Tag Archives: Suzanne Lummis

A Pair of Readings in Santa Monica and Long Beach

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Peace Press - 1

(Photograph by Dinah Berland)

Traffic on the 405 freeway yesterday was every bit as bad as one might dread. One of the major problems of living and working in Long Beach is that I am often a three hour round trip away from attending any reading, and the task of driving to and from a reading I am part of is hardly less dispiriting. The reading itself at the Peace Press exhibition at Arena One Gallery in Santa Monica was a genuine pleasure, however.

Dinah Berland, the curator of the reading, had proposed to have the poets read in reverse alphabetical order, but Julia Stein was unable to make the event, so I led off the reading with a couple of poems that I don’t read that often: “The Big World and the Small World” (from Penetralia, 1984), and “Terrorism: The View from Century City,” which was published in the L.A. Weekly in the late 1980s when Deborah Drooz was the poetry editor. Her acceptance of that poem remains one of the more gratifying moments in my writing life. I also read “Complexities,” which had been featured on the Santa Monica bus system in the late 1980s for their poetry on the buses program, and “Slow Shoes,” which was published in Thoughtful Outlaw. Memoirist Deborah Lott followed me with a profoundly moving account of being at the Ambassador Hotel the night that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Michael C. Ford, whose book of poems The World Is a Suburb of Los Angeles, stands out as one of the ten best books of poems I published through Momentum Press, read as mellifluously as ever. His voice never seems to age or in any way lose its ability to pivot on the precisely illuminating syllable. Dinah Berland, the organizer of the reading, read ekphrastic poems that were not as explicitly political as the writing of the first three readers, but which pointed to the essential presence of the stranger’s gaze as the fundamental acceptance that makes politics possible. The surprise of the afternoon was Rhiannon McGaven’s presentation. The vocalization of her poems illuminated the room with their undulating cadences. Not to be mistaken for a slam poet, McGaven’s poems feature a mature diction for someone so young, and it is most likely the case that her poems will swirl with grace on the page, too. It would seem that she has been on tour quite a bit, but this was my first hearing of her writing, and I look forward to reading her debut volume of poems.

Arena One - 1A

Arena One - 2A

(From left to right: Bob Zaugh, Rhiannon McGaven, Doborah Lott, Bill Mohr, Dinah Berland, Michael C. Ford)

(Photographs by Linda Fry)

Bob Zaugh, as one of the founding spokespeople and prime instigators of Peace Press as a social, cultural, and literary force in Los Angeles, opened and closed the reading with brief remarks, and he received much deserved applause for all of his commitment to making this entire exhibit as well as reading possible. The most heartfelt applause in the course of the afternoon was most certainly for Gary Tyler, whose release two months ago from Angola prison, after over 40 years incarceration for a murder that he did not commit, was facilitated by Peace Press. Gary spoke to a small group of the audience in the dispersed conversations after the poetry reading, and his calm eloquence was a privilege to witness. He will be speaking at length at Arena One on July 1st, the final day of the exhibit.

Managing to get back through even more daunting traffic on the way back to Long Beach, it turned out that we were not late to the late afternoon/early evening reading at Gatsby Books, where Suzanne Lummis, Elena Karina Byrne, Richard Garcia, Charles Harper Webb, and Cynthia A. Briano read their poems. The four best poems were Lummis’s “The Lost Poem,” which was incredibly hilarious, Byrne’s “Richard Tuttle Behind Richard Tuttle,” the title piece of Richard Garcia’s latest collection of prose poems, Porridge, and a poem by Briano whose title I can’t remember but which I did mention to her afterwards as a poem with a gorgeous logic to its images. Briano’s soprano voice gave her poems a vigorous lilt, but there was a deeper register to the poems that made me wish that they could be recorded both now and at some future point decades from now when age has deepened her register. If one could mix those tapes, one would have a duet worth listening to repeatedly. One of the poems that Webb read seemed to be a revision of an e-mail scam satire that I remember hearing in 2010 at the Avenue 50 gallery. It was funny then, and even funnier now, and should help his forthcoming book of poems rebound from the slough of Brain Camp.

Quartet - Gatsby - 1

(from left to right: Sean Richard Moor, Suzanne Lummis, Charles Harper Webb, Cynthia A. Briano, Richard Garcia, Elena Karina Byrne, and Bill Mohr)

Quartet Gatsby - 2

(Photographs at Gatsby by Linda Fry)

The Southern California Poetry Festival

Saturday, September 10, 2016

THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA POETRY FESTIVAL — Long Beach Renews Its Compact with Poetry

I have lived and worked in Long Beach, California the past ten years, and while there are a few local reading series, such as the one at Gatsby Books and another recent start-up by liz gonzalez, I usually have to head north to Beyond Baroque or the Armand Hammer to attend a reading. Due to my workload at CSU Long Beach, however, and the age of the vehicle I drive, I have a limited amount of time I can spend on the road. Fortunately, in recent years, I have been able to use my position as a member of the English Department at CSU Long Beach to bring over a dozen poets to campus, and I am grateful for the generosity of these poets in accepting a very minimal honorarium.

This weekend, though, the Southern California Poetry Festival is taking place in Long Beach, and I hear that the event is sold out for both days. I myself wish that I could have attended at least one or two of the events, but putting in a request for a ticket has been at the bottom of my “to do” list. With the exception of a lovely, but all too brief visit with Larry and Nancy Goldstein, and the dozen or so hours given to self-contemplation during the UCLA Oral History interviews conducted by Jane Collings, this past summer was devoted to improving the living situation of my 94-year-old mother. The past eight weeks have been especially consumed with that task, and there is no indication of a let-up in the challenges posed by her deterioration. My mother may well recuperate and regain her footing to enjoy the upcoming birth of her first great-grandchild, but I suspect the hard work of being among the very old is even more daunting than she anticipated.

My sister, Joni, flew to the United States from her home in Israel about a month ago to lend considerable assistance, and this was her second trip here to help out since the late spring. Of our mother’s half-dozen offspring, we are the pair most currently involved as advocates of her care, as well as the ones most directly giving her solace and nurture. If my blog has lagged at times over the past three years, it is not just the need to give my students the attention they deserve that has caused my absence from posting. My mother has been steadily declining since about 2008, but she has stubbornly resisted acknowledging the encroaching fallibility of old age. She only gave up her driver’s license shortly after turning 90. She had driven over 70 years without ever getting in a single automobile accident, not even one caused by the egregious neglect of another driver. I have to give her high marks for quitting while she had a perfect record in that regard.

The closest I will get to the Southern California Poetry Festival, therefore, will be having Laurel Ann Bogen stay over tonight with Linda and me in Long Beach. Laurel arrived earlier this afternoon and has gone off to a movie with Linda to give me some time to read and prepare for classes. I just finished Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses,” which I will teach on Monday with the same pleasure with which I read it once again.

I especially regret not being able to hear Jax NTP read this weekend. Jax is a graduate of the CSULB MFA program and I have been delighted to see that she has continued to write and to start getting her work published in magazines such as Larry Smith’s on-line edition of Caliban magazine. I also would have enjoyed hearing the panel discussion on the Poetics of Southern California, featuring Marilyn Chin, Suzanne Lummis. Luis J. Rodriguez, and Ralph Angel, and moderated by David Ulin. In addition to Laurel Ann Bogen, other poets who will be reading this weekend include Gail Wronsky, Robin Coste Lewis, Mike Sonksen, Douglas Kearney, Griselda Suarez, Amy Uyematsu, Paisley Rekdal, Billy Burgos, Charles Harper Webb, Nicelle Davis, Frank X. Gaspar, Brendan Constantine, Sarah Vap, Judy Kronenfeld, and Amy Gerstler. The only scheduled poet who I have heard read before and whose work is not particularly interesting is Henri Cole. Any festival that can have such a high ratio of interesting, vital poets is a major success. I hope all who attend enjoy the weekend as much as I would have, should I have been free.

Bob Flanagan – On the 20th anniversary of his death

Photo (c) by Rod Bradley

Photo (c) by Rod Bradley

THE KID IS THE ULTIMATE MAN: Bob Flanagan (1952-1996) and Sheree Rose

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Bob Flanagan, although this post happening to appear today is the result of pure accident. The photograph of Flanagan accompanying this post is from a set taken by Rod Bradley at a publication event for issue number 11 of Bachy magazine at Papa Bach Bookstore in the mid-1970s; I spotted the CD Bradley had given me with the photographs at my office last week and took another peek at them over the holiday weekend, at which point I decided to start work on a long overdue tribute to Bob Flanagan and his artistic collaborator, Sheree Rose. When I looked up Bob’s dates to get an exact bearing on his chronology, I found the anniversary of his death to be rapidly approaching, so I redoubled my efforts. It should be noted, by the way, that the title of this post is a reference to the words on the cover of a book in the lower left hand corner of the photograph.

Flanagan began reading his poems around Southern California beginning in the mid-1970s, when he was still in his early 20s. In point of fact, I attended a festival of poets that included Flanagan in what had to have been his first reading in any venue that got public attention whatsoever. The “festival” took place in an unfinished, multi-story office building somewhere near downtown Los Angeles. I suppose it would be possible to dig through my archives and find the name of the hapless organizer and the exact address, but this was not an event that merits much more citation than Flanagan’s appearance, which stood out because of the contrast between his earnestness and the abundance of clichés in his poems. Flanagan was not born with a natural flair for vivid imagery. I distinctly remember listening to him read at that festival and thinking to myself that he had as little talent as any young poet I had ever heard. The old truism that talent is mostly hard work is certainly demonstrated in Flanagan’s case, for it was due to his determination to become a good writer that he matured into one of my favorite poets. In addition to his willingness to work very hard at becoming a better writer, he also had the advantage of being a member of the Beyond Baroque workshop, where poets such as Jim Krusoe and Jack Grapes continued his education in poetry outside of the academy.

I published some of his poetry in Momentum magazine and was impressed enough by his first book, “The Kid Is the Man” (Bombshelter Press, 1978) to write a review of it. It was the first formal public notice that Flanagan’s writing received. “The Kid Is the Man” contained all of the poems that Flanagan had made famous within several coteries at work in Los Angeles back then. “Love Is Still Possible” and “The Bukowski Poem” remain two of the earliest instances of poems that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame for the Stand Up school, a point to which I will return in a moment. Nor did Flanagan cease to write poetry even as he increasingly began to focus on music, theater, and performance art as outlets for his creative impishness and considerable wit, not to mention his legendary masochism. When it came time to choose his poems for Poetry Loves Poetry (1985), the work was all from the period after his first book was published and included another stand-up classic, “Fear of Poetry.” He went on to publish several collections, including “The Slave Sonnets” and a superb collaboration with David Trinidad, “A Taste of Honey.”

Given all of this poetry by Flanagan and the degree of his visible presence through frequent readings in Los Angeles, it is astonishing to realize that he is absent from all three editions of “Stand Up Poetry,” the first of which appeared in 1990 as a project co-edited by Charles Harper Webb and Suzanne Lummis. I suppose one has to take on faith the sincerity of the editors when one reads in the first slim volume (84 pages) that the 22 poets appearing in the book are merely representative of the Stand Up poetry movement and are not intended to be seen as the essential members of its first wave. However, Flanagan does not appear in either of the subsequent volumes, either. In fact, Flanagan is also absent from “Grand Passion,” which was also co-edited by Webb and Lummis, and which appeared in 1994, while Flanagan was still alive.

I find Flanagan’s absence from this evolving series of anthologies to be nothing short of astonishing, especially since Flanagan had a generous selection of poems in my anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” which appeared in 1985 and which contained the poems of Webb and Lummis, too. In other words, his work was right there in front of them. Now it’s true that by 1990 Flanagan was primarily known as a performance artist, but he was still active as a poet. In fact, Flanagan was one of the primary poets who ran the Beyond Baroque poetry workshop between 1985 and 1995. Despite the way that his notoriety as a “Super-Masochist” began to overshadow his poetry, I certainly regarded Flanagan as worthy of consideration as a working poet in the early 1990s; and when I asked him to be a guest on my poetry video show, “Put Your Ears On,” he did not hesitate to accept. It turned out to be one of my most successful shows. We had a monitor on stage with a video of David Trinidad reading his lines from A Taste of Honey that alternated with Bob reading his lines live in the studio. His wit was on full display: when I asked him if he ever considered moving to NYC, where he had been born, he responded that he “preferred his creature comforts, and New York is mostly creatures.”

In addition, his poems in “Poetry Loves Poetry” were among the very best one in that anthology. “Fear of Poetry” remains a classic example of a metapoem that should be studied by every young poet. It should also be mentioned that Flanagan’s prominence within the poetry community in the mid-1980s because his lover and artistic collaborator Sheree Rose was a very fine photographer. When I decided that full-page photographs of the poets should be included in “Poetry Loves Poetry,” it was Sheree Rose who drew the assignment of persuading several dozen poets to relax enough to let their private masks become somewhat visible in a public portrait. She did a superb job and I hope some day that Beyond Baroque can have a retrospective of her work.

Finally, to square the paradoxical circle of his absence, I would also note that Flanagan studied at California State University, Long Beach, where Gerald Locklin taught for 40 years. Locklin and his colleague Charles Stetler are the poets known for using the title of Edward Field’s book, Stand Up, Friend, with Me, as the basis for a moniker to describe a kind of poetry that became increasingly popular in Southern California in the years after the Beat scenes in Los Angeles and San Francisco began a period of diminishing returns. Both Locklin and Stetler are in the first volume of Stand Up Poetry, along with another CSULB professor, Eliot Fried, whose poetry I had also published in the first issue of Bachy magazine in 1972.

The line-up of poets in the first volume of “Stand Up Poetry” (Red Wind Books, 1990) is very impressive: Laurel Ann Bogen, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, Wanda Coleman, Edward Field, Michael C. Ford, Elliot Fried, Manazar Gamboa, Jack Grapes, Eloise Klein Healy, Ron Koertge, Steve Kowit, Jim Krusoe, Gerald Locklin, Suzanne Lummis, Bill Mohr, Charles Stetler, Austin Straus, Charles Webb, and Ray Zepeda. There are also two poets named Ian Gregson and Viola Weinberg. That the poems of Bob Flanagan and Scott Wannberg should have been there in place of Gregson’s and Weinberg’s is obvious now.

The importance of Bob Flanagan’s writing and art and of his collaborations with Sheree Rose recently was recently confirmed by the acquisition of his archives by the University of Southern California. You can access information about that archive at:
http://one.usc.edu/bob-flanagan-and-sheree-rose-collection/

On the 20th anniversary of his death, I would urge those who are looking for material to analyze through the lens of disability theory or queer theory to consider visiting that archive and to get to work. In doing so, it would also be worth remembering that Flanagan is an exemplary Stand Up poet and one of the primary members of the original core group. Those of us who were here in the early and mid-1970s know the accuracy of that statement, even if editors who didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until the late 1970s prefer a version that might reflect a fear of being tainted by Flanagan’s transgressive art. In equally emphasizing his stature as a Stand Up poet, critics might also consider how his writing fits within the Confessional school of poetry, which is all too often viewed as a movement with no important contributors after 1980. How about someone taking on an article with a stark contrast: Sharon Olds versus Bob Flanagan. Now that would generate an incandescence worthy of the audacious risks that Flanagan took and lived to tell about, far longer – decades longer – than anyone ever suspected he would, even those of who feel very lucky to have heard him read his poetry or to offer up his body to the demons of pain. Suffering is not redemption, but it is hard to know what is worthy redeeming if one does not suffer to test those boundaries. Flanagan’s art and poetry offer us a chance to redraw our boundaries and set off anew.

David Ulin and “Wide Awake”

January 1, 2016 — Top Ten Picks of David Ulin; The Monolingualism of American Literature

LA Times Book Critic David Ulin has edited several anthologies himself, a fact that deserves underlining when he includes Suzanne Lummis’s Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond as one of his ten favorite books published in 2015. One doesn’t have to have edited an anthology of poets to gauge the value of such an effort, but it certainly tends to make one a more judicious reader of anthologies. Lummis, too, is a veteran of this kind of editorial project; she co-edited an earlier anthology with almost the same subtitle back in the early 1990s. The high marks that Ulin gives Lummis’s latest anthology are much appreciated in the Los Angeles poetry community, if only because L.A. poets have not always had a smooth ride in the L.A. Times. In particular, one can recollect that Robert Kirsch once anointed my first anthology, The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (Momentum Press, 1978) as an indication of a “golden age” of Los Angeles poetry. Unfortunately, not everybody who worked at the LA Times Book Review agreed with Kirsch’s assessment, and poets were regarded as cultural orphans of their own success. I’ll put it simply: it’s nice to be appreciated again. Ulin implicitly suggests the exponential growth of the diverse scenes here by pointing out that Wide Awake is “magnificent” both in quantity (it contains “the work of more than 100 poets”) and quality (it “reveal(s) the depths and power of the city’s poetic sensibility”). That David Ulin appreciates the efforts of the diverse communities of poets in this city enough to award Lummis’s anthology a top ten pick is very gratifying, and I hope Suzanne Lummis is savoring the acknowledgement.

The last paragraph in Carolyn Kellogg’s end-of-the-year commentary in the LA Times is also worth further consideration. In referring to the choice of a Russian writer for the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, Kellogg cites an article that appeared back in 2008 in which a member of the Nobel selection committee commented that American writing is “too insular.” The charge is true, I’m afraid, though the full quotation I’ve been able to dig up is even more revealing:

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” (Horace) Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

The real gripe that the Swedish academy has with American writing lies in the evidence of its insularity: “They don’t translate enough.” This could be translated, so to speak, as “You don’t care about us; so why should we care about you?” Fair enough, and it brought to mind how I recently found that my most widely distributed posting in this blog for the entire year of 2015 was “Against the Monolingual Torture of Writers,” which was originally posted back in early September. For some reason, it took off in December, and had over 300 pageviews, with 161 human visits, of which 149 were new visitors to my blog. My post was firmly on the side of the Swedish academy, and perhaps it caught the attention of someone in Europe who was surprised to find an American writer at odds with his peers.

Fortunately for me, my blog is not dependent on American book publishers for advertising in order to keep itself going. If it were, I could see retribution heading my way lickety-split. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. The announcement earlier today of the death of Natalie Cole recoiled with references to “Unforgettable,” a song that her father had made famous and which the daughter reprised by having a version in which her voice was blended in a duet with his. Back when the father-daughter version was soaring up the charts, the newspaper I was working at as a typesetter started running cartoons with a slightly satirical edge to them about the music industry. The publisher must have thought it would make his paper “different” from the other trade papers. What he didn’t count on was that you can only get away with making fun of something that everybody shares a dislike of (i.e., politicians). The music industry takes itself very seriously, and when the front page ran a cartoon of Natalie Cole saying to a skeleton figure of her father, “Hey, Dad, you’re stepping on my lines,” (or something similarly sarcastic), the music label that released Cole’s remake let my paper know that it wasn’t just cancelling advertising of that particular song in the next issue or the issue after: all advertising by that label was forthwith cancelled. Or at least that’s the version that I heard in the hallway. I do remember some rather tense editorial and salespeople faces walking past me for a week or so until the crisis was resolved. The first thing to go, of course, was the contract with the cartoonist, nor was a replacement sought.

So, yes, once again, it would make American literature more interesting if the writers here asked themselves at some point if what they are writing would at all interest someone who can only read Spanish or Chinese. Are you saying something profound enough or insightfully witty enough to merit the travail required to translate it? I do appreciate how hard it is to attain that level of writing. My first book of poems in another language has only been published after over 40 years of writing. Surely, though, those poets who have won so many more awards that I have during that time have some explanation for why their work does not seem to make a transition beyond the wall of American monolingualism.

Wide Awake: Two-thirds of the Poets of Los Angeles

Saturday, April 25, 2015

WideAwake_FRONT

A reading to celebrate the publication of Wide Awake: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond will be held at Beyond Baroque on Saturday, May 9th, at 4:00. According to an e-mail I received this afternoon from Suzanne Lummis, about half of the poets in the book will be there to read one poem each. My MFA students are giving a reading in Long Beach that same afternoon, and I have decided to give the best overall class of students I have ever worked with their well-deserved final round of pedagogical applause. From that day forward, those students will be my peers, and not my subordinates; they have earned the recognition that only my presence that day can bestow. I am certain that the gathering at Beyond Baroque on May 9th will be a boisterous occasion, and I would love to celebrate the latest iteration of L.A.’s most visible poets. I regret especially that I will not be there to hear Liz Gonzalez read her poems. I am fortunate at my age to have a job, however, and doubly fortunate to have such good students. I have cast my lot in Long Beach.

Suzanne Lummis has done a solid job in assembling a representative selection of L.A. poets for her most recent anthology, and the book deserves to have a substantial audience. On the whole, though, the book seems to homogenize the various scenes in Los Angeles, so that one has little sense of how disparate the poetics of many poets in this city have been during the past three decades, let alone the past half-century. There have been at least a dozen anthologies of Los Angeles poets since 1960, beginning with “Poetry Los Angeles” (which is not to be confused with Laurence Goldstein’s marvelous study of poems about Los Angeles, published by the University of Michigan Press in 2014). Not one of these anthologies has followed the lead of Donald Allen’s or Ron Silliman’s anthologies and included some critical commentary by the poets that articulates their specific poetics. The need at this point is for a book that has fewer poets and more reflection in prose on the poems.

In truth, I have yet to have a chance to give Wide Awake a close reading, but even at first glance the book is rather startling in how it constitutes a census of the decimation of the L.A. poetry scenes since 1985 (only a handful of the poets in Wide Awake were active in Los Angeles a decade earlier). As good an anthology as Wide Awake is likely to turn out to be, it is a touch disheartening to realize how many poets have either left the scene, died, or remain unaccounted for as still being present and active as poets in Los Angeles. In writing the first review of Wide Awake, David Ulin has made the proper choice in focusing on the poets who are included in Lummis’s anthology rather than dwelling on the absent figures. Even so, it is perhaps indicative of this aporia that the second sentence of David Ulin’s commentary on Wide Awake cites four poets who made an initial impact on his literary knowledge of Los Angeles, and the only one of these four who is in Wide Awake is dead. (“I got to know Los Angeles through its poetry. Even before I lived here, I experienced a different, human, side of the city through the works of Wanda Coleman, Michelle T. Clinton, Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad.”) Olin’s article can be found at the following link:

http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-in-wide-awake-suzanne-lummis-gathers-the-poets-of-los-angeles-20150421-story.html

At the risk of being seen as a dour, nostalgic grouch, I have decided that too many poets are absent from Wide Awake not to let the absentees (or their surviving friends and family) know that they deserve to be in some future anthology of Los Angeles poetry, one that will give a comprehensive picture of the 200 best poets to work here since the end of World War II. To lead off, I mention Alvaro Cardona-Hine and Jack Hirschman, both of whom were in both anthologies of L.A. poets worked on by Paul Vangelisti in the early 1970s. Along with Clayton Eshleman, John Harris, Victor Valle, and Joseph Hansen, Cardona-Hine and Hirschman represent strains of poetry that have made Los Angeles a particularly complicated arena for the contemporary practice of an ancient art given renewed reverence by its most renitent adherents. Let the roll-call commence, and let it be emphasized that this is not some definitive list. I have not listed, for instance, any young poets who have studied with me at CSU Long Beach and who have begun publishing their work.

Living L.A. poets absent from Wide Awake:

Frank T. Rios; Martha Ronk; Marisela Norte;

Yvonne de la Vega; Roger Taus; Daniel Tiffany;

Fred Voss; Joan Jobe Smith; Brian Kim Stefans;

Will Alexander; Anthony Seidman; Aleida Rodriguez;

Martha Ronk; Juan Delgado; Ramon Garcia;

Douglas Messerli; Jack Grapes; Mindy Nettifee;

Julia Stein; Nancy Shiffrin; Anthony McCann;

Harold Abramowitz; Matthew Timmons;

David Shook; Barbara Maloutas;

Todd Baron; Blair H. Allen;

John Doe; Exene Cervenka;

Dave Alvin; Amy Gerstler;

Tim Reynolds.

 

 

L.A. poets who left town between 1980 and 2010 and are not in Wide Awake:

Brooks Roddan; Richard Garcia;

Doren Robbins; Standard Schaeffer;

Dennis Cooper; David Trinidad;

Michelle T. Clinton; Kate Braverman;

Michael Lally; Ian Krieger.

 

Poets in “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985) or Grand Passion (1995)

who switched to other genres / other occupations

Jim Krusoe; David James; Max Benavidez; Peter Cashorali

 

L.A. POETS WHO DIED BETWEEN 1970 and 2015

John Thomas; Philomene Long;

Ann Stanford; Joan LaBombard;

FranceYe (Frances Dean Smith); Charles Bukowski;

Leland Hickman; Bob Flanagan;

Stuart Perkoff; William Pillin;

Bruce Boyd; Grover Jacoby, Jr.;

Lawrence Spingarn; Charles Gullans;

Robert Peters; Peter Schneidre;

Dick Barnes; Robert Crosson;

Scott Wannberg; Charles Bivins;

Mel Weisburd; Manazar Gamboa;

Bert Myers; Marine Robert Warden;

Susannah Foster; Ed Smith;

Curtis Zahn; John Brander;

Carol Lem; Maria Fattorini;

Robert Greenfield; Tony Scibella.

Suzanne Lummis in “The New Yorker”

The first time I had any contact with Suzanne Lummis was a short letter passed on to me by Lenny Durso, the last of the three original owners of Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore to be holding out against the onslaught of Crown Books. Suzanne was looking for venues to give a poetry reading; unfortunately, I & L was on its last legs and so she never read there. At that time, she was collaborating with a songwriter, as well as working on plays and doing some acting. Her versatility and talent intrigued me and I was pleased to include her in my second anthology of Los Angeles poets, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985). Suzanne has gone on to become one of the major literary activists in Los Angeles during the past thirty years. She has edited or co-edited a series of anthologies, including the first thin volume of “Stand Up” poetry as well as a subsequent collection, “Grand Passion.” In addition, she is co-editing a new anthology of Los Angeles poets to be published with the Beyond Baroque imprint in 2015.

As a poet, she has not gotten anywhere near the attention that she deserves. Her first full-length collection, “In Danger,” was more than strong enough to expect that other presses would have solicited the next manuscript. Instead, her work has languished in that peculiar zone of incomprehensible marginality that frequently seems to be the birthright of many poets working in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, her writing has continued to gain widespread respect; in fact, as a successor to the wonderful poet, Eloise Klein Healy, Suzanne Lummis would have been my choice for the second poet laureate of Los Angeles.

Finally, though, 15 years after “In Danger” was published, her second substantial collection has been published. “Open 24 Hours” won a contest sponsored by Blue Lynx Books and the book is now available at Beyond Baroque Bookstore as well as the on-line outlets. Suzanne has just had another break-through occasion, too, in having a poem appear in “The New Yorker.” On one level, of course, such a standardized level of accomplishment is not something that changes my opinion of her writing, which I would respect no matter if she collected 184 rejection letters in a lifetime of submitting to that magazine. On the other hand, she should be justifiably proud of getting printed there. If Rae Armantrout feels comfortable about having a poem in “The New Yorker,” then why shouldn’t the rest of us lounge by its poolside, too? Rae’s poem, “Before,” which appeared in a mid-December, 2013 issue, is worth looking up.

Suzanne’s poem, “How I Didn’t Get Myself to a Nunnery,” which appears in the November 3rd issue, is probably the best “response” poem to one of my favorite poems of all time, “Dimanches,” by Jules LaForgue. The poem comes close to being an ekphrastic rendition of a teenage wasteland, and I suppose part of its appeal to me was how the landscape caught all the dreariness of Imperial Beach, the border city I had the misfortune to spend my adolescence in. LaForgue’s poem opens with an epigraph from “Hamlet” that points to the invocation of Ophelia’s fate that his poem makes use of. “Let her not walk in the sun,” Hamlet advises Polonius. As for walking in the rain, LaForgue picks up an impressionist paintbrush for his nine couplet poem, which begins and concludes with the same line, “Le ciel pleut sans but, sans que rien l’émeuve.” In between, yet one more frail young woman joins what Lummis calls “the season of self-drowned maids”:

Une qui n’a ni manchon, ni fourrures
Fait, tout en gris, une pauvre figure.

Et la voilà qui s’échappe des rangs,
Et court ! Ô mon Dieu, qu’est-ce qu’il lui prend

Et elle va se jeter dans le fleuve.
Pas un batelier, pas un chien Terr’ Neuve.

In contrast with the melancholy despair of LaForgue anonymous suicide, Lummis’s protagonist is a survivor. Her poem opens:

That girl they found ensconced in mud and loam,
she wasn’t me. Small wonder, though, they jumped.

A number of things happen here that have the touch of a chess master handling the opening gambit and its and counter-moves, not the least of which is how the diction and colloquial syntax pull the reader close for a moment of sneaky intimacy. The voice is more reflective than one might find on a dramatic stage, and yet what’s at stake is equally compelling. The use of blank verse in a nine-line stanza (but without any Spenserian rhyme scheme) is impressive. I particularly admire the spondee of the third foot of the second line and would argue that this accentual nuance (SMALL WONder) is exactly what underscores the irony trembling throughout the poem. That spondee, in turn, can only be fully appreciated if one notes that the placement of the caesura in the poem’s first line is not necessarily in the “obvious” place (after “found”). The fact that there is not a comma after “found” is a clue that the caesura’s placement is more open to interpretation than the naive reader might think.

That girl they found ensconced in mud and loam,

she wasn’t me. Small wonder, though, they jumped.

If the caesura is placed after “ensconced,” one magnifies the sense of a fateful anticipation being fixed in certainty, as opposed to the counterpunch of the opening of the second line: “she wasn’t me.” In other words, the sense of displacement in the narrative gets underscored by the spot, in the first line, where the hemidemisemiquaver of an internal pause gazes inward at itself.

I have my doubts that anybody who wrote to Suzanne to congratulate her on the poem commented on her metrical tactics, but if Suzanne has brought her knowledge and skill to the task, then it deserves some measure of specific commentary. As is often the case, I wish I had more time to extend my analysis. This is merely a start on her poem’s subtle effects. I urge all of you to turn to it with ears wide open.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/didnt-get-nunnery

— Bill Mohr

L.A. Poets: 1950 – 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Laurel Ann held her annual holiday party for her workshop students and a few of her oldest friends yesterday. Dylan Thomas’s recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” regaled us as a ritual opening of the occasion that never wears out the jostling oscillations of its lyric impetus. This year, I heard how the words “distant” or “distance” appear several times in the story, which made the final chord of “close and holy darkness” all the more resonant.

Towards early mid-afternoon, when many of her guests had departed with their “secret santa” gift exchange (Amelie Frank being the happiest of that cluster, and Thom almost equally delighted), Laurel Ann asked if I had heard the news about Suzanne’s book of poetry. “You mean her book that Red Hen’s putting out a couple years from now?” “No,” said Laurel. “Suzanne won the Blue Lynx poetry prize and her book will be out in September.” I was delighted to hear this news, as I knew from a phone conversation with Suzanne how much a full-length book was needed as a way of clarifying her distinctive blend of “stand up” and “noir” poetics. I first heard of Suzanne shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles. She wrote to Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore in Santa Monica and asked for a reading, but the store was closing up. I don’t remember at this point where I first heard her read, but her poems impressed me immediately and she easily earned a spot in “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).

I hope that “Open 24 Hours” secures some significant and much deserved critical attention for Suzanne’s poems. One problem will be that reviewers will be unlikely to have a copy of her first full-length book, “In Danger,” to use as a point of comparison. Any book that costs over $30 to buy a used copy of on Amazon is obviously out of print, so unless a reviewer is living near one of the 85 libraries in the United States that have a copy of it, she or he is going to be at a wretched disadvantage in calculating the importance of Suzanne’s new volume.

The lack of willingness on the part of many libraries (including CSU Long Beach’s) to sustain any semblance of interest in contemporary poetry remains one of the great scandals of American culture. The reality is that many living writers have better personal libraries of contemporary poetry than most public libraries. One can only hope that Suzanne’s book get enough attention to merit a second and third printing and thereby ends up on enough private bookshelves to make future reviews of her poetry more knowledgeable about its trajectory. The sad truth is that I just checked “World Cat” and it does not appear that Lynx House has any more luck in getting its titles by poets into libraries than Heyday Books. Lou Lipsitz, whose early book “Cold Water” remains one of my favorites from 40 odd years ago, had a recent title come out from Lynx House, “If This World Falls Apart”; only 88 libraries pop up on the World Cat listing.

Laurel graciously allowed Linda and me to make use of her apartment as a way-station during the late afternoon. Mel Weisburd had invited me to attend his presentation at Beyond Baroque yesterday, which had its starting time inexplicably moved from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Even more odd was how Michael C. Ford’s event with Phoebe MacAdams and Renny Golden found itself upstairs at the same time.) Despite the late start, Mel’s slide show attracted an audience of about 30 people, not all of whom were close to his age. Of the younger people who heard off-hand comments about Bert Meyers’s tendency to borrow people’s books without permission, I wish to thank Robert Herrick for introducing himself to me in the Beyond Baroque bookstore, just after I purchased a copy of Stefi Weisburg’s “The Wind-Up Gods.” He mentioned having gone to Susan Wiggins’s acupuncture clinic as a result of reading about it in my blog. This is the first time that I’ve actually had a sense that someone I didn’t know was actually making use of this late-blooming foray into an electronic diaspora. I was delighted to hear Stefi read Bert Meyers’s poem, “L.A.,” which remains a classic of urban remonstration. Most of Mel’s talk covered ground that was very familiar to me, though I had never seen many of the photographs he showed. It was a pleasure to hear Gene Frumkin’s work talked about with affection and respect and I only wish there had been time to talk more about Alvaro Cardona-Hine.

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of John Lennon’s death. For some reason, I never thought about the overlap of the date (December 8) with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was regarded as a holy day of obligation in my childhood religion, Roman Catholicism. It’s a mark of how difficult it is to free oneself from early temporal cycles in that I almost always think of that religious holiday when 12/8 rolls around. It’s Lennon’s death, though, that remains a wound far more profound that the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers.

Linda and I drove home as soon as it was over, and we were both grateful that traffic was flowing well, since even so, it was past 11 p.m. by the time we turned on the heat to warm up the house before we quickly fell asleep. We had encountered over 60 years worth of poetic history, including the up-to-the-minute developments, and we were grateful for our accommodations, transient as they might be.