Kate Braverman — SPSRE Language Outlaw Laureate

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 – Friday, October 18, 2019

(This is an expanded and retitled version of Tuesday’s post)

I have found myself considering the ways in which Kate in particular is a “language outlaw.” At the very least, she was guilty of trespassing on the norms of restrained understatement that marks much of the decorous prose of the canon.

Of course, it’s more than trespassing. Let’s face it: the heavenly mansion of literary inspiration in which various rooms have the pertinent plaque: “Malcolm Lowry / Virginia Woolf / Djuna Barnes / Jean Genet / John Rechy slept here” does not have a saturated neon sign flashing “No vacancy.” Instead, it’s a largely abandoned building occupied by “squatters” such as Kate, and her willingness to live there only served as a provocation to less talented writers.

By the late 1970s, other kinds of literary “outlaws” were becoming more and more visible on the literary landscape, in particular the “language poets,” and it is perhaps not just an accident that one of them (Ted Greenwald, from NYC) read at Intellectual and Liars Bookstore in Santa Monica along with Kate Braverman. I was probably the only person in the audience who enjoyed both poets equally. After hearing each other’s work, neither Kate nor Ted saw any reason to stay in touch. Interestingly enough, neither particularly changed their poetics from that point forward. I heard Lyn Hejinian at St. Mark’s Poetry Project about 15 years ago say that Ted had continued to change and grow as he got older, but when he read he didn’t sound much different at all from that early work. Not that many poets or writers ever do decide to mutate mid-course. Yeats, maybe. It’s a short list.

There is a phrase I came up with, in my introduction to “POETRY LOVES POETRY” to describe many of the Los Angeles poets who emerged between 1970 and 1985: “the self-portrait school of romantic existentialism” (SPSRE). The two poets who exemplify that phrase most gallantly are Leland Hickman and Kate Braverman, both of whom were founding members of the Momentum workshop in Los Angeles

The Momentum workshop began meeting in the winter of 1975-1976. The fifth issue of Momentum had come out in the summer of 1975, along with issues of Invisible City (number 16), Bachy (number 8), and Beyond Baroque’s NEW magazine. Poetry was beginning to flourish in Los Angeles, and Kate Braverman was perhaps its youngest star. By the end of the decade, Jim Krusoe had published two full-length books of poetry; Lee Hickman had had his first book of poetry nominated by the Los Angeles Times as one of the five best books of poetry published in 1980; and Kate Braverman had had three books of poems (MILK RUN (Momentum Press, Bill Mohr, editor) as well as two volumes from Harper and Row). In addition, Peter Levitt’s RUNNING GRASS: Poems 1970-1977 was published by Eidolon Editions in 1979. All of these books by Kae, Lee, Jim, and Peter were preceded by Dennis Ellman’s THE HILLS OF YOUR BIRTH (Momentum Press).

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When Lee Hickman took over as poetry editor of BACHY magazine, he initiated a series of interview with Los Angeles poets. In the final issue of Papa Bach Bookstore’s magazine, Lee published an interview he did with Kate. Here is the final passage:

LH: You’re revealing yourself in the way that certain great writers I love have, like Genet, John Rechy.

KB: Yes, Rechy’s another person who’s been a big influence and a great personal help and a strong early supporter of of mine.

LH: In the interview with him (Bachy 17), I asked him a question I’d like to ask you: Do you ever feel anxieties about revealing so much of yourself in public, in your writing?

KB: No, I feel no anxiety about it, because for one thing it’s not myself, because I and the creature have merged and are one. But I think just saying that’s a cop-out. I think what I should say is the goddamn truth of it, which is that telling the truth is its own destiny. It is its own kingdom. It is its own. It is holy. It is eternal. The truth is always freeing and transforming. So I don’t feel any anxiety. I do sometimes feel just a personal chill when I walk into a room and know that here are those there who will see me as a leper. But the truth is Lee, I have been a complete and total brat. I have lived as if posthumously, taking outrageous, unimaginable personal risks. Living out my most vivid and exotic fantasies. Collecting adventures. Flaunting my triumphs, my glamour, my absence, my desperation dn pain. And sentimentalizing my disasters. Deliberately and continually offending everybody. Demanding constant attention. Craving both awe and pity. Lusting after success with an uncontrollable and ruthless passion. Why is it so hard to say that I’m in love with danger. Not life in the fast lane but careening down the center divider. In short, playing the poetry game, falling in love with art, where the stakes are life and death. That, and the fact That I still believe in love.