Tag Archives: Dennis Cooper


Peter Schjeldahl: Poet and Art Critic (1942-2022)

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Peter Schjeldahl would probably have been flustered if I had professed to be astounded at his capacity to write an article on the death of Frank O’Hara at the age of 24. Perhaps there are thousands of people, if not hundreds, who could have written something as directly elegant and insightful as Schjeldahl did at such a young age, but I am most certainly am not one of them, nor do I know any people my age who could look back and say that their youthful talent was equally capacious. Perhaps Dennis Cooper would be the only person I have known who would be up to the task at a similar age. As for being older, not that much has changed. Even on the verge of turning 75 in the next few days, I find myself wishing I could turn my blog over to a guest writer who could quickly sketch why Peter Schjeldahl meant so much to so many of us.

I knew him first as a poet, and it is as a poet that I wish to speak of him right now. Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar Press published Schjeldahl’s final collection of poems, The Brute. While the title poem is a deft critique of America’s self-righteous justifications for its empire, there are several other poems that deserve canonical attention: “To Pico Boulevard”; “On Cocksucking”; and “Why I Missed Punk.” When I put together my second anthology of Los Angeles poets, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” Schjeldahl’s droll pilgrimage on Pico Boulevard was my choice for the book’s first poem. One might think it odd to have an anthology featuring over five dozen Los Angeles-based poets start with a poet who is more associated with the New York School and the St. Mark’s scene, but Schjeldahl enjoyed the irony. He wrote me that “I worked hard for the honor of being a Los Angeles poet, and I am happy to accept it.” Over the course of a couple of years, Schjeldahl gave several inspiring readings in Los Angeles, including one where he delivered a poem about how he was giving up poetry for writing art criticism. I wish I could remember its title.

His influence on that anthology began with a conversation I had with him at Intellectuals and Liars bookstore in the late spring, 1979. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about that conversation in the first draft of the memoir I am working on.

You might wonder, by the way, how Schjeldahl found himself in Los Angeles a little over 40 years ago. His spouse, Brooke Alderson, was an actress hoping to get work in Hollywood, and she did in fact land a role in Urban Cowboy (1980). If she didn’t end up having a career as an actress, it should be noted how difficult it is to get even one part in a major film. Schjeldahl is survived by his wife and their daughter, who is also a writer.

The New York Times obituary, by the way, initially misidentified the name of the photographer who took the photograph of Schjeldahl that was at the top of its article. When I commissioned Sheree Rose to take photographs of all the poets in the anthology, she shot Schjeldahl at Beyond Baroque in Venice, leaning on a podium. It seems to me to be an exquisite, if unstated, confirmation of his place in Los Angeles poetry that The NY Times would use a photo of him reading here rather than at St. Mark’s. At both places, he remains an honored and treasured memory.



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“Mondo Deco” — A Panel on THE QUICK at BB

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“Mondo Deco” — A Panel on THE QUICK at Beyond Baroque

Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar magazine was one of the best literary magazines published in the 1970s, although categorizing it as a “literary” magazine minimizes its cultural contribution. Cooper wanted poetry to be read with the same pleasure and admiration as the best of pop music, but he also wanted poets to listen to pop music with the same level of appreciation that they had for Frank O’Hara. Little Caesar did not keep its affections for pop music in its back pages. A full frontal shot of Iggy Pop stands out as one of its issues’ classic covers.

Tonight, at Beyond Baroque, there will be a panel discussion devoted to The Quick, one of the bands that Dennis Cooper incisively championed. The Quick only performed for about three years in the mid-1970s, and they seem to have had the bad luck of emerging just before the lassitude of the post-1960s cultural success of pop music collided with the Punk movement. If any account of an artistic period almost always oversimplifies things (and the statement I just made is a prime example), then it is the inexplicable failure of gifted artists to attain proportionate recognition that provokes reassessments of those accounts. While tonight’s panel, which features the main songwriter for The Quick, Steve Hufsteter, along with Lisa Fancher, the founder of Frontier Records, will no doubt talk about the inability of the band to break through the stultified filters of the music industry at that time, I would hope that the conversation would devote itself to a mood of celebration.

The Quick’s first and only album, Mondo Deco, was far from a commercial success, but it was not forgotten by its devoted listeners. It is finally being re-released over 40 years after its first appearance, in a version that includes a second album’s worth of additional songs that were subsequently recorded before the band broke up. I hope the success of the panel tonight, which has added a 10 p.m. follow-up to its sold-out 8 p.m. presentation, helps spread the word about some of the music that fascinated the youthful insurgency of poetry in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

I wish I could attend this event, but I am teaching English 474/574 in the first summer session at CSULB, and it meets in the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For further background information:




Books Contemporary Fiction Ground Level Conditions Poetry

A Petition to Restore Dennis Cooper’s Blog

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Petition on Behalf of Dennis Cooper’s Blog and E-Mail Account

Thanks to a notice posted by Brian Kim Stefans, I became aware yesterday of a major literary crisis. Dennis Cooper’s blog and e-mail accounts have been summarily deleted by Google. He was not given any prior notification or warning about this public dismemberment of his creative and cultural work, nor has he received a single sentence from Google explaining their actions.

Mark Doten has started a petition to demand the restoration of Dennis Cooper’s writing to a domain of his own control. You can join me in signing this petition at:

As Mark Doten pointed out in a post on his July 21st Facebook page, “….surely the blog contained 10,000 hours or more of Dennis’s labor.” I myself can testify to the longstanding work ethic that Dennis possesses. No one, including me, worked as hard as Dennis did back in the late 1970s and early 1980s to make poetry more visible in Los Angeles. It seemed as if every time I stopped by Beyond Baroque’s New Comp Graphics to do some typesetting for my own Momentum press, there was Dennis at the Compugraphic keyboard, pounding out page after page for some issue of his magazine, Little Caesar or a book for his press. What part of work does Google not understand? It takes substantial work to accomplish the body of work produced by Dennis Cooper. In contrast, anybody in a state slightly more alert than torpor can sit at a machine and with a couple dozen keystrokes, gleaned from an operations manual, obliterate another person’s thoughtful cultural work. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out who is more admirable.

I suspect, by the way, that the hand of a censor is at work in this instance. Many of us might think that the trial of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in the mid-1950s settled once and for all the rights of serious writers to have their work protected from censorship. I am afraid that the battle to keep the censoring hand from the writer’s keyboard is never completely won. The situation is rather like that of abortion rights and the issue of a woman’s control over her own body. Roe versus Wade was just an important turning point; so, too, was Ferlinghetti’s victory in a San Francisco court. I certainly hope that Dennis Cooper does not have to take this case to court. Doten’s petition, if it receives the vigorous support it deserves, might well help resolve this crisis before it reaches that point.

Fortunately, in promoting this petition, Dennis is not without friends and allies who are willing to speak up on his behalf. If you want to find out more about this crisis of imagination and censorship, please read Jennifer Krasinski’s article at the “Culture Desk” at The New Yorker:

And once again, I urge you to join me and over 3,000 other people in signing Mark Doten’s petition to Google.

Painting and Sculpture Poetry

Mike Kelley Retrospective

August 1, 2014


The one and only time I happened to see the late Mike Kelley was at Beyond Baroque in one of his first major public presentations. I was not as impressed with his performance as I was with Johanna Went, whose work was also being featured at BB around this period. The younger poets showing up at Beyond Baroque at the time, however, such as Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, as well as fiction writer Benjamin Weissman, were enthusiastic about Kelley’s flare for self-centered intensity. Kelley seemed to have the charisma of the undeterred: what other choice was available, his taciturn presence on the stage seemed to insist.

Kelley’s charisma, it turned out, derived in part from his desire to subvert some inner dichotomies that he knew he was not responsible for. If post-modernism denied the transparent culminations of any knowledge-oriented project, Kelley was not about to succumb to some easy road to absurdist consciousness. Flamboyantly concise and expansively precise, Kelley’s work exuded a commitment to a mission from which few return less damaged than at the start, and make no mistake about it: this society’s post-World War II ideologies ran ramshackle over Kelley’s youthful sensitivities. One piece in particular summed up the traumatic origins of Kelly’s angst. On a wall near the large scale model of his childhood’s institutional indoctrination sites, one could find posted a “Suspected Child Abuse Report,” which the following comments were registered: “Raised by Zombies / Brainwashed by a Cult / Take me back, please.” If the first two comments suggest a prickly revulsion akin to Bob Dylan’s line, “Is there a hole for me to get sick in?” the third comment reveals how difficult it is to escape from the black hole of one’s bleak childhood.

“Educational Complex” was one of the last pieces I encountered as I worked my way through the major retrospective of Kelly’s work at the Geffen Temporary Contemporary, and it remains one of the three or four pieces I would most want to see again. It vibrates in my memory like a massive omphalos of sanitized ideology in which all the personal responsibility for the imposition of egregiously repressive social control has been utterly effaced. No one needs to utter the platitude of “I take full responsibility” because those who benefit the most from this structural edifice have already made their victims the only ones who are permitted to make such a confession.

I wish I had the time to read a few essays on Kelley’s work before posting this entry, but almost immediately after Linda and I viewed this show, I received a call from the Los Angeles Review of Books wanting to know if I would write something about Joseph Hansen and gave me a two-week deadline. I agreed, and that more or less eliminated any chance to go into any more depth on Kelly. As I have thought about his show, though, I have found myself wanting to rearrange the order of the pieces. I would love to have encountered the following sequence: “Abused Child Report”; “Educational Complex”; “Kandor”; the video of Superman reading Plath’s The Bell Jar; “The Greatest Tragedy of President Clinton’s Administration”; and “Pay for Your Pleasure.”

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned L.A. poets who were among Kelley’s earliest admirers.  One I didn’t mention was Bob Flanagan, who went on to become a performer in one of Kelley’s pieces mid-way through this exhibit. As I think about it, in fact, I wonder if Bob Flanagan’s self-portrait as “super-masochist” might possibly have been part of the germination of the “Kandor” project in which Superman’s hometown undergoes a version of whimsical gentrification. I must admit that I was rather enchanted by the scale model that one had to climb a short staircase to view. It was a full of radiant crystals, about two dozen towers in all, on a circular platform. No figures were visible, as if the only life were taking place inside these cathode tubes of utter peacefulness, a kind of mineral chrysalis.

“The Greatest Tragedy of President Clinton’s Administration” proved to be a belated caustis manifesto of sexual rebellion. Kelley’s half-dozen paragraphs choreographed the rhetoric of health with scathing irony. His logic was seething with self-evident obviousness: don’t people see how they’ve been swindled out of their birthright of pleasure? Kelley’s argument moves with a lucid ferocity from health care to sexual health, in which his recommendation is that rock figures should become the sexual servants of those who disempower their own libidos by fixating on the paradigmatic success of others.

“Pay for Your Pleasure” deserved to have a more pungent dialectical rebuke. One also wonders if Kelley at any point ever paused and thought to himself, “Hmmm, all males. In what way does my work differ from the effigies of figures that decorate the upper walls of the Boston Public Library as the fundamental resources of knowledge in Western Civilization?”  I will confess that “Pay for Your Pleasure”  did catch me off –guard with the intensity of a sudden desire to appropriate this piece and to stage it in Texas. In point of fact, what would it have meant for Kelley to have purchased and installed one of George W. Bush’s portrait paintings as the terminal point of this prêt-a-porter philosophical tour.

The video in which Superman reads portion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was easily one of the most tantalizing parts of the entire exhibit. I would love to be able to use this video in a classroom. It was one of those rare moments when a combination of well-known cultural figures is a perfect blend, and one wonders why no one thoughts of this before. Michael Garvey’s performance of Superman deserves a special commendation.

“Infinite Expansion” (1982, Broad Art Foundation), which Linda saw as having a visual logic of “contraction,” has a chiastic quality of zig-zag overflow, as if it were an image of a fountain of rippling temporality. It served as a rare moment of respite in Kelley’s retrospective. Perhaps I am misreading this piece, but for once Kelley might have found a way out of duplicity of social manipulation and achieved a glimpse at a logic that frees the spirit rather than demolishing it under the pretence of human progress.