Mullen and Amram: Beyond Baroque’s 2019 Awards Salon

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A year ago, Beyond Baroque put on a very successful fundraiser as a culmination of its year-long 50th anniversary programming. At the behest of Laurel Ann Bogen, about two years earlier, I had joined the Board of Trustees to provide its hard-working members with access to institutional memory as well as very modest financial support. It’s a long haul from Long Beach to Venice, and I resigned from the Board of Trustees soon after that celebration. At that point, my mother had moved from Sunrise Assisted Living in Seal Beach to Bel Vista Healthcare, a skilled nursing facility, in Long Beach, to have remained on the Board of Trustees would have been impossible, given the level of attention she needed.

This year’s annual awards dinner was not held at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, but at The Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club
(1210 4th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401). Harryette Mullen received the George Drury Smith award; other honors were bestowed on Diane Luby Lane, Johanna Drucker, and Richard Modiano.

In honoring Mullen, Beyond Baroque invited her to read with Forrest Gander on Saturday, November 2. Her reading of a selection from her collection, Urban Tumbleweeds, which I reviewed in 2016, was far more memorable, and left me wishing she had read longer. I reviewed Mullen’s book back several years ago. Here is an excerpt:

“URBAN TUMBLEWEEDS”: The Signature Fragrance of Harryette Mullen
Thursday, August 11, 2016

That tanka serves as an example of how Mullen makes existence crackle with its original temporality of displacement. Nor do things yield easily in her imagination to the pressures of metamorphosis. Here is the one “preceding” the one above (you’ll understand the scare quotes soon):

A green streak swooshed across the sky
with a shower of brilliant blue sparks. A boulder
hurled from heaven breaking apart in earth’s air.

There is an asymmetrical, bristling energy fusing the disintegration of things in Mullen’s poems. It is not quite violence operating as an agent of a malevolent domain; rather, some alien subterfuge, awkwardly coming to age, is propelling the outer world that these tanka inhabit. Fortunately, Mullen’s tanka remind me to breathe deeply as a way of keeping my balance; perceive things as they are; and thereby dispel the seductive trance of nihilism. It may not be satori, but it’s close enough to do the job. Don’t expect a smooth ride, though: there’s an abrasive bounce to the inner gravity of Mullen’s peregrinations, and she spares no one in the journey, least of all herself.

*. *. *

Forrest Gander screened a pair of video poems at the end of his brief reading at Beyond Baroque. I first met him in Mexico, in 2017, at the FILA events (XXIV Feria Internacional del Libro Universitario) near Veracruz, and the energy he exuded down there propelled him with an exuberance that had considerably subsided by the time he read at Beyond Baroque. The video poems were lackluster, and both Mullen’s reading and her poetry provided more of a reward for the long drive from Long Beach. I certainly don’t regret the drive: Gander’s annotations on the ontological qualities of lichen were worth the effort in and of themselves, but the poem he read clearly derived its poetics from the work of Michael McClure. It was not clear to me that Gander is sufficiently aware of this derivation.

*. * *

As for the annual awards dinner, the company was great: it was delightful to see old friends (Harryette; Johanna; Gail; Molly; Daniel; Exene; Kim; Chuck; Liz; Suzanne; Brendan; Rick; Addie; Quentin; Emmitt; Richard; Diane; Amelie; Rex; Karen; Mariano; Andy; and Gloria). Several members of the board of trustees were there, too, ). I shared a table, sponsored by S.A. Griffin, with Laurel Ann; Leon; Beth; the late Nan Hunt’s daughter, whose name I didn’t catch; and Linda Fry. S.A. and I had a chance to talk about various archives and Venice West, and both of us gave each other some promising leads. The food was mediocre. Oh, well.

It was a nostalgic pleasure to have two poet-professors from both UCLA and USC (Steven Yenser and David St. John) presenting awards to Harryette Mullen and Richard Modiano, respectively), but the presenter who stole the show was a young poet named Jazmine, one of Get Lit’s discoveries. Her heartfelt tribute to Diane Luby Lane enthralled the entire audience with the poignancy of her lived experience. It should also be noted that a compressed version of Johanna Drucker’s contributions to the field of literature and imaginative writing made me more grateful than ever that she took the time to lead a contingent of young archivists in cataloguing 50,000 items at Beyond Baroque. All of us in Los Angeles who care about this city’s literary bequest owe her a lifetime achievement award, too!

Of the 150 or so people in attendance, less than 50 were still on hand when the best performance of the evening took place. Still invigorated with the “wonder” of being alive, David Amram, who will turn 89 in less than a week, glided around the stage as if he were only 48. His dexterity and aplomb made the handful still present wishing that someone had videotaped this moment. One other testimony could be so convincing as to the enduring influence of the Beat Generation.

Balance account: Parking cost $17; but Linda and I were rewarded for buying a $15 raffle ticket with a $100 dinner at Bottlefish Restaurant. When we returned to Long Beach at 11:00 p.m., I only had to park five blocks away from our residence: that in itself would have been the evening’s sufficient raffle prize.

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