Category Archives: Poetry

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

Past Lives: Poet, Editor, Publisher, Continuation School Teacher, and the Beat

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Although I am working on new poems and thinking about which of my past academic talks I should begin revising in hopes of publication, the challenge of setting aside time to make those endeavors my sole concern remains as complicated as ever. A year and a half ago, one of the members of Beyond Baroque’s Board of Trustees asked me to join the Board, a move that I can hardly afford to undertake on a financial level, let alone how much time that requires. Even during times when the GDP of the United States indicates the system’s general economic stability, non-profit arts organizations must negotiate and bargain with a culture that did not particularly want them to last more than a decade or two. To attain the half-century mark is no small achievement, but Beyond Baroque is hardly assured of a sufficient budget for its future programming.

This weekend has been one of the highlights of the spring season. Funded completely out of his own pocket, S.A. Griffin has organized a celebration of the Beat movement, which concludes tomorrow evening with a musical performance by David Amram. Yesterday afternoon, I gave a talk on Venice West, and then moderated a panel at which two of the original members of that community recalled their experiences in considerable detail. Frank T. Rios Joseph Patton, and Gayle Davis talked with each other in an honest manner about the glorious sense of freedom that Venice West exuded along with the eventual confinements of drug addiction. Paton acknowledged that Rios has pulled him out of addiction. Rios, in turn, credited the Poem with saving his life.

Fortunately, UCLA had sent out a camera and a one-man crew to record this conversation, so future scholars of Venice West will understand how much visual art mattered to this scene. It was a pleasure to hear the work of Don Martin and Saul White cited so frequently. I am not certain when the tape will be available for viewing, but I hope that someday it can be posted on-line so that scholars and students have easy access to it.

Oddly enough, Venice West often gets summed up by a quick reference to a handful of poets, and yet the conversation yesterday barely got around to discussing John Thomas, and William Margolis was not mentioned at all. Margolis, who was a close friend of Bob Kaufman’s when he lived in San Francisco, is hardly neglected this weekend, though. He is the subject of a documentary film by Don Rothenberg that will be shown today from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. There will also be a discussion of the Beat and Buddhism with Marc Olmsted, who was also read with Steve Silberman and Tate Swindell in a segment on Gay Beat writing (4:30 – 6 p.m.).

Considering how skittish L.A. residents can be about a rain storm finally showing up after months of a renewed drought, the audiences have been surprisingly large enough to make this festival of the Beat a satisfying occasion and more than worth S.A. Griffin’s extended efforts in putting it all together. Paul Vangelisti, for instance, was supposed to be part of the panel on Venice West, but a dead battery kept him tethered at home. He told me, however, that 30 people had shown up for his reading with Neeli Cherkovski.
About three dozen poets will have read their poetry or talked about the Beat and the Neo-beat by the time David Amram gives a musical performance tomorrow night (Monday, at 9:30 p.m. I truly wish that I had enough time to have been at all the events of this festival. I regret especially not being able to attend the opening ceremonies featuring Frank T. Rios and George Herms, as well as the “Women of the Beat Generation Reading.” I would have loved to have heard Yama Lake, Larry Lake’s son, read, too, as well Marc Olmsted. In addition, Michael C. Ford and Will Alexander were giving talks.

One of the highlights of this festival, however, was probably the “Punk & Beat reading” by Linda J. ALbertano, Iris Berry, Jack Brewer, Michael Lane Bruner, S.A. Griffin, Doug Knott, and A. Razor. All I can say is that I want an extended encore presentation at a time that allows me to absorb the full ramifications of these lifetimes of contumacious poetics.

It was perhaps appropriate that I began the day by meeting with Pedro Paulo Araujo, who is working on a short animated film based on the final two stanzas of Leland Hickman’s poem, “The Hidden.” That poem was one of ten “Elements” that was published in Hickman’s Great Slave Lake Suite in 1980. I met with Pedro at 10:00 a.m. at Portfolio Coffeehouse in Long Beach to discuss Hickman’s poetry in general and that poem in particular. I gave him a copy of “Lee Sr. Falls to the Floor,” which Lee had written in the mid-1960s, as a means of providing some background for Lee’s life-long wrestling with the sudden death of his father. Pedro became interested in Lee’s poetry because his film company is working on digitizing the audio tapes of readings at Beyond Baroque. One recent tape he worked on was a reading Lee gave with Barrett Watten in 1984, on one of the coldest nights that anyone in Venice could recall. The audience was very small – maybe about eight people – and almost all of us at one point or another had to get up and walk around the read area of the folding chairs in order to warm up. We were bundled up in sweaters and jackets, but it wasn’t enough. Still, it was one of the best readings I ever attended.

Before heading off to my meeting with Pedro, I took a quick look at the first set of galleys for my forthcoming book from What Books. The typeface seems on the comfortable and familiar side, and perhaps that will work out for the best. The poems, which appear in both English and Spanish, are varied enough in their shapeliness that a more unusual typeface might prove distracting. I’ve waited a long time for this book and can’t wait to send my closest friends a copy.

Finally, I want to mention how much I appreciated seeing Carolyn Rios at yesterday’s event at Beyond Baroque. I worked with Carolyn’s students at Venice Continuation High School for several years (1989-1996). Most of the time I was an artist-in-residence funded by the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles. The CPITS (California Poets in the Schools) program had largely lost its impetus, at least in Southern California, by the mid-1980s, and I had turn to other sources for support in order to teach poetry to young people. Although I worked at other continuation high schools, too, Venice Continuation High holds a special place in my heart. I guess I have indeed aged, though. Carolyn at first did not recognize me, even though we were in Beyond Baroque’s lobby for several minutes before we happened to start talking to each other. On the other hand, until she took off her beret, I did not recognize her, either. Once memory had adjusted to present perception, though, we both felt as young as ever.

Caliban; KYSO; and Rae Armantrout

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Larry Smith has posted the latest edition of Caliban Chronicles, which is emphatically worth reading at this turning point in our country’s history. It is perhaps more than a little ironic that the heroic evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is being recounted in a major film right now. One might watch this film and be lulled into believing that World War II settled the matter of fascist government as an acceptable form of civilized social rule once and for all. Not so. Like an insidious, implacable virus, fascism has returned. Do not be deceived by the seemingly benign familiarity of its current malefactors. They are intent on imposing a firm, remorseless dictatorship on the American people that will be every bit as ruthless as that exacted on the people of Iraq subsequent to the American invasion. The prisons for those who resist will be administered by the same rule-book. Unless we act now in a vigilant manner, our fate will approach a precipice that will allow very little room to maneuver. Acting now, though, is not a matter of all work and no celebration. Larry Smith calls for us to affirm a balance in our lives in which joy also has time to cavort.

http://calibanonline.com/newsletter/CC27.pdf

One of the very best magazines in the country right now, KYSO (Knock Your Socks Off) has just published its ninth issue. Clare MacQueen has kept this project going for five years now, and her roster of writers is growing more familiar with each issue. She is one of the five best editors to have emerged in the independent press movement in the past two decades. In particular, she has championed micro-fiction, transgressive poetry, and hybrids of those genres.

http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue9/IntroIssue9.aspx

Finally, it is a personal pleasure to post a link to an interview with Rae Armantrout, a poet born in the same year as I was (1947) and who also briefly studied with the same teacher I had at San Diego State University, Glover Davis. Rae Armantrout is indeed one of very best poets of the Baby Boomer generation, and I have long admired her work. I think back on a meal at a restaurant in Ocean Park I shared with Ron Silliman and Rae Ron had come down from San Francisco to give a talk and reding at Beyond Baroque, which was also attended by Lee Hickman. Ocean Park had not yet gentrified, and eating at a restaurant within walking distance of my apartment on Hill Street gave his weekend’s presentations a celebratory touch. There was a sense of lively humor, in part because my girlfriend at the time, Cathay, was not particularly interested in poetry and had no stake in literary jostling. She primarily read mysteries, and it was thanks to her that I began to read Raymond Chandler seriously. Oddly enough, I had read Ross MadDonald lin the mid-1970s, but skipped right back to my usual fare of novels without moving on to Chandler. Cathay, Ron, and Rae seemed both to enjoy Cathay’s push-back wit. As we ate our pasta, the discussion hardly hid the fact that Ron, Rae, and I were all ambitious for our work, although we did not necessarily expect any larger recognition than what we were then receiving.

We would not eat together again until Ron gave a reading in San Diego while I was a graduate student. We had by then achieved more acclaim, but Ron had not yet published The Alphabet; Rae was still working as an adjunct; and I was a teaching assistant over the age of 50, which is to say that the odds were heavily against me getting a tenure-track job. Rae was not that much more optimistic. A literary life is not feasible if one is easily discouraged or given to stultifying self-reproach.

In thinking fondly, therefore, with retrospective appreciation of that meal in Ocean Park, and all that Ron, Rae, and I have done since then (and how it has not been easy), I post this link of Rae being interviewed at the Library of Congress. All three of us are fortunate enough to still be ambitious for our work.

https://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=8254&loclr=eanw&t=1&cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjc18y&refsrc=email&iid=a8fd3c7e38b04a4bacccf708210d7d22&uid=4831705987&nid=244+272699400

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