Tag Archives: Mike Sonksen

Mike (The Poet) Sonksen reads from “Poetry Loves Poetry”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

In terms of anthologies of American poets, perhaps no other year in the past century marked the appearance of three distinctively influential volumes, In the American Tree, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, and Poetry Loves Poetry: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets, all published in 1985. I was the editor and publisher of Poetry Loves Poetry, and I certainly appreciate the attention that Mike (The Poet) Sonksen gives to it in a recent video. In addition to a brief excerpt from my introductory essay, Sonksen reads the poems of several poets who were featured in that anthology: Lewis MacAdams; Michelle T. Clinton; Wanda Coleman; and Michael C. Ford. He also highlights the presence of poets such as Suzanne Lummis and Laurel Ann Bogen in my collection, both of whom were part of the poetry performance troupe, Nearly Fatal Women. In addition to Charles Bukowski, Ron Koertge, Nichola Manning, and Charles Harper Webb as representatives of an emerging “Stand Up” school of poets, other poets I included were James Krusoe, Peter Levitt, Leland Hickman, Holly Prado, Harry Northup, and Eloise Klein Healy, all of whom also appeared in my earlier anthology, The Street Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets. This earlier collection tends to get pushed to the side, as do Paul Vangelisti’s incredibly important collections, Specimen ’73 and An Anthology of L.A. Poets. One cannot fully appreciate Poetry Loves Poetry, however, unless one is familiar with all three of these earlier surveys of various communities of Los Angeles poets. It is worth noting, of course, that poets as well-known as Bert Meyers and Henri Coulette do not appear in any of these collections. The definitive survey of poetry in Los Angeles between 1950 and 2000 has yet to be assembled.

Kevin Opstedal’s “PACIFIC STANDARD TIME”

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.

Post-Script:
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.

https://entropymag.org/pacific-standard-time-the-surf-noir-poetics-of-kevin-opstedal/

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