Tag Archives: Peter Schjeldahl


Remembering Mike Davis at the Getty Research Institute (1996)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Mike Davis died in San Diego yesterday at the age of 76. His numerous books amounted to a geopolitical marriage with a city and region from which he could never divorce himself, even as he flayed the cynosures of corrupted power. In his best moments, Davis was a take-no-prisoners agent provocateur whose radical critique was also entertaining. If he needed hyperbole to keep your attention, he didn’t hesitate: Davis did not hesitate to claim that hurricane-like winds barrel through Topanga Canyon. To the best of my knowledge, the highest speed recorded for wind in Topanga never approached that degree of acceleration. He was a latter-day Gramsci with a strong streak of Steven Spielberg in a Jurassic Park mood.

In the Fall, 1995, the Getty Research Institute realized that it was going to have to prepare to move from its location on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica up to the mountain redoubt that was being constructed just off of the 406 freeway. Usually the institute sponsors intellectual projects that focus on art and archaeology, but having to suspend its usual focus caused them to come up with an interesting alternative: a year-long seminar on Los Angeles. Announcements were sent out asking for applications, and about twenty people ended up getting good news in the spring, 1996 that they had received either a year-long residence or a couple of months. I ended up with a two-month visiting scholar appointment that changed my life. Without encountering on a daily basis scholars such as David James, Alan Sekula, Philip Ethington, Becky Nickolaides, Ramon Garcia, waTom Dumm, Robert Flick, and Brenda Bright, I doubt it ever would have occurred to me that I might be capable of becoming a Ph.D. Their encouragement and interest in my work was unprecedented.

One of the first seminar presentations in the Fall, 1996 was by Mike Davis, who showed up without any notes whatsoever. After a brief introduction, he stood at the foot of a long table and leaned on it with the knuckles of both hands. For over an hour, he recited his paper to us, citing specific authors and titles and the summaries of their narrative with an ease that left everyone awed. “Well,” I remember someone saying afterwards, “we know who’s at the top of pyramid around here.”

It was an extraordinarily impressive performance, even if its obsession with early dystopia novels about Los Angeles seemed a bit heavy-handed in its synchronic diagnosis.

There is no doubt that Mike Davis was an inspiring social critic, and I appreciate his willingness to speak up for writers such as Mike the PoeT Sonksen and Lynell George. It was no shock to hear that he had died, for his medical condition was well known. Nevertheless, as with Peter Schjeldahl, one feels as if a voice we still need to hear had bee muted too soon.

Mike Davis (1946-2022)




Peter Schjeldahl: Poet and Art Critic (1942-2022)

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Peter Schjeldahl would probably have been flustered if I had professed to be astounded at his capacity to write an article on the death of Frank O’Hara at the age of 24. Perhaps there are thousands of people, if not hundreds, who could have written something as directly elegant and insightful as Schjeldahl did at such a young age, but I am most certainly am not one of them, nor do I know any people my age who could look back and say that their youthful talent was equally capacious. Perhaps Dennis Cooper would be the only person I have known who would be up to the task at a similar age. As for being older, not that much has changed. Even on the verge of turning 75 in the next few days, I find myself wishing I could turn my blog over to a guest writer who could quickly sketch why Peter Schjeldahl meant so much to so many of us.

I knew him first as a poet, and it is as a poet that I wish to speak of him right now. Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar Press published Schjeldahl’s final collection of poems, The Brute. While the title poem is a deft critique of America’s self-righteous justifications for its empire, there are several other poems that deserve canonical attention: “To Pico Boulevard”; “On Cocksucking”; and “Why I Missed Punk.” When I put together my second anthology of Los Angeles poets, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” Schjeldahl’s droll pilgrimage on Pico Boulevard was my choice for the book’s first poem. One might think it odd to have an anthology featuring over five dozen Los Angeles-based poets start with a poet who is more associated with the New York School and the St. Mark’s scene, but Schjeldahl enjoyed the irony. He wrote me that “I worked hard for the honor of being a Los Angeles poet, and I am happy to accept it.” Over the course of a couple of years, Schjeldahl gave several inspiring readings in Los Angeles, including one where he delivered a poem about how he was giving up poetry for writing art criticism. I wish I could remember its title.

His influence on that anthology began with a conversation I had with him at Intellectuals and Liars bookstore in the late spring, 1979. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about that conversation in the first draft of the memoir I am working on.

You might wonder, by the way, how Schjeldahl found himself in Los Angeles a little over 40 years ago. His spouse, Brooke Alderson, was an actress hoping to get work in Hollywood, and she did in fact land a role in Urban Cowboy (1980). If she didn’t end up having a career as an actress, it should be noted how difficult it is to get even one part in a major film. Schjeldahl is survived by his wife and their daughter, who is also a writer.

The New York Times obituary, by the way, initially misidentified the name of the photographer who took the photograph of Schjeldahl that was at the top of its article. When I commissioned Sheree Rose to take photographs of all the poets in the anthology, she shot Schjeldahl at Beyond Baroque in Venice, leaning on a podium. It seems to me to be an exquisite, if unstated, confirmation of his place in Los Angeles poetry that The NY Times would use a photo of him reading here rather than at St. Mark’s. At both places, he remains an honored and treasured memory.