Doren Robbins “Sympathetic Manifesto”; Susan Suntree: “Dear Traveler”


In the fall of 1986, Doren Robbins and I made a trip together to St. Paul to attend and participate in the Loft’s 70th birthday celebration of Tom McGrath. (For those not aware of the Loft, it is Minnesota’s version of Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles, or the Poetry Project in NYC.) While we were certainly not the only poets in California who admired McGrath, Doren and I seemed to have been the only ones from the West Coast who made a personal effort to honor him near the end of his life. Phil Levine did send a heartfelt message that was read at the main event by the organizers of the tribute, but one has to wonder why other poets — especially those in the Bay Area involved with Left critique if not political action itself — would not also have used this occasion to remind people of the sacrifices made by poets such as Don Gordon and McGrath during the McCarthy period.

I am reminded of this trip because McGrath is one of the poets Philip Levine cites in his praise for Doren Robbins, whose SYMPATHETIC MANIFESTO: Selected Poems 1975-2015 was published earlier this year by Spuyten Duyvil. Robbins is indeed one of the most inspiring poets that a young, politically attuned poet could read if they/she/he wanted to grasp the multiple layers of the personal and political that can be brought to bear on one’s outrage over the planet’s plight and the ability of those responsible for those conditions to evade any accountability. I have long admired Robbins’s poems, which I published both in my magazine (Momentum) and in “POETRY LOVES POETRY: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets” (Momentum Press, 1985).

For those who would like to hear Doren Robbins read some of the poems in SYMPATHETIC MANIFESTO, here is a link to a very recent POETRY FLASH reading he did with Susan Suntree.

One of the poems (“Tamale Place”) was reprinted in an anthology I edited with Neeli Cherkovski back in the middle of the past decade, CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Among other places, Robbins has lived in both Northern and Southern California, and thus was eligible in appear in our anthology.



“He comes out of another tradition, one we forget in these indifferent times at our own peril, the tradition of the aforementioned Villon, of Corbiere, Celine, Henry Miller, Tom McGrath, and most recently Gerald Stern, the great outsiders who bless our daily lives with their boundless love and rage.” —- Philip Levine, U.S. Poet Laureate

“(R)emarkable, fiery poems. Poems that would urge any poet on, language that tears open reality.” —Adrienne Rich

“I admire the gritty, original, uncompromising voice that drives these rich, furious poems.” -— Dorianne Laux

“One listens to Doren Robbins’s poems as if pressing a forbidden radio receiver to one’s ear in order to learn the news of our actual day-to-day living conditions. Here is a poet whose fervent, anarchistic monologues overflow with poignant vulnerability. Of his generation of poets, very few have as forthrightly brought the alternative canon of West Coast poetry into substantial dialogue with the present crisis and made that conversation worth rereading until it’s fully absorbed. Memorable poetry is rarely this fearless or as candid about the consequences of risking one’s life in devotion to “whoever it is I’m / always talking to in my head;” and in our heads, too, reiterating the desire to free ourselves from our mind-chained manacles. In the illuminated vortex of these searing poems, a road of possibility emerges. Prepare to meet not just a comrade, but an amazingly eloquent visionary whose writing you will cherish for its extraordinary audacity.”
––Bill Mohr, author of HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948-1992

“(H)e’s writing the best political poems I know.” —- Gerald Stern

“Doren Robbins’ Sympathetic Manifesto is in the tradition, aesthetics and vision of Whitman, Williams, Rexroth, Neruda and other great poets while being uniquely his…. Robbins’ liberating poetry moves the way we move through our trapped lives, but despairingly see freedom. He gives hope as does his original, superb art.” — Sharon Doubiago

Doren Robbins is a poet, mixed media artist, and essayist. His work has appeared in many publications, including The American Poetry Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Lana Turner, Otoliths, Sulfur, Kayak and The Iowa Review. His books have been awarded the Blue Lynx Poetry Award 2001 and the 2008 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Poetry Award. In 2020 Spuyten Duyvil Press published his monograph, Apocalypse Contemporary, on Sharon Doubiago’s book Naked to the Earth; and highmoonoon books published Not Fade Away: Poetic Prose Monologues, Three Sequences. Sympathetic Manifesto, Selected Poems, 1975-2015 is his fifteenth book. He is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing and English at Foothill College.


Dear Traveler by Susan Suntree

If Robbins is in the mold of McGrath, then Susan Suntree is aligned with Gary Snyder, a West Coast poet whose influence has exponentially grown since the emergence of ecopoetics as a primary artistic practice and critique. (He is also the last survivor of the Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco in 1955.) Suntree’s SACRED SITES: A Secret History of Southern California is the perfect complement to Robbins’s project of assiduous resistance to the nefarious degradation of the political environment by radical right-wing agitators on corporate boards.

While we turn our attention away from their perversities at our peril if we linger too long with alternative narratives, it is essential that we do read such accounts, and none does a better job at presenting such a resourceful alternative than Susan Suntree in SACRED SITES. With support from admirers of this project, an audio version of her book is now available and I can’t think of a more pertinent holiday gift to give a young person who is curious about the land’s relationship with the evolution of our imagination.

Suntree’s reading with Robbins in a Poetry Flash event was her first public celebration of her most recent collection of work, DEAR TRAVELER. She, too, has received praise from poets I have long respected and admired, including Marsha de la O, Peter Levitt, and Phoebe MacAdams. Levitt, in particular, is a poet whose generosity in entrusting his work to my rudimentary publishing skills in the mid-1970s still flourishes in my memory. His poems appeared in both of my first two anthologies, and it was his meditation on love and longing (TWO BODIES DARK/VELVET) that was the first title published by Momentum Press.

Dear Traveler is a gorgeous poem-cycle as well as a journey we all must make.”
—Marsha de la O, author ofEvery Ravening Thing

“The poems in Susan Suntree’s Dear Traveler …. emerge from the poet’s years of deep listening …. , and leave their echo in the reader’s heart. But there is something more here for you to discover; in some mysterious way, Suntree’s poetry itself listens. It listens without ears, and speaks without a mouth.” —- Peter Levitt, author of One Hundred Butterflies, Within Within; translator (with Kazuaki Tanahashi) The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan

“These are everyday journeys, celestial journeys:
journey of soul
journey of body
journey of mind

Who is the Traveler? It is us
revealed in these dazzling, dancing poems.”
— Phoebe MacAdams, author of The Large Economy of the Beautiful

“Susan Suntree powerfully adds her work to the travel poem traditions of her Classical Japanese predecessors, Saigyo and Basho. Dear Traveler is a Postmodern travel diary taking us on a journey through “a fevered civilization.” These poems shine with moments of quiet astonishment as they guide us into the interior of the self during these turbulent times. Her poems remind us “Your wild life is listening.” — Alan Soldofsky, author of In the Buddha Factory and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing, San Jose State University

“These finely crafted poems map onto the Pacific Coast a quest for balance and self-possession. “This road is a welcome,” writes Suntree, and that’s a fact: whether humorous or bleakly prophetic, they draw us in with considerable clarity and force. These poems remind us that though the journey’s stakes are high and the risks great, every step takes us closer to ‘awakening love’s beloved body’.” – Tom Laichas, author of Empire of Eden.

“Like the music of the tall grass and dry sticks that Susan Suntree writes about, these poems sing. Her writing here is spare, her economy of language admirable; there’s not an extraneous word or piece of punctuation anywhere. Each tiny poem floods dark corners with light. Tight as a coiled spring, these pieces test the limits of compression. Each is a jewel.” – Jana Harris, author of Horses Never Lie About Love (memoir) and You Haven’t Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore (poetry)


Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California

University of Nebraska Press, 2010; Updated paperback 2020; Audio Book 2021

A history that is equal parts science and mythology, Sacred Sites offers a rare and poetic vision of a world composed of dynamic natural forces and mythic characters. The result is a singular and memorable account of the evolution of the Southern California landscape, reflecting the riches of both Native knowledge and Western scientific thought.


Featuring contemporary photographs by Juergen Nogai of rarely seen landmarks along with meticulous research, Sacred Sites provides unusual insight into how natural history and mythology, and scientific and intuitive thinking combine to create an ever-deepening sense of a place and its people.

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