Tag Archives: Doren Robbins


ART AND CAKE MAGAZINE: “The Art of Poetry”

Kristine Schomaker, the editor of ART AND CAKE magazine, which focuses on artists working in the Los Angeles area, recently put out a call for artists who write poems. The issue has just been published; and while several of the contributors are better known for their poetry than their art, I would say that their art holds it own in juxtaposition with those whose primary materials are paint and canvas rather than language.

In particular, it was heartening to appear in this collaboration with poets such as Kevin Opstedal, Doren Robbins, and Jonathan Yungkans, as well as friends such as Lisa Segal.

Art of Poetry


Lawrence Ferlinghetti is Dead; Long Live City Lights

Feb. 23, 2021 — Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Early this afternoon, I heard the news that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had died. I guess that Naomi Replansky will remain the oldest living American poet for at least a little longer.

Tributes to him will no doubt flourish as the obituaries trot out the familiar details, but the only important tribute has already been paid by those who cared the most about his most significant accomplishment, a bookstore that took up the 18th century model of also being a publisher. In the early months of the Pandemic, City Lights Bookstore held a fundraiser in hopes of stabilizing its chances of surviving the loss of its flow of daily customers. The fundraiser was so successful that the bookstore generated a minor endowment that will nurture it through at least the rest of this decade. In 2028, the store will turn 75 years old. It is not too early to plan on making that occasion a chance to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of copies of books that have found grateful readers thanks to this store’s visibility.

*. *. ********. *****. ****** ******

Soon after posting the above, I received a letter from Doren Robbins,who gave me permission to reprint it in my blog:

My 1958 edition of A Coney Island of the Mind (title deriving from Henry Miller’s Black Spring, as we know) is the first book of poems I bought. Eighteen years old.

That 1958 edition along with Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems, 100 Poems by E.E. Cummings, Selected Poems by Langston Hughes, and the Selected of Edna St. Vincnt Millay along with an early translation of Baudelaire by George Dillon and Edna St. Vincent Millay, are my first books of poetry. Probably true of a lot of lucky poets (who are now) in their 70’s.

I was around eleven-years old when a younger salesman friend of my father, a guy named Wally Sussman, a jazz piano player, came through the front door excited and probably high into our TV room when we were sitting around after dinner and started spontaneously reading from A Coney Island of the Mind, I think it was “I am Waiting.” I’ll never forget it or couldn’t’ve anticipated what happened to me, but the visual performance of that scene is implanted and Pollocked into my memory.

LF was an important influence to me, alongside Ginsberg and Rukeyser. He could blend personal and social satire and dramatic observation and introspection as well as Villon, Petronius, or Nicanor Para or Henry Miller. And I sincerely regret never being published by City Lights, though from the 80’s till the early 2000’s whenever I sent him a book he always sent me a postcard with one of his paintings on it inviting me for espresso if I was in SF.

What a long, fertile, life full of personal and political meaning he had. Fortunately he is generally well-received.

I think Ferlinghetti would’ve laughed with a steady Anarchist sneer that I was unable to open your NY Times obituary because I had gone over the free limit, and had to go to National Public Radio (which sounds better than it is).


Contemporary Fiction Ground Level Conditions Poetry Small Press Publishing

The Los Angeles-Minnesota Connection

Saturday, August 5, 2017

“Emerging Writers” Grants in Minnesota

In less than four weeks, I will have students asking, “So what did you do during your summer vacation, Professsor Mohr?” and I’ll respond that “vacation” will deserve yet another set of scare quotes. It’s been several decades since I had a summer off. This year, I had originally hoped to visit two former students in Croatia and spend a couple weeks reading and writing at an arts colony they founded a couple years ago near Pula, but the illness of one of Linda’s sisters impinged on those plans, and so we have stayed in Los Angeles County this summer. I ended up teaching a summer course in 20th century American literature in June and early July, during which time I began reviewing the applications of over 200 writers who live in Minnesota. As is well known to writers in California, Minnesota is the land of milk and honey in terms of literary support. Of course, we who labor at any art other than screenwriting in California tell ourselves that Minnesota has to bribe its writers to stay there. Unless an economic infrastructure provided some cultural largesse, why else would one endure those endless winters?

All envious kidding aside, I was very happy to serve on this panel because I have long felt a kinship with the literary community in Minnesota. I first noticed the editorial hospitality of Minnesota towards poets based in Los Angeles in The Lamp in the Spine, a magazine edited by Jim Moore and Trish Hampl in the 1970s. Their issues included work by Doren Robbins, Holly Prado, and Ameen Alwan. Subsequently, I visited The Loft in 1986 along with Doren Robbins to contribute to an two-day celebration of Tom McGrath’s poetry on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Two hundred applications, each with an average of 20 pages of writing, is quite a pile to go through and comment on, so being on the panel turned out to be a major undertaking, but it was also very gratifying to see how much good work is being done in Minnesota by writers who have not yet published a substantial amount of work. The grants were for “emerging writers,” which meant that these applicants did not necessarily have to compete with those whose precocity had already allowed them to flourish. Many of the applicants whose work I read in the past couple months will not have to wait too long for a book to come out, however. I spotted at least two dozen manuscripts, in the samples of these portfolios, that will no doubt end up published or scheduled for publication by the end of this decade. For those not chosen for the award, please know that I read carefully, and I truly wish I could have doubled or tripled the number of awards. While a total of fourteen people were listed as winners, alternates, finalists, or deserving of honorable mention, there were at least a half-dozen others whose writing I found memorable. I wished, in fact, that I could have them as students in a workshop and watch their work grow even more compelling and intriguing.

The Loft has released the names of the writers selected by the panel for the “emerging writers” grants in 2017, and I will let its announcement speak for itself.


Books Painting and Sculpture Poetry

The Resilient Visions of Barbara Romain

Beyond Baroque – Friday, January 24

Last night Linda Fry and I attended an event at Beyond Baroque on Friday night that I originally thought was two distinct events, but turned out to be interconnected. Doren Robbins, a poet I met in Los Angeles around 40 years ago, has been married to Linda Janakos, a novelist, for many years; after years of moving around the country, including a serious stretch of residing in Oregon, they settled in Santa Cruz, but they have always maintained an abiding affection for L.A. and its poets and artists. Most recently, Linda has produced and directed a short document film about Barbara Romain, a visual artist who faced an unexpected challenge to her poetics as a painter at the mid-point of her career. Refusing to be daunted by an eye disease that has eviscerated her eyesight, she has continued to produce a vigorous and intriguing body of work in the past two decades. Last night’s program at Beyond Baroque started with a screening of Can You See Me? , which included interviews with Romain as well as filmed reproductions of her work. Can You See Me? is available as a DVD.

The second half of the evening surprised me in that I hadn’t realized that Chris Peditto was the late husband of Barbara Romain. I had met Chris a couple of times before I moved to San Diego in the mid-1990s, but we never had much of a chance to get to know each other. He started a small press about the time we met that published several books by writers such as Eric Priestley and Charles Bivins, the latter of whom had appeared in “Poetry Loves Poetry.” Chris died in early November last year, just a month shy of his 70th birthday.  I wasn’t able to stay for the memorial at BB last evening, and I asked Doren and Linda to stand in for me.

Here is the poem by Chris that appeared in last night’s memorial program:


poems come from heaven

why do poets scream?

poems come from heaven’s land of angels

why do poets die in screams of heaven





in recoil of the dream in lands of night

& sleep upon the pillow of everlasting light.


Sleep well, Chris, and keep the covers well pulled up until it’s our turn to snuggle up next to you, dear brother in poetry. If this seems a wish imbued with sentimentality, so be it. I will not change a syllable.






Performance Poetry

Poetic Research Bureau

I received a notice about LIFE SENTENCES the other day and can’t think of a better possible way to start posting on my site than to share this announcement.

If I were able to bring in a single poet from anywhere in the United States who would complicate the dialogue aspired to in this upcoming program, Michael Kincaid would be my first choice. I have met him at only one occasion, a celebration of Tom McGrath’s writing that took place at the Loft in Minnesota when McGrath turned 70. Doren Robbins and I flew out together from Los Angeles to be part of the program and one of the people in attendance was a young poet who seemed as equally obstreperous in his poetics as I yearned to be. Kincaid and I corresponded for several years, and I published his chapbook, “Inclemency’s Tribe,” in 1990 as a sort of coda to my work as editor of Momentum Press. He has remained the most stalwart and uncompromising poet-philosopher in contemporary practice. Here is entry number 43 from his most recent book, “LIGHTNING DIALOGUES,” published by Nemesis in Minneapolis.

CHILDREN OF SOCRATES. — From the French dialecticians — Derrida, et al. — to a poet like Jorie Graham, the postmoderns are neo-Socratics, basking in the false prestige Socrates lent to ignorance. They don’t know: that is their claim to admiration, the plot and pathos of their drama. Playing to the mirror, they deconstruct their presence, trading on a politic despair. They flaunt their self-doubt as if uncertainty’s dialectic were a superior form of presence, not its indefinite deferral.

My expectation is that the program announced by the Poetic Research Bureau will offer the crucial variant that gets left out of Kincaid’s summary of postmodern poetics. The desire to know still underpins the writing of many poets who struggle with how to determine the boundaries of negative capability. Of the poets who will be reading this Saturday, Bennett and Bernstein in particular are likely to remind the audience that the yearning for knowledge cuts short the self-serving pose of the neo-Socratics. The advantages of saying “I don’t know” lose their momentum when confronted with the question, “What would it mean if you did know? How would you then be held accountable for having not known?” At the very least, there is a poignant desire to know underlying the work of many poets who get lumped together as postmodern, but who agitate that categorization with their jaunty wit, the one quality that most efficiently redeems the deferral of resolute acknowledgement. Even so, I wish I had the means to bring Kincaid’s critique into the conversation this Saturday, for it would make this event even more deserving of your attendance. Despite his absence, I hope to see you there.

LIFE SENTENCES: An Afternoon of the Epigrammatic
4 hours, 8 readers, 800+ statements


Guy Bennett, Charles Bernstein, Aaron Kunin, Andrew Maxwell, Maggie Nelson, Vanessa Place, Matvei Yankelevich, Maged Zaher

Saturday June 15th, 2013 1pm – 5pm
@ Poetic Research Bureau
951 Chung King Rd, Chinatown, LA

Gnomes, aphorisms, propositions, fragments,
maxims, phrases, epigrams, mottoes, curses,
koans, haiku, quips, dry tweets, pensées.

In sequence, relentlessly, toward 1000 sentences.
Live readers, video people, giving the compressed
form its due, by mouth and by pixel.