Joseph Hansen and the Early Days of Beyond Baroque

Friday, August 12, 2016

Addendum to HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992

A couple weekends ago, I drove down to UC Irvine to meet with Dina Moinzedeh, a graduate student from France who is on the verge of completing a dissertation on Charles Bukowski. She asked me to take a look at the first chapter, and I spent over two and a half hours talking with her about it. In the draft I read, I noted that she cited my Holdouts a fair number of times, primarily to provide a literary context for Bukowski’s writing. If Holdouts devoted very little time to Bukowski’s writing, it was in part because I didn’t want newcomers to the history of communities of poets in Los Angeles to get a distorted understanding of the scenes by a disproportionate emphasis on his poems. It would have been more than appropriate, of course, to have included a 20 page overview of his poetry, since he is one of the major figures to come out of this particular region, and his international renown is continuing to expand, and I will have to write such an article in the near future in order to redress this omission. If I am overdue in writing on any writer, it is to my shame that I have put off this article so long. My focus, though, in Holdouts was on the contribution that Bukowski made as editor of a literary magazine and co-editor of Anthology of L.A. Poets (Red Hill Press, 1972).

One obstacle to including such a section on Bukowski’s poetry in Holdouts was that my original manuscript logged in at somewhere around 120,000 words, and the University of Iowa Press insisted on cutting it to 90,000 words, which effectively meant that every fourth page had to be deleted. (With a straight face, they added: “Keep the good stuff.”) Given that Holdouts was already too long, according to Iowa, one can understand how trying to squeeze in additional commentary on Bukowski was next to impossible. The compression of the penultimate draft of Holdouts required that an immense amount of relevant detail and evidence be eliminated; it should surprise no one when I mention that Paul Vangelisti recently said that my dissertation is better than the book. I’ll leave that to others to argue about, but the fact remains that not only did the book not incorporate key moments in the history of these communities, but my dissertation didn’t include them either.

To give one instance of neglected material, it is the case that I do refer to Joseph Hansen’s articles about the Bridge and the early days of the Beyond Baroque workshop, but it’s a pity that neither the book nor the dissertation provided a big enough stage to cite the following:

“The Workshop had a crowd of taxi-drivers at that time – Ed Entin, Phil Taylor, Dennis Holt, as well as Barry (Simons). …. It was Dennis who arranged for us to read at Cal State Northridge after Venice Thirteen was published. The buildings seemed to me raw, and the sunlit library where we read had hundreds of books on the shelves that look untouched by human hands. The place was full. our outspoken language didn’t seem to offend anyone. Luis Campos, a delicately made man with a shy smile and a Spanish accent, drew laughs with his mordant view of plastic America, its fast food chains and hair spray commercials. So did John Harris’s “Deuteronomy Edition,” hacked from assorted sources – newspaper want ads, cooking columns, society pages, astrological forecasts, weather reports – and read by the entire crew. Luis’ tape recorder had awaken us to the possibilities in multi-voice poems.” (Bachy, issue number 10, page 139)

A group reading of a collage poem was just one small, but brightly colored rhomboid in the mosaic of community maturation for the poets of Los Angeles at that time, but it wasn’t an isolated instance. Rather, it was part of the trajectory that would lead to an entire day and evening given to the composition and reading of poems written by groups of us at Beyond Baroque in the mid-1970s. Jim Krusoe once said to me that one of his biggest regrets about those years is that he didn’t gather all the pages we wrote that day and keep them together in a folder. It certainly wasn’t the case that we didn’t like what we wrote. The collaborative event was a jovial occasion, but we regarded the day as being the equivalent of a jam session of musicians, and in our exuberance forgot what we were conscious of all along: something special was happening in Venice and Hollywood and many points in between, as well as to the north and south of this axis; and it deserved preservation. One can only sigh in wistful speculation. Few enough photographs exist of that time, and but even more tinged with regret is the fact that the amount of writing lost along the way is an aporia that will haunt the legend of those days each time the surviving archives are looked into by the scholars to come.