Tag Archives: Joseph Hansen

The Poetry of Sunset Strip; John Harris Memorial

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I came down with a bad head cold this past Friday evening, and was still sufficiently ill on Monday to have to cancel that day’s classes. One other unfortunate consequence of my illness is that I had to miss the memorial service for John Harris at Beyond Baroque this past Saturday. Even though I wasn’t there, however, I found an example of his impact on the larger community of poets, musicians, and artists as I tried to do a bit of research for a paper I’m working on about the early days of punk rock music in Los Angeles. Chris D., who edited an anthology in the mid-70s entitled Bongo Chalice, recollects seeing the first issue of Slash magazine in — you guessed it — Papa Bach Bookstore in 1977. It was completely John’s store by that point, and his choices shaped the entire zeitgeist that the store palpitated. I took a look at the clock on Saturday as I read Chris D.’s assessment of the store as “bohemian”: it was a few minutes past 5:00 p.m., and John’s memorial service would have been just wrapping up. I heard from Michael C. Ford a couple days ago that George Drury Smith spoke at the gathering and said that while Joseph Hansen provided the intellectual edge to the early days of the Wednesday night poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque, John Harris as its co-founder was the heart of the gathering. He was also its designated driver, in that Joe Hansen was like Ray Bradbury and refused to own or drive a car, and had held out against driving ever since coming of age in Los Angeles. If John had not provided Joe with a ride to the workshop, I doubt it would ever have sustained itself.

I suppose I should be grateful that my indisposition at least waited until Friday to make itself felt. Several weeks ago, Kim Dower, the poet laureate of West Hollywood, asked me to read with a half-dozen other poets at the West Hollywood Public Library and to write something on the theme of Sunset Strip, 1967. The reading was scheduled for Thursday, April 6, and by the morning of the day before I still hadn’t written anything. With only 36 hours left before the reading was to begin, I sat down and got to work on a sonnet, which I had to complete by mid-morning so that I could leave for campus. I got it done and was pleased enough with the effor that I dedicated it to Laurence Goldstein, whose Poetry Los Angeles is the best book around on the theme of this city as an omphalos of poetic inspiration.

The reading went very well and all the poets enjoyed reading with one of the most glamorous backdrops that any of us could ask for. I had no idea that we would be provided such as shimmering setting. I was delighted to see Audri Phillips in the audience, and the esteemed music critic Steve Hochman came up afterwards and introduced himself. There was some awkwardness at the end as the poets headed off to a small get-together about who could be there. If someone named Halley (who seemed as if she possessed a tender poetic spirit) is reading this, my profound apologies for your discomfort.

Group shot : https://www.flickr.com/photos/weho/33832596251/in/album-72157679206949583/

All photos: www.flickr.com/photos/weho/albums/72157679206949583

Joseph Hansen and the Early Days of Beyond Baroque

Friday, August 12, 2016

Addendum to HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992

A couple weekends ago, I drove down to UC Irvine to meet with Dina Moinzedeh, a graduate student from France who is on the verge of completing a dissertation on Charles Bukowski. She asked me to take a look at the first chapter, and I spent over two and a half hours talking with her about it. In the draft I read, I noted that she cited my Holdouts a fair number of times, primarily to provide a literary context for Bukowski’s writing. If Holdouts devoted very little time to Bukowski’s writing, it was in part because I didn’t want newcomers to the history of communities of poets in Los Angeles to get a distorted understanding of the scenes by a disproportionate emphasis on his poems. It would have been more than appropriate, of course, to have included a 20 page overview of his poetry, since he is one of the major figures to come out of this particular region, and his international renown is continuing to expand, and I will have to write such an article in the near future in order to redress this omission. If I am overdue in writing on any writer, it is to my shame that I have put off this article so long. My focus, though, in Holdouts was on the contribution that Bukowski made as editor of a literary magazine and co-editor of Anthology of L.A. Poets (Red Hill Press, 1972).

One obstacle to including such a section on Bukowski’s poetry in Holdouts was that my original manuscript logged in at somewhere around 120,000 words, and the University of Iowa Press insisted on cutting it to 90,000 words, which effectively meant that every fourth page had to be deleted. (With a straight face, they added: “Keep the good stuff.”) Given that Holdouts was already too long, according to Iowa, one can understand how trying to squeeze in additional commentary on Bukowski was next to impossible. The compression of the penultimate draft of Holdouts required that an immense amount of relevant detail and evidence be eliminated; it should surprise no one when I mention that Paul Vangelisti recently said that my dissertation is better than the book. I’ll leave that to others to argue about, but the fact remains that not only did the book not incorporate key moments in the history of these communities, but my dissertation didn’t include them either.

To give one instance of neglected material, it is the case that I do refer to Joseph Hansen’s articles about the Bridge and the early days of the Beyond Baroque workshop, but it’s a pity that neither the book nor the dissertation provided a big enough stage to cite the following:

“The Workshop had a crowd of taxi-drivers at that time – Ed Entin, Phil Taylor, Dennis Holt, as well as Barry (Simons). …. It was Dennis who arranged for us to read at Cal State Northridge after Venice Thirteen was published. The buildings seemed to me raw, and the sunlit library where we read had hundreds of books on the shelves that look untouched by human hands. The place was full. our outspoken language didn’t seem to offend anyone. Luis Campos, a delicately made man with a shy smile and a Spanish accent, drew laughs with his mordant view of plastic America, its fast food chains and hair spray commercials. So did John Harris’s “Deuteronomy Edition,” hacked from assorted sources – newspaper want ads, cooking columns, society pages, astrological forecasts, weather reports – and read by the entire crew. Luis’ tape recorder had awaken us to the possibilities in multi-voice poems.” (Bachy, issue number 10, page 139)

A group reading of a collage poem was just one small, but brightly colored rhomboid in the mosaic of community maturation for the poets of Los Angeles at that time, but it wasn’t an isolated instance. Rather, it was part of the trajectory that would lead to an entire day and evening given to the composition and reading of poems written by groups of us at Beyond Baroque in the mid-1970s. Jim Krusoe once said to me that one of his biggest regrets about those years is that he didn’t gather all the pages we wrote that day and keep them together in a folder. It certainly wasn’t the case that we didn’t like what we wrote. The collaborative event was a jovial occasion, but we regarded the day as being the equivalent of a jam session of musicians, and in our exuberance forgot what we were conscious of all along: something special was happening in Venice and Hollywood and many points in between, as well as to the north and south of this axis; and it deserved preservation. One can only sigh in wistful speculation. Few enough photographs exist of that time, and but even more tinged with regret is the fact that the amount of writing lost along the way is an aporia that will haunt the legend of those days each time the surviving archives are looked into by the scholars to come.

“Emotions Doesn’t Change Facts” — Joseph Hansen

Friday, December 5, 2014

Zach Mann has just written to let me know that my article on Joseph Hansen in now available on-line at the Los Angeles Review of Books. A print version appeared several weeks ago, but I am delighted that this is now more easily accessible. I also want to thank Zach Mann for his editorial assistance in writing the article. He’s a pleasure to work with and any writer would benefit from his feedback.

http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/emotions-doesnt-change-facts-remembering-joseph-hansen

The article had to fit within certain length considerations, however, and one of my favorite sections had to be sacrificed. For those who are still learning about Hansen’s writing, this omitted section might help explain why I am such a passionate advocate.

(A supplementary portion of the article:)

One of Hansen’s finest skills as a writer is his capacity to integrate the small details in the progress of a narrative into the larger picture of his investigations. In The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, an alcoholic landscape painter named Tyree Smith attempts to convince Brandstetter that his version of events is more than a clever plan to cadge a few free drinks. After a conversation at a restaurant at which he is seen talking to Brandstetter by the character who eventually proves to be the murderer of the town’s sheriff, Brandstetter drives the aging artist out to his trailer at the edge of town.
The bartender had been right. The trailer was an eyesore. Dented aluminum, spattered with dried mud, a square of rain-stained cardboard where a window bad been, it hung on a weedy point of land above jagged black rocks the tide was backing away from. Three respectable-looking campers kept their distance, sheltering at the edge of the trees. There was a long telephone booth. From wooden poles with tin meter boxes limp wires fed electricity to the campers and trailer. Smith had passed out. Dave opened the old man’s door, undid the safety strap, and hauled him to his feet. 99
Then, twenty pages later, Brandstetter gets a phone call in his motel room. At first, Brandstetter doesn’t recognize the caller’s voice: “Is this Tyree Smith?” Brandstetter inquires, but the caller does not identify himself or where he’s calling from, instead focusing on letting his own pent-up internal monologue boil over.
“I could have told you who killed the son of a bitch,” Smith said. “All you had to do was ask me.”
“You told me,” Dave said. “Mrs. Orton – remember?”
Something banged the phone at Smith’s end. A glass? Bottle, more likely. “You don’t want to pay” Smith belched – “too much attention to my dramatic improv—“
He backed off and tried the word again. “Improvisations.”
“You mean she didn’t threaten him?”
“Way I told you,” Smith said. “But, face it—she couldn’t step on an ant.” The banging happened again. He must have dropped the receiver. It swung on its wire against the glass of the lonely booth under the eucalyptus trees. Then Smith had it again. “My car’s missing. You come here.”
Hansen deftly handles the syncopation of details in a deceptively simple scene; Hansen’s skill at enabling the reader to experience Brandstetter’s shift from initial confusion to chronotopic clarity is nothing short of understated mastery. “The banging happened again.” The image of the phone booth, all but forgotten by this point, bounds forth from the peripheral imagination and seizes the stage of the sentence being read. As archaic as phone booths have become in the second decade of this century, the image of a phone banging on the side of the isolated booth will retain the poetic shimmering of thumping synechdoche for Tyree Smith’s faltering grip on his life.