www.kysoflash.com/AuthorIndex.aspx
Kathleen McGookey’s pieces in issue number eight, for instance, are especially intriguing, and I wondered if I had somehow overlooked her work in earlier issues of KYSO, but when I went to the index I discovered that this is her first appearance in MacQueen’s magazine; I hope to see more of her work in future issues. In truth, this is the first time I have read McGookey’s writing, and she is now on my short list of writers whose books I need to catch up with. Other pieces that have caught my attention at the outset include Kim Hagerich’s “Bundle of Joy” and Nin Andrews’s “I Am a Depressed Orgasm.” It’s also a pleasure to see Gerard Sarnat’s writing included in this issue.

It should also be noted that Clare MacQueen contributes information to VIDA (http://www.vidaweb.org/about-vida/) and espouses its goals.
KF-8 contains works by a total of 65 contributors: 33 men (50.8%)and 32 women (49.2%).

Finally, here are the links to my writing in this issue:
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrScorpio.aspx
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrElixirs.aspx
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrReviewsFeasts.aspx