Sunday’s gathering at the Church in Ocean Park

About 80 people showed up for Beyond Baroque’s fundraiser at the Church in Ocean Park. This annual event is beginning to gather some degree of momentum. As Brendan Constantine, who was an absolutely pitch perfect m.c. last night put it, it’s become more of a family reunion than anything else. It was a delight and honor to witness Rick Lupert being honored for all of his work on poetrysuperhighway and at the Cobalt Cafe. I’ve been reading his “Death of a Mauve Bat” ever since reading with him at Beyond Baroque on Saturday afternoon and finding poems that manage to find the one subtle edge of any given experience that everyone else would overlook. Mike the Poet Sonksen gave Rick a fine introductory welcome.

Linda and I sat alongside Holly Prado, Harry Northup and Doug Knott. Harry led up to the presentation of my plaque  by first reading a poem he had written for me back in 1997 and then shared some comments made by Holly, Diane Wakoski, Phoebe MacAdams, and Jim Krusoe. When I got up behind the pulpit, I couldn’t resist simply being quiet for a short moment and taking it in. I remain grateful to each of you who showed up last night. Here’s what I had written out on two sheets of paper:

Thank you, Board of Directors of Beyond Baroque and all the staff. In particular, thank you, Richard Modiano for getting this award established, and Brendan Constantine and Harry Northup for your introductions tonight. Above all, thank you to George Drury Smith, for making all this possible in the first place.

I was at a reading by Ellyn Maybe at Beyond Baroque a couple of years ago during which she proposed that “one becomes a poet in order to meet the people one wishes that one could have gone to high school with.” Tonight is a perfect example of the truth of that statement. I wish to thank the Class of 2014 for choosing me as your valedictorian and to say that I couldn’t be happier than to have Rick Lupert as the salutarian.

In accepting this award, I cannot refrain from sharing my pleasure at how my complementary role as a literary historian requires once again the conjunction of place and memory. I lived up the street from this Church, at 512 Hill St., Apartment 4, for twenty years and it was there that I edited and published Momentum magazine and Momentum Press, which has deservedly attained the aura of a minor literary legend. It happened right here in this neighborhood. I had moved to Ocean Park shortly before this church was re-opened under the direction of a young Methodist minister, Jim Conn, and I became a member of his renewed congregation. To have this gathering here means more to me than I can say, since I gave the debut reading of my first effort at a long poem, “Your Move” here in this very space in the early 1980s. In addition, it was in this very sanctuary that I was dancing one evening in early 1982 and heard the words, “hidden proofs,” spoken by my muse to mind’s ear. Those words became the title of my first, full-length of book of poems and have become the title (Pruebas Ocultas) of a volume of poems translated by Jose Rico and Robin Myers, forthcoming from Mantis Editores in 2015.

Despite all these fond associations, however, the Church in Ocean Park, was not the cynosure of my poetic development after I graduated from UCLA in 1970. The Beyond Baroque workshop, led by the John Harris and the late Joseph Hansen, was where I served an apprenticeship as an aspiring poet and Beyond Baroque’s New Comp Graphics was where I typeset and pasted-up my books for Momentum press. Beyond Baroque’s reading series was the venue at which I first had a crowd of over 50 people listen to an extended reading of my work, and Beyond Baroque was the first place to offer me a chance to teach poetry on a volunteer basis to adults in a weekly workshop. In other words, everything I have managed to accomplish has had the flow of BB carrying me forward. I can only hope that some of the younger poets in the audience will find in Beyond Baroque during the second half-century of its programming and services to the community an equally vital repository of knowledge and inspiration.

There are a number of people who have been especially supportive over the years, the first of whom I wish to mention is the late Leland Hickman, whose memory is revered by several people in this room, including Holly Prado and Harry Northup, as well as the late Wanda Coleman. Other people whose support has been absolutely crucial include Jim Krusoe, Paul Vangelisti, Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, Brooks and LeaAnn Roddan, Alicia Ostriker, Jack Grapes, Cecilia Woloch, Harvey Robert Kubernik, and Anthony Seidman. I am an academic, and the security this profession has given Linda and me at a very late stage in the game would not be possible without the assistance of colleagues and comrades such as George Hart at CSU Long Beach, Michael Davidson and Donald Wesling at UC San Diego, Steve and Rise Axelrod at UC Riverside, and especially David James at USC. I also want to thank my translators in Mexico, Jose Rico and Robin Myers, for believing in my poetry.

There are a number of people who can’t be here tonight because they are no longer alive or no longer live in this neighborhood or in the Los Angeles area. Their presence is here in my heart tonight. Finally, I want to thank Janet Klein for singing at this event. She sang at my wedding to Linda Fry over 12 years ago and it feels part of a lovely unbroken circle to hear her once again.

 

Named and unnamed, equally, thank you all for being here.  Onward.

 

Onward.