Tag Archives: Michael C. Ford

Peace Press Poetry Reading – June 17

Saturday, June 10, 2017

I was sitting at my desk this morning, reviewing some applications by writers who live outside of California for grants from the state they live in, and suddenly realized that I should double-check the date of the Peace Press poetry reading. I grabbed the catalogue for the art exhibition at the Arena One Gallery, and much to my surprise, the catalogue’s first page listed Saturday, June 10th, as the date of the reading. “Huh?” I thought. I was certain that the reading was on the 17th, but I’ve made mistakes about this kind of thing before, and so I quickly checked e-mails. According to every e-mail from Dinah Berland, the organizer of the reading, the date of this reading is Saturday, June 17th, a week from today. Her Facebook posting about this event also lists June 17.

The Poets and Poet-Publishers of Peace Press
Saturday, June 17
2 – 4 p.m.
Arena One Gallery
3026 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Readers: Dinah Berland, Michael C. Ford, Deborah Lott, Bill Mohr, Julia Stein, and Rhiannon McGavin.

THE ART OF THE COOKS OF PEACE PRESS is sponsored by the Ash Grove Music Foundation, and is partially underwritten by the Irene B. Wolt Lifetime Trust, and Anonymous. It should also be noted that this art exhibition came about in response to the multi-site exhibition project of the Getty Trust entitled “Pacific Standard Time.” According to the catalogue, “The Arts of the Cooks of Peace Press” was proposed too late in the organizational process of “PST” to be included in that project. Nevertheless, this exhibit demonstrates that the show continues to generate a legacy.

I myself have been invited to be part of this poetry reading not as a poet whose book was printed by Peace Press, but because as the editor and publisher of Momentum Press, I chose Peace Press to be the printer for three of my most important titles: Holly Prado’s Feasts, James Krusoe’s Small Pianos, and Leland Hickman’s Tiresias I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite. Jim Krusoe might well have been the person who pointed me toward Peace Press, since he had had a chapbook entitled Ju-Ju printed at Peace Press at least a year before I hauled the paste-up board for Feasts to Culver City with the help of my Suzuki Twin-500 motorcycle. In the case of Holly’s book, I was a complete neophyte in terms of publishing, and without the reassuring assistance of the workers at Peace Press, especially Bob Zaugh and Bonnie Mettler, I never would have been able to bring out my first significant publication as an editor/publisher.

As recounted in HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1882, the typesetting portion of producing these books was done at NewComp Graphics at Beyond Baroque, and both books were done on machines that had no memory discs to expedite revisions. It was a process of keystroke by keystroke composition, and given that both books were not by any means a standard-format for prose or poetry, it was an arduous challenge to get both books to the printer. Given these struggles and my ambitions to make the work of these poets known beyond Los Angeles, it was very important to me that both of these books look as good as possible; and to this day, I read the books not just for the resonant music of the text, but for the way that the poetry on the page was printed by Peace Press with such sympathetic care as to make it completely absorbable.

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(from left to right: Michael C. Ford; Dinah Berland; Bill Mohr

The Great California Drought, Notwithstanding

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Great California Drought, Notwithstanding:

Hen House Records, MC Ford, and Bob Peters

The Great California drought of the second decade of the twenty-first century has the potential to be “The Big One” that shakes the state to its core. Although small-scale earthquakes seem to be occurring with increasing frequency in the past 12 months, and “The Big One” (as measured on the Richter scale) is well overdue at this point, this drought is not a disaster subject to fantasized deferral. Unfortunately, the Governor’s call for a voluntary water reduction of twenty percent apparently fell far short of that parsimonious ideal, in part because California’s residents already consciously began to constrain their water usage at the start of this decade. Such casual efforts, however gratifying as they might be in demonstrating civic allegiance, are not going to be sufficient in resolving this crisis, which now ranks as “exceptional” for well over a third of the entire state on the U.S. Drought Monitor map

The lack of water is especially pronounced in Idyllwild, which I drove up to this past weekend to teach at the high school summer arts camp again. Idyllwild depends completely on whatever water is in storage on the mountain itself. Nothing is piped in from elsewhere. Although the sparse rainfall of the past couple years certainly contributed to the ferocity of the fires that forced an evacuation last summer, the surviving forest has still managed to retained a fairly green radiance. Some of that may be due to the astonishing persistence of summer storm patterns in these mountains. Last summer’s major fire was in large part put to rest by a fairly heavy storm that arrived just at the right moment. This afternoon, a 15 minute rainstorm was followed by a moderately steady downpour for about twenty minutes. I doubt the total precipitation was more than an eighth of an inch, but it was most welcome.

Last Friday, before heading up here, Linda and I attended a record release party for Michael C. Ford’s Look into each other’s ears. Harlan Steinberger, the producer and impresario behind Hen House Studios in Venice, made use of his new facilities in Venice to host one of the most impressive gatherings of poets on a single evening outside of any formal literary event in recent years. Everyone was delighted to see Michael’s remarkable blend of cultural skepticism and wistful irony still finding wide-spread support.

Perhaps the evening’s most delightful surprise was the presence of Paul Trachtenberg, the surviving spouse of the late Bob Peters. I had exchanged a few notes with Paul since learning of Bob’s death, and while Paul sounded in his messages, both to me and others on Facebook as if a kind of rare solace had taken possession and drenched his inner self with equanimity, I hardly expected him to be at Harlan and Michael’s party. Seeing Paul reminded me of his request that we remember and celebrate Bob’s life not in a public gathering, but in the privacy of our own reading. Get one of his books from your shelf, he urged us, and read a favorite poem.

For the past several days, I have been intermittently dipping into Gauguin’s Chair, a volume of selected poems from his first years as a poet. The title page reads “1967-1974,” but this refers more to the publication dates of the books from which the poems are drawn. (For reasons of sentiment, perhaps, the original sales slip is still in the book: 5-18-80. 4.95 plus 30 cents tax, purchased from A Different Light Bookstore: Gay Literature/Periodicals/Aesthetera. 4014 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Sunset), Hollywood, CA 90029 (213) 668-0629).

In an interview conducted by Billy Collins in April, 1974 (when Collins was a grad student at UC Riverside), Peters talked about how the sound of words is the primal attraction of poetry. “I keep saying ear when I talk about poets. I may perhaps be too attuned to sound. I luxuriate in splendid sounds in poems, my own as well as other people’s.” Peters had the rare ability to intermingle “splendid sounds” with a wide range of subject matter, including historical subjects such as Ann Lee of the Shakers or King Ludwig of Bavaria.

Peters began his creative career at a relatively late point in his life. The sudden death of his son, Richard, on February 10, 1960, at the age of four and a half, left Peters unable to derive sufficient meaning from his life as a professor of literature, and he began writing poems, many of which addressed the cauterizing loss of his child due to a one-day illness. These poems eventually were collected in Songs for a Son. As an example of the pleasure he took in “splendid sounds,” let us savor nine lines from a poem in that first book, “Transformation”:

Between death’s

hot coppery sides

the slime of birth

becomes a chalky

track of bone

compressed in time

to slate, or gneiss,

or marble – pressed

lifeless into stone.

 

The overall pattern of iambic dimeter is remarked upon in a fine instance of metapoetry: “compressed in time” refers not just to the brevity of the son’s journey in life, but to the constricted metamorphosis enacted as “compressed” becomes “pressed” in the stanza’s penultimate line. The layered internal rhyme of gneiss and lifeless provides the solemn intonation that completes the move from slime to stone. Splendid concatenation, indeed!

As the kind of memorial requested by Paul, though, and since I am in mountains now, at 5,000 feet, I have decided to share with you a poem by Bob that is rarely (if ever) reprinted in anthologies. Here is part eight of “Mt. San Gorgonio Ascent”:

At a drop below

hangs a cloud, mercurial.

The mountain it claims

gloats green, lung-red, and blue.

Pines flare. Boulders

glow. Light falls

Total mountain,

total drift of mist,

of flesh. The trance

is my own.

 

My hand is a peach

attached to a limb

swung over a gorge.

It hangs beyond all reach

gathers ripeness in.

 

Ichor swells the vein,

proceeds to the nipple end.

A bee strikes, hovers over.

Bob Flanagan’s Birthday Bash

Friday, December 27, 2013 — Bob Flanagan’s Birthday Bash

Last night an audience of about 40 people gathered at Beyond Baroque to celebrate the birthday of Bob Flanagan, poet, performance artist, and musician (1952-1996). Sheree Rose organized the event and introduced each presenter. George Drury Smith, the founder of Beyond Baroque, lead off by commenting that, in the 1980s, he had stopped attending events that honored people who had died. The AIDS crisis took too many of his friends for him to endure the extended mourning of public rituals, but Smith said that last night’s assembly helped him reevaluate his reluctance to participate in these kinds of tributes. In praising Flanagan for his consistent contributions as a workshop leader and a poetic presence in Beyond Baroque’s early days, Smith also reminded the audience of another important figure in the organization’s survival, Alexandra Garrett, who died 20 years ago this coming New Year’s Eve. Smith’s opening remarks were followed by readings of Bob’s poems by Harry Northup, Jim Cushing, Michael C. Ford, Jim Krusoe, myself, and S.A. Griffin, after which Jack Skelley performed a song (“It’s Fun to Be Dead”) that Bob and he had written while they were bandmates in a group called “Planet of Toys.” Sheree capped the evening off by reading a letter from a young gay man in England who also suffers from cystic fibrosis and has found in Bob’s life and art a way to give meaning to his indefatigable suffering. Sheree also screened a slide show of Bob’s performance as well as a portion of a video of one of his last readings. It was a bit odd to have so many male presenters, even though at least a third of the audience was female.

The evening once again raised for me the question of Bob’s inexplicable absence from any of the anthologies that have organized themselves around the notion of “Stand Up” poetry. Several of the poems read at last night’s event generated sustained laughter from the audience. I was surprised, in fact, at how funny the poems still were. “Fear of Poetry,” for instance, which I read from the POETRY LOVES POETRY anthology, required me to improvise at least three unanticipated pauses in the performance so as the let the laughter play out. Flanagan’s poems represent some of the most successful examples of “Stand Up” poetry in the movement’s earliest days. Perhaps the singular blend of eros and thanatos that permeates Bob’s writing made his poetry unwelcome in the milieu of middle-class aspirations that underlie “stand up” ‘s editorial preferences.

Beyond Baroque’s back yard featured one of the best parts of the evening, an exhibition of “Bobaloon,” a twenty-foot tall inflatable figure of Bob with a fiercely erect cock, pierced with the full regalia of priapic masochism. I believe it was Richard Howard who noted in an essay on the poetry of Edward Field that “Stand Up, Friend, with Me (the title of one of Field’s books, which lent itself out to the movement’s name) is a joke on the arousal of the phallus. Bob’s stand-up figure in the back yard served to remind us that any anthology that would title itself “Seriously Funny” seriously needs its editors to start reading up on those who got it all started.