Tag Archives: Kate Braverman

Kate Braverman (1949-2019): Poet and Novelist

Monday evening, October 14, 2019 — 9:40 p.m.

bill mohr & the gang c 1976 -019
(photograph of Kate Braverman, (c) Rod Bradley)

About a dozen minutes ago, I was sitting on a sofa in the living room, grading the mid-term examination that I gave several dozen students in my “Survey of Poetry” course this afternoon. I was wondering if I had done enough for the evening when I heard Linda’s phone ring in the bedroom. At first I thought I heard Linda say it was a wrong number. If only it had been; instead, I heard the very sad news from our friend Laurel Ann Bogen that Kate Braverman died.

It’s been years since I’ve seen her. Maybe over 20 years. I think the last time I talked with her was at Dutton’s Bookstore on San Vicente Boulevard. We talked briefly about Lee Hickman, with whom both of us had very close relationships. Kate was one of the founding members of the Momentum poetry workshop, a hand-picked group of poets who met in each other houses and apartments back in the mid-1970s. We had all at one point or another been part of the Venice Poetry Workshop at Beyond Baroque earlier in the decade, but had grown impatient with poets who were unwilling to read the variety of poets we were curious about. In addition to Kate, Lee, and myself, the other members of the workshop were Jim Krusoe, Harry Northup, Dennis Ellman and Peter Levitt. These seven poets formed the majority of the poets in my first anthology, The Streets Inside. Of all the poets in the group, Kate was the one who most benefited from the criticism we gave each other. She was the most gifted of all of us in terms of having nimble access to an imagination overbrimming with lyricism. To this day, I don’t believe I have ever met anyone who is as gifted as she was.

To the best of my recollection, I was the first editor in the United States to publish Kate’s poetry. Kate was an ambitious poet, though, and certainly wanted her poems to be in the best known magazines at that time. Within a few months of that publication (the third issue of Momentum, 1974), she had poems accepted by the Paris Review. Not only did I continue to publish her work in Momentum magazine, however, I also published her first book of poems, MILK RUN. Reviewed in the Los Angeles Times by Ben Pleasant, the first run sold out fairly quickly, and I printed another 500 copies. I may not have published as many books as other independent presses did back then, but I somehow had a quirky ability to select poets who were destined to make an impact.

Kate and I stayed friends through most of the 1970s, though my suggestions for cutting the first draft of Lithium for Medea were not well received. “You’re not my editor and you’re not my friend.” The final version, in fact, reflected many of the changes I had suggested, though I believe her editors were the ones who finally coerced her into trimming the book.

Although I included Kate’s poems in my second anthology, POETRY LOVES POETRY, we rarely saw each other any more. Not too long after that she left Los Angeles for good, and only returned intermittently. The only person I knew who was in personal contact with her in recent years was Rod Bradley, who took the photograph that appears at the start of this blog entry. After a recent visit with her, he told me that she felt completely ignored by the American literary establishment. That may well be, although I suspect that Kate was at least partially responsible for that disregard. She saw no reason to compromise, at least when she was young, and why should she change? Writing sentences that oozed the scintillating excesses of color’s exquisitely warped reverberations was all she ever cared about. If you didn’t want to dance to it, then take your drum kit somewhere else. She didn’t need you to tune her guitar.

At this point, I have to begin writing an intimate memoir of that time. If I can bring myself to give a full account, I only hope that I can convey the tender respect I still feel for Kate. It may be another thirty years before she gets the recognition she wanted so badly, and truly deserved. But her work is destined to have a devoted coterie until that time arrives. Don’t worry about joining the posthumous parade of her new fans. There won’t be as many as you might imagine. It takes courage to be one of her readers. Almost as much courage, in fact, as it took her to write without flinching of the startling metamorphosis of her own incantations.

Post-Post-Script (in reverse order!)
Having posted a short set of links to Kate’s writing, as well as the first official report of her death, I am now wondering if I feel more protective of Kate or of myself. As I think back on an oral history interview that UCLA’s special collections conducted with me three or four years ago, I don’t recollect how much detail I went into about Kate, or about any of the poets I knew back then.

I know that I didn’t talk about her brief experience as a poet-in-the-schools. Although Kenneth Koch made it seem as if this introjection of living writers into K-12 settings was a NYC innovation, the idea actually derived from a small group of poets and teachers working in the San Francisco area. By the early 1970s, it was spreading throughout the state of California, and by 1974 the late Holly Prado had been hired to serve as regional coordinator in the Los Angeles area. In the spring of 1975, Kate and I were assigned to work together at a high school in Redondo Beach. On the first day, we talked about poetry with the students and read a few of our poems as well as giving them a chance to write and read their own work. Kate’s choice of a poem about her menstrual cycle might have pleased radical feminists for its topic, although they would have demurred about her admission of the degree of vulnerability that having her period generated. High school students were not quite ready for the candor of Kate’s poem. I got a phone call from the school a few days later in which they asked me to come back to the school, but not accompanied by Kate.

In retrospect, of course, I can’t help but wonder if Kate knew perfectly well what the outcome of her choice might be. In one of the interviews in the links below, Kate emphasized how much she saw writing as a highly charged transgression. Writing was akin to criminality, and to that extent one of the writers that Kate probably should be more often compared to is John Rechy, whose writing will most certainly not become canonical assignments at the average high school.

I never knew Kate to have any other job other than writing. I always assumed that Kate managed to extract from her mother enough support to pay the rent, buy food, and drugs. It was a contractural relationship, however, in that Kate had little choice but to work on a novel. If poems were a means of establishing an initial reputation as a writer, my guess is that Millicent Braverman (“the original barracuda,” was one phrase bestowed on her from that period, though not by me) made it clear that Kate was being subsidized so that she could produce work worthy of a NYC publisher’s imprint and reviews in all the important outlets. My recollection is that the arrangement got rocky at times, and Kate’s mother would pressure her to get a job. “Fine,” said Kate, and went out and got a license to drive a cab. One afternoon, at her apartment on West Washington, she pointed to the license taped to the kitchen wall and recounted her mother’s curt refusal to go along with that plan. Kate insisted that driving cab was the only job she was interested in. After all, our fellow poet and Momentum workshop member Harry Northup had driven a cab for a year before he got his role in Martin Scorsese’s film about a deranged taxi driver in NYC. And did not Lew Welch have a poem about driving a cab in Donald Allen’s anthology? Those were hardly convincing examples of how safe Kate would be driving a night shift in Los Angeles. Braverman’s mother gave in, and Kate was quickly back to work at her typewriter.

Post-Scripts:
Tuesday, October 15, 2019; 7:45 a.m.
I have spent the past hour digging around for links to interviews and articles. The one that will give the best sense of the Kate Braverman I knew in Los Angeles in the 1970s is in the Brooklyn Rail.

https://brooklynrail.org/2006/03/books/kate-braverman-with-lisa-kunik

http://www.bookslut.com/features/2006_02_007804.php

http://www.full-stop.net/2018/05/31/reviews/lauren-friedlander/a-good-day-seppuku-kate-braverman/

https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2019-10-14/kate-braverman-poet-author-obituary

Sunday, October 20, 2019
The New York Times also posted an obituary this week, which I found in the Sunday print edition that arrived at my residence.

NOTE: The NY Times obituary failed to provide enough detail in describing Kate Braverman as a “founding member of the Venice Poetry Workshop.” If by “Venice Poetry Workshop,” the NY Times is referring to a splinter group that met in the Old Venice Jail (now SPARC) forty odd years ago, then perhaps she could be accorded the status of founding member. If, however, the NY Times is suggesting that Braverman was a founding member of Beyond Baroque’s Wednesday nigh poetry workshop, which was always informally thought of by the community in the mid-1970s as THE poetry workshop in Venice, then Braverman was closer to being a younger sibling of the first wave of poets who took part in Beyond Baroque’s maturation as a cultural institution. The Beyond Baroque poetry workshop was founded by Joseph Hansen and John Harris soon after Beyond Baroque’s founding in 1968, and by the winter-spring of 1973 had attracted poets on Wednesday evenings to its storefront setting, near the intersection of Venice Blvd. and West Washington Blvd. (now Abbott Kinney Blvd.), as diverse as Frances Dean Smith, Eleanor Zimmerman, Ann Christie, Harry Northup, Jim Krusoe, Lynn Shoemaker, Leland Hickman, Dennis Ellman, and Paul Vangelisti. The earliest that Kate could have shown up would have been in late, 1973.

W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The word of W.S. Merwin’s death, at age 91, spread rapidly Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, at least among poets and artists, especially those over the age of 50. While there may be a significant number of young poets who admire Merwin’s poetry, I am not sure there are many under the age of 30 who have read more than one of his books all the way through. That may well change in another decade or two, for I suspect that Merwin’s poetry will gain many new adherents as the anthology wars of the past century firm up the boundaries of their domains within the canon, and let the current anthology wars map out new entanglements.

I mention Merwin’s presence in anthologies in part because there are far too many assumptions about the “anthology wars” between 1957 and 1977. If Merwin had an enormous influence on young poets in the 1970s, it was in part because his poetry reflected a radical shift in poetics in the years between the publication of the first edition of “New Poets of England and America” and “Naked Poetry.” In the latter anthology, Merwin somehow managed to encompass a meditative state of consciousness, ecology, and the fragility of life itself, with a vulnerable lyricism. He subdued any tendency towards sentimentality, and yet his thoughts brimmed with effusively wistful yearning.

Only a few of the poets who were in the first edition of “Naked Poetry” are still alive. Robert Bly and Gary Snyder are probably the most prominent of the survivors. Perhaps, in fact, the only two survivors. (Kenneth Patchen, Theodore Roethke, Weldon Kees, and Sylvia Plath were already dead. Berryman and Lowell would both be dead before not much more than another half-dozen years. Then an interlude before Ginsberg, Creeley, Levertov, Kinnell and Levine passed. And now Merwin, the other poet in addition to Levine to become national poet laureate.

Both Levine and Merwin were superb readers, and rather than comment on Merwin’s poetry as a way of observing his passing, I have decided to share my memories of two readings. The first time I saw Merwin read was at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center at UCLA, a structure that no longer exists. The reading series that took place there has, in fact, moved to the Hammer Museum, and been renamed in honor of Doris Curran, the long-time advocate of the original project. After a glowing introduction, Merwin stood behind the lectern and said to the assembled crowd. “I don’t have any of my books with me. Does anyone have copies?”

Within a half-minute, a hefty retinue of paperback and hardcover volumes had made their way to rest in front of him, and he proceeded to pick his way through them with the same familiarity that a rock star might churn through a set list of his or her most famous songs. Kate Braverman and I had both found ourselves sitting next to each other at the reading, and afterwards we had a bit of a laugh. No matter how famous someone might be, should they really show up without bringing any of their books?

I had come prepared to walk away with renewed admiration for his work. I had first read “The Lice” when I was a student at UCLA, and have a distinct memory of sitting in the library with that volume; and Merwin was a significant part of the first conversation I had with a clerk named William (“Koki”) Iwamoto at Papa Bach Bookstore in the late summer of 1971. Koki showed me several of his poems, which reflected Merwin’s influence, though they had at their core a voice distinct enough to push away any presumption of mere imitation. It was mainly because of Koki that I became the first poetry editor of BACHY magazine, and without his recommendation and the start it gave me, probably none of the work I have done on behalf of Los Angeles poets would have come to pass.

It was one particular poem by Merwin, however, that irritated both Kate and me. It was his quartet about the “chambers of the heart,” and its numerical predictability left both of us mimicking in a mutual sarcastic whisper the obvious opening of the final segment. “In the fourth chamber of the heart” …. We almost laughed at ourselves for our insolence. The restless impetuosity of our youthful logic had frighteningly little patience.

In the late 1990s, or thereabouts, I remember another UCLA sponsored reading that featured Merwin. He read with majestic aplomb. It was one of those pure hours of solemn, ecstatic adoration of poetry that one remembers and reabsorbs as often as possible.

The anniversary of his death is now known, and I hope it is properly honored.

Mike Sonksen’s review of “CROSS-STROKES”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lana Turner, issue number 9
“A Reunion Party of Sorts,” by Mike Sonksen – January 16, 2017

Lana Turner Journal has just published Mike Sonksen’s comprehensive review of Cross-Strokes: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the anthology which Neeli Cherkovski and I devoted half a decade to co-editing. Sonksen meticulously acknowledges every contributor to the anthology and provides representative sample of their poems. In a way that I am sure he is not aware of, he has followed the instructions on the permissions form that we had to negotiate with New Directions. No poet was to get a larger billing in any advertisement we would take out. This is to say that we were not allowed to promote the book by putting Kenneth Rexroth’s and Nate Mackey’s names in big type and Kevin Opstedal and Sharon Doubiago in small type. Not that Neeli and I would have ever done otherwise!

The next reviewer should have a much easier task, should she or he be willing to “collaborate” with Mike the Poet, as Sonksen is also known as. This is to say that a follow-up review might well benefit from focusing on a comparison of Cross-Strokes with other “regional” anthologies, including those that do not acknowledge themselves as such. It always amuses me to see anthologies that assume they present a national survey of American poetry, but have far less than ten percent of their contributors based in California.

Here is the link to Mike Sonksen’s review:
http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/blog/a-reunion-party-of-poets

One very gratifying aspect of the roster of poets Cherkovski and I were able to assemble was their compatibility. If one were to try to put together a chronological anthology, the task might prove to be overwhelming. Consider trying to assemble a volume of poets born in the 1940s, a project that would probably fracture almost at the onset as poets or their executors point-blank rebuffed being associated by juxtaposition with figures inimical to their hopes for the art. Such an anthology, however, is probably needed if one is to understand how “post-modernism” pushed away from the massive influence of Donald Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry. Maybe the most important part of this potential anthology would be not the poems, but essays at the end in which the poets address their “generation(s)” within that decade’s outset. The time to begin requesting these essays is the next four years, while the surviving remnant of American poets born in the 1940s will still be fairly substantial. This will not hold up indefinitely; after all, we were forced to pause and consider the inexorable attrition of our ranks this past year with the deaths of two poets, Ted Greenwald and Ray DiPalma, who first appeared together in an anthology back in 1985. In many ways, that year marked a turning point in American poetry. Three major anthologies appeared in 1985: In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman; “Poetry Loves Poetry,” edited by Bill Mohr; and The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, edited by David Bottoms and David Smith. The Morrow Anthology represented the first indication of the rapid growth of MFA programs in the United States since 1980, while Silliman’s and my anthologies presented a case for writing that centered itself on other questions of poetry’s social value other than academic legitimacy.

I did not ever meet Ray DiPalma, though I certainly remember the first anthology in which I saw his work: Quickly Aging Here, edited by Geoff Hewitt. DiPalma appeared frequently in Invisible City magazine, edited by Paul Vangelisti and John McBride, and continued to be published by Vangelisti throughout the rest of his life. One of DiPalma’s other long-time supporters and allies was Michael Lally, who has posted his recollections on his blog, “Lally’s Alley.” According to Lally, there will be a memorial for DiPalma on Wednesday, February 15, at the School of Visual Arts Gallery from 6 – 8 p.m. (601 West 26th Street).
http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2016/12/ray-dipalma-rip-by-michael-lally.html

I heard Ted Greenwald read several times over the decades. The first time was at a bookstore called Intellectuals & Liars, which was located near the corner of 11th Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. It was an odd pairing: he read with Kate Braverman, who left the reading grumbling about Greenwald’s lack of personal narrative. Although I had published Kate’s first book, Milk Run, a couple of years earlier and was very pleased that she went to become a successful novelist, I was more impressed and intrigued that night with Greenwald’s work, and I was excited when he read in Los Angeles again, at Beyond Baroque, shortly after Dennis Cooper took over the reading series. It was a quarter century before I saw read again, at St. Mark’s with Lyn Hejinian. He was as on key as ever, and his “voice” (which almost always seems like an illusory concept to me) was as pitch-perfect to his vision as it had been when I first heard it.

That I am hardly alone in my profound admiration for Greenwald’s poetry was reflected in the line-up of poets who spoke at his memorial service at St. Mark’s Poetry Project back on September 16, which included Alan Bernheimer, Charles Bernstein, Alan Davies, John Godfrey, Erica Hunt, Michael Lally, Ron Padgett, Kit Robinson, Patricia Spears Jones, Stacy Szymaszek, Chris Tysh, Lewis Warsh, Barrett Watten, and Terence Winch