Tag Archives: Idyllwild Poetry Festival

Biography Books Obituaries Poetry

Thomas Lux (1946 – 2017)

TOM LUX (December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)

Larry Goldstein was in town this past week, and we had lunch together at the Long Beach Museum of Art, where the upstairs gallery currently features some superb photographs of the Long Beach port. On our way to the museum, as I drove on Seventh Street, Larry mentioned that the Cortland Review was dedicating its next issue to the late Thomas Lux. I hadn’t heard that Tom had died, and I was as grateful for the slow traffic, as for the street’s familiarity. To have been told the same news on the 90 freeway last Friday night, as rain sliced down, might have had a different outcome, for the 90’s lane markers at night are very faint to begin with, and I struggled to detect exactly which lane I was traversing.

I first met Tom back in the early 1990s, when he was on a Southern California reading tour. He started at the Chateau Marmont on a weekend, headed over to Loyola Marymount at the start of the school week, and ended up at California State University Long Beach, by which time we ended up playing pool in the Student Union after his reading. I remember how surprised Tom was when I showed up at the second reading with a copy of Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy. He probably thought at that point that he had met everyone who had a copy of that early book. Not quite, I told him. Contrary to popular allegations from an individual he used to know in New York City, there were more than a handful of astute readers in Los Angeles.

Tom was a superb reader, and his poems fit perfectly into the Stand Up school that Charles Harper Webb was beginning to promote. Indeed, he unquestionably deserved his place in the second edition. He returned to the Los Angeles area in the late 1990s; along with Naomi Shihab Nye, he was the first poet-in-residence at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. Idyllwild was the last place I saw him, in large part because my life as a scholar has diverted my creative energies outside of the contemporary poetry nexus. It was over a decade ago that we last wrote each other. His poems have been a constant presence in my teaching, though.

Thomas Lux radiated a multi-dimensional love of poetry that went beyond anything I have ever encountered in all but a few other people. If it seems that he is present now in my memory’s eye as a living presence, reciting lines of poetry by Hart Crane or Theodore Roethke to illustrate his point, then it is a measure of how much his invisible companionship has meant to me the past dozen years.

This sense of personal loss extends to Charles Harper Webb, one of my fellow poets at CSULB. I asked if he would be willing to contribute to this blog post about Tom Lux’s writing and presence in our lives and he immediately sent the following eulogy:

“I was beyond bummed to hear of the death of Tom Lux, one of the truly good guys in American poetry. Just last December, I sent him my new book of essays on poetry, and he promised to send me a copy of the collection of Bill Knott’s poems which he’d just finished editing. It never crossed my mind that I’d never see, or even e-mail him again. Since we lived on opposite sides of the country, I didn’t see him much; but he was my friend, and a world-class ally in the fight for clear, entertaining poetry. I love Tom’s poems. I wish I’d written them. Every virtue that I praise in my essays, his poetry exemplifies. Wit, passion, impropriety, brilliance of metaphor and conception—he gave it all to the world in clear, concise language that sounds like no one else. Because there was no one else like him. It’s our good fortune that, although his body’s gone, his voice still sings out of his books, loud and quirky, brave and clear.”

The Collected Poems of Tom Lux will be a book worth waiting for, and the second half of Charles’s assessment would be a spot on blurb for that book. In that kind of volume, it is a common practice to include an index of titles as well as first lines. I would recommend including an index of last lines, too, in that book as a way of giving young poets one more axis of inspiration. I have seen many determined and talented young poets emerging in the past twenty years, but few have the gift of Tom Lux’s quirky, encompassing, comic sense of poignant elucidation.

If I were to take part in a memorial reading, I would be hard pressed to choose which one of his poems to read. “Refrigerator, 1957” would probably be my choice, though given its popularity, someone else would probably have read it by the time I got to the podium. It is certainly one of the best poems to have first appeared in The New Yorker magazine.


And for a view of that poem “across the pond,” go to:

One of the better articles I’ve found on his poetry can be found at:

Issue 77 / Winter 1998-99 – Stuart Dischell

Ecology Ground Level Conditions Painting and Sculpture Poetry

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

The most recent post centered on water, but the pre-Socratic philosophers must be afoot in Southern California, because fire is the chief element at work right now. The Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino County has burned over 35,000 acres, at last report, which would roughly be equivalent to an area seven times the size of the City of Santa Monica. When I first learned of the outbreak and spread of this conflagration, I immediately thought of the proximity of the Love Art Gallery to the heat perimeter. According to a message from Hye Sook Park, the Love Art Gallery is still intact. From looking at maps posted on-line, however, it appears that the fire came within less than five miles, if not closer, to the gallery.

If one is an artist and writer in Southern California, it is difficult not to have had the annual fire season affect some part of one’s life. Those who have been following my blog since its inception will recollect that a major fire broke out in the mountains around Idyllwild less than six months after my first post; the town had to be evacuated, and almost everybody left, except for the brave owner of Gary’s Deli, who kept his place open in order to feed the fire crews on the front line.

Idyllwild is typical of many mountain communities in Southern California in being extremely vulnerable; the longer the area goes without a fire, the more devastating the embarkation is likely to be, once ignited. The close calls come with a price: Idyllwild still mourns the death of firefighter Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, in the Esperanza fire of October, 2006.

In thinking back, in fact, of the decade during which Cecilia Woloch ran the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, it is quite remarkable that not once did that festival get interrupted by a mandatory evacuation. Not every arts organization has been as lucky. Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, just outside of Temecula, had all of its venerable cabins burnt down in a fire in the late spring of 2004. It has been partially rebuilt, but nothing can replace the inspiring quaintness of the original setting, which I was fortunate enough to spend a couple months at during the winter of 1997.

And fire affects individual artists: perhaps fire spared the Love Art Gallery because it had already helped itself to enough of the art produced by one of its exhibitors. One thing I did not mention in my review of Hye Sook Park’s show at the Love Art Gallery (see “The Fall of St. Paula,” April 13, 2015) was that she had lost an immense amount of work in a studio fire about four years ago. The storage shed that contained dozens of her canvases somehow caught on fire and destroyed years of work. I am grateful to learn of the survival of the Love Art Gallery and look forward to seeing more of Hye Sook Park’s new paintings, which affirm the work yet to be done as always already being made vivid by the indestructibility of the joy of creation.

For those who want to visit:
Love Art Studio
15551 Cajon Blvd.
San Bernardino, CA 92407
(909) 576-5773

Books Poetry Teaching

Review of Eloise Klein Healy’s ARTEMIS IN ECHO PARK

I first heard Eloise Klein Healy read her poetry at Immaculate Heart College, a Catholic college in Los Angeles that unflinchingly challenged the patriarchal hierarchy of that religion during the late 1960s. By the time I got to the campus around 1973 or 1974 to hear her read with Michael C. Ford, the nuns who taught there had already declared themselves to be free of the local bishop’s heavy hand. As a poet, Healy too was seeking alternative models of writing. At Immaculate Heart, Healy read a mix of poems, several of which were memorable enough on first hearing that I recognized them immediately when they appeared in her first collection, Building Some Changes (Beyond Baroque New Book, 1976). I included her in my first anthology, The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (Momentum Press, 1978), alongside Holly Prado, Deena Metzger, Kate Braverman, Jim Krusoe, Lee Hickman, and Harry E. Northup. Her poems have subsequently appeared in over a dozen anthologies, including Edward Field’s mass-market paperback, A Geography of Poets. Healy went on to devote a considerable amount of time to the Woman’s Building, all the while teaching at a variety of settings, including California State University, Northridge. In 2012, the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles selected her to serve as the first Poet Laureate of L.A.

Healy was among the small cluster of poets in Los Angeles who managed to be featured both in the Stand Up poetry anthologies edited by Charles Webb and to be part of the roster of Spoken Word performers recorded by New Alliance Records for which Harvey Kubernik served as producer.

You can find a selection of twenty poems from her books at:


Almost a quarter-century ago, I wrote a review of her collection, ARTEMIS IN ECHO PARK, that never found an editor willing to publish it. By the time I wrote this review, she had also appeared in my second anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry. I should emphasize that my comments on her poetry probably reflect my impatience with my own inability to bring a more lyrical touch to my poems than a dissatisfaction with her Healy’s verse. I present my review, though, without rewriting it. I would add only that her work has continued to mature, in the 20 years since I wrote this brief essay, both in its “ordinary wisdom” and in its formal dexterity. Her sestina, “Louganis,” which I first heard her read at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, is memorable enough to make the task of memorizing it not anywhere near as daunting a task as learning to dive from a high board. It’s a 10, though it’s not the first time her poems have earned that mark.




Music Performance Poetry

Idyllwild Poetry and Jazz – Summer, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Idyllwild Poetry Festival: “What to do with the rest of your life”

The poetry week at Idyllwild in the summer, 2014 held its first reading last night in the Parks Exhibition Center. Ed Skoog led off with a long poem about taking a shower at night that seemed somewhat akin to another of his poem that was recently published in American Poetry Review. In “Being in Plays,” Skoog invokes the “foldable theater / half-constructed on page or mind” that is plastic enough to enfold itself with “the unseen,” implicitly half-visible to him in the poem’s lyric silence. The poem about taking a shower at night, however, is much more ambitious than “Being in Plays” and towards the end began to rise to the dramaturgic challenge posed by Wallace Stevens in “Of Modern Poetry.”

Because the gallery was going to hold an opening at 8:00 p.m., the reading had an hour time limit, and Skoog very generously allotted the bulk of the time to his two featured poets, Troy Jollimore and Ellen Bass. Jollimore focused on poems he had recently written, which immediately earned my admiration. It’s all too tempting for a poet to view a reading as an opportunity to impress the audience with one’s best efforts, and sometimes such a reading is appropriate, but Jollimore seemed to trust both his work-in-progress and the occasion of a new audience in a remote, small town as fully compatible.  Of the half-dozen or so poems he read, my favorites were “On the Origins of Things” and “Marvelous Things without Number.”

Ellen Bass read about the same amount of time, though she focused on published poems from her most recent collection, Like a Beggar.  She led off with that book’s first poem, “Relax,” followed by “Padre Hotel,” “The Morning After” and the evening’s most immediately memorable poem, “What Did I Love,” an extended meditation on being held accountable for the meat you eat by being willing to execute it. Bass is an exceptionally fine reader, and her voice embodied the subtle cadences and rhythms propelling her imagistic rhetoric.


The best moment of the evening was yet to come. On her suggestion, Linda and I walked over to Bowman Auditorium for a jazz presentation. We walked in while someone was concluding a number that featured a meditation on John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” Then Marshall Hawkins slowly strode across the stage and took up an enormous upright bass, upon which he began to stroke his bow for the opening moments of a composition entitled “What to Do With the Rest of Your Life.” When I opened my eyes after listening intently to the first 30 seconds or so, I kept looking for the horn. But no one was playing a horn. It was Hawkins, deftly coaxing the strings of the upright into a plangent spindrift of suspended yearning. I don’t have any idea of how he managed to transform his instrument from string to brass, but he did. I have heard Hawkins perform several times over the past 15 years when I was on the main amphitheater stage at Idyllwild for the festival, back when it was impeccably run by Cecilia Woloch. Hawkins is one of the master artists of our time, and I doubt a moment of equally fierce tenderness was offered to any audience on the West Coast last night. It was a privilege to hear him still sharing his vision at the heights of his undiminished powers.