Category Archives: Poetry

Stefano Strazzabosco — Translations from “Bittersweet Kaleidoscope”

October 3, 2018

Stefano Strazzabosco, an Italian poet who lives in Mexico City, wrote a letter this past week while I was out of town to let me know that five of my poems, which he has translated into Italian, has now also been published in a literary magazine, L’IMMAGINAZIONE (307 — settembre-ottobre 2018). I wish to thank Stefano for his support of my writing, and especially for taking the time to write a note about my poetry to accompany his translations.

“Queste poesie danno conto del tono insieme colloquiale e alto del suo stile, che anche lessi- calmente ama mescolare la lingua quotidiana con termini che di tanto in tanto ne spezzano la fluidità, facendola impennare. Allo stesso modo, i dati della realtà concreta e quotidiana – un ami- co malato terminale, una colazione a base di avena, un interrogatorio, un gatto, etc. – vengo- no fatti lievitare fino a assumere un valore che trascende le occasioni senza rinnegarle, anzi: cercando al loro interno quel segno che le tra- sforma in esempi di un vissuto personale che di- viene esistenziale, paradigmatico, comune. Vengono così agitate anche le grandi questioni su cui ci interroghiamo: il senso del nostro esse- re nel mondo, la malattia, la morte, la scrittura al cospetto dell’ignoto, l’amicizia, l’amore. Non si tratta, però, di trasportare questi temi su un pia- no metafisico, quanto piuttosto di trovare al loro interno la cerniera che li fa ruotare su più piani, come prismi verbali. Chiaro che in questo modo, partendo dall’osservazione, arrivando fino a San Tommaso, più di qualcosa si perde per strada, e altro vi si aggiunge. Da qui la sottile ironia che avvolge questi prismi irregolari che affascinano per la loro concretezza, ma che durano per il lo- ro contenuto impalpabile.”

Bill Mohr è poeta, critico, saggista. Insegna alla California State University e vive a Long Beach con sua moglie Linda Fry.

(nota di Stefano Strazzabosco)

Beyond Baroque’s Gala Bacchanal – November 10, 2018

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Tickets for the Beyond Baroque’s Gala Bacchanal on November 10 will go on sale next week! This celebration of Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary will be graced with the presence of poet Will Alexander, who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Viggo Mortenson, an artist, poet and actor who has a rare understanding of Beyond Baroque’s contribution to the literary arts on the West Coast. Mortensen will receive the Alexandra Garrett Award for 2018.

Mark the date on your calendar to join us in Venice.

Boho Bach - CARD

If any reader of this blog knows individuals or a business willing to be a sponsor of this event, please do contact Quentin Ring or Richard Modiano at Beyond Baroque: (301) 822-3006.

You can also reach them at:
Quentin@beyondbaroque.org
Richard@beyondbaroque.org

Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

“Origin” and “Bees”: The Latest (New Yorker) Installment of Official Verse Culture

Preface: Because people don’t tend to read blogs for contextualizing entries, a fair number of readers might assume that the following article reflects an all-out hostility to poetry that appears in The New Yorker. Before any reader makes that assumption, I would urge her or him to read my blog post (November 9, 2014) on Suzanne Lummis’s poem about Ophelia, which also was published in The New Yorker.

* * * * * *

“shall i uncover honey / where maggots are” – “The Kingfishers,” Charles Olson

In a recent issue of The New Yorker (Sept. 3rd), a poem entitled “Origin” (pages 52-53) begins:

“I was born inside a mourning dove.”

The poem poses a riddle, initially, since birth is a process by which a living creature separates from its gestating entity. It doesn’t prove to be an interesting riddle; rather, its pathos at the poem’s conclusion only serves to underline how far short its opening falls from matching even the effort of a popular song. “Jumping’ Jack Flash”‘s use of figurative language in its first line is far more intriguing. providing the reader with enough complexity to move with accelerating interest to the second line. (Though Keith Richards is credited with the music, it is Bill Wyman’s primary riff that underscores this impetuous metaphor of the British generation born during World War II.)

Katie Condon’s trope plays with the long-standing obsession of poets with dead animals, as well as the constant proximity of death to animal life. One could take this subject and turn it into a compelling poem, but it would require an artist who pays more attention to the use of her pronouns. “I” and “us” and “you” are sprinkled around this poem like garnishes on a plate of microwaved frozen food that do nothing to hide its high salt content. Did no reader of this poem before it was published suggest to Ms. Condon that she needs to review the relationship between these pronouns?

While fans of this kind of poem might view my comments are overly harsh, I want to remind them that far more strident attitudes towards Condon’s poetics are at work in contemporary verse. I can imagine many avant-garde poets (and their significant affiliates) sneering “Quietude” and viewing the sentiment of the poem as a kind of maggot that the Fly of Limited Imagination has graced the carcass of Tradition with. I’ll leave it to other blogs to argue that case, but I will say that if “Origin” is an example of what Ph.D. candidates in Literature and Creative Writing are producing these days, then academic poetry is truly taking a turn towards the banal.

In fairness to Ms. Condon, I am cutting and pasting the link to her website, which appears to provide links to other poems she’s had published. I am not in any rush to read them, but perhaps those who yearn for “success” as poets might want to hurry to her site to see what they should emulate.

http://www.katiecondonpoetry.com/poetry-1/

I myself find Condon’s poem most useful as a reminder to visit William Blake’s “The Fly.”

“The Fly”

Little Fly
Thy summer’s play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

In Condon’s poem, what is conspicuously missing is the “blind hand.”

As for the ending of Condon’s poem (“I am // as afraid as you.”, I jotted down a quatrain shortly after reading her poem:

THE MAGGOT

No maggot is afraid.
The tiny egg, when laid,
Knows thickened, sated Fate
Will never make him wait.

Turning this critique on myself, I hope that anyone who finds my rejoinder as insufficient as I do quickly turns to someone who could have done a far better job: J.V. Cunningham. Just as I suggest that readers would be better off reading Blake than Condon, I do not pretend that my work is more deserving of sustained attention than those who have far surpassed my efforts.

Post-Script: Oddly enough, there is also a poem about “Bees” in the same issue, and the juxtaposition recalled a poet who would have viewed this pair of poems with utter disdain. As such, I have just now gone back to the beginning and inserted an epigraph.

Blue Collar Review – Vol. 21, Issue 3 — Gil Fagiani (in memoriam)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I first heard of Blue Collar Review when I was living in Lynbrook, New York, between 2004 and 2006, and using a combination of car, train, and bus to get to teaching jobs in Garden City (Nassau Community College), Queens (St. John’s University), and New Jersey (Rutgers). It was an exhausting two years of apprenticeship as a college teacher, and I had little time to write my own poetry or to keep up with literary magazines that had emerged in the previous decade. One of the few magazines that caught my attention then for its forthright political advocacy was Blue Collar Review, a self-described “Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature.” Al Markowitz and Mary Franke are the primary editors, and they can be reached at Partisan Press, P.O. Box 11417, Norfolk, VA 23517.

The latest issue (Spring, 2018; Vol. 21, Issue 3) arrived in the mail the other day. I don’t always have a chance to read every poem in every issue, but I do try to make time for the editorial essay that opens every issue. Al Markowitz and Mary Franke address the reader in a manner that is far more radical than the analysis proposed by Bernie Sanders, but they do so without being strident. Indeed, while BLUE COLLAR REVIEW has an unabashedly polemical poetics, the poems often surpass the kind of caricatures of workers and bosses that tend to dominate political poetry. In this issue, I particularly appreciated “Ten Dollars and Forty-two Cents” By Matthew J. Spireng; German Piedranhita’s “Haiku” and “Choice?”; John MacLean’s “Gypsum Mill”; “I Want to the People’s Pharmacy” by Mark Franke; “The Great American Novel” By E.P. Fisher; J.C. Alfier’s “Tishomingo Landscape”; Ben Prostine’s “All the Food on the Table”; and “Baling Hay” by John Robinson. I am grateful to the editors for accepting one of my poems, “Life’s Study,” to accompany these poems to their readers.

If you know that any task — paid or unpaid — is not without a political context, subscribe: $20.00 for four issues a year. It’s more than worth it to hear the meaning of labor tested out in the actual practice of the work of words.

Post-Script:
Two-thirds of the way through the issue, a small “In Memoriam” box notes the death of Gil Fagiani, “Worker-Poet * Comrade.” I attach the following links for those who might be curious about his life and poetry. In particular, I would recommend Lynn McGee’s very fine review, in Big City Lit, of Fagiani’s Serfs of Psychiatry.

http://www.bigcitylit.com/fall2012/reviews/reviews.php?page=mcgee

https://brooklynrail.org/2017/12/books/Gil-Fagianis-Logos

https://brooklynrail.org/2017/12/books/Gil-Fagianis-Logos

https://brooklynrail.org/2017/12/books/Gil-Fagianis-Logos

Goodbye to Poet Gil Fagiani

https://www.eco-poetry.org/gil-fagiani.html

Gil Fagiani

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital”

Monday, July 2, 2018

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital: Independent Publishers as a Contumacious Canon of Underground Poetry” — William Mohr

La côte Ouest comme capitale littéraire : les éditeurs indépendants, vecteurs d’un canon irrévérent de la poésie ‘underground’

La costa Oeste como capital literaria: los editores independientes, agentes de un canon irreverente de la poesía ‘underground’

The revised paper I gave at a conference in Dijon, France has just been published in a trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) magazine published on-line in France. The issue contains a total of a dozen articles which were all originally presented at the conference. In addition to the superb introduction by the editors, Fiona McMahon et Paul-Henri Giraud, I would especially recommend the following articles:

Kamila Benayada
“Redefining Modernism: Stuart Davis’s Cold War Champion series”

Anna Aublet
“Bill & Carlos : les Amériques de William Carlos Williams”

Isabelle Pouzet
“Arts visuels et stridentisme dans la revue mexicaine Irradiador (1923)”

Marcos Rico Domínguez
“L’échec et la splendeur : les allégories du baroque moderne dans l’œuvre d’Octavio Paz”

François Hugonnier
“Reassessing Modernisms in Light of Jerome Rothenberg’s Work”

Smaro Kamboureli
“Opera in the Arctic: Knud Rasmussen, Inside and Outside Modernity”

https://journals.openedition.org/ideas/2271

http://www.institutdesameriques.fr/fr/article/revue-ideas-modernites-dans-les-ameriques-des-avant-gardes-aujourdhui

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 Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver’s “Devotions”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

“A Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver – Devotions

The first 120 pages of this book remind me that my most difficult years as a poet might be the coming decade. I turned 70 this past October, and I can only hope that my talent does not fade and wither so rapidly as it does in this instance. I wish I could say otherwise, especially since Mary Oliver has written several dozen poems that are worth reading many times. In fact, the odds are very much in your favor of finding a poem you will want to re-read immediately if you open the book at random to any page between pages 100 and 390.

The problem of what is missing in the poems in the first portion of the book, is summed up in a poem entitled “The World I live in”:

You wouldn’t believe what once
Or twice I have seen. I’ll just
Tell you this:
Only if there are angels in your head will you
Ever, possibly, see one.

Oliver’s didactic tone deserves the skepticism with which it should be read. What makes her think that we would be askance about her field reports? We do affirm what she has seen, as reported in her earlier poems, because the immediate believability of her metaphors has enabled us to savor her visions, such as the one in “Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957.” A deer, traipsing along, engrossed in the whiffs of its rewarded appetite, stumbles across a human being taking a nap. The encounter suggests that consciousness of another as a continuum of reciprocity is a gift to those who awaken themselves to the spacious realm of “amazement.” (In this instance, Oliver is picking up the central lesson of Dickinson’s “This Was a Poet.”) Oliver is exceptionally skilled at blending diction and rhythm to create a glowing afterimage; one finishes the best of her poems with an equilibrium restored to one’s desire for self-knowledge. “What is it that truly matters?” Oliver’s poems ask us, time and again; and if we merely “visit” her poems, rather than absorb them, we will fall prey to a fate that horrifies Oliver, as it should us: to die merely having “visited the world.”

In reading poems such “The Egret” and “Rice,” one detects the presence of D.H. Lawrence, if not his direct influence. The absence of D.H. Lawrence’s poems from most of the “survey of poetry” anthologies I have seen in recent years attests to his suppression in the canon. Perhaps Oliver, a hundred odd years from now, will also vanish from the canonical anthologies, but I suspect that those who care about how to build the ship of death will find their way to poems such as “I Found a Dead Fox,” and from there find their way back to the deleted poetry of D.H. Lawrence, and hear the communion that gives us succor in the imminence of our perishing.

Here are some of my other favorites:

“1945-1985 – “Poem for the Anniversary”
(After reading this poem, ask yourself how “nature” is configured in this poem about the Holocaust, compared to Stuart Z. Perkoff’s “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love.” Perkoff’s poem can be found in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, New American Poetry)

“Backyard” (206) – This poem has a more casual touch than most of Oliver’s work. The end-words are unusually muted, and the enjambment rather relaxes; nevertheless, the poem hovers in the reader’s imagination as a sanctuary of words that retain and embellish the flickering colors of the poem’s perspective.

“Fox” – Oddly enough, a poet who makes drastically different use of “Nature” than Oliver has a poem that has a congruent inner logic. As in this poem, the act of writing is foregrounded in Ted Hughes’s “The Thought Fox”; both end with an image of the page as an ineradicable horizon.

“The Sun” – This poem makes one think of part four of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Contemplations.”
Whether Oliver is aware of the protrusion I cannot say. I enjoy this poem, but Bradstreet’s stanza encompasses it all, said once and not needing any elaboration by another poet. Still, one can hardly fault Oliver for succumbing to the temptation to do so. I wish I could write something the equal of this poem. Ah! It suddenly comes to mind that I certainly tried: see “Slave of the Sun,” which originally appeared in Penetralia, and which was reprinted in “Poetry Loves Poetry.”

“The Loon” – (page 210) Ah! This poem features the writer as a reader, and the old-fashioned use of an animal as a symbol might well bring to mind, within a classroom, that chestnut of 19th century verse, “The Water-Fowl.” The lesson is not as obviously stated, but the interregnum of the stillness exemplified should encourage us to do the same after reading each poem. Certainly a poem such as “Lead,” which also features loons, or “Gethesemani,” a version of the tremulous night before Jesus Christ is publicly executed, are poems that should make you halt, and wait for however long it takes for the ear of one’s mind to need to be requited, again.

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

A Reading to Honor the Poetry of Margaret Tynes Fairley

Saturday, March 18, 2018

The Years Wear The Seasons - BLOG

A number of years ago, one of the poets I most admire, Robert Mezey, worked assiduously to get the poems of Virginia Hamilton Adair into wider circulation. Ants on the Melon, Adair’s debut collection, was published in 1996, when she was 83 years old.

The poet and editor Bambi Here, whose imprint is Bambaz Press, has just published a book worthy to be set alongside Adair’s volume. The Year Wears the Seasons, by Margaret Tynes Fairley (1902-1986) is a collection of poems that contains some of the most exquisite lyrical poems to have been written in the 20th century. In drawing upon the metrical traditions of English poetry, Fairley makes it look easy to write in this manner. What impresses me the most, in fact, is how Fairley could be said to ride her lines like a jockey who trusts her mount. Her touch on the reins is light, but precise.

There is indeed a tendency, especially on the part of inexperienced readers, to tense up when they hear the word “prosody.” Indeed, it is a word that can strike fear all too quickly into even experienced readers, as if the traditional use of meter transformed a reader into astronaut being dared to double-down on Hopkins’s sprung rhythm, and that some black hole of spondaic immersion hunches on its throne at the edge of a galaxy, waiting to pull you into its inescapable gravity.

Relax! Fairley has no desire to have you do anything other than begin to appreciate your own inner rhythms.

“The whole wide orchestra of earth gives sound
To each who tunes his fiddle simply
On his holy ground.”
(“Why Should We Seek to Do it All”)

No doubt this reassurance will not suffice, and there will be readers who first start reading Kay Ryan or Marilyn Hacker in hopes of making their prosodic muscles loose and nimble enough again to savor the swirl of Fairley’s dancing syllables. If you truly feel that ill at ease, however, I am not sure that any poet could accommodate your anxiety. At that point, I can only recommend that you go back to the best of Thomas Hardy or renew your acquaintance with that forgotten classic of English poetry, “The Listeners,” by Walter de la Mare.

For those who feel at home in reading a poet with subtle metrical dexterity that turns away all pretense about its use, however, then Fairley’s book has some memorable poems to share with you immediately: “The Question”; “Come look –“; and “Bodies Touch.” In particular, I would like to praise Fairley’s “Although Unasked,” which is a poem that deserves to be set aside the minor masterpiece of Janet Lewis’s marvelous “Baby Goat.” Rarely does metrical nuance embrace a set of images with so much forthright tenderness.

Only the new=born calf
Is real and intimate as hand.
He couldn’t wait for warmer days.
This was his hour, he learned to stand,
When other creatures shivered in some hole.
He had no time or chance to know
If there was room or even shelter from the cold.
The star that brands his knobby head
Is clear and soft and shining white;
Although, unasked, he came to birth
On this the coldest winter night.

On Sunday, March 19, starting at 12:30 p.m., Beyond Baroque will host a reading to celebrate the publication of The Year Wears the Seasons. Along with members of Fairley’s family, both Alexis Rhone Fancher and I plan on being there to read a few of her poems. We hope you can join us.

Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Websignature - two

— Bill Mohr