Tag Archives: Kevin Opstedal


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


Kevin Opstedal on Lewis MacAdams

April 23, 2020


I saw your write-up about Lewis passing today, & like you I was dismayed that all the press/obits are centered on his work w/the river. I wouldn’t take anything away from that, it was/is amazing what he did, but for me Lewis was/is always about “The Poems”. I met him in the 70s, that is I met him thru his poems. It wasn’t until ’86 or so that I had a chance to sit down & talk w/him. An interview at his home in Silver Lake about the Bolinas poets. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to publish his poems in many of the rogue magazines I edited, & when Mike Price & I started Blue Press Books in 1998, the motivation behind it all was to print The River: Books One & Two, which was the first chapbook to appear under the Blue Press imprint. I went on to publish 5 books by Lewis, including the expanded River: Books One, Two, & Three. He was a most gracious man, tough minded, challenging at times (which I loved), a great friend, & one of the finest poets I have ever known.

Thanks for acknowledging the importance of the Poet Lewis MacAdams.

Kevin (Opstedal)

*. *. *. *

And for a review of Lewis MacAdams’s Dear Oxygen: New & Selected Poems 1966-2011, which was edited by Kevin Opstedal, here is a link to Joe Safdie’s astute commentary:


Here is a brief excerpt from it:
“I’d been intending to start this review with a story about Lewis performing at one of the readings in memory of Ed Dorn that had been organized by Michael Rothenberg a few years ago; when it was his turn at the podium, he said “Ed Dorn was the coolest white man I ever met”—notable praise, not only because one of Lewis’ non-fiction works, Birth of the Cool, charted a number of notable artists and musicians of the American mid-century (“Yeah, well, I guess you could call that journal ism”—Section XVI of “News from Niman Farm,” 97), but because I always thought he was the coolest white guy I’d ever met, similar to his description of Otis Redding in “Dreams to Remember”: “a dynamo of act, laughing, crooning, sweating, dancing and shouting ‘Bamalama into the earth’s microphone from every one of the silent rooms” (78)

— Joe Safdie

Ground Level Conditions Small Press Publishing


Kevin Opstedal. CALIFORNIA REDEMPTION VALUE, University of New Orleans Press, 2011.
Kevin Opstedal — PACIFIC STANDARD TIME: New & Selected Poems. Edited by Noel Black and Julien Poirier. Brooklyn, New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016

At the beginning of 2016, I posted an entry on the poetry of Kevin Opstedal entitled “The Poet Laureate of PCH.” That commentary focused on a set of chapbooks Opstedal has had published over the past couple of decades. Last summer, around August, Ugly Duckling Presse inquired about whether I would be interested in a review copy of Opstedal’s Pacific Standard Time: New & Selected Poems. “PST,” however, was not the first full-scale book in Opstedal’s ongoing saga of publication to arrive on Molino Avenue in Long Beach. My recollection is that a copy of California Redemption Value (“CRV”) had arrived shortly after my January post, so this past Fall found my desk being inhabited by two overlapping collections of “selected” poems by Opstedal.

It is difficult to recommend one of these volumes over the other, since both enable a reader to defamiliarize her or his usual habits of imaginative comprehension. This is to say that anyone who still believes in the consciousness-altering possibilities of reading needs to sit down with both these books and flense the preconditions that one has become all too comfortable with. A half-century ago, one would probably have been urged to imbibe various pharmaceuticals as a way to reconstructing reality. Opstedal’s poems offer the advantage of a much safer passage to renewed perceptions of the ordinary moment.

Lest one fear that some harrowing confrontation is in the offing, let me hasten to reassure you that Opstedal is not one of these visionary poets whose goal is to be your tutelary avatar. While his poems do possess, in fact, a peculiar seductive power, they exude a calm reassurance even in the midst of radiant uncertainty, and they do so with no sense of the writing being an effort to self-mythologize the author. This degree of equilibrium is different than that proposed by Walt Whitman’s shamanic aurora: “How quickly would the sunrise kill me / Could I not now and always send sunrise out of me.” Instead of turbulent pyrotechnics, Opstedal’s acrobatic centering takes place in slow motion, enabling your commitment as a reader to enfold itself with the palpable immanence of his imagery.

I wonder about the day, the way the sun climbs
inside its own radiance & warms the pavement
I think it’s akin to snorkeling but
just exactly how this can be so I’m not sure

This kind of reverent deferral represents yet one more extension of negative capability into an ecology of mutual recognition between environment and self. The next stanza both lures the speaker deeper into this particular chronotope and jolts him into a distant dimension: “waves strum a little pre-Cambrian / rhythm & blues.” Opstedal’s intermingling of the contemporary moment and evolutionary perspective suggests a transplanting of Charles Olson’s surveillance of Gloucester within a geological framework, and it does not take much perusing of Opstedal’s poetry to find another such instance:

The pier was all lit up
like Mortuary Day
the word on the street was
strung out along insect balconies
like drifting sand in the Paleolithic diorama

Olson, however, would never dream of titling his poems in a manner such as Opstedal does in the above two instances: “Performing Brain Surgery with a Crowbar” and “Meat Pie in Paradise,” respectively. The disjuncture between the sardonic titles and the lyrical renitence underscoring the verses themselves might well stem from Opstedal’s truculent skepticism about the immediate future of his native state: “Everything here is a natural disaster.” Rather than succumbing to a dystopic vision, however, Opstedal reinvigorates the potential of the planet to assist human beings in regaining access to its solemn spheres of wonder. If this sounds well nigh impossible within the intellectual and aesthetic currents of the present moment, I can only testify to the singular effervescence of Opstedal’s poetry. One can open Pacific Standard Time at random and find oneself gliding with the language’s undulations with an ease that belies the encompassing grip of the images. I can recall very few such instances of such “oneness” with the words on the page. Opstedal’s poems glow as if they have absorbed season after season of incandescence, and yet allow one to stare directly at the center of the vision without the least squint from too much glare. Get this book and start to live with it.

For a review of Pacific Standard Time as a prime instance of “surf noir,” I would highly recommend Mike Sonksen’s recent article (Feb. 7, 2017) in Entropy magazine; it is the best single appreciation of Opstedal’s poetry I have read by any poet-critic in the United States. Sonksen does a superb job of providing the contextual literary history of small press publishing relevant to Opstedal’s development as a poet alongside insightful commentary on the poems themselves.