Ed Smith — L.A.’s Droll Punk Poet

Tuesday, June 11

This coming Saturday, June 15th, Beyond Baroque will host a book launch for a collection of writing by Ed Smith, whose work appeared in such magazines as Jim Kruose’s Santa Monica REVIEW and Jack Skelly’s BARNEY, in addition to being featured in my 1985 anthology, POETRY LOVES POETRY. Smith’s archive is located at New York University, and I remember reading some of the pages from his journals when I was doing research at its special collections. I had always admired Smith’s poetry. I knew exactly where Tim’s Bunnies was located on my book shelves, though other volumes by more famous poets were packed away in a storage shed.

The ensemble of writers, poets and literary commentators who will be gathering at Beyond Baroque to celebrate Smith’s life and book is remarkable. All of us who care about the preservation of L.A.’s literary history should make an effort to pay tribute not only to Ed Smith, but to his editor David Trinidad, whose meticulous research has assembled a volume that will interest anyone who is curious about the ambiguous domains of popular culture, art, and poetry.


Turtle Point Press’s publicity statement:

LA’s Punk Poet Ed Smith blazed onto the Los Angeles poetry scene in the early ’80s from the hardcore punk scene. The charismatic, nerdy young man hit home with his funny/scary, off-the-cuff-sounding poems. Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith brings together Smith’s published books, unpublished poems, excerpts from his extensive notebooks, photos, and ephemera. Come celebrate the irreverent, tweetable, ludicrous, painful, wondrous work of this “punk Dorothy Parker” with Jim Krusoe, Michael Silverblatt, David Trinidad, Amy Gerstler, Bill Mohr, Sheree Rose, Bruce Hainley, Jack Skelley, Benjamin Weissman, and Jane DeLynn.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Saturday, June 15
5 p.m.

On War and Disarmament

June 7, 2019

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the landing at Normandy. (The anniversary of the landing at Anzio was hardly noted, as far as I can tell. Quick quiz: name the most famous literary character to take part in that debacle?)

It seemed very odd to have a president at that ceremony whose only protest against the War in Vietnam consisted of his concern to avoid military service. Of course, that would also be more or less be the case if his main opponent in the 2016 election had won instead.

But this is not the most depressing aspect of the current push to expand this country’s military might, all in preparation for another major global conflict. The sad fact is that even the most liberal of the current political candidates have made only the most tepid of commitments to fielding a policy built on the following premise:

A military is strong only in proportion to its capacity to engage in comprehensive disarmament.

I keep getting “personal” e-mail requests from Democratic candidates to support their party. Why should I feed the War Machine, which enjoys feeding at their trough just as much as it does at Trump’s?

Richard Beban – Paris May 31st

Friday, May 31st

It is 8:45 a.m. in Long Beach, California. “June gloom” has gotten off to an early start this year; the Memorial Day weekend in L.A. County included rain. In the quiet of the neighborhood’s morning, I find myself thinking of the poet Richard Beban, for whom a memorial service was held in Paris today by his spouse and fellow poet, Kaaren Kitchell. At this point, she is gathering with all who loved Richard to finish the day of mourning with a special ceremony. I have cut and pasted below the information that I have found on it, should anyone want to join in spirit with this memorial procession.

Richard’s Memorial Celebration at Père Lachaise
#richardbeban #memorial #ceremony # #tributetorichard #thankyoukareen #soulconnection
“C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante” Antoine de St Exupéry
Richard’s Memorial Celebration at Père Lachaise
#richardbeban #memorial #ceremony # #tributetorichard #thankyoukareen #soulconnection

I am taking the liberty to quote Kaaren’s account of a small, but telling encounter in the aftermath of Richard’s death. It seems appropriate that the “light” of a poet being quoted should have been the “rendezvous” that has strengthened her in the ordeal of grief.

Our thoughts radiate to Paris, and to Kaaren and her dearest companion, now enfolded in the tenderness of memory.

“The light on Richard’s side of the bed went out. It wasn’t the bulb, which I replaced. It was the lamp itself. I took it to an electrical appliances store on Blvd Henri IV. The electrician who fixed it in ten minutes quoted Paul Eluard to me. “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas de hasard, rien que des rendezvous.” This city of beauty and light that Richard loved so deeply enfolds me in its arms. He goes with me everywhere I go now.” — Kaaren Kitchell

Long Beach’s Biennial MidCity Studio Tour (and Femmebit in DTLA)

Long Beach, California — A Celebration of Painters and Sculptors

This city was a very important contributor to the poetry renaissance that took place in Los Angeles County between 1970 and 1985. One of the ways, in fact, that Northern California and Southern California mirrored each other’s poetry scenes is that both the Bay Area (San Francisco; Berkeley; Oakland; Bolinas) and Los Angeles (Venice; Ocean Park; East Hollywood; West Los Angeles; Hermosa Beach; Long Beach) had their “local” communities. In southern Los Angeles County, the Chelsea Bookstore was one of the places that any serious non-academic poet had to read it at some point.

Despite the best efforts of Gatsby Bookstore to make an equivalent contribution, the poetry scene in Long Beach is on a decidedly quiet scale this century. However, visual artists have begun edging out into local prominence in the past couple years, and anyone in this area who is curious has an exceptional chance to do a comprehensive survey this coming weekend.

Long Beach’s MID-CITY STUDIO TOUR (MCST), a biennial event, is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and June 2. See the following link for addresses of all the studios.
Artists include: Slater Barron, Sue Ann Robinson, Katie Stubblefield, Marka Burns, Sarah Soward, Michael Stearns, Connie DK Lane, Craig Cree Stone, Linda Fry, Ho Chan, Carol Roemer, Juan Gomez, Cynthia Evans, and many more (in addition to Mohr).


For those in Los Angeles County for whom Long Beach is too far to drive, I would recommend another celebration of artists this weekend: FEMMEBIT, in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles).


When: Friday, May 31, 6pm–2am; Saturday, June 1, 11:30 am–2am; Sunday, June 2, 11:30am–8pm
Where: Civic Center Studios (207 S. Broadway, Suite 1, Downtown, Los Angeles)

Curated by Sharsten Plenge, Dahn Gim, and Kate Parsons, this exhibition includes the work of over 50 women working in sound and light art, as well as various kinds of projective media. The absence of Audri Phillips from this weekend’s exhibit is a serious omission.

A Festival of Innovative Tech Art from 75-Plus Women Artists in Los Angeles

“Native Country of the Heart” — Cherrie Moraga

“The Shortlist” column in this past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review section concentrated on a quartet of family memoirs: “The Known, the Secret, the Forgotten” by Joan Wheeler (Norton); “Lost without the River” by Barbara Hofbeck Scoblic (She Writes Press); “The Donigers of Great Neck: A Mythologized Memoir” by Wendy Doniger (Brandeis University); and “Native Country of the Heart” by Cherrie Moraga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The reviewer least enjoyed Scoblic’s “oral-history-turned chronicle” of the author’s family; while the depictions of rural life in South Dakota have “charm,” the final sentence of Hoffman’s assessment suggests a petulant weariness awaits any potential reader: “Those who aren’t kin might feel they’ve already stayed too long at the reunion.” Perhaps the length of the book contributed to the reviewer’s grouchy impatience to get back to his own life; the book is the longest of the four under consideration. Nevertheless, I am eager to take a look at Scoblic’s sketches of the upper midwest. I wish the reviewer had remembered that having “kinship” to this environment is not restricted to a matter of birthplace.

Doniger’s memoir suggests that even though a memoir is very different from an autobiography, in that the former concentrates on one central trope or theme while the latter embraces the entire trajectory of one’s life, both are dependent on recitation. The memories are not spontaneous, but have been carefully rehearsed. “My story exists along a continuum from the factual to the mythological. We do not remember the past; we remember our memories of the past.” The reviewer’s attraction to this theory of self-portraiture is understandable; it is, after all, our memories of other people’s lives that give a memoir or autobiography a profound three-dimensionality. (One definition that I have long offered to students is that an interesting autobiography is little more than interwoven biographies of the narrator’s most intense relationships. In fact, an autobiography could contain relatively little direct detail about the author’s feelings, and still be a compelling, intimate self-portrait, if it is honest about the impact of the lives on others on the author.) Of the two books set in California, I have only read Moraga’s, in part because I have admired her writing ever since I met her in the mid-1970s. Her first published poem appeared in an issue of RARA AVIS magazine, in which I also had a poem. Indeed, her play “Shadow of a Man” is one of my favorite works to include on a syllabus. I wish I could have taught it more often, but that is the problem with teaching both creative writing and literature on the undergraduate and graduate level.

Moraga gave the Helena Maria Viramontes Lecture several weeks ago at CSU Long Beach, and in the course of talking about her memoir, she asked the audience to consider a question that is not that easy to answer: “How do we decolonize ourselves?” My initial response was that any process that begins with a recitation of a memory is a false start. Moraga’s “Native Country” avoids that particular cul-de-sac by embedding her family’s entanglements with race, class, and cultural identity within the extraordinary uncertainty of her own setting off into a literary life. Each page of her book retains a touch of that distant impetuosity. If you should feel discouraged at your prospects, set aside your travails for the moment, and recover your balance by listening to Moraga’s passionate wisdom.

Lawrence Lipton Tape Archive of Venice West at USC

Friday, May 17, 2019

“The Lost Sounds of Venice West”

I first heard of Lawrence Lipton’s archives when I read John Maynard’s VENICE WEST, the first monograph to study the emergence of a Beat-influenced community of poets and artists in Southern California. Lipton was a poet, novelist, and cultural commentator who became most famous for a best-selling, non-fiction book, The Holy Barbarians (1959). His literary archive ended up being divided between two institutions: UCLA, which has most of his manuscripts and correspondence; and USC (the University of Southern California), which has had a trove of ever more fragile, reel-to-reel tape recordings in its special collection vaults for several decade. The correspondence at UCLA, especially the exchange of letters between Kenneth Rexroth and Lipton, is essential background reading for anyone working on West Coast poetry at mid-century. The tape recordings provide an even more compelling survey of the cultural environment of Southern California at that time.

For scholars, as well as afficianandoes of the Venice West scene, the wonderful news is that many of the most pertinent tapes have been digitized and are now available for listening on-line. Bill Dotson’s article about this archival development and our expanded access to this material will give you a better idea of its importance than anything I have time to write at the present moment.

Here is a link to “The Lost Sounds of Venice West,” Bill Dotson’s announcement:

You can explore / browse / listen to the collection from this page here: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15799coll108

In addition to Bill Dotson, I especially want to acknowledge the work done by Claude Zachary, special collections librarian at USC, for their support of this project.

Post-Memorial Service Thoughts

Saturday, May 11, 2019

I have just returned from the memorial service for Jessie Bingaman, which was held at Bixby Park at 3:30 p.m., and attended by about 80 people. It is not for me to repeat in detail what I learned about her life or the extraordinary qualities of personal intgrity and compassion that she possessed. I will leave that process of discovery up to you. I am, however, able to say that only now am I beginning to realize how grievous a loss our neighborhood has suffered.

I would note that a representative of the Long Beach Police Department spoke at the memorial service, and he claimed that serious conversations were taking place in the department in the aftermath of this event. He seemed sincere when he said that the LBPD was willing to listen to anyone in the community who was affected by this event.

I would suggest that transparency would be a good place to start. According to my understanding of California law, the Long Beach Police Department bears no financial responsibility whatsoever for the consequences of this police pursuit. Since there is no chance of legal action, then why not hold a public forum in which the process of apprehending a criminal suspect is presented and discussed by the entire neighborhood?

My guess is that the LBPD has no interest in changing anything, however. They hope that our neighborhood will be mollified with a report that conversations are taking place. It doesn’t suffice, as far as I’m concerned.

At the staging area for Jessie Bingaman’s memorial service, there was an enlarged photograph of her sitting in meditation. The back of her T-shirt read, with a humor befitting her journey of enlightenment as well as her professional passion:

And then we pick it up.

I will let you figure out the punch line yourself.

Sunday, May 12, 2019 — Postscript:


“Police Pursuit” and the Death of My Neighbor (Part One)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

“Do we let someone just run away?”

JB - May 7, 2019

This past Tuesday, shortly before noon, the Long Beach Police Department made a decision that a stolen car was more valuable than the life of one of my neighbors. As a result of a police pursuit in an extremely dense neighborhood, Jessie Bingaman, the mother of a ten year daughter, was killed at the intersection of Third and Temple, about a half-dozen blocks away from where Linda and I live. We have walked across or driven through that intersection hundreds of times the past dozen years. It could just as easily have been us.

But it wasn’t us.

And yet, when I got home on Tuesday, the first thing Linda told me was that she had spent part of the afternoon across the street talking with a pair of neighbors about this incident. My shock, sorrow, and dismay are shared by others who live at this particular corner of this neighborhood. Jessie Bingaman’s sudden death has impacted “us.”

And what is the response of the Long Beach Police Department?

When should police pursue? Woman, 5 dogs are just the latest killed in high-speed chases

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said. “Do we let someone just run away?”

My response to Ms. Chavarria is that you obviously don’t believe what you were also quoted as saying: “The sanctity of life is, obviously, always our guiding principal in policy development,” she said.

The Long Beach Press Telegram reported that Police Chief Robert Luna and ten of his officers attended the vigil held in her honor at the intersection on Wednesday evening. He was quoted as expressing his “condolences” to Ms. Bingaman’s mother. Jessie Bingaman’s family deserves far more than “condolences.” But as Paul Naylor, a poet-editor I knew in San Diego once said in an elegiac piece written at the start of the last decade, “There will never be enough flowers.”

JB - Flowers Corner

The intersection of Third and Temple, which is about as ordinary as a four-way stop intersection can get in this neighborhood, can never be neutral ground for me. I will never again be able to drive or walk through it without thinking of Jessie Bingaman and the dogs owned by other people and entrusted to her care as a professional dog-walker. They, too, perished with her.

My own answer to Ms. Chavarria and Robert Luna is, “If you can’t be absolutely certain of containing the flight risk of the driver of a stolen vehicle, then wait until you can be sure. If that means letting them evade immediate surveillance, then so be it. But not one of the lives of the citizens of Long Beach deserves to be taken in the name of trying to recover a stolen car.” And I say this as someone who once had a car stolen.

“TRACKS” — poems by Lynn McGee

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

TRACKS: Poems by Lynn McGee (Broadstone Books, 2019)

The New York subway system has recently been rebuked for its disruptive service far more than its inured administrative personnel are used to, and I am glad that I don’t have to depend on it to get to and from campuses in the New York City area, as I did back in the Fall of 2005, when I was working at Nassau Community College in Garden City (on Long Island); St. John’s in Queens; and Rutgers in New Jersey. That was a tough semester, and I had little time for anything other than teaching and sending off several dozen applications for work elsewhere.

The subway system in NYC, as well as the rail system that serves the “larger metropolitan area,” is a form of public participatory theater in which the riders and the workers are usually acting with a “less is more” approach. Tamped down emotions, no matter how intensely felt, are revealed obliquely, as if for a movie camera in which the director has called for a long close-up of one’s face. An awareness of this context can heighten a reader’s appreciation of Langston’s Hughes’s depiction of social space on the subway in Montage of a Dream Deferred. Along with Hughes’s book-length poem, in fact, McGee’s Tracks is the one of the best books to read after revisiting Blake’s “London,” the poem that establishes the template for the modern poet in the ever-accelerating urban milieu.

Many great poets and fiction writers (from Hart Crane to James Baldwin) have made use of the subway to heighten the subjective tension of their poems and stories, but few creative writers have made it the crucial trope of an entire book. NYC-based poet Lynn McGee’s TRACKS undertakes the challenge of recording some of her chance encounters on the subway system; her skill in doing so could easily be under-appreciated. For the most part, the diction is pared down; the line-breaks stay focused on enabling the reader to absorb her “depth of field” approach. These are poems that remind me of Robert Bresson’s films, and there is little in the way of higher praise that I could offer.

One outcome of reading these poems is their implicit reminder of the vicissitudes of others as they ride beside us. “Tracks” are also what is made by animals, including us, as we move across the ground. McGee’s personal losses, including that of a sister who died from a brain aneurism, are not of course visible to any of the people she takes note of on her subway trips, and yet it is the very tension between that the visibility of others in this book, and the hidden theater of her own personal sorrow that gives these poems an imaginative trajectory: the “tracks” delineate a cartography of a city as both as both one’s most intimate companion and most unappeasable antagonist.

This book of poems will not make you want to move to New York City, in the way that Frank O’Hara’s, Ted Berrigan’s, or Eileen Myles’s poems might prove alluring. Instead, you will find yourself looking around at all the ways you move about in any given day, and no longer regard the ordinary as too familiar to record in precise and evocative language. We might think of ourselves as not needing a reminder about the imaginative resources available in our daily movements, but McGree’s Tracks demonstrates that we overlook that which deserves our close attention far more frequently than we believe.

McGee’s book is available through SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTION (SPDbooks.org) or through her publisher, Broadstone Books.

The Caesura’s Constantly Shifting Net

Saturday, May 4th

In one of those quirks of a so-called poetic career, I have received in my old age a surprising number of requests to write blurbs for books of poetry. Fortunately, I have enjoyed the work of the poets who have asked me for a back-cover endorsement and have not had to figure out some diplomatic way to turn down the invitation.

Most recently, I have been working on a blurb for a debut volume of superb poetry by Alexandra Umlas, At the Table of the Unknown, which will soon be published by Eric Morago’s Moon Tide Press. Her metrical work is exceptionally skillful, and it tempted me to quip that “If writing in meter was compared to tennis, in Frost’s acerbic remark, then watch out for Umlas’s wicked backhand.”

I ended up not using that conceit in my blurb, but Umlas’s deft use of the caesura led me to reconsider exactly what the “net” of tennis is; a few volleys of thought later, it occurred to me that Frost, with his usual gnomic humor, meant it literally: it is the caesura. If indeed, “rhythm is the total sound of a line’s movement,” then it is the constantly shifting “net” of the caesura that makes the line an encounter with the existential plasticity of language’s essential flux.