L.A. Poets: 1950 – 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Laurel Ann held her annual holiday party for her workshop students and a few of her oldest friends yesterday. Dylan Thomas’s recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” regaled us as a ritual opening of the occasion that never wears out the jostling oscillations of its lyric impetus. This year, I heard how the words “distant” or “distance” appear several times in the story, which made the final chord of “close and holy darkness” all the more resonant.

Towards early mid-afternoon, when many of her guests had departed with their “secret santa” gift exchange (Amelie Frank being the happiest of that cluster, and Thom almost equally delighted), Laurel Ann asked if I had heard the news about Suzanne’s book of poetry. “You mean her book that Red Hen’s putting out a couple years from now?” “No,” said Laurel. “Suzanne won the Blue Lynx poetry prize and her book will be out in September.” I was delighted to hear this news, as I knew from a phone conversation with Suzanne how much a full-length book was needed as a way of clarifying her distinctive blend of “stand up” and “noir” poetics. I first heard of Suzanne shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles. She wrote to Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore in Santa Monica and asked for a reading, but the store was closing up. I don’t remember at this point where I first heard her read, but her poems impressed me immediately and she easily earned a spot in “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).

I hope that “Open 24 Hours” secures some significant and much deserved critical attention for Suzanne’s poems. One problem will be that reviewers will be unlikely to have a copy of her first full-length book, “In Danger,” to use as a point of comparison. Any book that costs over $30 to buy a used copy of on Amazon is obviously out of print, so unless a reviewer is living near one of the 85 libraries in the United States that have a copy of it, she or he is going to be at a wretched disadvantage in calculating the importance of Suzanne’s new volume.

The lack of willingness on the part of many libraries (including CSU Long Beach’s) to sustain any semblance of interest in contemporary poetry remains one of the great scandals of American culture. The reality is that many living writers have better personal libraries of contemporary poetry than most public libraries. One can only hope that Suzanne’s book get enough attention to merit a second and third printing and thereby ends up on enough private bookshelves to make future reviews of her poetry more knowledgeable about its trajectory. The sad truth is that I just checked “World Cat” and it does not appear that Lynx House has any more luck in getting its titles by poets into libraries than Heyday Books. Lou Lipsitz, whose early book “Cold Water” remains one of my favorites from 40 odd years ago, had a recent title come out from Lynx House, “If This World Falls Apart”; only 88 libraries pop up on the World Cat listing.

Laurel graciously allowed Linda and me to make use of her apartment as a way-station during the late afternoon. Mel Weisburd had invited me to attend his presentation at Beyond Baroque yesterday, which had its starting time inexplicably moved from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Even more odd was how Michael C. Ford’s event with Phoebe MacAdams and Renny Golden found itself upstairs at the same time.) Despite the late start, Mel’s slide show attracted an audience of about 30 people, not all of whom were close to his age. Of the younger people who heard off-hand comments about Bert Meyers’s tendency to borrow people’s books without permission, I wish to thank Robert Herrick for introducing himself to me in the Beyond Baroque bookstore, just after I purchased a copy of Stefi Weisburg’s “The Wind-Up Gods.” He mentioned having gone to Susan Wiggins’s acupuncture clinic as a result of reading about it in my blog. This is the first time that I’ve actually had a sense that someone I didn’t know was actually making use of this late-blooming foray into an electronic diaspora. I was delighted to hear Stefi read Bert Meyers’s poem, “L.A.,” which remains a classic of urban remonstration. Most of Mel’s talk covered ground that was very familiar to me, though I had never seen many of the photographs he showed. It was a pleasure to hear Gene Frumkin’s work talked about with affection and respect and I only wish there had been time to talk more about Alvaro Cardona-Hine.

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of John Lennon’s death. For some reason, I never thought about the overlap of the date (December 8) with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was regarded as a holy day of obligation in my childhood religion, Roman Catholicism. It’s a mark of how difficult it is to free oneself from early temporal cycles in that I almost always think of that religious holiday when 12/8 rolls around. It’s Lennon’s death, though, that remains a wound far more profound that the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers.

Linda and I drove home as soon as it was over, and we were both grateful that traffic was flowing well, since even so, it was past 11 p.m. by the time we turned on the heat to warm up the house before we quickly fell asleep. We had encountered over 60 years worth of poetic history, including the up-to-the-minute developments, and we were grateful for our accommodations, transient as they might be.