Tag Archives: Michael Lally

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

Two Million Disenfranchised (aka “Illegal”) Voters: the 36th Largest State

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two Million Nasty Voters: the 36th Largest State

The best comment I’ve read so far about the tendencies of the electorate, in November, 2016, was made by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Michael Lally: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.” As perceptive as Lally’s chiastic analysis is, it occurred to me shortly after I read it to offer a friendly amendment: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist who voted voted for Trump.” I offer that amendment because not every racist voted. That’s obvious, isn’t it? After all, if every racist in this country had voted, would Donald Trump have lost the popular vote by an astonishing and unprecedented margin of 2,300,000 votes?

On the other hand, even if every racist had voted, maybe Trump still would have lost by a half-million votes. Regardless of the margin of Trump’s defeat in the popular vote, however, the fact that he lost the popular vote confirms a gap of public confidence that raises serious questions about his assumption of power. How appropriate is it to have the quality of life of tens of millions of people in this country determined by a man whose idea of political success is pandering to the wealthy? All one has to do to understand the oncoming catastrophe is look at the people Trump has nominated to serve in his cabinet.

At this point, though, we have learned the answer to one theoretical question about the outcome of the election. Should Trump have lost the electoral college vote, as well as the popular vote, and Hillary Clinton was about to become the next president, what would he be doing? The same thing he is doing now: He would be fomenting the public sphere, claiming that her victory was the outcome of millions of voters who marked ballots “illegally.” It would be non-stop fulmination, and as with many of his pronouncements in the past year and a year he would offer no evidence to back it up. That Trump won the Electoral College and feels compelled to assault the integrity of the election tell those who voted for Clinton how little he respects them. “Nasty voters are illegal voters,” seems to be his mantra.

Clinton is the second Democratic presidential candidate in the past two decades to win the popular vote and lose the electoral college. One difference between Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, however, is that the popular vote in 2000 was basically a statistical tie. There is no statistical tie in 2016’s presidential election. The gap between Clinton and Trump rounds off to two percent, which effectively means that “Disenfranchised” become the 36th largest state in the United States, larger than eight other states that voted for Trump.

I have heard a rumor that Trump is threatening the citizenship status of anyone who burns the American flag. As offensive as I find the burning of the flag, it is far more offensive to find our nation in a situation in which over 2,000,000 votes are for all intents and purposes put in an incinerator.

I predicted that Clinton would win the popular vote by 5,000,000. I was off in that estimate by over 50 percent, but she nevertheless won the popular vote. If Trump can’t bring himself to admit in a public statement that a woman candidate got millions of votes more than he did, then he is not worthy of taking the oath of office in January. Losing the popular vote is a minor crisis, relatively speaking, to the kinds of emergencies that Trump will face in the next four years. No president can ever hope to escape the crisis mode, and if he can’t handle this minor crisis, how can he ever hope to govern?

If President-Elect Catasterisk (Catastrophic Asterisk) wants to show leadership, then he should make the abolition of the Electoral College one of his immediate priorities. However, he is caught in a bind in doing so, for such leadership will only remind people of how he has benefited from a political arrangement that grew out of this nation’s racist history.

Wanda Coleman (1946-2013)

November 23, 2013

I was driving to my sister-in-law’s home in Thousand Oaks this morning to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday when Linda’s cell phone rang. It was Laurel Ann Bogen and I could tell from the tone of Linda’s voice that Laurel was giving her very bad news. “I’ll tell Bill as soon as we get to my sister’s house,” Linda said, and I knew for certain that the news must involve one of my poet friends. By now, anyone who is reading this blog will probably know that Wanda Coleman died yesterday (Friday, November 22, 2013), at the age of 67. Within two hours of hearing the news from Laurel, who had received a call from Austin Straus earlier this morning, a short obituary was in the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Times; later that afternoon, I read a tribute to her by Michael Lally in his blog. I didn’t get home until after 7 p.m., so I am only now getting a chance to record some of my memories of Wanda, who was one of the first poets I was to publish on a regular basis back in my early days as an editor and publisher.

I don’t actually remember the first time I met her, but by the time I published her for the first time in Momentum magazine, she had also read in the reading series I was in charge of at the Century City Playhouse on Pico Boulevard. The first issue of my magazine, Momentum, had come out in the spring, 1974, and among the manuscripts to come in for consideration for the summer issue was a poem entitled “Mad Dog Black Lady, Frothing” by Wanda Coleman. I’m not certain if this was her first published poem. According to the Poetry Foundation’s website entry on her, she had had a short story published in 1970, but her contributor’s note to the second issue of Momentum mentioned nothing about previous publications. Two years later, the only magazines she listed for her credits were Bachy, Mt. Alverno Review, and issues two and four of Momentum. In other words, Lee Hickman, Michael C. Ford and I seem to have been the only editors in the United States willing to speak up for a thirty-year-old African-American poet in Los Angeles. Fortunately, our support proved enough to help convince John Martin, the publisher of Black Sparrow Press, to publish a chapbook of her poems in 1977. Two years later, Martin published a full-length collection, the title poem of which had first appeared in Momentum magazine in 1974, and she slowly began to attract an audience outside of Los Angeles.

Wanda went on to win several prizes and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She never got the critical acclaim she deserved, however. I once asked Aldon Nielsen why Wanda Coleman did not get more attention and he responded, “Wanda is a difficult case.” Our conversation was cut short by the need for each of us to get to the next panel, but I hope some day to have a chance to hear Aldon elaborate on that response. I suspect that some of the problem remains rooted in the complex tangle of race-sex-class-genre-regionality that I quoted Wanda as saying about her predicament as a writer in Holdouts:

My poverty level steadily climbs. I pay blood for everything. Open my pages and read my bleed: the essence of racism is survival; the primary mechanism, economics. The power to have is the power to do. I, black worker “womon” poet angelena, disadvantaged first by skin, second by class, third by sex, fourth by craft…., fifth by regionality.

(“Clocking Dollars,” African Sleeping Sickness, 1990. 218)

 

Any one of these disadvantages could well overwhelm a poet who had less determination than Wanda. If she found comrades in Los Angeles, it was in large part because determination was about all we had in our favor. She stood out, though, not only for her indefatigable commitment, but for her confidence that the scene she was part of was destined for eventual greatness.

“Up at Lee’s new apartment on Griffith, back in the early 80s, we watch the first documentary video tape of our maturing literary scene – another failed attempt to get any documentation on the new Southern California bards on Public Broadcasting. Before leaving I tell Lee that one day those video tapes, and the poets on them, will be very important. That we’re the generation. Like Hemingway and Gertrude, like Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, like Henry (Miller) and Anais (Nin), Kerouac and Ginsberg. We’re a group a movement a happening. I’m not bragging, I’m describing what I believe, the place where I’ve invested my future. Lee buries his hands deep in his pockets and goes into thoughtful silence as he walks me to my car. The night is clear, the stars twinkle, I can see the observatory from where we stand.

“I’ve never thought of us quite that way, Wanda.”

I’m surprised and not sure I believe him. I’d always assumed Lee had more ego. My laughter fills the street. “Thank about it Lee,

we’re literary L.A., baby.”

(Native in a Strange Land, 1996, 114)

If “literary L.A.” began to attract the attention of critics such as Julian Murphet, it was largely because Wanda Coleman’s writing was never less than utterly honest and candid. At the same time, her bluntness did not mute the underlying lyricism of her vision. I never tired of hearing Wanda read her poems. Did I say “read”? Her words lifted off the page with a splendid, passionate intonation that no one else I’ve ever heard can possibly match. Like all the great musicians, nothing undulates quite like the “live” performance. I am so fortunate, Wanda, that I got to hear you read so many times. How is it that I think you hear me write those words? I’ll type them out again: I am so fortunate, Wanda, that I got to hear you read so many times. In suddenly realizing I’m on the verge of needing the requital of a third line, I wonder if perhaps this is what is meant by American blues.