As Is (Anthropocene Eggshell…)

As Is (Anthropocene Eggshell; or The Post-Pod Detritus Blues)

Anthropocene- 1999

Bolinas Visitation: Ellen Sander’s HAWTHORNE (Finishing Line Press)

Bolinas Arrow - 1996

I have only visited Bolinas once, back in the summer of 1996; it was part of a five-day trip north that included a visit to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. I was preparing for my time as a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute in the Fall, and wanted to take a look at the archives of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights. There was also an exhibit at the library; a fair-sized room presented, in well-secured glass cases, a representative collection of materials of Beat writers. In all of the placards explaining the Beat movement to the visitors, the only scenes mentioned were in the Bay Area and Greenwich Village. There was not a single citation of Venice West. It was typical of the period to obliterate Venice West from any account of the Beat movement during the mid-century.

When I finished my work at the library, I rode out to Bolinas with Ellen Sander, a poet who had lived there for many years. First known as the one of the first — if not the very first — significant female rock critic, Ellen Sander went on to become the poet laureate of Belfast, Maine a few years ago. Finishing Line Press published her account of her home in Bolias and its place in the artistic community: Hawthorne, A House in Bolinas.

Hawthorne, a House in Bolinas by Ellen Sander

I had first heard of Bolinas in the very early 1970s as a place where poets had taken refuge from the chaos of New York City. As the century wore on, the poetry traffic between Los Angeles and Bolinas was probably among the most unusual circulations in American literary history; the best anthology to contextualize this exchange is the one I worked on with Neeli Cherkovski, Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. No other book brings together poets who have shared the same eco-cultural domains as a matter of positive freedom. In addition to Ellen Sander, I am thinking of Joe Safdie (who moved from Los Angeles to Bolinas, and now has moved back down the coast — to San Diego), as well as Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna and Lewis MacAdams, who both eventually moved from Bolinas to Los Angeles.

Should you want a poet’s take on the Bolinas scene, you should definitely set aside time to read Kevin Opstedal’s article in Big Bridge, “Dreaming As One.”

http://www.bigbridge.org/bolinas.htm.

It is an incredibly substantial and detailed account of a community of the famous (Robert Creeley, Bobbie Louise Hawkins; the Jefferson Airplane) and the obscure (Jack Boyce), all of whom made this backwater a major harbor of imagination’s counterpoints. Each of the eighteen segments has a set of photographs to give the reader some glimmer of the youthfulness of this scene.

There were other circulations north and south, too. About the same time that poets were moving to Bolinas from New York City, Stuart Z. Perkoff moved north and spent two productive years in Northern California. John Thomas, on the other hand, had moved back from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, though he did not then settle back in Venice, but in the Echo Park area, where he became friends with Charles Bukowski and mentored a young poet named Wanda Coleman. There is another anthology yet to be assembled, where the poets of Bolinas, who appeared in a collection entitled On the Mesa, edited by Joel Weishaus (City Lights, 1971) intermingle with those of Cross-Strokes.

Bolinas - Pink Flowers

Bolinas Mural

Ron Silliman and Rae Armantrout Reading Together – San Diego/New York

One of the benefits of attending UCSD is that the reading series there is not the usual academic menu. I remember in particular readings by Rae Armantrout, Ron Padgett, Dennis Cooper, Edwin Torres, Elizabeth Alexander, Mary Jo Bang, Michael Heller, Kit Robinson, and Barrett Watten. Paul Naylor. I recollect, read a series of poems he had been working on about flowers and gardens, which he had started in the summer of 2001. There were daily entries, and when he got to September 11, the poem was very brief.

“There will never be enough flowers.”

I remember the sense of quiet beneath some ultimate quiet slithering through the room, then twanging like that distant string in one of Chekhov’s plays.

On another occasion, in San Diego, Ron Silliman and Rae Armantrout read together, though I remember the reading having Ron as the featured poet and he invited Rae to read a piece they had collaborated on. Joseph Ross gave the introduction, and then sat down in the front row next to the poet Stephen Cope, who would go on to edit a volume of George Oppen’s writings. I’m not sure if Ron’s blog had even started at this point, and Rae was still working as an adjunct professor at UCSD. I would have the good fortune to be her T.A. for one quarter before I graduated in 2004. All three of our lives have changed considerably since the evening of that reading.

I was inspired, in part, to run these photographs in my blog because I noticed recently that Ron and Rae are reading in New York in two months.

https://as.nyu.edu/cwp/reading-series.html

Thursday. October 18 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Rae Armantrout and Ron Silliman
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 W 10th Street, New York, NY

If you’re in the vicinity, and you’re old enough to realize that many poets younger than you might need a little reminder in the midst of their whirligig lives, then do the right thing, and make certain they don’t neglect this chance to hear two of America’s finest poets.

Ron-Rae-Joe Ross

Ron-Rae-SD-1

Ron-Rae-SD-3

Ron-Rae-SD-5

Ron-Rae-SD-2

Ron-Rae-SD-4

Call Box Sunset

August 28, 2018

I taught fiction writing at Idyllwild Arts for 20 consecutive summers (1995-2014). One evening, on the way down towards Banning and Beaumont, I pulled to the side of the road and caught the last notch of the day’s switchbacks. I used a disposable camera to take this sequence; the third shot is probably the “best” in that the bolts that attach the sign to the pole (under the “e” and above the hyphen) play off against the red dot of the sun; and of course the call box itself is visible, too. The bottom to top diagonal goes way back as a compositional element, of course, and if it seems old-fashioned, so be it. I take it as a compliment.

Call Box Sunset-1

Call Box Sunset-2

Call Box Sunset-3

Stylus to the Stars (a photographic triptych)

August 28, 2018

“Stylus to the Stars”

I hope the pun in the title is obvious enough. “What do you dislike in particular?” John Lennon was once asked. “Slow people,” he responded. I’m not sure that I would have been sufficiently up to speed for him or his friends, but even so, I can sympathize with his disdain.

I dedicate this sequence of photographs to Jamie Lund, who knows how hard it is to cut the hair of a diva-wannabe.

Stylus to the Stars

Stylus - No. 2

Stylus to the Stars - 3

(copyright (c) Bill Mohr, 2018. All right reserved.

Beyond Baroque in 1998: The 30th Anniversary Rededication Candlelight Walk (Photographs)

Beyond Baroque in 1998

Twenty years ago, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California celebrated its 30th anniversary. Founded in a storefront on West Washington Blvd. by George Drury Smith as the headquarters for his nascent publishing project, Beyond Baroque magazine, the project had spawned a weekly poetry workshop, free and open to the public, that still meets on Wednesday evening, a reading series that has featured some of the most famous poets in the United States (Philip Levine, Mark Strand, John Ashbery, Amy Gerstler) as well as fiction writers, such as Charles Baxter. Under the direction of Alexandra Garrett, Beyond Baroque cultivated a superb library of small press publications, and it still operates a bookstore that can provide any young writer with a chance to peruse books not easily found at Barnes and Noble.

Beyond Baroque will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on November 10th with an extraordinary evening of featured artists, but before I write in this blog about this upcoming event, I first want to share with you some photographs I took of the evening on which poets recommitted themselves to this project. The president and artistic director of Beyond Baroque at that time, Fred Dewey, and I had come up with the idea of holding a brief pilgrimage to mark the 30th anniversary, and so we gathered at the Old Venice City Hall, lit some candles and walked up to West Washington, which now goes by the name of Abbott Kinney.

CandleWalk - BB30

The storefront in which Beyond Baroque operated was the first floor of one of the taller buildings on West Washington. The lot to the south was empty and used only in a minimal manner as a boat building and repair lot; it is occupied by a popular specialty. restaurant, Lemonade. This first picture focuses on George Drury Smith, and it appears that he is gazing offstage at road taken, and retaken, mulling over the changes on Venice Blvd. as we made the 12 minute walk. Just over his shoulder is Harry Northup, and he is facing Frances Dean Smith, one of the first members of the Wednesday night poetry workshop, founded by John Harris and Joseph Hansen.

GDS - BB - 30

This next photograph features John Harris, wearing a blue cap; he is obviously enjoying the company of Barry Simons, who gave several memorable readings at The Bridge on the other side of town in the early 1970s; since Frances Dean Smith could hardly afford the services of a babysitter in the early to mid-1960s, she often brought her daughter, Marina Bukowski, to this very room to listen to poets who now regard Ellyn Maybe (dark hair, blue pullover), the only one of this quartet still alive, as a writer who has truly honored their legacy with her vivacious poetry.

Haris - FDS - BB30

Holly Prado and Harry Northup, who met as a result of Harry reading FEASTS, the first major success I had with Momentum Press in the 1970s, are talking with George Drury Smith in the next photograph.

Holly - Harry - GDS - BB30

Ellyn and Frances again:

Ellyn - FSM -- BB30

John Thomas and Philomene Long drove from the Old Venice City Hall to the original site. John Thomas’s eponymous first book of poem had an extraordinary influence on the first generation of Beyond Baroque workshop poets.

John - Philomene - BB30

David James, on the far left, read his poems on a Friday evening in 1974 with me as the other featured poet. It must be said that David’s poems were far better received than mine were, as they should have been Although he eventually concentrated on film criticism, his poems are still a crucial contribution to my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).

David James - BB30

And now for some “cameo” photographs of other poets in attendance:

BB - 30 - CAMEO-1

BB - 30 - CAMEO2

BB -30 - CAMEO3

(All photographs (c) copyright Bill Mohr. Permission required to reproduce or disseminate these photographs in a form or medium.)

Cargo Ship: Auto Body Shop as Port of Departure

At the beginning of last month (the morning after Rod Bradley’s rooftop celebration of the Fourth of July), I took our 20 year old Oldsmobile in for a paint job. The car had become an eye-sore with its peeling paint, and the month before I had swung by a place recommended by Jim and Jose at Herb and Red’s Auto Repair. We had set up an appointment for its refurbishment, and with extra money coming in from teaching a summer course, this long delayed project was finally on the verge of happening. While waiting for the owner, Andy, to check on another job in progress, I wandered around his shop and checked out other cars that were being stored or worked on. An image that seemed like an outtake from the dream journals of Bruce Conner caught my eye, and and asked Andy if I could take a photo of the interior of one of the cars parked inside his shop. Go right ahead, he said.

The image has not been photoshopped or altered in any way. I took it with my cell-phone, which is an old “flip-top” model. In other words, a quite rudimentary casual device. I have heard that these telephones are so “old-fashioned” now that they have acquired a retro, hip popularity. In my case, I simply have been too busy to devote time to mastering the intricacies of a more advanced model.

Cargo - Andy's Paint Shop

“Cargo Ship” (c) copyright Bill Mohr, 2018.

“Lawrence IN Arabia”: A Centenary Backwards Gaze

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I have a stack of books of poetry I will soon begin listing and making some comments on, but first I want to encourage anyone concerned with the ongoing conflicts at the eastern rim of the Mediterranean Sea to read Lawrence in Arabia, the subtitle of which proves to be the thematic summary of the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution. Although this year marks the centenary of the final year of World War I, I have been struck by how little commentary seems to mark this juncture. World War I apparently has as little presence in the lives of present-day American citizens as the Napoleonic Wars. Anderson’s subtitle, “War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern East,” instructs us to reconsider our indifference. The consequences of World War I, after all, are more turbulent than ever. The decision of President Trump’s administration, for instance, to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a choice made possible because of the cast of characters who epitomize the drama of Anderson’s scintillating, extraordinarily acute, and easy to follow narrative.

The primary advantage of Anderson’s book in examining the historical origins of the current multi-national crisis in the Middle East is that people other than T.E. Lawrence are as equally vivid as the book’s titular, best known protagonist. I have a hunch that this book’s capacious point of view was the inspiring triggering point in the dinner conversation with his editor Bill Thomas that Anderson mentions in his acknowledgements. As one reads about the lives of the Zionist agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn, a German spy named Curt Prufer, and the American agent for Standard Oil, William Yale, in Lawrence in Arabia, one begins to comprehend the ground-level simultaneity of global economic and political determinations with local aspirations for identity with land and its layers of ritual knowledge and daily enactments. Anderson’s book is an archeology of a volcanic eruption in the modern ear of human civilizations; our imaginations have faltered in the past in coming to terms with that epic event. With wit and precise detail, Anderson makes it all seem as if it were being told for the first time. Even those who believe they are familiar with this particular front of “imperial folly” will finish this book with a renewed ambivalence about whose claims to self-rule have any substantial legitimacy outside of self-interest.

Tom Clark (Poet; Editor; Biographer): R.I.P.

Tom Clark (March 1, 1941 – August 18, 2018)

No sooner had I finished a draft of yesterday’s blog post than I learned of Tom Clark’s death. I had known that Frank Rios was dying, for it was a great disappointment a week earlier to everyone gathered at KCET’s video recording for the Venice West segment of “Lost Los Angeles” that Frank was not well enough to attend the shoot. Clark, though, was killed as a result of being a hapless pedestrian in an area of Berkeley regarded by automobile drivers as their privileged domain. The abruptness of his passing has shocked his many admirers and friends.

Along with Ted Berrigan, James Schuyler, and Peter Schjeldahl, Clark was one of the leading influences from various strands of the New York School of Poets and their poetic progeny on the Los Angeles scenes between 1978 and 1985. Certainly his poem, “Baseball and Classicism” was among the favorites of AIB (Artists Interested in Baseball), an informal group of poets and artist friends who attended Dodger baseball games as a group back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Baseball and Classicism”
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47076/baseball-and-classicism

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_clmt.shtml

The best two commentaries I can pass on to you at this moment are Terence Winch’s commentary and Erik Noonan’s long article in Tupelo Quarterly.

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2018/08/tom-clark-try-to-look-upon-death-as-a-friend-terence-winch.html

A Calmer Unease: Tom Clark’s Truth Game

Noonan’s article is long and substantial enough to catch the average reader off-guard, if only because so few poets receive an in-depth consideration of their books in the 21st century. Clark taught at the New College of California for many years, and it’s possible that Noonan’s critique reflects his appreciation for Clark’s work as a teacher and mentor.

Clark’s literary efforts were fairly comprehensive. In addition to poetry, he wrote biographies of several other poets (Edward Dorn; Charles Olson; Ted Berrigan; Jack Kerouac, and Robert Creeley) and a fair amount of reviews. He was one of the few critics outside of Los Angeles to pay attention to the poets in the scenes here back in the 1980s. Not only was he one of the very first to take notice of Amy Gerstler, but he also had considerable praise for another much under-appreciated project, Peter Schneider’s Illuminati Press. My guess is that Clark will be the subject of more than one biography. He certainly will be a presence in many other biographies, if only as an antagonist who made it clear that poetry was a matter of serious gambling: one is playing for the whole casino. Nothing less is on the table. The fact that Clark grew up in the Midwest, attended college in Michigan, and was then a major presence in New York City in the early 1970s and Bolinas, California in subsequent decades will enable Clark’s biographers to work with a shifting backdrop of landscape and cultural horizons. It is a tempting project.

Frank T. Rios — Venice West Poet (March 22, 1936 – August 20, 2018)

Frank T. Rios, a poet who joined the Venice West poetry scene in the late 1950s and remained one of its most loyal advocates, died early this morning, at age 82, according to his friend, the poet S.A. Griffin. Rios was born in New York and grew up there; he moved to Los Angeles in the early months of 1959, where he found kindred spirits, such as Stuart Z. Perkoff and Tony Scibella, who guided his unflinching imagination towards lyrical epiphanies that eventually appeared in collections of poems such as Memoirs of a Street Poet. By turns, the Venice West scene was both contumaciously avant-garde and nostalgically archaic. In the latter manner, their brotherhood of effusive devotion to the Lady, the muse from whom they fervently believed that all of their work flowed, evoked a kind of romantic poetics that one would hardly expect of young poets whose ideological proclivities were more influenced by the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s than the Beat poetics of Kerouac and company.

Perkoff (1930-1974) celebrated their comic confrontation with the straight world in a long poem shortly after Rios and Scibella teamed up with him to rule the Venice Boardwalk.

almost every day frankie & tony & i
three stooge it down the beach into the world
on the sharp lookout for
poems & dope & love &
colors reflecting off the laughter

.. . . .

We’ll water pistol ‘em
We’ll seltzer bottle ‘em

The Venice West scene became well enough known by the late 1950s that Donald Allen, the editor of this past century’s most influential anthology, The New American Poetry, referred to it without feeling any need to demarcate its location. It was, in point of fact, a nationally known Beat scene, largely because Lawrence Lipton had devoted himself to publicizing all of its most transgressive aspects in a book entitled The Holy Barbarians (1959). The scene’s origins never quite recovered, even though other poets showed up to bolster the ranks of those devoted to remaining outside the clutches of literary acclaim. It must be said that the surviving poets of Venice West never relented in championing underground poets; Rios, for instance, was one of the major forces behind Black Ace books, which produced several issues of a magazine that embedded younger poets in their provocative utopia.

There are very few people from that scene who still remember Frank T. Rios, but a whole new generation of readers was introduced to him a few years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Rios gave a very fine reading of his poems. He announced that his usual ritual of burning a poem before beginning a reading almost caused him to decline the museum’s invitation to read his poems underneath the classic mural from the old Venice Post Office. At the last minute, he said, the Muse instructed him that he would be exempt this one time, and be allowed to tear up a poem and scatter the pieces wherever they may flutter. He did so, and then read with as solid an intonation of heart-beleaguered vision as I have ever been fortunate to overhear. As Rios intoned his poems, they were already on their way elsewhere: a double journey of time and eternity that only those blessed by the Muse are permitted to record.

About the same time as Rios read at the LACMA, the museum also mounted the first production of Stuart Z. Perkoff’s one-act play, “Round Bout Midnite,” which was directed by S.A. Griffin. If anyone in Los Angeles is attuned to the impact that Venice West had on younger poets such as Scott Wannberg and Ellyn Maybe, it would be Griffin, who has sent me the following tribute: “Frank was truly one of the greats, the real deal, committed heart and soul to his wife Joyce, his sobriety and the Lady muse until the last. An inspiration for us all as we carry on in process.”

Frank T. Rios is survived by his widow, Joyce Castagnola, as well as his first wife, Carolyn, and their two daughters, Prima and Zana.

Farewell, Frank. Your poems remain mid-flight.

POSTSCRIPT:

For those who never heard Frank T. Rios talk about his life in Venice West, here is a link to some tapes produced at KCET:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/beat-poet-frank-rios-the-holy-three

For the record, some of the other poets of the Venice West scene were Bruce Boyd, whose poems appeared in Allen’s anthology along with Stuart Z. Perkoff’s major poem, “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love”; Charley Newman; Saul White; John Thomas; Maurice Lacy; Bob Alexander (the founder of the Temple of Man); Eileen Aronson Ireland; Bill Margolis; Jimmy Ryan Morris; and Barbara Bratton. As significant as this scene was, it probably constituted less than twenty percent of the total activity focused on poetry in that decade in Los Angeles.