Tag Archives: David Ulin

A Retrospective List of Prominent L.A. Writers

02/02/2020

George Hitchcock (1914-2010) was a poet, playwright, and painter who was fond of palindromes. He named his publication project KAYAK, in part, because of the droll pleasure of that word’s reversibility. Today’s date is a numerical palindrome, and it marks both the performance of Punxsutawney Phil and the Super Bowl contest, neither of which I have a bet on other than several thousand dollars of total indifference.

I remember a poetry reading hosted by Lee Rossi, to celebrate the publication of an issue of TSUNAMI magazine in 1989, that occurred on Super Bowl Sunday. Some academic poets had scheduled a reading for that day, too, in Los Angeles, but once they learned that they were up against Super Bowl, they flinched and cancelled. TSUNAMI’s reading went ahead as scheduled and provided a score of people with a lively alternative. For those equally restless comrades on 02/20/2020, I urge you to visit a bookstore and take along a print-out of this post.

*. *. *

Twenty-three years ago, the L.A. Weekly ran a feature-length article by David Ulin in which 80 writers were chosen as representative figures of literary accomplishment in Los Angeles. The list did not claim to be a selection of this city’s best novelists, poets, or non-fiction authors, although if you weren’t on it, it was hard not to view it from that perspective. Regardless, it did permit many of us working in Southern California to grasp the sheer volume of serious writing being done within this imaginary community. Some of these writers have died or moved elsewhere since this list appeared, but the majority of them are still alive and writing, and deserving of your scrutiny.

Alex Abella
Daniel Akst
Luis Alfaro
Luis Alfaro
Gioconda Bell
Leon Bing
Laurel Ann Bogen
T.C. Boyle
Ray Bradbury
Edward Bunker
Octavia E. Butler
Bebe Moore Campbell
Frank Chin
Killarney Clary
Wanda Coleman
Michael Connelly
Bernard Cooper
Dennis Cooper
Robert Crais
Mike Davis
Harriet Doerr
Carol Muske Dukes
Harlan Ellison
Steve Erickson
John Espey
Susan Faludi
Montserrat Fontes
Sesshu Foster
Cristina Garcia
Amy Gerstler
Mikal Gilmore
Jack Grapes
Richard Grossman
Eloise Klein Healy
Michelle Huneven
Tara Ison
Paul Krassner
Jim Kruose
Michael Lally
Gavin Lambert
A.J. Langguth
Russell Leong
Eddie Little
Sandra Tsing Loh
Bia Lowe
Lewis MacAdams
Ruben Martinez
Douglas Messerli
Jack Miles
Brian Moore
Tannick Murphy
Yxta Mata Murray
Joy Nicholson
Nicole Panter
Gary Phillips
Donald Rawley —
Richard Rayner
John Rechy
Henry Rollins
Mark Salzman
Greg Sarris
Lisa See
Carolyn See
Hubert Selby Jr.
Michele Serros
Clancy Sigal
Mona Simpson
April Smith
Jerry Stahl
Jervey Tervalon
Lawrence Thornton
Hector Tobar
Michael Tolkin
Michael Ventura
Diana Wagman
Amy Uyematsu
Bruce Wagner
Diane Ward
Benjamin Weissman
Terry Wolverton

SELECTED COMMENTS BY THE WRITERS:

Lawrence Thornton commented that in writing about historical and political events he hoped to “make people take notice. It may not change things, but it can shine a light on something people will not otherwise see.”

Michael Tolkin: “The price of being a novelists in Los Angeles is — and always has been — that basically you’re in exile. You don’t have to run away to a Greek island to get away from literary culture, because you’re already in L.A.”

Tara Ison: “The difference between writing screenplays and novels is that one is like fucking for money, and the other is making love with someone you truly care about. It’s not a moral judgement — screenwriting is an amazing art, but I don’t have the gift. I was a whore. I loved being a whore. I was a very sincere whore. For me, though, screenwriting was a job, while the novel was a revelation.”

Luis Alfaro: “Los Angeles is like a bunch of little border towns.”

COMMENTARY:
When this list was published in the L.A. Weekly in 1997, the introductory remarks made no mention of the deaths earlier in the decade of Charles Bukowski and Leland Hickman. There were some peculiar omissions in the list: Joseph Hansen; Gail Wronsky; Ron Koertge; Paul Vangelisti; Kamau Daaood; Holly Prado; Dennis Phillips; Deena Metzger; Peter Levitt; David St. John; Harry Northup; Stephen Yenser; Timothy Steele; Suzanne Lummis; Michael C. Ford; Robert Mezey; Scott Wannberg. And the introduction should have at least cited the work of Susan Straight and Kate Braverman as context, just as now the work of Paul Beatty should inform L.A. writers working on this particular purlieu.

If the list were updated to include only living writers, a substantial number of poets and writers have emerged in Los Angeles in the past 20 years that could fill the roster with aplomb. A partial list would include Will Alexander; Harryette Mullen; Chuck Rosenthal; Cecilia Woloch; Maggie Nelson; Luis Rodriguez; Tony Barnstone; Nina Revoyr; Aimee Bender; Janet Fitch; Viet Thanh Nguyen; Peter Gadol; Anthony Seidman; Charles Harper Webb; Robin Coste Lewis; Salvador Plascencia; Percival Everett. Some other writers are quickly on their way to this list, including Alexis Rhone Fancher and Michelle Bitting.

For young writers wishing to be as equally known and respected, I would urge you not to get overwhelmed by the amount of reading your nightstand awaits. The books of the above writers are not going anywhere, and several of them meet the following standard: “The only book worth reading once is the one worth reading twice.” Let that guide you in your own writing, too.

The ALOUD Debacle at the LA Public Library

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Transparency Not Allowed: The Prerogatives of Power and the Los Angeles Public Library

Personnel decisions are notoriously opaque, and the “rules of engagement” mandate systematic closure to the process of hiring and firing. I have served on search committees at CSULB, for instance, and am not permitted to speak about that experience, even in utmost private confidence, let alone in a public forum. Given this systematic social practice, I doubt that anyone connected with Mr. Ken Brecher at the Library Foundation is going to break ranks and maker herself or himself a pariah open to legal action by disclosing details about the decision to fire the founders of the Aloud program at the DTLA Public Library.

No doubt the individuals at the Library Foundation in Los Angeles are wishing that a thousand prominent writers, artists, and cultural workers would treat the decision to fire Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series of public events at the DTLA Public Library as an occasion similar to the ones in which the announcement is posted: “The family requests privacy at this moment.” The protest of the Library Foundation’s insular administration, however, has only become more adamant, especially after the hiring of Jessica Strand to be Director of Public Programming less than two months after Steinman and Moore were inexplicably discharged. It’s hard to believe that an adequate job search was conducted in such a short time.

Thanks to Terry Wolverton and Phoebe Ozuna, I have received a summary of the events and the public actions taken by people in the literary community for whom I have the utmost respect. Many of these people have labored for decades to nurture a literary environment in Los Angeles, and some have done so with great personal sacrifice. I am unaware of any similar effort made by Mr. Ken Brecher. I appreciate the immediate permission granted at the end of their document to disseminate this information and hope that others will join me in signing their petition and urging others to join them.

bit.ly/aloudpetition

Dear Friends and Supporters of ALOUD,

We wanted to update you on events in the wake of the August 27, 2018 firings of Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series by the Library Foundation. Thank you again for your involvement in signing the petition. Many of you have also taken the time to write individually to the Foundation and to rescind your membership in the Library Associates; we appreciate your efforts.

Thursday, September 12
The Petition in Support of ALOUD is delivered to Gwen Miller, the Chair of the Library Foundation Board, and to the Mayor’s office. At the time it contained over 800 signatures of writers, readers and other members of the literary community. The number of signers is now up to 994. To date, the Library Foundation has never acknowledged the Petition. Neither has the Mayor’s Office, any of the 15 City Councilmembers, or the City Librarian.

Thursday, September 12-Monday September 16
The Los Angeles Times,Los Angeles Downtown Newsand Madeline Brand’s “Press Play” on KCRW all report on the Petition protest.

Tuesday, September 17
Protests greet the opening event on ALOUD’s fall season. Armed guards escort protestors from the building. This was documented on Facebook by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez and others. Following that event, guards are present at each event, events are no longer live-streamed, and the audience is no longer permitted to ask live questions.

Thursday, October 4
Rigoberto Gonzalez publishes “What is Happening at ALOUD?” in The Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-aloud-gonzalez-20181004-story.html
He describes the bizarre experience of conducting a conversation with author Tommy Orange during the second ALOUD event of the fall season. Neither he nor Orange were given an advance notice of the personnel changes at the Library Foundation. He particularly notes his disturbance at the visible presence of armed guards.

Thursday, October 11
The Library Foundation issues a statement on public programming
https://mailchi.mp/1022cc43e7e8/reservation-reminder-lost-found-at-the-movies-on-485225?e=976003b067&fbclid=IwAR3lRwhHTe4h1vntvakmTgLM82Myo8p9Y66nDZHBCQLpBxrLRjzk3nHx_iU
The statement does not address the firings or the petition, and does not respond to the petition signers’ requests for transparency or a voice in its future literary programming.

Tuesday, October 16
Adam Leipzig publishes an investigative piece, “What Happened at ALOUD?” in Cultural Weekly.He attempts to get to the bottom of many unanswered questions, but the Foundation remains impenetrable. https://www.culturalweekly.com/what-happened-at-aloud/

Tuesday, October 16
Protestors stage another action, outside the library, before an ALOUD event. They point out issues of gender and age discrimination in the firings of Steinman and Moore.

Wednesday, October 17
The Library Foundation announces the hiring of Jessica Strand, as new Director of Public Programs. Ms. Strand has spent the past decade in New York. https://www.culturalweekly.com/library-foundation-appoints-jessica-strand-director-public-programs/

Wednesday, October 17
Author and academic Rubén Martínez publishes an Open Letter to Foundation President Ken Brecher, calling upon him to resign for mismanagement of this matter. Initially posted on Facebook, his letter was published the following day on the blog of the Los Angeles Review of Bookshttps://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/open-letter-ken-brecher-president-library-foundation-los-angeles/

Thursday, October 18
Daniel Hernandez, writing for LA Taco, decries the plan to hire an out-of-towner to curate programming at the library. https://www.lataco.com/drama-at-the-library-prominent-l-a-writers-slam-foundation-for-hiring-new-director-from-new-york/?fbclid=IwAR2S-kbcgEKuJO1bsH8eAD76Yp9kdLVu4lp4QGIMz6HYe-X6hPERYfCa8ks

Thursday, October 25
Founder of Community Arts Resources (CARS) and CicLAVia, Aaron Paley publishes an Op-Ed, “Speaking Up for ALOUD at the Central Library” in The Los Angeles Times.http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-paley-aloud-library-20181025-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3BJkxpofiCiwM1Wo4rBc0iELHM1gD23AsqnJu_EigfQsIkPoEyN9a4g8s

The Library Foundation, a private nonprofit entity with a mission of providing financial support to the Los Angeles Public Library, demonstrates through its actions and silences that it feels no accountability to the public or to the Los Angeles literary community. This ad hoc committee is continuing to explore ways to call the Foundation to account, and your continued assistance with this is much appreciated. There is a Foundation Board meeting on November 1, the first since the firings. If anyone has contacts with Board members or with the Foundation’s funders, we would love to know that.

Other things you can do:

• Keep sending out the petition link and urging people to share it. It is bit.ly/aloudpetition .
• Feel free to share this email since it is one-stop source of info about what’s happened.
• Write a short letter to the editor at The Los Angeles Timesor comment online in response to Aaron Paley’s Op-Ed.
• Use the hatchtag #WeAreAloud.

Sincerely,

David Ulin and Hector Tobar, spokespersons
Donna Frazier, Lynell George, Reed Johnson, Terry Wolverton
Ad Hoc Committee in Support of ALOUD

David Ulin and “Wide Awake”

January 1, 2016 — Top Ten Picks of David Ulin; The Monolingualism of American Literature

LA Times Book Critic David Ulin has edited several anthologies himself, a fact that deserves underlining when he includes Suzanne Lummis’s Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond as one of his ten favorite books published in 2015. One doesn’t have to have edited an anthology of poets to gauge the value of such an effort, but it certainly tends to make one a more judicious reader of anthologies. Lummis, too, is a veteran of this kind of editorial project; she co-edited an earlier anthology with almost the same subtitle back in the early 1990s. The high marks that Ulin gives Lummis’s latest anthology are much appreciated in the Los Angeles poetry community, if only because L.A. poets have not always had a smooth ride in the L.A. Times. In particular, one can recollect that Robert Kirsch once anointed my first anthology, The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (Momentum Press, 1978) as an indication of a “golden age” of Los Angeles poetry. Unfortunately, not everybody who worked at the LA Times Book Review agreed with Kirsch’s assessment, and poets were regarded as cultural orphans of their own success. I’ll put it simply: it’s nice to be appreciated again. Ulin implicitly suggests the exponential growth of the diverse scenes here by pointing out that Wide Awake is “magnificent” both in quantity (it contains “the work of more than 100 poets”) and quality (it “reveal(s) the depths and power of the city’s poetic sensibility”). That David Ulin appreciates the efforts of the diverse communities of poets in this city enough to award Lummis’s anthology a top ten pick is very gratifying, and I hope Suzanne Lummis is savoring the acknowledgement.

The last paragraph in Carolyn Kellogg’s end-of-the-year commentary in the LA Times is also worth further consideration. In referring to the choice of a Russian writer for the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, Kellogg cites an article that appeared back in 2008 in which a member of the Nobel selection committee commented that American writing is “too insular.” The charge is true, I’m afraid, though the full quotation I’ve been able to dig up is even more revealing:

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” (Horace) Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

The real gripe that the Swedish academy has with American writing lies in the evidence of its insularity: “They don’t translate enough.” This could be translated, so to speak, as “You don’t care about us; so why should we care about you?” Fair enough, and it brought to mind how I recently found that my most widely distributed posting in this blog for the entire year of 2015 was “Against the Monolingual Torture of Writers,” which was originally posted back in early September. For some reason, it took off in December, and had over 300 pageviews, with 161 human visits, of which 149 were new visitors to my blog. My post was firmly on the side of the Swedish academy, and perhaps it caught the attention of someone in Europe who was surprised to find an American writer at odds with his peers.

Fortunately for me, my blog is not dependent on American book publishers for advertising in order to keep itself going. If it were, I could see retribution heading my way lickety-split. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. The announcement earlier today of the death of Natalie Cole recoiled with references to “Unforgettable,” a song that her father had made famous and which the daughter reprised by having a version in which her voice was blended in a duet with his. Back when the father-daughter version was soaring up the charts, the newspaper I was working at as a typesetter started running cartoons with a slightly satirical edge to them about the music industry. The publisher must have thought it would make his paper “different” from the other trade papers. What he didn’t count on was that you can only get away with making fun of something that everybody shares a dislike of (i.e., politicians). The music industry takes itself very seriously, and when the front page ran a cartoon of Natalie Cole saying to a skeleton figure of her father, “Hey, Dad, you’re stepping on my lines,” (or something similarly sarcastic), the music label that released Cole’s remake let my paper know that it wasn’t just cancelling advertising of that particular song in the next issue or the issue after: all advertising by that label was forthwith cancelled. Or at least that’s the version that I heard in the hallway. I do remember some rather tense editorial and salespeople faces walking past me for a week or so until the crisis was resolved. The first thing to go, of course, was the contract with the cartoonist, nor was a replacement sought.

So, yes, once again, it would make American literature more interesting if the writers here asked themselves at some point if what they are writing would at all interest someone who can only read Spanish or Chinese. Are you saying something profound enough or insightfully witty enough to merit the travail required to translate it? I do appreciate how hard it is to attain that level of writing. My first book of poems in another language has only been published after over 40 years of writing. Surely, though, those poets who have won so many more awards that I have during that time have some explanation for why their work does not seem to make a transition beyond the wall of American monolingualism.

A Report on A Tribute to Wanda Coleman (Part Two)

Report on A TRIBUTE TO WANDA COLEMAN (Part Two)

Monday, January 20, 2014

 

By the early 1970s, the Church in Ocean Park at 235 Hill Street in Santa Monica had been shuttered by its denominational diocese for lack of a congregation. Most likely, the midwestern Methodists who had founded and built it had moved to the San Fernando Valley or Orange County, leaving behind a neighborhood that was turning into a slightly less rambunctious northern outpost of Venice. My recollection is that the Church in Ocean Park was re-opened, in part, in order to find a pastoral assignment for a newly ordained minister, Jim Conn, who didn’t quite fit in with the old boys’ patriarchal theology. Over the years, I heard him comment at least once that some of the church elders were a touch reluctant to ordain him; I’ll leave a full account of that for Jim to write. All I know is that my childhood would have been a hell of a lot easier if I could have gone to a church he was in charge of. Whatever the reasons that stymied the renewal of the original congregation, they certainly left behind a facility with a serious piece of real estate to make use of; it was built at a time when a large parcel of land could be acquired without much strain: the church’s property includes enough space for a small parking lot, a child care center with a playground, and at least one additional house that is still in use as a community center.

 

In any case, if anyone ever talked about the church’s history or its contributions to the welfare of its local citizens in the years since its founding, I never heard of it during the 20 years I lived in Ocean Park. That might be because its coalescing congregation in the mid-1970s was more interested in making history than preserving the old order or memories thereof. As I noted in Holdouts, Jim Conn was in the forefront of making his congregation the initial moving force behind the push for rent control and other progressive issues in Santa Monica.

 

I got to know Jim and become a member of his church in the 1970s primarily because of proximity. After graduating from UCLA in 1970 and taking a trip abroad in the fall, I had moved to the neighborhood across the street from Santa Monica City College. In November, 1972, I met a young poet, Sandi Tanhauser, and a few months later she and her two children (Gary and Mina) and I moved into an apartment up the street from the church. One of the outcomes of taking numerous walks around my new neighborhood was that I quickly found myself visiting Jim in the upstairs loft office of the Church in Ocean Park from which he issued his monthly newsletters. I quickly began to regard these one-page messages as an essential part of the conversation about literature and society that I was trying to contribute to through a poetry magazine, Momentum, that I started to edit in 1974. You can find several examples of Jim Conn’s monthly mini-sermons in the final issue of Momentum magazine. Over the years, the Church in Ocean Park allied itself with other cultural forces and became an unofficial accomplice of Beyond Baroque’s projects and aspirations. It should be noted that a large number of poets have read there over the years, among them the late Francis Dean Smith, a poet who was the mother of Charles Bukowski’s daughter, Marina. Francis was a member of the church for many, many years and I remember not only being at services with her, but being the featured part of a Sunday service in the late 1980s, when Jim asked Francye and me to read our poems in place of his sermon.

 

One of the young poets I published in Momentum was Wanda Coleman, whose poem “Mad Dog, Black Lady, Frothing (Part I) and (Part II),” appeared in the second issue (Summer, 1974). She also appeared in issue number 4 and number 6. It should be noted that the poem in the second issue was not the title poem of her first book. Instead, she just used a shortened version of that poem’s title as the rubric for her first full-length collection, which had been preceded by a chapbook collection, “Art in the Court of the Blue Fag.”

 

Yesterday, between 100 and 150 people gathered at the Church to celebrate the life and poetry of Wanda Coleman. One of the big differences between Saturday evening’s event and Sunday afternoon’s was how many of Wanda’s family were present – and acknowledged – in the course of the many choruses of Wanda’s praise. Both a daughter and a son spoke at Sunday’s gathering, and several siblings and their families stood up and were warmly applauded as honored guests of the day’s assembly. When Linda and I arrived yesterday, Jim Conn was in the process of convening the event, and for a moment the church seemed vibrant with the same glow of potential utopia that it had simmered with 40 years ago. If much that we started out to accomplish back then has not come to fruition, nevertheless there has also been the triumph of renitent survival.

 

Austin Straus then led off the afternoon with a blend of the solemn and the comic, in a manner befitting Wanda’s own example, and he proceeded to introduce both family and friends who wanted to address Wanda’s passing. First, though, he introduced family members, including Wanda’s brothers George and Marvin. I believe that George’s wife, Monique, died very recently, too, so this gathering must have been very heavy (as we used to say in the 60s). I tried to keep a list of everyone who spoke, though no doubt I will miss a few names. Rod Bradley started out by showing 11 minutes of film and then reading a recent poem, “I like being large…,” based on a comment she made at a CSU Los Angeles reading (May 9, 2013). Rod’s poem refocused “large” so that it slid into “largesse,” as a prime characteristic of Wanda’s ability to embrace those marginalized by oppression and injustice. (“large in her acceptance of others’ pain as her own.”)

 

The first set of poets to follow Rod included Steve Goldman (who had attended high school with Austin and who culminated his comments with a short blues riff on his harmonica), Richard Modiano, Lynn Bronstein, and Al Young, who read a very moving poem entitled “The Deep West,” which he had composed specifically for Wanda. The first editor to publish Wanda’s poetry, Michael C. Ford, then read some of her wok followed by a short excerpt on his truncated horn of Dizzy Gillespie’s “I Waited for You.” Eric Priestley, as perhaps the poet in the room who had first met her, then spoken about that early encounter. He had been acting in a production of Jean Genet’s Les negres, directed by Jayne Cortez, when they first met, and you could tell by the timbre of Priestley’s voice that a half-century had not dimmed the recollection of their youthful fraternity. The sanctuary of the church sits on a north-south axis, and as the light through the tall stained-glass depictions of traditional Christian iconography (e.g., Christ in the Garden of Gethsemani) began to waver and dim, the poets continued to stand up and comfort themselves and all who were present in the affirmation of mourning. Lynn Manning reminded us of one of the best parts of the film that Rod had projected on the white curved wall at the end of the sanctuary. “I needed to hear that laughter again,” he said, and for an instant it echoes in our mind’s ear again. Manning had first sampled Wanda’s generosity in 1980 or 1981, shortly after he had been blinded and moved from visual art to writing. After a reading she gave which Lynn attended, she had accepted a portfolio of his poems and responded to them within two weeks, and Lynn emphasized it was that response that helped him move forward as a writer. (He is now the artistic director of the Watts Village Theater Company.) The afternoon glided on with the unexpected: a musical act (in the manner of Janet Klein) consisting of Sharon Evans (Wanda’s sister) and Rick Rogers got up and performed “Lazy Moon” and “Side by Side.” The history of the songs they shared with us made their performance all the more pertinent.

 

Harry Northup, who had known Wanda at least as long as I have, then read one of the best poems of the entire weekend, “In Memoriam.” Harry’s poem will be featured in tomorrow’s post. S.A. Griffin spoke on behalf of Pam Ward, who was not able to attend because she was nursing her ill husband, and read a poem that reiterated the street-level fortitude of the title of her Coleman’s first book. Doug Kearney then bounded onto the stage and reprised his poem from the evening before, “Headstone.” He seemed to have grounded himself even more fully in the poem since that first recitation and his layers of anaphoric rhythms consecrated the inner timpani behind the culminating address: “Dear Austin Dear Austin Dear Austin I am sorry…”

 

Perhaps the major surprise of the afternoon was the poetic resurrection of a figure I thought had vanished altogether, Michael Roth. Back in the mid-1980s, when Reagan was charming the pants off of the American middle-class, Michael Roth’s performance poetry stood out for its forthright critique, but little if any of it managed to get into print. In the past half-dozen years, I asked around about him, but nobody seemed to know what became of him. If only I had asked Austin and Austin! He stood up and spoke about that period in his life, though all too briefly and I hope he gets in touch with me since I would like to include his writing in a future project.

 

The final third of the afternoon included a poignant recollection by Yvonne de la Vega of Wanda’s intervention as a protector of youthful aspirations. Yvonne first met Wanda at Café Largo in 1989, and she remembered having given a reading after which an audience member said, “Oh, so you’re the flavor of the month.” Wanda overheard this comment and immediately encircled Yvonne with her arm and made it clear to that snide person that Yvonne was just at the beginning of giving us all a taste of her passionate poetry. Eve Brandstein performed Wanda Coleman’s poem, “My Thang” with such perfect timing that the entire audience was laughing at all the right spots. For a brief moment, our laughter and Wanda’s laughter seemed to be in a cosmic give and take. At some point in this mix, Alice Pero stepped to the stage and played a soothing piece of music by Debussy on her flute.

 

Coming down the home stretch, Austin called to the stage Bibbe Hansen, whose artist husband Sean Carrillo I got a chance to talk with afterwards. Bibbe spoke about the challenges of raising her three children in Los Angeles and how her son Beck found himself at the age of 15 in the mid-1980s in a classroom at Los Angeles City College with a poet named Austin Straus, who turned him on to the kind of poetry found in my anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry. Austin and Wanda befriended Bibbe and her family at a difficult time and Bibbe and her husband flew across country from NYC to participate in yesterday’s event as a way of acknowledging how important Wanda and Austin were to their family. Soon after Bibbe’s affectionate account of their friendship, the founder of Beyond Baroque took the stage to put everything into perspective: “Wanda was large, and anything she touched she made larger.” I must confess that my scribbled notes started to overlap at this point, and I’m not sure if it was George who spoke about an interview that Wanda did with Lee Hickman in which Wanda spoke of her poetic practice as “a higher form of politics.” It may have been Bruce Williams who spoke of this interview. In any case, it was good to hear Lee Hickman’s name mentioned at this gathering by someone other than myself. Both of us were the editors who most frequently published Wanda’s poetry in the mid-1970s. In a similar manner, it was also gratifying to hear, late in the afternoon, someone mention Harvey Robert Kubernik, without any prompting as to his important contribution to the maturation of Los Angeles-based poets.

 

The musical contributions were far from over. Earlier in the afternoon, Ruth Buell had sung for a while, and toward the end, Dennis Holt contributed a lovely rendition of a song based on a poem by Pablo Neruda. Austin said, “I could listen to that melody all afternoon.” By now, one could tell that it was dark outside. Austin called me to the stage and I spoke briefly about Momentum magazine and read a short excerpt from Holdouts, in which Wanda appears frequently enough that Austin joked in his introduction that the book should have been called, “Wanda Coleman and company.” Gloria Alvarez Edina, Luis Campos and Linda Albertano finished up the tributes. In particular, Linda Albertano was able to give a full-throated cry of exuberant wistfulness. She walked off the stage with tears being shed on behalf of all of us, and I am grateful – and will remain grateful – for her ability to absorb and release in tender sympathy our common burden of Wanda’s absence.

 

Some of the people who were there but who did not speak included Linda Fry, Susan Suntree (who sat next to Linda and me), Liz Gonzalez and her husband, Holly Prado, Phoebe MacAdams Ozuna, Jim Cushing and his companion (each of whom attended both Saturday and Sunday’s events), Roger Taus (whose son, Chris, was a student of mine at Phoenix High School), David James, Laurel Ann Bogen (who valiantly worked at the desk at the entrance during the entire event), Amelie Frank, Lynell George, Ellyn Maybe, Ellen (Reich), Brendan Constantine, the sculptor Sean Carrillo, Holaday Mason, Jim Natal, Fred Whitlock, Carlye Archibeque, Michel Bernstein, and Elizabeth Iannaci. Florence Weinberger was caught off-guard when she was asked to speak. “I thought I was just signing a guest list.” My guess is that David Ulin would have spoken, but he might have then felt that he had compromised his journalistic objectivity.You can find his astute and well-honed reflections on both gatherings at:

 

http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-weekend-tributes-wanda-coleman-20140120,0,7511270.story#ixzz2r0py5N5D

 

Finally, there were many people there whose names I do not know, but some of whose faces I recognized, as well as many unintroduced strangers. For those whose names I do not know and whose faces I did not recollect as familiar, forgive me for not writing you into this account of a tiny portion of Wanda Coleman’s afterlife. As the occasion made us grateful for the life she devoted to our enlightenment; in equal measure, we were gratified to have all of you there.

 

As a footnote, I especially want to thank Amelie Frank, who gave me a copy of the recently published book of Austin and Wanda’s love poems just after I signed the guest register. “We’re almost out of copies,” she said and I felt very fortunate to be there at that precise moment.