W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The word of W.S. Merwin’s death, at age 91, spread rapidly Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, at least among poets and artists, especially those over the age of 50. While there may be a significant number of young poets who admire Merwin’s poetry, I am not sure there are many under the age of 30 who have read more than one of his books all the way through. That may well change in another decade or two, for I suspect that Merwin’s poetry will gain many new adherents as the anthology wars of the past century firm up the boundaries of their domains within the canon, and let the current anthology wars map out new entanglements.

I mention Merwin’s presence in anthologies in part because there are far too many assumptions about the “anthology wars” between 1957 and 1977. If Merwin had an enormous influence on young poets in the 1970s, it was in part because his poetry reflected a radical shift in poetics in the years between the publication of the first edition of “New Poets of England and America” and “Naked Poetry.” In the latter anthology, Merwin somehow managed to encompass a meditative state of consciousness, ecology, and the fragility of life itself, with a vulnerable lyricism. He subdued any tendency towards sentimentality, and yet his thoughts brimmed with effusively wistful yearning.

Only a few of the poets who were in the first edition of “Naked Poetry” are still alive. Robert Bly and Gary Snyder are probably the most prominent of the survivors. Perhaps, in fact, the only two survivors. (Kenneth Patchen, Theodore Roethke, Weldon Kees, and Sylvia Plath were already dead. Berryman and Lowell would both be dead before not much more than another half-dozen years. Then an interlude before Ginsberg, Creeley, Levertov, Kinnell and Levine passed. And now Merwin, the other poet in addition to Levine to become national poet laureate.

Both Levine and Merwin were superb readers, and rather than comment on Merwin’s poetry as a way of observing his passing, I have decided to share my memories of two readings. The first time I saw Merwin read was at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center at UCLA, a structure that no longer exists. The reading series that took place there has, in fact, moved to the Hammer Museum, and been renamed in honor of Doris Curran, the long-time advocate of the original project. After a glowing introduction, Merwin stood behind the lectern and said to the assembled crowd. “I don’t have any of my books with me. Does anyone have copies?”

Within a half-minute, a hefty retinue of paperback and hardcover volumes had made their way to rest in front of him, and he proceeded to pick his way through them with the same familiarity that a rock star might churn through a set list of his or her most famous songs. Kate Braverman and I had both found ourselves sitting next to each other at the reading, and afterwards we had a bit of a laugh. No matter how famous someone might be, should they really show up without bringing any of their books?

I had come prepared to walk away with renewed admiration for his work. I had first read “The Lice” when I was a student at UCLA, and have a distinct memory of sitting in the library with that volume; and Merwin was a significant part of the first conversation I had with a clerk named William (“Koki”) Iwamoto at Papa Bach Bookstore in the late summer of 1971. Koki showed me several of his poems, which reflected Merwin’s influence, though they had at their core a voice distinct enough to push away any presumption of mere imitation. It was mainly because of Koki that I became the first poetry editor of BACHY magazine, and without his recommendation and the start it gave me, probably none of the work I have done on behalf of Los Angeles poets would have come to pass.

It was one particular poem by Merwin, however, that irritated both Kate and me. It was his quartet about the “chambers of the heart,” and its numerical predictability left both of us mimicking in a mutual sarcastic whisper the obvious opening of the final segment. “In the fourth chamber of the heart” …. We almost laughed at ourselves for our insolence. The restless impetuosity of our youthful logic had frighteningly little patience.

In the late 1990s, or thereabouts, I remember another UCLA sponsored reading that featured Merwin. He read with majestic aplomb. It was one of those pure hours of solemn, ecstatic adoration of poetry that one remembers and reabsorbs as often as possible.

The anniversary of his death is now known, and I hope it is properly honored.

The Drought Is Dead — Long Live the Drought!

Friday, March 15, 2019

California: Drought or Deluge

Like theater’s insignia of tragic and comic masks, California has two seasons: a dry season and a wet season, though one should only bet the rent money on the former annually flexing its atmospheric muscles. In this decade, an extended drought that caused weather reporters to fulminate about a “ridiculously resilient high pressure ridge” not only led to a massive die-off of trees in the mountain ranges, but subsequently generated perfect storm conditions for apocalyptic-scale firestorms in both Northern and Southern California.

Although 2017 finally dispelled the hypnotic hold drought had on California, at this time last year it was not at all certain that California could stop fretting about the renewal of drought. Well over half the state was categorized as ranging from “abnormally dry” to “extreme drought” in March, 2018, an assessment that seemed to hint at the drought’s potential return.

In mid-March, 2019, however, the reservoirs are once again brimming, and given the depth of the snowpack, Governor Newsom at least has one less thing to be concerned about during the first half of his term. However, I am curious as to why the article in the Los Angeles Times did not mention the groundwater levels, and whether they will completely recover after all the snow melts. The groundwater wells were drastically overdrawn during the course of the drought, and it seems a bit disingenuous to pretend that all is well when we have yet to receive a groundwater report from CASGEM (California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring).

The reality of perpetual drought is that California cannot let itself get lackadaisical. Every storm that whirls off the Pacific Ocean has as the title of its manifest: “The Drought Is Dead — Long Live the Drought!” The current reserves of water make it all too easy to forget that a mere month and a half ago, a sudden cessation of any rain storms would have left us with enough water to get through the year with careful rationing, but hardly enough to reverse the depletion of the groundwells. In point of fact, compare the levels of California’s reservoirs two years ago, on February 1, 2017, with the levels on the same date, 2019. Even after all the rain in January (https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/01/23/5829411/), the reservoir system as a whole was still not at the same level as the following on Feb. 1, 2017:

FEBRUARY 1, 2017
(First figure, percentage of capacity; second, percentage of historical average)
Trinity — 60& and 84&
Shasta — 77 and 114
Oroville — 80 an 121
Folsom — 53 and 60
New Melones — 42 and 72
Don Pedro — 88 and 128
McClure — 73 and 151
San Luis Reveroir — 84 and 106
Millerton — 66 and 103
Pine Flat — 62 and 131
Lake Perris — 38 and 47
Castaic — 81 and 98

Beginning at the end of January, however, the weather became more chilly in Los Angeles than it had been for over 80 years. Not since the consecutive winters of 1937 and 1937 had Los Angeles gone through a spell of almost six consecutive weeks during which the temperature did not get as high as 70 degrees. Of course this “winter” temperature would be regarded as utterly laughable elsewhere, but the rain storms required more than umbrellas, but also jackets and scarves when one left for work at dawn, the temperature in the mid-40s.

To provide a sense of the rate at which water levels in the state’s reservoirs have increased, I include some comparative readings. In some instances, I would note how a reservoir increased the amount of its capacity by one percent in a single day. This happened at Lake Shasta, Don Pedro, Pine Flat, and Millerton on Feb. 1 – Feb. 2; Folsom increased two percent in that single day. At midnight, on Feb., 16, the same leap occurred: the water levels of Lake Shasta, Oroville, Don Pedro, Pine Flat, and New Melones had ALL increased one percent in a single day.

RESERVOIR LEVELS — Midnight Jan. 31 (leading into Feb. 1, 2019)
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity Lake — 65% full — 92% historical level
— Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 68 and 93%
Lake Shasta — 64% full — 95% historical level —
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 72 and 102%
Lake Oroville — 40% — 61%
Feb. 15th 50 (fifty) and 74 percent
Folsom Lake — 53% — 103% —
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 67 and 124%
NEW MELONES — 78^ — 131%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT. 82 and 136 percent
Don Pedro — 74% — 108&
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT. 81 and 116%
Lake McClure — 60% — 125%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 71 and 141
San Luis Reservoir — 86% — 109%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 92 and 112
Millerton — 61% — 96%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 71 and 109
Pine Flat Reservoir — 38% — 82%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT 50 and 99%
Lake Perris — 87% — 108%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT — 87 and 106
Castaic Lake — 75% – 90%
Feb. 15th MIDNIGHT — 80 and 94

MIDNIGHT – February 22 (Saturday) (First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity 68 and 93
Shasta — 76 percent capacity and 106 percent historical — in three weeks Shasta gained 12 percent of total capacity.
Oroville is now at 55 percent and 79%
New Melones — up to 83 and 137 percent
Don Pedro — 74 and 108 — WHOA! NEXT DAY!
AT MIDNIGHT, Feb. 23, DON PEDRO JUMPED TO 83 percent and 117 percent (historical average)
Folsom — 63 and 115
McClure 68 and 134
San Luis — 95 and 113
Milleron 72 and 110
Pine Flat — 55 and 106
Lake Perris — 87 and 106
Castaic — 81 and 94

MIDNIGHT – 2/28
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity — 71 and 96$
Shasta — 87 and 119
Oroville 62 and 89 percent
Folson — 61 and 110 (NOTE: REDUCED)
New Melones 84 and 137
San Luis Reveroir — 97 and 114 (GLUTTED)
Millerton — 70 and 107 — REDUCED)
Don Pedro — 82 and 115
Lake McClure — 64 and 123
Pine Flat — 57 and 108
Lake Perris — 87 and 105
Castaic — 80 and 92

Midnight, March 5
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity — 72 and 97
Lake Shasta — 87 and 117
Lake Oroville — 67 and 94
Folsom — 63 and 111
New Melones 85 and 138
San Luis Reservoir — 98 and 114
Millerton — 74 and 112
Don Pedro — 83 and 116
lLake McClure — 65 and 125
Pine Flat — 62 and 116
Lake Peris — 87 and 104
Castaic Lake — 79 and 91

MIDNIGHT, March 7, 2019 — Four reservoirs went up significantly — an average of SEVEN percent in the past week; the majority of the other ones rose about two percent.)
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity Lake — 73 and 97
Lake Shasta — 89 and 119
Lake Oroville — 70 and 99
(OROVILLE WENT UP EIGHT PERCENT IN A WEEK!!!!!)
Folsom — 66 and 115 (FOLSOM WENT UP FIVE PERCENT)
New Melones Lake — 85 and 139
Don Pedro — 84 and 118
San Luis Reservoir (SF) — 99 and 115
Millerton — 77 and 115 (MILLERTON WENT UP SEVEN PERCENT)
Lake McClure — 67 and 127
Pine Flat – 65 and 121 (EIGHT PERCENT)
Lake Perris — 87 and 104
Castaic Lake — 80 and 91

March 9, 2019
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity — 74 and 98
Shasta — 89 and 117 (Shasta dropped to 88 on March 10)
Oroville —- 72 and 101 (Oroville went up to 73 on March 10)
New Melones —86 and 139
Folsom — 67 and 116
Don Pedro — 85 and 118
McClure — 68 and 129
Pine flat 66 and 122
San Luis — 99 and 114
Lake Perris — 87 and 104
Castaic — 81 and 93

Wednesday, March 13 — Oroville at 74 percent and 102 historical average

March 14, 2019 (Midnight)
(First figure, capacity; second, percentage of historical average)

Trinity — 75 and 98
Shasta — 86 and 111
Lake Oroville — 75 and 103
Folsom — 65 and 108
New Melones Lake — 85 and 137
Don Pedro — 84 and 117
Lake McClure — 69 and 130
San Luis — 99 and 113
Millerton — 83 and 122
Pine Flat — 65 and 119
Lake Perris — 87 and 103
Castaic Lake — 82 and 93

“Cold War”: Not Cold Enough

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

COLD WAR received an impressive number of favorable reviews, including one from Ron Silliman, who described it as “a wonderful flic, the greatest Jerzy Koziński tale Truffaut ever filmed.” But which Koziński tale, and which Truffaut film? Koziński’s THE PAINTED BIRD is hardly acknowledged as an exemplary instance of original story-telling; as for Truffaut, I watched JULES AND JIM for about the seventh time in my life a few months ago, and would be happy to see it again in the near future. If I watch COLD WAR again, it will be because someone has paid me.

COLD WAR is a version of Romeo and Juliet, with a post-World War II division of Europe serving as the Montague and Capulet households. The problem with COLD WAR’s story is that it fails to take into account what happens to the performance troupe when its music director defects. COLD WAR makes it appear that that decision only has personal consequences, and that no one in the troupe would be held accountable or questioned. Anyone familiar with the reprehensible predations of Stalinist social control would know that life would have become quite miserable for those who in any way were associated with the defector; yet the story acts as if nothing changed for the troupe. I find this completely implausible.

The story becomes even more problematic when the obsessed lover goes to Yugoslavia, a trip I once again found difficult to believe. Why would anyone with an ounce of common sense risk exposing their well-being to the always already vengeance of a Communist dictatorship? Yes, I get the answer. “That’s how strong my love is….” Romeo risks his life, too, to see his Juliet. It’s an old story, but it does not age well in this updating.

I will concede that the final ten minutes of the film, in which the lovers — like R&J — choose death as the seal on their marriage vows, are a quietly lyrical absorption in which our consciousness as viewers mingles with the subdued, effusive lusciousness of stark imagery. The acting, cinematography, and mise-en-scene come together seamlessly under the guidance of Pawel Pawlikowski. The final two minutes, in particular, in which the lovers walk off-screen in order to see “how the river looks on the other side,” are as permeating in the memory as any conclusion I have ever seen. It’s not enough, however, to redeem the gaps in the story leading up to it. I gather it is inspired by the relationship of Pawlikoski’s parents. An account that hewed as closely as possible to their only child’s memories might well have joined “Freeze, Die, Come to Life” (Vitali Kanevsky, 1989) as a classic of the Cold War period.

For those wishing to read about the backstory:
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/in-cold-war-pawel-pawlikowski-tells-his-parents-love-story

Christopher Buckley’s “Cloud Memoir” — Thirty Years of Longer Poems

Saturday, March 9, 2019

“CLOUD MEMOIR: Selected Longer Poems 1987-20176” — Christopher Buckley
(Nacogdoches, TX: SFA Press; 2018)

Of the several hundred (probably more than a thousand, in fact) poems Christopher Buckley has written in the past half-century. I was fortunate enough to publish some of his early work in my magazine, MOMENTUM, back in the mid-1970s. Even then, my hunch was that his poetic maturation would be much like Philip Levine’s, in that Buckley was not going to achieve distinction as a young poet, but would methodically assemble a body of work featuring some of the most memorable poems of his generation. “Memorable,” however is not recuperative category, but one always already in the future tense; it is unlikely that Buckley’s full measure of accomplishment as a poet will be appreciated until his “Collected Poems” arrives on library shelves, an event that is all but certain to be forestalled by the current tsunami of ambitious young poets, too many of whom seem determined not to acknowledge anyone born between 1946 and 1960.

In contrast, Buckley has long labored to affirm the poets who guided and mentored him. In Buckley’s preface to this volume, he recollects how someone tried to deflate his expectations: “Don’t get any big ideas, kid.” It wasn’t bad advice, as such, since it’s all too easy to pretend that talent suffices to endure the contingencies of a poet’s “career.” One sees the debacles of such outcomes in the books of all too many poets: Philip Schultz, for instance, whose poems are predictably featured in anthologies of academic poets, but whose work lags far, far behind the most accomplished work of Christopher Buckley. That Schultz is an East Coast poet, and Buckley on this side of the country, is not just coincidence. Schultz could only have succeeded to the degree he has on the East Coast.

Given the disparities in the remuneration of close reading, as played out in anthologies, let’s be blunt: two of the poems in CLOUD MEMOIR that should be “automatic locks” in any anthology of contemporary poets are “October Visiting” and “Via Dolorosa: Santa Barbara, California.” I read both of these poems, on separate occasions, after opening the book at random to the pages they were on. Both poems were instances of not being able to stop reading until three pages later, nor could I find the energy to move on and read another poem, after finishing both of them. I realize it is unfashionable these days to begin commentary by admiring technique, unless you are trying to promote formalist poetics, but Buckley’s handling of enjambment is far beyond the happenstance of most working poets. In fact, Buckley is far more lyrical than Levine, especially contrasted with his final years of work. Buckley would probably demur if I were to say this in conversation with him. Nevertheless, when it comes to blending images of plants and the daily machinations of weather in a rhythm worthy of Shapiro’s definition, Buckley is the superior poet.

For those unfamiliar with Shapiro’s definition, I will reiterate: “Rhythm is the total sound of the line’s movement.” The total sound of the entire poem, of all the lines in unison, requires that the poet be attentive to the intermingling of vowels and consonants. This vigilance might be mistaken for the emotional contribution the poets makes to the lyrical impetus of the poem, but it is equally an intellectual operation. Just as the image, in Pound’s terms, must be “an intellectual and emotional complex,” rhythm must call upon a thoughtful encapsulation of the sounds being summoned from our shared vocabularies for things and ideas. In Buckley’s case, I would urge future commentators on his poetry to pay close attention to how images of walking contribute to the groundswell of images. If Buckley is able to reconcile fearlessness and vulnerability in the turbulent restraint that envelopes his poems and lures us into their secret solace as if there were always meant to be our abode as readers, it is in large part because he takes the time to let words walk, too. In the hastiness of post-modernity, such walking is most welcome. In his own way, Buckley has exemplified what it means to “learn by going where one has to go.”

The explicit existential stance in Roethke’s field guide to his psychic landscape, as well as the actual riparian one, differs in one major way from Buckley’s: Roethke is typical of too many “modern” poets in that this planet is still for all intents and purposes the center of the universe. Buckley’s poems defy this putative assumption, which lingers like an enveloping hallucination in an enormous amount of contemporary poetry. In providing personal memories of his childhood and adolescence in Santa Barbara, he is far from celebrating himself in a narcissistic manner, but rather offering us a reminder of the scale of each of our journeys within the unfathomable dimensions of this universe. It is this particular argument, and the skill with with he conducts its orchestra of images, in the recapitulation phase of his “longer” poems that distinguishes Buckley’s writing from the self-regarding, earth-bound poses of all too much contemporary poetry. These longer poems by Buckley never push themselves on the reader as didactic, and yet there is much to learn from them. The classroom you deserved to inhabit while getting educated has plenty of seats in this book. Take one.

Should you have any ability to help your local library add to its two or three shelves of contemporary poetry, here is the address you should give the librarian:
Stephen F. Austin State University Press
P.O. Box 13007 SFA Station
Nacogdoches, Texas 75962
sfpress@sfasu.edu
Distributed by Texas A&M Consortium\
tamupress.com
ISBN: 9781622882120

Other books of poetry by Christopher Buckley include:

WHITE SHIRT, University of Tampa Press, 2011
MODERN HISTORY: Prose Poems 1987-2007, Tupelo Press, 2008
FLYING BACKBONE: The Georgia O’Keeffe Poems, Blue Light Press, Fairfield, IA, 2008
AND THE SEA, The Sheep Meadow Press, New York, NY, 2006
SKY, The Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale, NY, 2004
Closer to Home: Poems of Santa Barbara: 1975-1995, Fountain Mountain Press, Orcutt , CA, 2003
Camino Cielo, Orchises Press, Alexandria, VA, 1997
A Short History of Light, Painted Hills Press, Davis, CA 1994
Dark Matter, Copper Beech Press of Brown University, Providence, R.I. 1993
Blue Autumn, Copper Beech Press of Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1990
Blossoms & Bones: On the Life and Work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1988
Dust Light, Leaves, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, TN 1986
Other Lives, Ithaca House, Ithaca, N.Y. 1985
Blue Hooks In Weather, Moving Parts Press, Santa Cruz, CA 1983
Last Rites, Ithaca House, Ithaca, N.Y. 1980

Sneak Preview – June 1-2 Long Beach Studio Tour

Monday, March 4, 2019

Linda Fry and I will be part of the 9th Biennial Long Beach Mid-City Studio Tour on June 1st and 2nd. Some of the other featured artists include Michael Stearns, Sue Ann Robinson, Slater Barron, Craig Stone, Nate Jones, John Sanders, Carol Roemer, Ho Chan, Sandy Abrams, and Connie DK Lane.

Linda and I will have our work at the Artists Co-Op (1330 Gladys Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90804).
The other nine participating artists at the Artists Coop are Katie Stubblefield, Karen McCreary, Angie Fegley, Greg Sabin, Linda Fry, Bill Mohr, Sandy Smith, Sarah Soward, Juan M. Gomez, Eliza Solorzano, and Linda Sue Price.

JUNE 1-2, 2019 | 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily

You can find representative work of all the artists participating in the tour at:

https://caryn96.wixsite.com/mysite-3

Icons of the paintings of the artists are the portal to each selection of individual work.

Penetralia

“Penetralia” — Bill Mohr (2018)

BILL MOHR
I primarily devoted myself to poetry and criticism during the past half-century, and am best known as a poet as well as an independent press publisher, editor, and literary historian. At the age of 70, however, I began to concentrate with the same kind of intensity on painting. In doing so, I proffered a variation on the title of a well-known poem by Frank O’Hara. It should be emphasized that I have not abandoned poetry, but only expanded its amplitude. The patterns that I currently seek to compress share an emotional and intellectual source with my poetry, and I hope to assemble a sequence of paintings that will give succor to whatever words might survive from all my visionary efforts and effects.

“The rational mind constantly wants to be in charge. The other parts want to fly. My painting is the encounter between the mind’s necessity for control and its yearning to fly, to be free from our ever-confining skull.” – Ed Moses

Black Horse Still Life

“Black Horse Still Life” — Linda Fry

LINDA FRY
My paintings often begin by combining images that refer to a world in which there is an unknown potential for abundance with an internal landscape of dreams, meditative states, and the comforts of home life. I develop these compositions by first assembling a collage or set of drawings. The paintings’ images reveal themselves in unexpected contexts.

I work with oil paints, watercolors, and various drawing mediums.

I received an AS Degree at Moorpark College, and a BFA in Drawing and Painting at CSULB.

My work has been shown at:
DA Gallery, Pomona
Vacant Storefront @ Gallery Expo, Long Beach
Vision Gallery, Los Angeles
Hellada Gallery, Long Beach
Artist Co-Op Gallery, Long Beach Open Studio Tour

THE LAST POETS and Spike Lee

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

THE LAST POETS: Should Christine Otten’s novel be Spike Lee’s next film?

In response to a conversation about this year’s Academy Awards, I recently wrote the following:

“I know many people are upset that “Green Book” won Best Picture instead of Spike Lee’s film. I would be more impressed with their vehemence if they were mainly upset that ROMA got robbed of the award. Yes, it won “Best Foreign Language Film,” but that’s like being elected Vice-President. Power comes from being President, and ROMA deserved Best Picture. It won for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Its lead actress gave a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, if not the award itself. The sound track of ROMA was superb; ditto the editing. It was without a doubt the Best Picture. If commentators on culture feel a need to address disparity, then where is their irritation that an actress portraying one of Great Britain’s queens (can’t get much more white, eh?) won the actress award instead of an actress coming from the indigenous ranks of Mexico?”

I would add to yesterday’s commentary that if Spike Lee wants to increase the odds for winning a Best Picture award, then he needs to do better than win a single award for a category such as screenwriting. The film that he directs will be much more likely to win if his film can secure at least two Oscars and have an actor or actress nominated as one of the five finalists for an Oscar. Even then, he may not win. ROMA didn’t win Best Picture, despite that acclaim and acknowledgement by the Academy of its superiority.

As a vehicle for Spike Lee to turn into a masterpiece of film making, I nominate the young Dutch novelist Christine Otten’s THE LAST POETS. If you haven’t read this book, then what are you waiting for? This cold weather is meant for digging into a serious, substantial rendition of a mythic moment in American poetry and popular culture.”Dig, and be dug in return.”

“Christine is a real Whitegirl. A SERIOUS DUTCH WHITEGIRL! But she’s our Whitegirl!” — Uman Bin Hassan, founding member of THE LAST POETS

Spike Lee: One Award Short

Monday, February 25, 2019

I went to Maureen Owen’s and Barbara Henning’s reading at Beyond Baroque yesterday, and was disappointed that only four people showed up to hear them. One of them was Harryette Mullen, whose collection of tanks, “URBAN TUMBLEWEED,” I reviewed on Thursday, August 11, 2016. Another person who showed up was one of my MFA students.

Giving a reading in Los Angeles at the same time that the Academy Awards is taking place is not exactly the best possible timing. A half-century ago, very few poets were involved in “The Industry,” nor did their friendships extend into that milieu. As we grow near the third decade of this century, the majority of poets in Los Angeles consider at least one person involved with corporate culture to be part of their circle of friends. For many poets in Los Angeles, it was no doubt a pleasure to see one of their own — Viggo Mortensen — who had stepped up and greatly assisted Beyond Baroque with its 50th anniversary celebration three months ago — being singled out as an actor nominated as Best Actor and singled out by the winners of Best Picture as a person who was extraordinarily responsible for the success of the film.

The disappointment of Spike Lee’s fans — not to mention the director himself — at failing to see his film win the Best Picture award will not be consoled by certain facts: as the envelope with the name of the winning film was about to be opened, the odds were significantly against “BlacKkKlansman” winning Best Picture. If you had been willing to bet a thousand dollars on the winner at that instant, you would have been foolish to bet on Lee’s film. Betters — successful bettors, that is — learn to put emotion aside. In the award tabulation leading up to the Best Picture announcement, all one had to do is keep in mind how many Oscars “BlacKkKlansman” had won: one. The reality is that in the past ten years, only one film has ever won just one Oscar, and ended up winning Best Picture (“Spotlight”).

Films that win the Best Picture award set themselves up for that triumph by having more than one aspect of its production recognized as superior to all other films. Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Actor or Actress, Best Supporting Actor or Actress. If a film does not win at least one of those categories, in addition to one other category (such as Best Original Screenplay, or Best Adapted Screenplay), then it is highly unlikely that that film is going to win Best Picture.

“Roma,” for instance won Best Director and Best Cinematographer. With those awards in mind, is it any surprise at all that it won Best Foreign Language Film? Of course not.

If one had had a thousand dollars to bet in the half-minute leading up to Best Picture announcement last night, one would have been smart to bet on either “Roma” or “Green Book.” “Green Book” had also won a pair of Oscars (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor), and so the historical trend would favor one of those two films. The historical trend is also that no film that wins Best Foreign Film also wins Best Picture. So… betting with your brains, instead of your emotions, the likelihood is that “Green Book” would be the winner. And your thousand bucks is remunerated handsomely!

One reporter for the Los Angeles Times called “Green Book” the worst film to win Best Picture in the past ten years. The problem with decrying the portrayal of race relations in “Green Book” and conflating that critique with an institutional award is ignoring one basic fact: Spike Lee’s film was not acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Pictures as the best directed, nor did it feature the best actor or actress, nor the best supporting actor or actress; nor did deserve the award — according to the Academy — for the best scenery, or costumes, or sound score, or editing.

If it had won in just one additional category, then it would have been much more likely to have won Best Picture. I have a suggestion for Mr. Lee, and it is a book that could enable him to win not only the Best Adapted Screenplay award, but prove to be a vehicle that will elicit statuettes for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and — of course, with the odds favoring a multi-award winner — Best Picture.

Tomorrow, I will open the envelope and name that book. If anyone who reads my blog knows Mr. Lee, please pass on my suggestion tomorrow. I would really like to see him win an armful of Oscars.

The “Cosmic Prisms” of Maureen Owen – and Other Beyond Baroque Events

I hope that the praise of one of my favorite poets, Sean Thomas Daugherty, will encourage you to attend Maureen Owen’s reading at Beyond Baroque tomorrow, Feb. 24, at 4:00 p.m.: “(Maureen Owen’s) prose poems are like cosmic prisms.” Fearlessly absorbing and enfolding the complex instances of what makes this day different from all others, Owens indeed summons the prisms lurking in muted harmony within the apparently ordinary, and makes them sing. Her gift extends beyond that, though: she makes us want to sing along, and find those harmonies in our own lives, too.

Owen’s reading will culminate a particularly fine set of readings at Beyond Baroque. On Friday, several translators of contemporary Italian poetry celebrated “Those Who from Afar Look Like Flies,” an anthology of poems by such figures as Pasolini, Majorino, Pagliarani, Rosselli, Sanguineti, and Zanzotto. Saturday’s reading included Brenda Hillman, who would certainly get a hearty round of applause from me if it were announced that she has been appointed the next poet laureate of California by Governor Newsom.

Upcoming events at Beyond Baroque include weekends with the following combinations:

MARCH 8 FRIDAY 8:00 PM: POETRY READING HAPTICS, WITH STEPHEN VINCENT AND DOUGLAS MESSERLI
MARCH 10 SUNDAY 1:00 PM: JACK GRAPES & RICHARD JONES
AND AT 5:00 PM: JIM NATAL & DOROTHY BARRESI

MARCH 15 FRIDAY 8:00 PM: JEFF MCMAHON SIX MONOLOGUES

MARCH 16 SATURDAY 4:00 PM: BEYOND SPANISH
Poetry in Basque, Catalan, Galician and Spanish with Josu Baque, Mónica Comas Rodríguez, Jennifer Holmes, Unai Nafarrate, Jurgio Valinhas and Mariano Zaro. Sponsored by the Education Office of the Consulate General of Spain. FREE

MARCH 16 SATURDAY 8:00 PM: OVERPOPULATION & ART
S.A. Griffin’s 65 birthday party will feature a performance of John Cage’s “Overpopulation and Art.”

Maureen Owen Reads at Beyond Baroque on Sunday, the 24th

Thursday, February 21, 2019

in the early 1970s, I cast my lot with poets outside of the academy, and it is a pleasure to announce that one of the kindred spirits I most admire in the independent press movement will be reading at Beyond Baroque this coming Sunday, February 24, starting at 4 p.m. Maureen Owen is one of the twenty most important poet-editors of the past half-century, and she has been accompanied by poet and fiction writer Barbara Henning for a little over a month on a cross-country reading tour. A blog of their trip, which launched itself with a reading in Brooklyn, New York on January 18th, can be found at: http://barbarahenning.com/category/maureenowen/

I first encountered a substantial selection of Owen’s work in the 1970s, in issue number five of a magazine called BIG DEAL, and have often wondered why she is not as prominent as some other poets associated with one phase or another of the “New York School.” She certainly did an extraordinary amount of heroic work in the community of poets in the Lower East Side.
Steve Clay’s extraordinary documentary survey of independent presses is the best and most easily accessible source for beginning to appreciate the accomplishments of Maureen Owen as an editor and publisher.

Telephone

However, her own collections of poetry are even more deserving of our attention. Her most recent book, EDGES OF WATER, is from Chax Press in Arizona, a project that its founder Charles Alexander has made one of the outstanding literary publishers in the United States. Other books include AMERICAN RUSH: Selected Poems(Talisman House, 1998), which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize; and Erosion’s Pull (Coffee House, 2006).

Barbara Henning’s books include four novels as well as collections of poetry, the most recent one being A DAY LIKE THIS (Negative Capability, 2015).

For an extended interview with Maureen Owen, I recommend the following:

In Conversation With Maureen Owen

Brooks Roddan, Poet and Painter

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I mentioned recently (“One Blog Leads to Another”) how Brooks Roddan has recently been devoting himself to painting, rather than writing. In his blog, Roddan comments on the differences in his imaginative perceptions, and found that he articulated exactly why I, too, have been making the same transition. Here, for instance, is his entry from August 4, 2019:

“There’s something about painting I just can’t wait to get to, and something about writing I just can’t wait to get away from.
Painting, I don’t know what I’m doing, I have no master and so I’m no slave. Writing is a different story.
Finishing up two paintings today, free handing them both, not worrying whether or not I was staying between the lines, as there were no lines, I could feel myself lifting up out of myself and into the realm of a creative act. 
Toward the end of the making of each painting I started talking to myself, liking what I was hearing enough to begin to write it down, crawling back to the writing table in service to words.”
(“Two Paintings, Zero Writing”)

If there are other poets who wish to expand their artistic practice in a similar manner, I would urge them to fortify their motivations by reading some of Roddan’s other posts on painting:

Monday, September 17, 2018
http://ifsfpublishing.squarespace.com/pub-news/2018/9/17/brooks-roddan-painter.html

November 29, 2018 “Painting stained glass stairs”

In the entry for Saturday, December 22, 2018, Roddan shares some aphorisms from his jottings on the subject. Two of my favorites are:

“abstract expressionism is the garage band of contemporary art”

“weird how when i’m painting, as i’m doing now and doing more and more of, the solution is always to use more paint, as opposed to writing in which the solution is always, always to use fewer words”

Anyone who is attending the AWP conference in Portland at the end of March who would like a break from the incessant chatter about poetry and fiction should drop by table 10067, where Brooks and I will be glad to talk with you about painting, as well as some of the books that IF SF has recent published, including Thomas Fuller’s “The Classical World.”