Paul Vangelisti – 70th Birthday Party

Nausikaa's Isle: a tribute to Paul Vangelisti

Nausikaa’s Isle: a tribute to Paul Vangelisti

Yesterday evening Linda and I attended a lovely backyard party at the same place where Paul Vangelisti celebrated his 60th birthday ten years ago. In 2005, Linda and I were living in Lynbrook, on Long Island, while I was working simultaneously at Rutger’s University in New Jersey, St. John’s University in Queens, and Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York. I spent a lot of time on trains and buses. Paul was still editing the “New Review of Literature,” to which I contributed several reviews and a chapter of my literary history of Los Angeles. Ten years later, he has yet another substantial magazine to his credit, “OR,” which put out 12 issues over six years. Many of the people who were steady contributors to both magazines were recruited by Dennis Phillips to pick out pieces of their writing that would pay homage in some way to his influence on their lives and writing. This collection of writing, “Nausikaa’s Isle,” has just been published by Postmedia Books.

Last night’s party, therefore, which probably had around 40 people by the time that “Happy Birthday” was sung, was more than an occasion to celebrate Paul’s birth; it was also a publication party for a gathering of poems, art work, and short prose pieces that bowed in Paul’s direction and said an emphatic thank you. Among the contributors who were at the party were Martha Ronk, Peter Gadol, Guy Bennett, Douglas Messerli, Barbara Maloutas, and myself. The majority of contributors, however, either live at some distance, or live only in our memories. As Phillips points out in his concise yet affectionate forward, the book opens with “Extracts” by four writers Adriano Spatola, Robert Crosson, and Amiri Baraka) who knew and worked with Vangelisti as collaborative equals when they were alive; the book then turns to those who are still on the journey as living companions.

So far I’ve only had a chance to read the work of Martha Ronk and Peter Gadol. The former invokes one of the classic literary voices of Los Angeles with intriguing excerpts from her ongoing project, “The Big Sleep.” Gadol’s “An Old Italian Saying” is one of the best pieces of short prose I’ve read in many years. A minor masterpiece. Next up in order of my plan of reading later this evening are two surprise entries by writers I’m lucky enough to call former students: a joint effort (as is all their work) by Natalija Gregorinic and Ognjen Raden, and Amy Allara.

Among those absent from the party were contributors such as Diane Ward and Lewis MacAdams, but perhaps they were ill. Paul mentioned that Rebecca Chamlee, the superb book designer who teaches at Otis, had called earlier in the day and said that she was down with the flu; Paul added that two others had subsequently left messages to say that they, too, were afflicted with some virus.
Helping to compensate for their absence were young poets such as Rachel Kaminer, and the ever steady and supportive Jacqueline Young, whose ability to keep the Graduate Writing program at Otis on an even keel for close to 20 years is a remarkable feat of dedication.

Those who live elsewhere, however, missed a splendid gathering of writers and artists, which included the photographer Don Suggs and still-life painter Gershom. Perhaps all of the absent contributors to “Nausikaa’s Isle” (including Standard Schaefer, Milli Graffi, Gilad Elbow, Norma Cole, Art Beck, Ray DiPalma, Gillian Conoley, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Giulia Niccolai, George Albon, Nanni Cagnone, Luciano Mezzetta, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Polly Geller, Susi Pietri, Lucia Re, Dominic Stansberry, Sara Suzor, Avery Burns, Neeli Cherkovski, John R. Snyder, and Andrea Bursar) might still be able to gather ten years from now and celebrate Paul’s 80th birthday, though we may well have to travel to Italy to do so. The perfect excuse to make a trip there! I’m ready to buy my ticket.