Rupert Bellies Up to the Bar

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

For reasons probably related to Rupert’s long residency in alleys, before he took up hanging around our house, Rupert prefers to drink out of outdoor water station such as garden watering canisters. Now afflicted with kidney disease, he often scratches at the door to be let out for a drink.

He is such a handsome cat. I will miss him very much when he eventually succumbs to his disease. Not as much as I miss Cordelia, but I will miss him. In the meantime, I treasure his presence.

Rupert Drinking One

Rupert Drinking Two

Rupert Drinking Three

Rupert Oval

The ALOUD Debacle at the LA Public Library

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Transparency Not Allowed: The Prerogatives of Power and the Los Angeles Public Library

Personnel decisions are notoriously opaque, and the “rules of engagement” mandate systematic closure to the process of hiring and firing. I have served on search committees at CSULB, for instance, and am not permitted to speak about that experience, even in utmost private confidence, let alone in a public forum. Given this systematic social practice, I doubt that anyone connected with Mr. Ken Brecher at the Library Foundation is going to break ranks and maker herself or himself a pariah open to legal action by disclosing details about the decision to fire the founders of the Aloud program at the DTLA Public Library.

No doubt the individuals at the Library Foundation in Los Angeles are wishing that a thousand prominent writers, artists, and cultural workers would treat the decision to fire Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series of public events at the DTLA Public Library as an occasion similar to the ones in which the announcement is posted: “The family requests privacy at this moment.” The protest of the Library Foundation’s insular administration, however, has only become more adamant, especially after the hiring of Jessica Strand to be Director of Public Programming less than two months after Steinman and Moore were inexplicably discharged. It’s hard to believe that an adequate job search was conducted in such a short time.

Thanks to Terry Wolverton and Phoebe Ozuna, I have received a summary of the events and the public actions taken by people in the literary community for whom I have the utmost respect. Many of these people have labored for decades to nurture a literary environment in Los Angeles, and some have done so with great personal sacrifice. I am unaware of any similar effort made by Mr. Ken Brecher. I appreciate the immediate permission granted at the end of their document to disseminate this information and hope that others will join me in signing their petition and urging others to join them.

bit.ly/aloudpetition

Dear Friends and Supporters of ALOUD,

We wanted to update you on events in the wake of the August 27, 2018 firings of Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series by the Library Foundation. Thank you again for your involvement in signing the petition. Many of you have also taken the time to write individually to the Foundation and to rescind your membership in the Library Associates; we appreciate your efforts.

Thursday, September 12
The Petition in Support of ALOUD is delivered to Gwen Miller, the Chair of the Library Foundation Board, and to the Mayor’s office. At the time it contained over 800 signatures of writers, readers and other members of the literary community. The number of signers is now up to 994. To date, the Library Foundation has never acknowledged the Petition. Neither has the Mayor’s Office, any of the 15 City Councilmembers, or the City Librarian.

Thursday, September 12-Monday September 16
The Los Angeles Times,Los Angeles Downtown Newsand Madeline Brand’s “Press Play” on KCRW all report on the Petition protest.

Tuesday, September 17
Protests greet the opening event on ALOUD’s fall season. Armed guards escort protestors from the building. This was documented on Facebook by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez and others. Following that event, guards are present at each event, events are no longer live-streamed, and the audience is no longer permitted to ask live questions.

Thursday, October 4
Rigoberto Gonzalez publishes “What is Happening at ALOUD?” in The Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-aloud-gonzalez-20181004-story.html
He describes the bizarre experience of conducting a conversation with author Tommy Orange during the second ALOUD event of the fall season. Neither he nor Orange were given an advance notice of the personnel changes at the Library Foundation. He particularly notes his disturbance at the visible presence of armed guards.

Thursday, October 11
The Library Foundation issues a statement on public programming
https://mailchi.mp/1022cc43e7e8/reservation-reminder-lost-found-at-the-movies-on-485225?e=976003b067&fbclid=IwAR3lRwhHTe4h1vntvakmTgLM82Myo8p9Y66nDZHBCQLpBxrLRjzk3nHx_iU
The statement does not address the firings or the petition, and does not respond to the petition signers’ requests for transparency or a voice in its future literary programming.

Tuesday, October 16
Adam Leipzig publishes an investigative piece, “What Happened at ALOUD?” in Cultural Weekly.He attempts to get to the bottom of many unanswered questions, but the Foundation remains impenetrable. https://www.culturalweekly.com/what-happened-at-aloud/

Tuesday, October 16
Protestors stage another action, outside the library, before an ALOUD event. They point out issues of gender and age discrimination in the firings of Steinman and Moore.

Wednesday, October 17
The Library Foundation announces the hiring of Jessica Strand, as new Director of Public Programs. Ms. Strand has spent the past decade in New York. https://www.culturalweekly.com/library-foundation-appoints-jessica-strand-director-public-programs/

Wednesday, October 17
Author and academic Rubén Martínez publishes an Open Letter to Foundation President Ken Brecher, calling upon him to resign for mismanagement of this matter. Initially posted on Facebook, his letter was published the following day on the blog of the Los Angeles Review of Bookshttps://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/open-letter-ken-brecher-president-library-foundation-los-angeles/

Thursday, October 18
Daniel Hernandez, writing for LA Taco, decries the plan to hire an out-of-towner to curate programming at the library. https://www.lataco.com/drama-at-the-library-prominent-l-a-writers-slam-foundation-for-hiring-new-director-from-new-york/?fbclid=IwAR2S-kbcgEKuJO1bsH8eAD76Yp9kdLVu4lp4QGIMz6HYe-X6hPERYfCa8ks

Thursday, October 25
Founder of Community Arts Resources (CARS) and CicLAVia, Aaron Paley publishes an Op-Ed, “Speaking Up for ALOUD at the Central Library” in The Los Angeles Times.http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-paley-aloud-library-20181025-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3BJkxpofiCiwM1Wo4rBc0iELHM1gD23AsqnJu_EigfQsIkPoEyN9a4g8s

The Library Foundation, a private nonprofit entity with a mission of providing financial support to the Los Angeles Public Library, demonstrates through its actions and silences that it feels no accountability to the public or to the Los Angeles literary community. This ad hoc committee is continuing to explore ways to call the Foundation to account, and your continued assistance with this is much appreciated. There is a Foundation Board meeting on November 1, the first since the firings. If anyone has contacts with Board members or with the Foundation’s funders, we would love to know that.

Other things you can do:

• Keep sending out the petition link and urging people to share it. It is bit.ly/aloudpetition .
• Feel free to share this email since it is one-stop source of info about what’s happened.
• Write a short letter to the editor at The Los Angeles Timesor comment online in response to Aaron Paley’s Op-Ed.
• Use the hatchtag #WeAreAloud.

Sincerely,

David Ulin and Hector Tobar, spokespersons
Donna Frazier, Lynell George, Reed Johnson, Terry Wolverton
Ad Hoc Committee in Support of ALOUD

On Painting, Poetry, and My Old Age (Part Two)

About two dozen people showed up at Beyond Baroque on Saturday night to hear Paul Lieber and me read from our books. Chuck Rosenthal led off the evening with a section from a chapter of his novel-in-progress about Trotsky’s murder. He said that this novel was going to be his only work done in the manner of “realism.” As such, the scene he conjured up of duck hunting was exquisitely rendered. Paul Lieber followed with a set of ten poems from his poignant new collection, Interrupted by the Sea; and Karen Kevorkian read from a work-in-progress that exquisitely explored the oscillations of our diverging desires for happiness and pleasure. The air conditioning wasn’t on, and the room had gotten stuffy, so as the evening’s final reader I imposed a brief break on the proceedings to open up the doors and let the audience stretch its legs; then I read eight poems, and talked a bit about my work-in-progress, “The Winnowing of ’47.” When I mentioned that it would probably be my last sustained work as a poet, I could feel a slight stir of surprise in the room, and I suppose I should have clarified the remark. I will certainly not stop writing poetry, but I will be giving renewed attention to my scholarship. If I am given enough longevity, I have at least ten articles on poets that got started as conference papers and need substantial revision. I wish to thank Nancy Grace for her recent support and guidance as I worked on I have, for instance, in the very final stages of an article on the Venice West poetry for a MLA volume on “Teaching the Beat,” edited by Nancy Grace.

As for the work-in-progress, I had hoped to read “Groundprints,” a new piece that I had just finished the day before, but the the length of the evening’s reading precluded a longer piece.

As for finding an outlet for my imaginative energy, here is some very preliminary work. I read a comment by an artist a few years ago that one spends the first decade of one’s career “just pushing the paint around the canvas to see what it can do.” That I will not have a career is fine with me. I would not ever describe my life as a poet as possessing the traits of a career, so this seems like a good way to assure that the poetry I have written will not career into late acclaim. (“Career” once was a widely used variant for “careen,” but that usage started fading around 1920.)

When Fate Has No Mercy

(“When Fate Has No Mercy”)

Mercy (two)

(“The Quiet Retribution”)

On Painting, Poetry, and My Old Age (Part One)

Korean - I love you

Hye Sook Park returned from South Korea last week, and Linda and I were able to show the studio space we are going to sublet in San Pedro at The Loft. Someone had told us that the building was not earthquake reinforced, but unless the square blocks spaced several feet apart that gird each side of the building have been glued there for ornamental purposes only, it looks as if it will hold up enough in all but the worst smack-downs. So much of a building’s survival depends on the ground on which it is built that it is a bit of a crap shoot, no matter how much reinforcement you instill in a structure. Back in the mid-1990s, the major earthquake on MLK, Jr., holiday wiped out several buildings in the prosperous neighborhood of northern Santa Monica, whereas the much more working people environs of Ocean Park fared very well. It was mainly the firmer ground of Ocean Park that made the difference.

We went out for lunch together and talked about painting and the commitment it involves. Hye Sook said that my paintings might surprise me in their ability to attract an audience. Perhaps if I had chosen visual art rather than language as a primary means of imaginative work back when I was 20 years old, I might have a larger audience than I do now, but I doubt it. When one starts out poor, ugly, and not particularly gifted in terms of intellect, one should consider oneself lucky to have gotten as far as I have. (Recently, someone commented on social media on my physical appearance, “Not so pretty.” Things have changed much since I was elected “Ugliest Man on Campus” back in Fall, 1964.) It’s highly unlikely that painting would have had a different outcome than poetry. In my case, just as it seems I ended up writing poetry so that I could enjoy the full perplexities of reading it, I would guess that my attempts at painting will primarily end up expanding my capacity to read paintings by those who have devoted their entire lives to that art.

Towards the end of the meal, Hye Sook showed Linda and me a hand gesture that has become popular in Korea, and she says that it has caught on among the fans of a major Korean pop band. When I took out my cell-phone to take a picture of my hand making that gesture, our waitress came by to pick up our empty bowls and plates. She saw me taking a “selfie” of my hand. “I wish I had my flip phone back,” she said.

I wish we had print culture back.

Beyond Baroque — Mohr and Lieber — 10/27/18

Friday, October 26, 2018

I will be reading tomorrow night (Saturday, October 27) at Beyond Baroque at 8 p.m., with Paul Lieber. Half of my reading will be poems from The Headwaters of Nirvana, and half from new, unpublished or very recently published poetry.

The poet I am sharing the bill with represents a growing subset in Los Angeles-based poetry: the actor-poet. Back in the mid-1970s, the only two such hybrids I knew were Harry Northup and Jack Grapes. In his best-known book of poems from the period, Grapes specifically played to blend of artistic practice by titling the collection, Breaking on Camera. Grapes went on to write and star in a play, “Circle of Will,” which was one of the best plays I ever saw in Los Angeles. Other poets also acted: Suzanne Lummis, for instance, performed with subtle flair back in a couple of plays at a small theater in Hollywood, and she has used her thespian talents as part of a poetry performing troupe, Nearly Fatal Women, which also features Laurel Ann Bogen and Linda Albertano.

Michael Lally moved here in the late 19870s, and accentuated his desire to be known as a serious poet who was also working in the industry with a handsome volume featuring him on the cover in a hipster pose. Hollywood Magic‘s choice of costume for his cover portrait, a leather jacket that seemed to italicize Lally’s cheekbones, was a retro gesture at a time that the punk music scene in Los Angeles was beginning to emerge from the underground of Slash magazine.

The poet-musician-songwriter has an equal presence in Southern California, too: John Doe, Exene Cervenka and Dave Alvin were all featured in my anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985). Both John and Exene are going to be featured performers at Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary celebration on November 10th, along with another actor who is also a visual artist and poet himself, Viggo Mortensen.

Lieber has a considerable number of industry credits; in fact, his Wikipedia entry concentrates on that aspect of his career. His presence as a poet at Skylight, though, was not any more dramatic than it needed to be. He gave his poems the alertness they deserved, without any unnecessary oscillation. I look forward to hearing them again on Saturday, and hope you can join us.

If you want to hear Paul in conversation with some other poets, then go to his website, which will give you access to some of the shows he has done on his KPFK program, “Why Poetry?”

http://paullieber.com/html/radio.htm

Post-Script: I recently had the pleasure of working with Paul Vangelisti on a production of a twenty-minute monologue I wrote, “The Aging Comedian as Letter N.” Paul is a poet-translator-editor-publisher who also was a producer of radio drama, “Theater of the Ear,” for ten years at KPFK. He has a new broadcast medium now, Radio Magra, and he asked me to consider whether I wanted to perform the monologue or if we should try to find a professional actor. As we refined the piece through several rehearsals, Paul decided that I was doing a decent enough job that we would stick with my performance. We only did one take, and I look forward to hearing how it sounds on the airwaves.

Katie Ford reads at CSU Long Beach

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Gjertrud Schneckenberg was scheduled to read tonight, at 7:30, but several weeks ago the Hammer Museum announced that her reading had been cancelled.

For those who had hoped to attend a reading on that evening, and who are willing to drive from West Los Angeles to Long Beach, the poet Katie Ford will be reading at the campus of California State University, Long Beach, at the Anatol Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 25th. The Anatol Center is in the AS (“Academic Services”) building between the MacIntosh Building (the nine-story “toaster” building visible from Seventh Street) and the University Library. Parking can be a challenge, so I recommend coming early. The reading itself is free. I believe that my colleague David Hernandez arranged for her visit to CSU Long Beach.

She will also be reading at Beyond Baroque in Venice this coming Sunday, October 28th, at 4:00 p.m., and then reading on November 11 in Seattle with Rae Armantrout. Ford is currently a professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, and is the director of its MFA program.

Here is a link to a representative selection of her poetry:
https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v8n2/features/ford_k/index.shtml

Her writing has received an unusual number of reviews and citations for its outstanding quality.

“In the short space of two collections, Katie Ford has emerged as one of the most recognizably thoughtful poets of her talented generation.” — David Rigsbee
For Rigsbee’s full-length review, go to:
http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/56/rigsbee_e.php

“Ford’s work is strongly reminiscent of Carolyn Forche’s The Angel of History and deserves the same level of recognition.”—Library Journal

BLURBS FOR KATIE FORD
“Rarely is poetry of such extremity–extremity of experience, extremity of spiritual practice and insight–presented in a style which manages to both horrify, and still break the heart, and, if not soothe, then at least find those reaches in the reader where there is compassion so open it awaits no recompense. Here is a poetry of witnessing–theological, emotional, intellectual–a private end to a century’s horrors, a reminder that not all things begin again, and that from some reaches of experience instruction shines far less than the beauty of the survivor’s report.” ―Jorie Graham

“A distinct and powerful voice in American poetry…. This is a complex, rioting, and heartbreaking book.” — Jane Mead

Jane Mead is the author of four poetry collections, including World of Made and Unmade, and Money Money Money Water Water Water (Alice James Books, 2016 and 2014, respectively). Her honors include fellowships from the Lannan and Guggenheim Foundations, and a Whiting Award.

http://www.bookslut.com/features/2014_10_020898.php

BLURBS FOR JANE MEAD

“Jane Mead’s our Emily Dickinson, our most ambitious solitary. Her austere poems are brilliant: endlessly inventive, syntactically, tonally and emotionally rich. Alternately ironic and undefended, she never sacrifices compassion, justice, her quest for pleasure. In their longing and their loneliness, tending to the otherness of nature, the beauty of expression, these poems honor the frailty that makes us most human.”—Ira Sadoff

“With each of her books, Jane Mead develops a more economical, unique language for grief, and for the yearning toward wholeness. Confessional detail and philosophical argument are reduced to traces, but their resonance from underneath leaves no doubt that this work is serious. This is a book I will be living with for a long time to come.”—Alan Williamson

“Jane Mead penetrates grief with alacrity and burning self-scrutiny. This work enters the world like wild rain and lightning, an inheritance from Celan’s and Tsvetaeva’s stuttered lyricism. Those who can brave the revolutions in her music will choose life because of its difficulty.”—Jane Miller

The Debut Reading of HEADWATERS at Skylight Books

Mohr Skylight Books

Tuesday, October 23, 2018: “Who blurbed your book?”

The debut reading of The Headwaters of Nirvana went fairly well. Noel Alumit, the host of the reading, asked me to read 20 minutes. Gail Wronsky began her introduction at 5:07, and I started my reading at 5:10. I ended my reading at 5:31, without having checked the time.

For the record, here was the set-list for the Skylight reading:

“Rules for Building a Labyrinth,” which I dedicated to Lynn McGee
“One Miracle”
“Complexities”
“Real Days Off”
“Terrorism: The View from Century City”
“The Restoration”
“Answer”
“Why the Heart Does Not Develop Cancer”

I would have preferred to read eight more recent poems, but my job was to encourage people to buy the book, and five or so people in the audience did so. My thanks for their support.

I was about to leave the bookstore when suddenly I saw Shana Olson, who had missed the reading but had gotten there in time to congratulate me on the publication of my first full-length volume of poems, published in this country, in well over 30 years. I sat in a corner of the store and read a couple of poems to her out of the book, as a way of thanking her for making the effort to attend. She read along in a copy I loaned her; afterwards, she flipped to the back cover. “Who blurbed your book?” she asked out loud.

“No one,” I said, which seemed to surprise her. If she had thought it through, however, she would have been less perplexed. One only goes over 30 years without a full-length volume of poems in this country if one is extraordinarily marginal, and any blurb that tried to gloss over that fact would end up revealing its superficial knowledge of the political economy of U.S. literature. There may be a dozen or so poets I could have asked, but would it have been fair to them? It’s tough enough to write a blurb when you are friends with a poet, but it goes beyond an ordinary favor when the poet is someone only vaguely familiar — as how could I not be, since they have had no volume of my work to read for a very long time. It’s a circle with a rodeo-cinch grip on its leash.

For the record, here are the poets I would have been delighted to have had a blurb from. If you are one of these poets, and think to yourself, “Oh, I would have written one, if he had asked,” then please forgive my shyness. Also, since I have at various points published both poems by and reviews of Healy, Vangelisti, and Ostriker, it felt more than a little awkward to indulge in anything that gave the appearance of reciprocity.

Eloise Klein Healy
Ellen Bass
Juan Felipe Herrera
Marilyn Nelson
Anselm Berrigan
Marvin Bell
Paul Vangelisti
Rae Armantrout
Heather McHugh
B.H. Fairchild
Alicia Ostriker
Linda Bierds
Kim Addonizio
Denise Duhamel
Michael Lally

I realize what an odd list this will seem to a few poets I’ve known over the years, such as Cecilia Woloch, Ron Silliman, and Michael Davidson, who are all too often asked for blurbs. Well, just to make it more peculiar, I’ll add a few more names:

Michael Hannon
Sandra McPherson
Garrett Hongo
Kit Robinson
Michael McClure
Gerald Locklin

The average age of this score of poets is slightly older than I am; the brevity of my list may reflect how relatively few people my age began publishing over a half-century ago, and are still active. A few readers of this blog might wonder about the absence of all but a couple poets in Los Angeles. I rarely see those I worked with back in the 70s or 80s. Some, like Jim Krusoe, Kate Braverman, and Dennis Cooper, have become known for their fiction; others, such as Lee Hickman and Wanda Coleman, have died. Of all the poets named in this blog entry, in fact, they are the two poets whose blurbs would have been the most meaningful. If Tom Lux hadn’t died, I would have asked him for a blurb again. He wrote one back when Cahuenga Press had accepted a manuscript about 15 years ago that never got past the typesetting stage because I was such an obstreperous stickler about the type size. Mea culpa. What Tom wrote back then wouldn’t transfer to Headwaters, though, since it is on a different scale than the Cahuenga ms.

I’ve been asked to write blurbs fairly often the past dozen years. I don’t think it occurs to anyone who asks to wonder about how limited my options are in the current prevalence of that literary maneuver in this country. I suppose this is the source of my immense appreciation for the work that Jose Rico and Robin Myers did in translation my work and each writing some prose about it for the edition that Bonobos Editores published in Mexico in 2015. There is a blurb on the back cover of Headwaters, though it is somewhat submerged. It is in Spanish, and it comes from an article in which the best books of poetry published in Mexico were chosen by three different critics. Asking for acknowledgement in one’s own country seems somewhat superfluous, given that the challenge is always to be worthy of attention outside of the narcissism of one’s own culture.

Long Beach Open Studio Tour

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

www.LBopenstudiotour.com

For those who do drive to the Long Beach Museum of Art this coming weekend or the following one, I would check out a few of score of artist studios that will be open for a drop-in visit.

A list of all the studios and their addresses, with links to the artists’ work, can be found at the above website. This annual event launched itself this past weekend with studios in the Bixby Knolls area welcoming guests, but the studios most proximate to where I live are opening their doors this weekend, with a follow-up welcome being extended on October 27 and 28.

My spouse, Linda, will be showing her work at the Co-Op, at 1330 Gladys Avenue, Long Beach.

I would also recommend the work of Tina Burnight, Carol Roemer, Marka Burns, and Molly Schleps.

There is an extraordinary amount of painting and sculpture being produced in Long Beach. I may soon defect from poetry! “Why Should I Not Be a Painter?” might serve both as an homage and a manifesto!

Post-Script: For information on two additional artists (Cynthia K. Evans and Peter Zokosky) who are having their opening reception on Saturday, October 20. Their show runs through Dec. 21. For more information:

Get lost in the strange and beautiful paintings of these two contemporary artists on Saturday

A Major Debut and a Pair of Retrospectives at LBMA

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Long Beach Museum of Art had an official opening last evening for one of the best exhibitions of the year, featuring three artists at various stages of their careers. Substantial selections of their work will be up for view for the remainder of the year, with their shows all simultaneously closing at the end of the first week of 2019. Two of the artists, Narcisso Martinez and Jane Brucker, already had had their shows available for public viewing in the previous two weeks, but last night – as the first storm of the rainy season sneaked up on Southern California — John Sonsini’s portaits of day laborers officially opened, too, and every gallery of the museum is now filled with work that deserves your immediate attention.

The youngest artist, in particular, confronts us with a fact that Marxist theory won’t let us ignore, no matter how much we might want to pretend otherwise: “One cannot tell from the taste of the oats the conditions under which it was grown.” Working with the very materials handled and hauled by hands who have done the labor to bring us the food we eat, Martinez portrays field workers caught in the nets of harvest’s toil. It is important to emphasize that Martinez does not sentimentalize their exploitation. Regardless of whether their faces are enclosed by an improvised “hazmat” suit of baseball cap and bandana, or whether we can see them eating their midday meal, sitting on the ground at the end of a row, these individuals radiate a defiant optimism.

Some of the work on exhibit at LBMA by Martinez has been shown at other venues in recent months. Three large portraits. done in charcoal, of women, including one of his mother, have been on view at a gallery at CSULB, where Martinez received his MFA last spring, as well as at the cultural center of Mexico’s embassy across the street from MacArthur Park two months ago. Using his signature canvas material of “reclaimed produce cardboard,” Martinez’s newest piece, “Always Fresh,” is on the scale of a mural (doing a quick foot shuffle, I estimate it to be just shy of 20 feet in length; as to its height, my guess is around six feet). Its central figure is framed within an oval, as if to imprint upon the viewer’s privilege of consumption a medallion commemorating the anonymity through which the pleasures of hunger are sated. On the right side of this oval, workers have paused to eat a meal themselves, while on the left they are at work sorting the gathered harvest.

One particular detail stands out in Martinez’s use of cardboard that foregrounds the elusiveness of the economic transmission. Flattened out, the cardboard boxes retain the gaps and slots that enable the loaded boxes to be lifted and stacked for shipping, as well as to provide some aeration for the bottom layers of produce. In their literal figuration, these openings also figuratively serve as lenses to our own aporias, the blank spaces of our knowledge of the working conditions of this absolutely necessary labor.

The gap between labor, in which the dispossessed give of themselves with little remuneration, and those who come into possession of the harvest, is emphasized by the presentation of fruits and vegetables in the form of small canvases with images of various kinds of apples, as well as very small canvases (perhaps two inches by two inches) of blueberries. There is no sense that a flngerprint of any sort can be found on this produce. “Always Fresh,” in this case, is meant to ironically mimic the marketing erasure of those who make the most profit from the delivery of the food.

In this exhibition, we are fortunate to be given a chance to witness the emergence of a major new artist. At some point in the next decade, you will find Martinez’s work being exhibited alongside the work of such L.A.-based artists as Mark Bradford, whose “Pickett’s Charge” at the Hirschhorn is one of the most outstanding large-scale pieces I have seen in recent years.

Downstairs from Martinez’s single-room exhibition, another artist has several rooms of portraits of day-laborers, each still young enough to suggest that something unexpected might still occur in their lives, and old enough for the artist to detect the particular vulnerability that has already been wounded beyond any hope of ever being healed. With strident brushstrokes and a generous mesh of colors suitable for day laborers’ clothing, John Sonsini’s depictions of men isolated on an archipelago of economic and emotional dependency sustain our curiosity without ever becoming egregiously voyeuristic. However minimal the resources that these men might be able to call upon for help in getting through their lives with some measure of self-respect, the portraits deflect the uselessness of any temptation to feel sorry for them or to change the conditions of their lives without first making accommodations for the need for our lives to alter to a similar degree.

In Sonsini’s paintings, one absorbs the immediacy of their compositional duration: something has woken up and gazed out at a world previously asleep. The choice to remain in one world or the other seems to be weighing not only on the minds of those depicted, but in the extended trajectory of each enfolded blur of color grasped, then set aside for further meditation.

The retrospective of Jane Brucker’s work offers us a different meditation. She is quietly insistent on the temporality of preservation. One long table top, at least as long as Martinez’s mural contains a panoply of ordinary possessions delicately juxtaposed, as if in a procession towards some equally humble monument, some supplication with a whispered “amen.” Thread spools, chess pieces, eyeglass lenses without the temples, rosary beads, tiny cases of lipstick, forks and spoons that would only seem large if held by the hand of a two-year-old: all these things and much besides spreads out with one intent – to slow us down. Brucker’s exhibition, entitled “Fragile Thoughts,” reveals how little hold we have on that which can stir the strongest feelings in those who survive us.

Her “Memorial Project,” deservedly receives a very large room in which we are asked to ponder how what we are wearing as we visit the museum might well be turned into a work of art. Bruker has taken shirts and other clothes that form – and inform – the front part of the human body, the part where the heart and our breath is thought of in the most intimate fashion – and made that cloth that which embraces the canvas of the “painting.” There were one or two, in particular, that were palpably still extensions of the people who wore it. One sleeve of a shirt was folded in a manner that left its buttons in an open position so as to suggest a chevron. In looking at it, I could almost hear a voice recite John Keats’s poem, “This living hand,….”

All of this work is awaiting your perusal, the sooner the better. Perhaps I will see you there, for I certainly intend to visit it more than once in the coming months.

Long Beach Museum of Art
2300 E. Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90803

(562) 439-2119

Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

Stefano Strazzabosco — Translations from “Bittersweet Kaleidoscope”

October 3, 2018

Stefano Strazzabosco, an Italian poet who lives in Mexico City, wrote a letter this past week while I was out of town to let me know that five of my poems, which he has translated into Italian, has now also been published in a literary magazine, L’IMMAGINAZIONE (307 — settembre-ottobre 2018). I wish to thank Stefano for his support of my writing, and especially for taking the time to write a note about my poetry to accompany his translations.

“Queste poesie danno conto del tono insieme colloquiale e alto del suo stile, che anche lessi- calmente ama mescolare la lingua quotidiana con termini che di tanto in tanto ne spezzano la fluidità, facendola impennare. Allo stesso modo, i dati della realtà concreta e quotidiana – un ami- co malato terminale, una colazione a base di avena, un interrogatorio, un gatto, etc. – vengo- no fatti lievitare fino a assumere un valore che trascende le occasioni senza rinnegarle, anzi: cercando al loro interno quel segno che le tra- sforma in esempi di un vissuto personale che di- viene esistenziale, paradigmatico, comune. Vengono così agitate anche le grandi questioni su cui ci interroghiamo: il senso del nostro esse- re nel mondo, la malattia, la morte, la scrittura al cospetto dell’ignoto, l’amicizia, l’amore. Non si tratta, però, di trasportare questi temi su un pia- no metafisico, quanto piuttosto di trovare al loro interno la cerniera che li fa ruotare su più piani, come prismi verbali. Chiaro che in questo modo, partendo dall’osservazione, arrivando fino a San Tommaso, più di qualcosa si perde per strada, e altro vi si aggiunge. Da qui la sottile ironia che avvolge questi prismi irregolari che affascinano per la loro concretezza, ma che durano per il lo- ro contenuto impalpabile.”

Bill Mohr è poeta, critico, saggista. Insegna alla California State University e vive a Long Beach con sua moglie Linda Fry.

(nota di Stefano Strazzabosco)