Sesshu Foster’s Cartography of L.A. Poets

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sesshu Foster, a poet and fiction writer who deserves serious consideration for being appointed the next poet laureate of Los Angeles, assembled a chorus of poets talking about their neighborhoods; I missed the publication of the article in the LA Review of Books when it came out this past fall. I want to thank William Archila for sending me the link, which worked well enough in my browser but doesn’t work at all in my blog’s formatting. So much for the vaunted utility of Word Press! However, I imagine if you type Sesshu Foster, Los Angeles Review of Books, October 24, 2018, “Los Angeles, City of Poets” into your browser, you’ll find yourself with a baker’s dozen of poets-in-residence, all glowing with L.A.’s singular refulgence.

The poets who contributed their layers of memory and notations include:

Brent Armendinger
Jessica Ceballos y Campbell
Cathy Linh Che
Kenji Liu
Steve Abee
Ramon Garcia
Terry Wolverton
Harry Gamboa
Eric Howard
Mike Sonksen
Bruna Mori
Will Alexander
William Archila

I only know the work of half of these poets, so I especially grateful to Mr. Foster for alerting me to emergence of those who have recently begun to have collections published. Mr. Foster is doing what any serious poet laureate should do, which is to spread knowledge about other poets to the community that she or he serves.

Whitman’s Response to the Universe as Holograph

Monday, February 4, 2019

Yesterday’s blog concluded with a link:

Listen: Is our universe a hologram?

Walt Whitman’s response remains the same:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

“Interactive Wagering” as a Poetics of Masculinity

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The evolving legal status of gambling, according to a recent NY Times article, includes a rebranding of the activity itself: “interactive wagering” would now become the sanitized legislative nomenclature; the whispered adjustments to pending bills at lunches with lobbyists would fawn on this discreet disguise. The bottom line, however, is that government revenues dependent on the “vigorish” of gambling amount to an indirect taxation on working people. Perhaps “democracy” is the political magic act of giving “the people” what they want. If they want a carousel of carousing currency, of liquor with loose cash as a flotation device, then it wouldn’t be a good idea for a politician to rebuke this deplorable inclination.

*. *. *

Compulsive gambling can infect anyone, regardless of gender, but the elusive object of desire in sports betting is not neutral. Rather, it all too often reflects what is now called “toxic masculinity”: violent competition imbrued with phallic hubris. Today’s “Stupor Bowl” offers a magnified glimpse at this perverse carnival. It is hard to see how legalizing gambling on sports events such as professional football would not also valorize the very thing that is currently denounced as abhorrent in its social effects. Since the games that would primarily be bet on are played by men, their values as athletes are precisely what would be underwritten by the insurance policy of impulsive contingency, aka betting. (I would note that I am also highly suspicious of the ease with which “toxic masculinity” as a term has been vetted by a group of over-privileged psychologists.) The gender imbalance is precisely one of my major concerns: there is no mention in the recent article that anyone would ever bet much on women’s sports. How often do you think you’d hear, “I’m putting a hundred on her to win the NCAA 100 meter race.”

*. *. *

Now to play the devil’s advocate for a moment, I can understand the extraordinary appeal that one aspect of gambling must have. Just as critics have pointed out how a film such as “Toy Story” is about the “downsizing” of an economy and the ramifications of losing one’s job, no doubt the encroachment of AI (artificial intelligence) will only make people want to gamble more. If algorithms can be made to serve those who depend on predictability, then why not give of ourselves to something that often has the unpredictable as its outcome? “In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.” At any given instant, in a sports event, the allure of those odds and its payoff is almost overwhelmingly irresistible.

*. *. *

Perhaps there is no way to forestall this movement towards interactive wagering, and maybe poets should get hip to its possibilities. Maybe the NEA could raise money for creative writing fellowships by instituting a wagering window: if you think a poet or fiction writer deserves a fellowship, then put your money where your poetics claims to hold down your corner of imagination and demand that you be given decent odds on her or him winning an award. And that’s just the small-time stuff. Consider the possibilities of legal betting on the Nobel Prize. Put a thousand dollars down on an obscure writer in Vietnam, and you might well win more than the Nobel Prize itself. I believe, in fact, that “interactive wagering” on the Nobel Prize already takes place in more enlightened countries. It’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

The Laureate sweepstakes! The West Coast Trifecta! The California Arts Council will look back on its parsimonious days under four terms of Governor Jerry Brown and savor the transformative power of long-shot financing.

*. *. *

Of course, there are other things to mull over, eh?


Listen: Is our universe a hologram?

To which the only appropriate response is: “Who’s taking bets?”

Malibu Library Reading Postponed; Bill Mohr’s “Super Bowl” alternative reading

Bad News; Good News: Malibu Library Reading Postponed until April
Good News: KPFK will broadcast “WHY POETRY?” with guest Bill Mohr on SUNDAY

Due to the series of storms that are heading towards California’s coastline this weekend, my reading at the Malibu Library on Saturday, February 2, has been postponed until April. The wildfires that scorched so much of the Santa Monica Mountains a few months ago have left Pacific Coast Highway, as well as many perpendicular canyon roads, vulnerable to mudslides. PCH, in fact, was briefly blocked by a debris flow during Thursday’s storm, which was a mild one compared to the two-plus inches of rainfall expected on Saturday. The forecast is for rain in the early a.m. on Saturday, that will then become rain buffeted by wind from 5 a.m. to noon. At mid-day, the storm is predicted to shift to “heavy rain/wind.” The reading was scheduled to start at 11 a.m., a point by which far too many roads might be less than desirable to be driving on.

Obviously, one could undertake such a trip, if necessary, but for those who want to hear my poetry, I would urge you to enjoy the alternative event that happens to be scheduled for this coming Sunday. Several months ago, Paul Lieber invited me to join him at KPFK’s studios to record a program of my poems and commentary. We had a lovely time talking about poetry and the edited broadcast is now scheduled for Sunday, February 3, 2019, at 4:30 p.m. For those of you who are as indifferent to the sports event called the Super Bowl, this broadcast provides the perfect chance to let your friends know how you have something far more interesting in mind.

In case anyone outside of Los Angeles County might be tempted to think that Ricardo and I were intimidated by the thought of the slightest shower on Saturday, here is the link to an update on the Southern California weather front:

‘Stay home’: Monster storm headed our way. Here are warnings, timing, expected impact


FEB 01, 2019 | 1:20 PM

From Cult to Culture Reality Check: Three Artists at LBMA

Long Beach Museum of Art
2003 E. Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90803

On Exhibit – Now through April 21, 2019

The publicity for LBMA’s current exhibition focuses on the artists and the titles of their individual presentations. There is no hint of how the museum’s space is apportioned. On opening night, I was startled at the amount of space given to LeRoy Grannis’s photographs of surfing as an instance of utopia. Filling the entire bottom floor with images of youthful joy was perhaps the right curatorial decision in terms of luring visitors to this group show, but the juxtaposition with the other two artists on the top floor might well mute the viewers’ afterglow. On one hand, “Cult to Culture” is unusually unfamiliar. I don’t recall seeing anything quite as emotionally committed to the subject of surfing. While there are a few photographs that reveal the extraordinary pleasure of becoming totally absorbed into the ocean’s churning incantations, the majority of them implore us to stop and meditate on the intimate vulnerability of this sport.

Upstairs, the dystopia that was held at bay while surfing moved from a fringe obsession to a major cultural trope confronts viewers without any caution lights. Sandow Birk’s large-scale works take on the inner contradictions of the manifest destiny that culminated in the apotheosis of the surfboard. If his “Monumental” works depict the textual subversions of the alleged ideals of the political experiment called the United States, Marie Thibeault’s four large canvases, supplemented by a score of preparatory drawings, reveal the complex consequences of an industrialized society on some of our most familiar emblems of nature. In Thibeault’s tug-of-war between the intertwined girders and stanchions of industrial largesse and the need of animals such birds to find their way out of this maze, the apertures are ever shrinking. It is easier to be a climate change denier than an apocalypse denier. For one thing, the preponderance of evidence in favor of systematic collapse is all too believable. Somehow, though, Thibeault’s reminders of our actual ground conditions suggest that we might yet reverse course. If not quite justifiable optimism, her work aligns itself with Birk’s to ask us to work towards a restoration of a world that only seemed imagined in Grannis’s photographs. Somehow we must renew the primacy of pleasure as the most feasible potential access to a future equilibrium, if we are to motivate ourselves to undertake a daunting metamorphosis. It is in this dialectical reconciliation that visitors to this important group show will be rewarded for their own thoughtful commitment to the imagination.

Riparian Chaos Detail

Bill Mohr Reads at the Malibu Library, Feb. 2


Ricardo Means Ybarra has invited me to be the featured poet at this coming Saturday’s edition of “Caffeinated Verse” at the Malibu Library. Ricardo and I first met many years ago when we were working in the California Poets-in-the-Schools program, and I hadn’t seen him in quite some time until about a year ago. One memory during that long separation always remained vivid: a gathering in a house somewhere in Los Angeles in which Jack Gilbert commented on a set of poems that had been written by a variety of L.A. poets. Of all the poets in the room, Ricardo’s poem was the one he admired the most. That was back in the mid-1990s; after which I lived in San Diego and Idyllwild, as well as Lynbrook, New York and my current abode. An invitation to read at the Carnegie Museum in Oxnard led to a brief reunion with Ricardo, and I am looking forward to reading in his curve of the coastline.

Whether PCH will be open either heading north from the Beach Cities or south from Oxnard is open to question, however. Late last week, a rainstorm was predicted for the day of the reading, but the storm is now a four-day sequence, with one inch of rain predicted for Friday and Saturday. I recommend consulting and sigalert.

Caffeinated Verse
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Malibu Library
23519 W. Civc Center Way
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 456-6438

“The Soccer Players” — 1:00 minute long

Sunday, January 26, 2019

Over a quarter-century ago, New Alliance Records was releasing a considerable number of recordings of poets under the category of “Spoken Word.” I have no idea of how many copies ever sold, though I saw that label’s releases of “Vehemence” in such outlets as Tower Records on Sunset Blvd., and I still see a few copies available on the internet’s bazaar. Harvey Kubernik was a record producer who somehow convinced SST records that his projects could at least cover their costs, and perhaps they did. In addition to solo projects, he put together a number of “anthologies” of spoken word, one of which was a concept album of pieces that took exactly one minute to read. Laurel Ann Bogen, Kathi Martin, Eloise Klein Healy, and Charles Harper Webb were among the contributors to this project. My piece was entitled “The Soccer Players.” I have been working on my archives, in order to place them at a library, and ran across this recording, which I think was made in 1994.

Rupert the Wanderer Goes Home to Bast

Friday, January 25, 2019

A week ago, on Friday, January 18, I took Rupert to the Cat and Dog Hospital on Redondo Avenue in Long Beach. He had stopped eating, and was losing weight much more rapidly than one might expect if it were only kidney disease. Dr. Michelle Smith, who in the past so enjoyed Rupert’s presence that she would sit in the examination room and simply watch him move around the space, acknowledged that it was probably time for us to help Rupert escape the bondage of useless suffering. He was not yet near the border of incapacitating pain, but there was nothing to be gained from a brief recovery, except of course the pleasure of his company, which would have been my selfishness.

It is with tears still in my eyes as I write these words that I acknowledge his passing to those who read my blog. I announced it on another form of social media, and received many notes from friends and acquaintances, which I do appreciate, but somehow felt it much harder to share with those who know me only through this blog. For a stray cat who was brought to our door two years ago by a neighbor who spotted him lost and hungry on our street corner, he grew into a companion who kept us entwined in his peculiar preferences. In his final months, he would sometimes stretch out on my chest as I slouched in a chair, and put his forehead to my forehead. Farewell, noble one. How you survived all those years before you found our porch is a tribute to your unflinching constancy as a cat. You trusted your unflinching instincts until they ripened into a somber affirmation: the joy that is yet to be is something that can only partially be shared. I await your future, subtle guidance.

Rupert in Garden November, 2018

Rupert at Kyeboard One

Either/Or Bookstore and “Barbarian Days”

Linda’s late sister, Brenda, had two sons, Mason and Luca, and when we saw them at a wedding this past fall, we gave each of them a gift that we hoped they would enjoy. Since Mason is an avid (and by all accounts, an extremely adept) surfer, I suggested that we give him a copy of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan. I ended up buying two copies of that book, in part because I started marking up the first copy with notes or underlining sentences that deserved some kind of commentary. At the top of page 114, for instance, Finnegan recalls applying for a job at a bookstore in Hawaii, where he landed with his girlfriend, Caryn, with not much in the way of financial resources. They were living out of a borrowed car, and using an allocation of food stamps to allay their hunger pangs. While Caryn snags a job at a restaurant, Finnegan passes a “comprehensive book-knowledge test” administered by the owners of Either/Or, an off-shoot of “a larger store in Los Angeles.” Finnegan twice cites the location of the original store as “L.A.” in that paragraph, so I have to take his generic geographical attribution as a lack of faith in a reader’s desire for precision in a memoir. Either/Or Bookstore was located on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, which at the time had a surprisingly active “underground” arts scene. Not that the local cops tolerated it more than they had to. The Burbage Theater, for instance, had its first theater located there, only to be invited to leave town by the authorities.

Finnegan does mention one detail that correlates with an odd feature of the bookstore: it didn’t have a phone. You could get a bookmark from the store with the days and hours of its operation, and its address, but there was no phone number listed. The rumor was that the owners had disputed a phone bill, and refused to pay. The phone company, it was said, informed them that they had better pay or they would cut off phone service. “Fine,” the owners supposedly said, “go right ahead.” “How do you expect to survive as a business without a phone?” “Watch.”

And they did. The store had a terrific selection of books. In fact, it had a better and more comprehensive rack of literary magazines that Papa Bach Bookstore did in the early 1970s. It was at Either/Or that I found issues of Pebble, edited by Greg Kuzma, and The Lamp in the Spine, edited by Jim Moore and Trish Hampl. I also saw a copy there of the first book of poetry by a writer named Charles Baxter. It did not have a picture of him.

Either/Or lasted at least in the 1980s. I remember spending a chunk of my Christmas bonus money from working as a typesetter at Beach City Newspapers at the bookstore. One of the books I bought was Sam Shepard’s Hawk Moon.

Finnegan has the rare ability to make his subject matter a metaphor for how he uses the language to convey his experiences and perceptions. The first sentence of the final paragraph reads, “The waves kept pouring through, shining and mysterious, filling the air with an austere exaltation.” The “waves” are also words for Finnegan, and the afterglow of the book is indeed “shining and mysterious.” I wish Either/Or were still around for young surfers in Hermosa Beach to buy a copy of. The poet Mark Jarman surfed that beach back when Either/Or was flourishing, and I would recommend some of his surfing poems for anyone wishing a supplement to Finnegan’s recollections of a “surfing life.” I myself, by the way, can barely swim. My efforts at dog-paddling are so rudimentary and excruciating that it often seems to onlookers that I am attempting to do a parody of Jim Carrey’s antics.

Dance, Poetry, and Resistance at Beyond Baroque

Friday, January 11, 2019

TWO EVENTS AT BEYOND BAROQUE, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

Turning the plasticity of metaphor into the elongated pulses of gestures profoundly embraced and dispersed, dancers will interpret poems that largely originated out of Los Angeles. This evening’s presentation is a collaboration by dancer/ choreographer Liz Hoefner Adamis and poet Laurel Ann Bogen; the majority of the poetry recently was included in Beyond Baroque’s anthology Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (edited by Suzanne Lummis). Regular admission. Members FREE

I am looking forward to seeing how my poem, “One Miracle,” ends up being choreographed; not only did it appear in Suzanne Lummis’s anthology, WIDE AWAKE, it was also chosen by my translators in Mexico to be one of the featured poems in both PRUEBAS OCCULTS (Bonobos Editores, Mexico) and THE HEADWATERS OF NIRVANA (What Books, Los Angeles).

This year’s list of participating readers features many of Southern California’s finest upcoming and established literary voices. Writers scheduled to participate include: Doug Brown / Shonda Buchanan / Elena Karina Byrne / Robin Coste Lewis / Eileen Cronin / Marsha de la O / Geoff Dyer / Janet Fitch / Lynell George / Liz Gonzalez /Brian Ingram / Mark Irwin / Dana Johnson / Doug Manuel / Alicia Partnoy / Sherman Pearl /Steven Reigns / Joseph Rios / Mona Simpson / Hiram Sims / Phil Taggart / Amy Uyematsu / Vanessa Angélica Villareal. FREE