Trump in the Oval Office, Noon, Jan. 20th

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Today there is an election in Georgia for two seats in the Senate, and one can examine last-minute polls for possible outcomes. There is no poll being taken that I know of about what will happen two weeks from tomorrow. Perhaps bookmakers in Las Vegas are taking bets on various scenarios. If so, here’s one I’m willing to be a hundred dollars on:

At noon, on January 20th, 2021, as Joseph Biden is being sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, Donald Trump will conduct a live-stream internet twitter-storm of himself at the desk in the Oval Office. In fact, this will have been going on since 6 a.m. on January 20th.

“I am still the president, and there is much work to be done. I am here in the Oval Office, which is where the President should be, working on behalf of Americans, and I will remain here, since I won the election.” and blah blah blah.

I predict that Trump will still be “working” in the Oval Office until Secret Service personnel in charge of guarding President Joseph Biden show up and request that he vacate the premises. Trump will be wearing a body-camera to record the entire process of his exit.

All of this video will be used by Mr. Trump to stir up his followers and to continue soliciting funds for his re-election in 2024.

Final prediction: When Trump is asked in a subsequent interview why he did not attend Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, he will claim that Biden’s assistants told him that wearing a mask was mandatory, and he said that he was still president and would not wear a mask.

R.I.P. John Outterbridge (1933-2020); and SOUTH OF PICO

Monday, January 4, 2020

The announcement of John Outterbridge’s recent death has generated a significant number of obituaries and tributes to his work on both the east coast as well as the West Coast. I would like to take this sad occasion as a chance to mention a book that deserves your attention, if you are at all interested in the production of visual art in Los Angeles. Kellie Jones’s South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, was published by Duke University Press in 2017, and was named a Best Art Book of 2017 by the New York Times and Artforum. Even if you are familiar with Outterbridge’s work, I would highly recommend this book to you. I wish I could quote more extensively from the book, but my copy is at my office at school, and given the pandemic surge in Los Angeles right now, I am doing my best to impose a strict confinement on my daily life.

For those unfamiliar with the street layout of Los Angeles, the title will have little meaning, but those who live here will understand how the titular cartography is meant to demarcate the distribution of cultural capital in alignment with economic resources. Los Angeles is famous for the way it spreads out, but Jones’s book allows us to see the specifically local impetus in Outterbridge’s poetics.

“[Noah Purifoy and John Outterbridge] want to bring art to people, to black people, because they think it will change their lives. It’s going to be part of the change we need in this world.” — Kellie Jones

Culture Talk: Kellie Jones Discusses ‘South of Pico,’ Her Recently Published Book About African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s

John Outterbridge, Sculptor Who Broke Down Barriers Between Life and Art, Has Died at 87–2020

*. * *

As a post-script, I would note that a poem (” “American Sonnet 18”) by Wanda Coleman was reprinted in yesterday’s New York Times magazine. I was pleased to see that Godine’s publication of WICKED ENCHANTMENT is still enabling Coleman’s poetry to get more posthumous attention. It’s hard to believe that Wanda has been gone for seven years. Somehow her absent presence seems even more vivid to me now than at any point since 2013.

Four Dozen of My Favorite Poets in one “Place” Tonight!

The New Year’s Day Marathon Reading at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project will start in about 12 hours. (It is close to 9 a.m. in Long Beach, California right now, and noon in New York City. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of 2021 than to listen to a continuous broadcast of poetry and music from one of most important literary gathering centers of the past 50 years. This year’s 47th annual event will include four dozen of my favorite poets, and I only wish we could actually gather in the church and celebrate together, face to face, with happy hugs. Next year, in St. Mark’s!

Happy New Year, dear comrades and readers!!

Go to this link:


Ada Limón / Andrei Codrescu / Anne Waldman / Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens / Anselm Berrigan / Bob Holman / Brenda Coultas / Brenda Hillman / Brendan Lorber / Bridget Talone / Charles Bernstein / Don Yorty / Edwin Torres / Eileen Myles / Eleni Sikelianos / Fred Moten / Jim Behrle / John Godfrey / Karen Finley / Kazim Ali / Kristin Prevallet / Lydia Davis / Michael Lally / Mónica de la Torre / Natalie Shapero / Nicole Peyrafitte / Norma Cole / Patricia Spears Jones/ Philip Metres / Robert Glück / Roberto Montes / Rosa Alcalá / Rosmarie Waldrop / Safaa Fathy / sam sax / Sawako Nakayasu / Serena Devi / Sharon Mesmer / Shayla Lawz / Sparrow / Stacy Szymaszek / Stephen Motika / Steve Benson / Susan Howe / Taylor Johnson / Tess Brown-Lavoie / Thurston Moore / Todd Colby / Wayne Koestenbaum / Will Alexander / Yvonne Rainer & MORE

“Up Late: 2020-2021”: The Poetry Project’s New Year’s Day Marathon Reading

The Poetry Project’s 2021 New Year’s Day Marathon will be a 24-hour continuous, online broadcast featuring readings and performances by more than 200 poets, writers, artists, and musicians. The marathon poetry reading will commence with an 11pm to midnight countdown on December 31, 2020, with a special feature from the clocktower of St. Mark’s.

The 47th Annual New Year’s Day Marathon will begin at 11PM EST on December 31st at and will be simultaneously multi-streamed to The Poetry Project’s Facebook Live and YouTube live accounts. An hour by hour schedule of the broadcast is forthcoming.

This evening promises to be a “living anthology” of contemporary poetry replete with the discontinuous communities of improvised alignments. The best way to think about this event, in fact, is to consider it a considerably expanded updating of an anthology edited about about 30 years ago by Andrei Codrescu, one of the poets scheduled to read in this gathering. Codrescu, who was also editor of the literary magazine EXQUISITE CORPSE for many years, assembled a blend of maverick poets from the St. Mark’s Poetry Project scene as well as some poets associated with the first increment of the Language movement.

For further information, go to:


Ada Limón / Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves / Aisha Sasha John / Alexandra Tatarsky / The Queer Arabs / Amanda Paradise / Andrea Abi-Karam / Andrea Lawlor / Andrei Codrescu / Andrew Durbin / Angel Olsen / Anna Gurton-Wachter / Anna Kreienberg / Annabel Lee / Anne Boyer / Anne Carson / Anne Waldman / Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens / Anselm Berrigan / Arden Wohl / Ariana Reines / Ariel Goldberg / Ashley M. Jones / Asiya Wadud / Barbara Browning / Bayley Blaisdell / benjamin krusling / Bennet Bergman / Bhanu Kapil / Bianca Stone / Bob Holman / Brenda Coultas / Brenda Hillman / Brendan Joyce / Brendan Lorber / Bridget Talone / Brontez Purnell / Bryn Evans / CA Conrad / Caelan Nardone / Candace Hansen / Candace Williams / Carina del Valle Schorske / Carmelita Tropicana / Rataprincess / Carolina Ebeid / Caroline Bergvall / Carrie Lorig / Cat Mahatta / Cecilia Gentili / Cecilia Vicuña / Cedar Sigo / Charles Bernstein / Chris Nealon / Cori Hutchinson / Dana Ward / Daniel Borzutsky / danilo machado / Dave Morse /Demian DinéYazhi’ / Dennis Cooper / Diamanda Galás / Diana Khoi Nguyen / Divya Victor / Don Yorty / Eddie Berrigan / Edgar Oliver / edua restrepo / Edwin Torres / Eileen Myles / Eleni Sikelianos / Eline Marx / Elizabeth Hart / Eloisa Amezcua / Emily Johnson / erica kaufman / Ethan Philbrick / Farnoosh Fathi / Filip Marinovich / Fred Moten / Gabe Kruis / Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué / Gabrielle Octavia Rucker / Genji Amino / George Abraham/ Gia Gonzales / Greg Masters / Hala Alyan / Hamed Sinno / Hannah Black / Helga Davis / Ian Dreiblatt / Imani Elizabeth Jackson / Irreversible Entanglements / Ivanna Baranova / James Barickman / Jan-Henry Gray / Jasmine Gibson / Jay Deshpande / Jaye Bartell / Jayson P. Smith / Jibade Khalil Huffman / Jim Behrle / Joan La Barbara / Joey de Jesus / John Coletti / John Godfrey / John Rufo / John Yau / Jos Charles / José Olivarez / Joseph Keckler / Joshua Escobar / Joyelle McSweeney / Judah Rubin / Julia Mounsey & Peter Mills Weiss / Julie Tolentino / Karen Finley / Katie Brunero / Katie Ebbitt / Kay Gabriel / Kazim Ali / Kimberly Alidio / Kristin Prevallet / Krystal Languell / Kyle Dacuyan / Laura Henriksen / Laura Ortman / Ligia Lewis / Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola & Diego Gerard / Lydia Davis / Macy Rodman / Mahogany L. Browne / Manal Kara / Marcella Durand / Mariana Valencia / Marwa Helal / Maryam Ivette Parhizkar / Matt D’Angelo / Matt Longabucco / Maud Pryor / Maxe Crandall / Maya Songbird / Mel Elberg / Melinda Marcellus / Michael Lally / Michael Stasis / Michelle Peñaloza / Michelle Tea / Miguel Gutierrez / Mirene Arsanios / Momtaza Mehri / Mónica de la Torre / Monica Sok / Monica Youn / Morgan Bassichis / Nabila Lovelace / Natalie Shapero / Nicole Peyrafitte / Nicole Wallace / No Bra / Norma Cole / Omar Berrada / Omotara James / Óscar Moisés Díaz / P. Splash Collective / Pamela Sneed / Parker Menzimer / Patricia Spears Jones/ Patsy / Patty Gone / Paul Legault / Penny Arcade / Philip Metres / Pvssyheaven / Rachel Rabbit White / Raquel Salas Rivera / Rataprincess / Ricardo Alberto Maldonado / Robert Glück / Roberto Montes / Rosa Alcalá / Rosamond S. King / Rosmarie Waldrop / Safaa Fathy / sam sax / Sarah Hennies / Sarah Riggs / Sawako Nakayasu / Serena Devi / Sharon Mesmer / Shayla Lawz / Silky Shoemaker / Simone White / Sky Hopinka / Sophie Robinson / Sparrow / Foamola / Special Interest / Stacy Szymaszek / Stephanie Gray / Stephen Motika / Steve Benson / Susan Howe / Taylor Johnson / Telepathic Children / Tess Brown-Lavoie / The Blow / Thurston Moore / Todd Colby / Tongo Eisen-Martin / Trevor Ketner / Trisha Low / Wayne Koestenbaum / Wendy Eisenberg / Wendy Xu / Whispering Pines 10 / Will Alexander / Will Farris / Wo Chan / xime izquierdo ugaz / Yanyi / Yaz Lancaster / Yoshiko Chuma / Yvonne Rainer & MORE

Marvin Bell (1937-2020)

Marvin Bell taught at the University of Iowa for several decades in the M.F.A. program, and one might have expected him to have published his poems in literary magazines primarily associated with the mainstream of American verse. Indeed, for the most part, his work appeared in the periodicals whose familiarity endows a writer with a national status (The New Yorker; Poetry (Chicago). Yet Bell was one of those poets who was perfectly comfortable in the company of those whose poetics might seem seriously at variance with his. I never me Bell or had any contact with him, so I can’t offer any insight as to how his approach permitted his muse to intercede and avoid the imaginative confinements that academic influences can all too easily generate.

As a case in point, here is the table of contents from the first issue (1961) of THE OUTSIDER magazine, which was primarily published in New Orleans:

Russell Edson 3
The Editor’s Bit
Sinclair Beiles
Stuart Gordon 5
Gregory Corso 9
Jon Edgar Webb, Jr. 15
Ann Giudici 17
Diane Di Prima 19
John Grant 20
Paul Haines 23
Gary Snyder 24
Gael Turnbull 25
Charles Olson 26
Edward Dorn 27
Allen Ginsberg 28
Peter Orlovsky 29
Langston Hughes 30
Juan Martinez 31
Gilbert Sorrentino 35
Walter Lowenfells 36
Cid Corman 38
Lawrence Ferlinghetti 39
Ray Bremser 42
Margaret Randall 43
Millen Brand 44
Robert Creeley 45
Mike McClure 46
Charles Bukowski 48
Robert Sward 55
Harland Ristan 56
Colin Wilson 57
Jory Sherman 60
Leslie Woolf Hedley
Henry Miller
LeRoi Jones
Marvin Bell
Lester Epstein 70
Curtis Zahn 72
William S. Burroughs 74
kaja 78
Judson Crews 79
Tracy Thompson 79
Paul Carroll 80
G.C. Oden 81
James Boyer May 82
Marc D. Schlefer 82
Frederick Pfisterer III 83
Gene Frumkin 84
Jonathan Williams 84
William Corrington 85
Kay Boyle 85
Paul Blackburn 86
Clayton Eshleman 86
Tuli Kupferberg 87
Barbara Moraff 88
Sam Abrams 88
Terence McGuire 88
Notes on Authors

Charles Olson, Diane Di Prima, Kay Boyle, Paul Bladkburn, LeRoi Jones, Charles Bukowski, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Dorn, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gene Frumkin, Jonathan Williams. To fin Bell’s work at age 24, in this company should cause any reader of his work to keep in mind the contextual fluidity it deserves to be enfolded within. I certainly can’t imagine Jorie Graham, for instance, who has taught at the University of Iowa MFA program, or Louise Gluck, who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, ever publishing their work in an equivalent cluster of poets.

Copper Canyon Press published a tribute to him and one of its editors made a point of how Bell was willing to speak up for the oddball poet.

In Memory of Marvin Bell (1937–2020)

One can also find relevant links to his life and work at the Poetry Foundation. If you’re looking for a poem to start with, I’d recommend “He Said To” followed by “Wednesday.”

One of the few people I know who was friends with him is Carol Ellis, whose first full-length collection of poems was recently published by Beyond Baroque’s Pacific Poetry Series, which is headed up Suzanne Lummis. I close this poet with Ellis’s tribute: “Marvin was a combination of sanity and sunshine who walked intensely with the dead man, until now that’s who he is, as we all will be. He was brave enough to look at the ‘after himself’ as someone studying death and, equally, studying life –- what does it mean to be alive, does the dead man remember, apparently so, but how quiet it sadly is.”

Susan K. Perry’s “Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity”

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 — 5:30 p.m. (Pacific Time)

The fall semester officially ended today when I turned in grades for the graduate students I worked with the past several months. I had already submitted the grades for my undergraduates, so I managed to get everything wrapped up fairly easily by mid-afternoon today. The room out of which I taught at home doesn’t look any different than my office on campus looks after 16 straight weeks of intense teaching: semi-organized chaos. I decided to start straightening things up a bit and got to work on the bookshelves. For no reason I can recollect, a book I hadn’t looked at for several years suddenly caught my attention: Susan K. Perry’s “Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity.” Published in 1999 by Writer’s Digest books, Perry’s book served as a rejoinder to all those smug critics so well described by Randall Jarrell’s characterization of literary know-it-alls; they are like, says Jarrell, “a farmer who says,’Get out of here, pig. What do you know about bacon?’ ”

Perry is on the side of the writers, and continuously turns to them in her book for first-hand accounts and advice about the process of writing. I was thrilled back then to be included among the writers quoted in the book, though as I read the list of names in.the inner flap of the dust jacket, I was slightly stunned to realize how many of them have died in the past 20 years, some of the them very recently. (I will post the entire list at the end of today’s entry.)

I was even more stunned when I used search engines to look up Susan K. Perry and two recent articles about “flow” showed up immediately, the first of which contained the unexpected announcement that her husband, the poet Stephen Perry, was dead. Stephen Perry published numerous poems in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Yale Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, Salmagundi, Wisconsin Review, Cimarron Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry East, The Journal, Nightsun, Jacaranda Review (UCLA), Sycamore Review (Purdue University), Yellow Silk, and many others. His most important collection of poems is QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD (Humanist Press). Here are links to his book as well as his gallery of photographs:


Susan K. Perry’s most recent articles about “flow” can be found here:

What Flow Feels Like From the Inside: Part 1
Have you known deep flow? It was “natural” for this poet.
Posted May 18, 2018

What Flow Feels Like From the Inside: Part 2
This is the second half of my intense flow interview with Stephen G. Perry.

As I look back on my comments in Susan K. Perry’s book, the one that still remains the most accurate is that it is easier for me to feel in the flow when I’m revising, as opposed to working on first drafts. Now the odd part of that distinction is that I tend to be at my best in the first draft, once I get to that spot where the rhythm itself — particular to the piece that is underway — becomes the source of the flow. When the writing is in the flow, I know ahead of Time the moves that will need to be made.

So why do I say that revision is the place where the flow feels most real? In part, it is because it’s easier to proceed once one has something to revise. As I comment in Perry’s book, starting out on a piece of writing “is like diving off a high board onto ice.” One anticipates hitting water, but when the effort doesn’t lead anywhere, it has the abrupt rebuke of feeling that one fell onto an unyielding trampoline. Once you have that first draft, though, it’s like having something to “swim into.” And so we do!

What Flow Feels Like From the Inside: Part 2
This is the second half of my intense flow interview with Stephen G. Perry.

Contributors to WRITING IN FLOW (R.I.P. to far too many)

Ralph Angel
Madison Smartt Bell
Marvin Bell
T. Coraghessan Boyle
Andrea Holander Budy
Ocavia E. Butler
Robert Olen Burlger
Ethan Canin
Susan Taylor Chehak
Peter Clothier
Wanda Coleman
Billy Collins
Phoebe Conn
Michael Connelly
Bernard Cooper
Alfred Corn
Peter Davison
Gerald DiPego
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Harriet Doerr
Stephen Dunn
Judith Freeman
Diana Gabaldon
Frank X Gasper
Phyllis Gebauer
Merrill Joan Gerber
David Gerrold
Sue Grafton
Donald Hall
Sam Hamill
Lola Haskins
Anthony Hecht
Brenda Hillman
Jane Hirschfield
Marnell Jameson
Diane Johnson
Richard Fones
Nora Okja Keller
Faye Kellerman
Jonathan Kellerman
Nancy Kress
Ursula K. Le Guin
Philip Lewvine
Aimee Lui
Margot Livesey
Myra Cohn Livingston
Suzanne Lummis
Elizabeth Moskowitz
Carol Muske
Cees Nooreboom
Ed Ochester
Stephen Perry
Samuel H. Pillsbury
Robert Pinsky
Wyatt Prunty
James Ragan
Donald Revell
Steve Reynolds
Mark Salzman
Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Carolyn See
Maurya Simon
Jane Smiley
David St. John
Mark Strand
Henry Taylor
David L. Ulin
Michael Ventura
Ellery Eashionton Charles H. Webb
Richard Wilbur
Hilma Wolitzer
Stephen Yenser

Poetry Prompts: Reverse that Ending and Rev Up the Chiasms

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Backflip Poetry Prompt: Imagination’s Reversal Strategy

Anyone who has ever taken a creative writing course with me knows how much I dislike “prompts.” I have read very few poems written by assignment that have the necessary duende to stand on their own feet.

However, the allusion in Cornelius Eady’s poem “Sherbet,” in The Best of Crazyhorse, to Langston Hughes’s poem about Harlem led me to consider the following prompt: end a poem with the same word that a famous poem concludes with, except you Frame it in the negative. Eady ends his poem with “explode,” except that it is framed as “can’t …. explode.”

A similar approach is to consider any statement, especially at the end of a poem, for the possibility of extending into a chiasm. One obvious example is the ending of James Tate’s “The Lost Pilot.” This is not a matter of “inspiration,” I tell my students, who are almost always unfamiliar with this rhetorical construction. One must simply grow into the discipline of asking oneself if such a reversal is possible, and does it nurture the negative capability of the poem’s endeavor.

The Best of Crazyhorse: Thirty Years of Poetry and Fiction, edited by David Jauss (Fayetteville, Arkansas: The University of Arkansas Press, 1990). Eady’s poem can be found on pages 131 through 133.

Mark Weiss: “A Suite of Dances” (forthcoming from Shearsman)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twenty years ago, when I was living in San Diego, I had the good fortune to meet a poet, editor, and translator named Mark Weiss. Among other things, he was a leading advocate of Armand Schwerner’s poetry, whose archive I had been sorting through as one of my jobs at UCSD’s Archive for New Poetry. Mark seemed to be fairly well settled in San Diego, and it was with considerable surprise that Linda and I ran into him at St. Mark’s Poetry Project shortly after we moved to Long Island in the Fall, 2004. It turned out that Mark, too, had left San Diego, and some of my favorite memories of my two years in the NYC area involve walks that Linda and I took with Mark.

By chance, I recently found a roll of film that had fallen by the wayside and I took a chance on developing it. It was one of those disposable cameras and I didn’t have much hope for it, but the one photograph that turned out at all was of Mark Weiss at an event at St. Mark’s. When I sent it to him, he identified one of the people in it as the poet Nadia Gordon.

As readers of my blog know, I like to publish an occasional poem by another poet, and today’s guest poet is Mark Weiss, with an excerpt from a long poem that will be published by Shearsman Books this coming spring. Mark sent me “A Suite of Dances XVIII: Over the Hills,” but unfortunately WordPress is as hostile to poetry as it has ever been and it will not replicate the indentations of the lines. Nevertheless, a place has been set for it at the table of this blog. Linda used her iPhone to make images of the printed out text of the poem, and I am inserting those images in the blog. On Wednesday, December 23, 2020, WordPress’s system was not capable of handling traffic, and the image of even a single page could not be processed (“Weiss – Page 1.jpg — Post-processing of the image failed likely because the server is busy or does not have enough resources. Uploading a smaller image may help. Suggested maximum size is 2500 pixels.”) I hope to have Mark’s six page poem up by this coming weekend. Until it is that long, you are only viewing a portion of it.

MARK WEISS — Poet, Editor, Translator

Mark Weiss has published ten poetry titles, most recently As Luck Would Have It (Shearsman Books, 2015) and As Landscape (Chax Press, 2010). Thirty-Two Short Poems for Bill Bronk, Plus One appeared as an ebook in 2013 ( He edited, with Harry Polkinhorn, Across the Line / Al otro lado: The Poetry of Baja California (Junction, 2002), and, with Marc Kaminsky, Stories as Equipment for Living: Last Talks and Tales of Barbara Myerhoff (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007).

Among his translations are Stet: Selected Poems of José Kozer (Junction, 2006); Cuaderno de San Antonio / The San Antonio Notebook, by Javier Manríquez (Editorial Praxis, 2004); three books by Gaspar Orozco, Notas del país de Z (Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, 2009), Autocinemas (Chax Press, 2016), and Memorial de la peonía (Shearsman Books, 2017; and the ebook La isla en peso/ The Whole Island, by Virgilio Piñera (, 2010). His bilingual anthology The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry was published in 2009 by the University of California Press. A Suite of Dances, from which this selection is drawn, will be published in the Spring by Shearsman Books.

Mark Weiss lives at the edge of Manhattan’s only forest.

NEA Link to Fellowship Winners (1965 – 2005)

December 15, 2020

I recently discovered a link to a website on which the NEA touts the prescience of its peer panels over a forty year period in selecting the very best poets in the United States to receive awards. Lest I seem too much like a cantankerous reproach, I do want to acknowledge that the NEA was very generous in supporting the writers that I believed deserved to have books published back between 1975 and 1985. Poets and writers such as Alicia Ostriker, Len Roberts, James Moore, Jim Krusoe, Kate Braverman, Holly Prado, Harry E. Northup, Leland Hickman, and Deena Metzger benefited through grants given to Momentum Press by the National Endowment for the Arts.

I also wish to thank the Getty Research Institute and the Huntington Library for giving me support for my scholarly work.

*. *. *. *. *


Needless to say, one won’t find my name in this list of winners. I applied a score of times over three decades and finally gave up. Now it’s true that there are more poets working at a fairly high level than there are awards to go around, but it was made quite clear to me that my writing was really not worthy of serious consideration. For a while, the NEA was willing to share the comments of the panelists on one’s work, and there’s nothing like reading what the most astute poets of a period have to say about your work to help explain one’s lack of success in the literary marketplace.

“The poems ramble and are uninteresting, and the titles unremarkable. The work is composed of large abstract thoughts that are not relevant to the incidents that supposedly spark them. There is a lack of compression and imagination. …. The language lacks sparks and interest. The poems fail to cohere…. The poems are so fragmentary in their mode that it is difficult for the poems to gain momentum. … The poems depend too much on a final epiphany, pulling the work down than elevating it …. The writing is inflated and wordy … there is a lack of feeling for rhythm, and the style is more like prose than poetry …. The poems lack distinction … The poems are too controlled, almost to the point of predictability … There is a need for more surprise in imagery, syntax, language and revelation … the poems felt overly like prose, and the narrative did not feel forceful enough to replace an invigorating and felicitous use of rhythm.”

NEA panelists’ comment on my work, 1989-1990-1991-1992

Given the consistency of the comments, I have to assume that they are representative of the entire twenty times that I applied for an award. I have sometimes thought of putting out a book of poems from this period and using the above as a kind of “anti-blurb” on the back cover.

Of course, not getting an award did not stop me from writing. No one needs an award to get their writing done, though the NEA emphasizes time and again on its website how important it is to have time to write. It is the recognition that one craves from one’s peers, if not a minimal gesture of respect. One keeps going, regardless.

It’s true that most people don’t “advertise” their bad reviews, but no doubt there are young writers out there who feel discouraged when they are told that they don’t have much talent, and I thought \ it might be helpful to remind them that the hardest part of writing is to persist, even when others don’t “get” what you are doing.


At work the other day, a woman
five months pregnant wore black.
“You’ve seen this dress before.
I wore it to the funeral. It looks
a little different because I took
the belt off.” Afterwards I thought,
“the funeral.” She knows which one
it was. I don’t. Back at my
machine, I remember storm-
drenched Tijuana hills I saw
through childhood’s windows, rain,
wind, and lightning’s acidic
dexterity, and how these images
will one day vanish, utterly,
along with the hours I typed
radio station call letters
for trade paper ads: WMMS.
Just typing those four letters
makes my boss five dollars profit.
I don’t mind. I need a job, and will
until I die. I’ll visit friends
in dreams. A week after a brain
tumor made a friend capitulate,
I hugged her: palpable
and soft. I felt her bosom
and arms. I said, “You can’t
be here. You’re dead.” A few months
later we talked again. We stood
apart and didn’t embrace. 3:30pm
work break. I stand near a chair
on a parking garage’s roof, eye-level
with a tree’s crown, a bird settles
into the instant after it pushes
aside every twig surrounding
the point of its exultation.


Bundling chrysanthemums, anemones,
and gladioli on my motorcycle’s
red gas tank, I headed off
to Peter Levitt’s house. He’s ill.
A wind churning from the deserts
jolted me so hard I was lifted
into the next lane.
No car was coming.
Peter staggered from his bed,
found a vase under a kitchen sink.
He said anemone means daughter
of the wind. Protected. This time.
Other nights I was spared
only by the subcutaneous radar
of terror: slow down. I don’t
ride motorcycles anymore and miss
riding beside the ocean
on summer nights. Ah, t-shirts!
The men and women at last night’s
party miss Beruit much more.
Their eyes and mine coiled
the same brown and yellow hues.
More than once, they asked,
“Are you Lebanese?” as though
I were a cousin who’d missed
the matriarch’s funeral.
This morning Cathay and I
walked through aisles of irises,
tulips, and hydrangeas, buying,
for once, as much as we pleased.
Each bouquet’s topped by a flower
we’ve never seen before, a pin
cushion protea. Today the wind
is very gentle. Orange
and blue petals of a bird
of paradise bulge at their
birth-seams and a trickle
of clear fluid seeps down
the side. I dip my finger in,
anoint my eyelids, and bless
this day, almost finished.

*. *. *. *. *. *

During these years, I was working full-time as a typesetter at a weekly newspaper as well as teaching poetry workshops at Venice Continuation High School. (“My machine” refers to a Compugraphic 7500.) My only encouragement occurred in spring 1993, when New Alliance Records released a spoken word compilation of my writing. I remain grateful to Liza Richardson at KCRW for all the support she gave to VEHEMENCE, which also was praised by Ellen Krout-Hasegawa in the L.A. Weekly. “The kind of organic, free-verse, non-esoteric poetry associated with Los Angeles and its poets is usually written by working-class, or lower, folk such as Charles Bukowski. Today’s finest include Bill Mohr, who evocatively combines images of longing and desperation with wide-eyed wonderment.”

I also wish to reiterate my gratitude to Jack Grapes and Michael Andrews for publishing my book of poems in 1982. HIDDEN PROOFS eventually became the title of a selection of my poems published in a bilingual edition in Mexico five years ago: PRUEBAS OCULTAS. That collection was chosen by a panelists of critics in Mexico as one of the two dozen best books of poetry published in Mexico that year. Thanks to Gail Wronsky and Chuck Rosenthal, an expanded version of that book was published by What Books in Los Angeles a couple years ago.

One has to assume that all of the poets who have won these NEA awards have had at least one stand-alone book of their poems translated into another language and selected for distinction. After all, if their work is so much better than mine, how could they not be internationally recognized? In particular, of course, those who served as panelists for the years in which the above comments were made can hardly claim to be superior if they are not able to produce the evidence of such volumes.

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Praise for HIDDEN PROOFS (1982)

“Bill Mohr’s Hidden Proofs is vital writing. Mohr has often been more highly touted as a publisher than poet. Never again: His first collection is spectacular. These stories of sympathy and rage… (are) all enveloped in Mohr’s crisp descriptions of the Southland locale. Poetic truth captures what we know but never say. In this way, Hidden Proofs contains so much truth, remembering a language of caring and touch, making you feel so tender and good again that you’ll hate to see it end.”

“Best known as the publisher-editor of Momentum Press, Mohr has been building poems years, and Hidden Proofs reads less like a debut than a distillation. From the striking cover to the final poem’s shifting colors, the book dwells in illuminated moments, playing imagery of light and dark off the harsh material of autobiography and the quotidian rhythms of employment and politics. (Although) sensitive to dream, Mohr deals more with waking moments that get shaded from view in the interstices of experience. The poems in Hidden Proofs succeed in rescuing lost moments from the abyss of unexamined time in a simple moving way. For Mohr, this emotional rescue acts not to reintegrate experience but to demystify it. (Mohr’s) cadences recall Ginsberg without the anxiety of Zen orthodoxy, but Hidden Proofs usually locks into a humbler pitch, directing the reader to the indwelling proofs of living that hide in common sensations.”

“There are poems here full of heart, in which the emotions are screened by an artifice, not of trickery, but of craft. These are poems of clarity, intelligence, deep feeling and humor, about living a life and watching closely.”

* * *

I will leave it to those who continue to read contemporary poetry in the next forty years to decide which set of critics were the the most astute evaluators of my writing. Perhaps it will turn out, however, that the NEA peer panelists, who were some of the best known and highly respected poets in the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were accurate in their commentary. It is the case, after all, that I decided to forego writing poems by the fall, 1997, and went to graduate school. In the past two decades, I have had far more success as an academic than I ever had or ever will have as a poet. Odd how life turns out, eh?

HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948-1992 (University of Iowa Press, 2011)
THE HEADWATERS OF NIRVANA: Reassembled Poems (A Bilingual Edition) (Los Angeles: What Books, 2018)

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an ugly, awkward man
defied his talent’s span

Cornelia Street Cafe and Jackie Sheeler (1957-2018)

Five years from now, when the Pandemic seems like a very sadistic portion of the nightmare of Trump’s presidency, a young person might tune in to the first season of “Modern Love” and notice a cafe appearing as part of the mise-en-scene in the eight and final episode. Should they use their search engines for Cornelia Street Cafe, they would discover that it shut down at the very end of 2018, in large part because the rent was $30,000 a month. Imagine serving 1000 people a day and having each of them put a dollar into the rent jar, for 30 straight days. That’s not going to happen, day in and day out.

Given that the pandemic shuttered up things in that neighborhood rather thoroughly, the owners of the cafe were extremely lucky to have closed it while they were still ahead. It would be interesting as a case study, however, to find out exactly how the owners of this property have fared under the assistance programs that the government offered in the first and only round of economic support provided by the Trump administration.

In any case, it was a fine place to hear poets and musicians for many years. I had the good fortune to catch Samuel Menashe one night. He was getting frail, but I had never heard him read before.

Here is the schedule for the Fall, 2005 PINK PONY WEST READING SERIES

September 9 — Jane Ormerod
September 16 — Martha Rhodes
September 23 — Bob Holman
September 30 — Terence Burns
October 7 — D. Nurse
October 14 — Martin Espada
Nomember 21 — Angelo Verga
October 28 — Douglas Collura
November 4 — Pandora Scooter
November 11 — George Held
November 18 — Sabrina Hayeem
November 25 — Thanksgiving — no reading
December 2 — Ishle Park
December 9 — Bill Mohr
December 23 and December 30 — Holidays — no reading

Once a reading series comes to a half, the cultural work done by the individuals who got it started and kept it going is often forgotten. After all, a dead person can’t give you a reading.

Well, I would like to use this moment to remember Jackie Sheeler, who founded and ran the series for many years. Here is a link to a blog post that is worth your immediate attention.

Jackie Sheeler — (September, 1957 – March, 2018).
Her first full-length collection, The Memory Factory, won the Magellan Prize in 2002 from the Buttonwood Press in 2002. In 2005, a 14-track wordrock CD, Talk Engine, was released through CD Baby. Earthquake Came to Harlem was published by New York Quarterly Books. In 2003, Soft Skull published an anthology of poems assembled by Sheeler which grew out of being raised as part of a police officer’s family. Off the Cuffs: Poetry By and About the Police is one of the underrated anthologies of the past 20 years.