December 21, 1971 — Papa Bach Bookstore and Beyond Baroque

LUIS CAMPOS — Papa Bach Bookstore reading — Dec. 21
(or was it Beyond Baroque?)

Fifty years ago, on this date, at either Papa Bach Bookstore or Beyond Baroque, four poets read. Somewhere I have a flyer for that reading, but until I find it I won’t be able to confirm exactly which place was the venue. I had thought it was Papa Bach until I started typing up this post. All I can remember is that it was one of those two places. One of the poets was Luis Campos. I’m fairly certain of that. I believe another was Dennis Holt, a poet who also did some translating.

Both Luis and Dennis were original members of the Wednesday night poetry workshop, founded by Joseph Hansen and John Harris. Two years after the reading on this date, I would suggest to Ted Reidel that John Harris would be a good successor to me as the poetry editor of BACHY magazine. John took over that job for about five issues, by which time he ended up buying the store. Fortunately, he continued to use a good chunk of the store’s profits to continue publishing the magazine, as well as to publish books by Bert Meyers and William Pillin.

Paul Vangelisti once said to me that Papa Bach was the real center of poetry in Los Angeles in the first half of the 1970s, and it would be hard not to agree. As prominent as Beyond Baroque became between 1975 and 1985, it was Papa Bach Bookstore that was a crossroads for poets in L.A. back then: four walls in a rear room under a huge loft were lined with nothing but books of poetry. It was there that I first talked with Peter Levitt, who turned out to be an Ocean Park neighbor.

For anyone working on an anthology of Los Angeles poets between 1950 and 2020, I would urge you not to forget to include Luis Campos. He has been part of “the scene(s)” for quite some time, although I rarely see him included in various compilations of this area’s poets.

Here is the list of poets who appeared in the first poetry anthology associated with the Venice Poetry Workshop:

Luis Campos
Richard Eiden
Ed Entin
Joseph Hansen
John Harris
Dennis Holt
Jane E. Newton
Harry Northup
Anne Marie Ross
Andrew V. Salmins
Lynn Shoemaker
Barry Simons
Phil Taylor

It is worth noting that two of the above poets (Joseph Hansen and Lynn Shoemaker) went on to win creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. While that award is not inherently a guarantee that a writer’s work will have enduring value, it is often touted as a significant acknowledgement of a writer’s stature and quality. How many clusters of MFA seminars with a dozen of so students meeting every week end up having two of their contingent winning such an award?

That workshop, of course, was soon to see the arrival of many other poets, including NEA award winners Jim Krusoe, Jack Grapes, Paul Vangelisti, Wanda Coleman, and Bob Greenfield. Lee Hickman, Kate Braverman and Tom Waits also attended the workshop in the early years, and by the mid-1970s Exene Cervenka and John Doe were in regular attendance. Hickman ended up being the primary editor of Bachy magazine during the last several years of its run, and then went on to edit the legendary magazine, TEMBLOR. It was at Papa Bach that Hickman gave his first major poetry reading in Los Angeles. One of the people in attendance was a clerk at the store named William Iwamoto, who would soon start up on the other side of town his own bookstore (CHATTERTON’s, which is now the site of SKYLIGHT BOOKS). Among other poets I first heard read at Papa Bach was Michael C. Ford, whose book THE WORLD IS A SUBURB OF Los Angeles I would publish years later. Poets also worked at the cash register at Papa Bach’s front counter: Doren Robbins, for instance.

Ford was one of the few poets to get a nod of appreciation from Lionel Rolfe, a journalist whose book LITERARY L.A. got quite a bit of attention back in the early 1980s. Rolfe subsequently wrote a long article for the L.A. READER went that was a fairly dour assessment of then-current crop of writers and poets in Los Angeles. He didn’t have much to say about any of the poets I’ve mentioned except for Ford, and even that seemed begrudging. Nevertheless, his article reluctantly conceded that L.A. might some day defy all expectations and become a literary capital. When Rolfe died in 2018, there seemed to be more than one jury still debating that notion.

I believe I missed taking notice of Rolfe’s passing back in 2018. Here is the link to Mike Sonksen’s fine appreciation of one of L.A. first literary champions.

LIONEL ROLFE (1942-2018)

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