Ted Simmons and the Venice Poetry Company

A FORGOTTEN ANTHOLOGY OF EARLY 1970s L.A. POETRY: Ted Simmons and the Venice Poetry Company

Even though I only vaguely remember meeting Ted Simmons in the early 1970s, I have half-convinced myself that he was still doing some occasional typesetting work at Beyond Baroque’s New Comp Graphics in the mid-1970s. If anyone has a specific recollection of him, please write me at William.BillMohr@gmail.com. I doubt that I will ever work on another book-length literary history, but I will keep whatever notes are sent to me in an archive so that others can draw upon them.
I was young enough back then that anyone over 30 did seem old enough to belong to the swamp of middle age. That much more in poetry was going on in L.A. County than I suspected back in the early 1970s is evidenced by an anthology edited by Ted Simmons, which encompassed the readings that were proliferating in Los Angeles County at the time. The book itself had an unwieldy title, but Simmons wrote a brief introduction that complements Joseph Hansen’s memory of the first five years of Beyond Baroque’s history in yesterday’s post. I reprint Simmons’s justification for his book:

“INTRODUCTION
“The Venice Poetry Company’s series of readings held variously in Venice, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach and San Pedro reached at times those Orphic heights that a righteous setting, an audience of sense & sensibility, and poets of talent – some of genius – might promise.

“Poetry reading, while ranked hindmost in this day and age (far below ballet, even chamber music) is foremost as an art form. It is equal to drama in its drama; equal to music in its music; equal to ballet in gesture; in toto, foremost. Yet most poetry readings fail, and the worst are dreadfully boring experiences. There isn’t much one can do about it either. Poets are not trained seals and so there is no real place for direction. Actors sometimes give readings but these too often are primarily a presentation of technique and trickery. The poetry gets lost. A good poetry reading is a happening. Once in a while the chemistry is just right and you have an explosion.

“As for this collection, I hope it contain ‘explosion,’ however what works on the stage does not necessarily work on the page so I have not attempted a literal transcription of the readings – “The Best From…” This is a surrogate, yielding to the facts, yet attempting to transmit some of the tension, spirit, and excitement of the Venice Poetry Company series….”
(Signed) Ted Simmons

(Note: The numbers between titles and the names of the poets indicate the page numbers of this volume.)

CONTENTS
VALLEJO (7) Charles Bukowski
PINE KNOB MONDO (8) John Thomas
THROW AWAY THE KEYS (8) Michael Horowitz
SOMETIMES I GO TO CAMARILLO (9) K. Curtis Lyle
AMONG THE PEOPLE (11) Bill Jackson
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES (12) Jack Hirschman
TARZAN (12) Ronald Koertge
SOLDIER (14) Emmett Williams
FIRE SONNET (16) Ted Simmons
WAR GAME (16) Samuel A. Eisenstein
BIRTHDAY SONG FOR THE HOODOO POETS (17) Quincy Troupe
SONG OF DESTRUCTION (18) Anon.
IT’s ALL IN THE BURNING (19) Charles Bukowksi
ONE DAY, 1971 (20) Alan Brilliant
THE ASSASSINATED POET (20) David Valjalo
THE TOAD (21) Gerald Locklin
SOMETHING IS ALWAYS LIKE (22) Arthur Lerner
LEAVES (22) Barba Margolis
TO VINCENT’S EAR, LISTENING (23) William J. Margolis
IN ANGEL FLIGHT BEYOND, BEYOND (24) Ted Simmons
A POEM WITH ITS HEREAFTER (24) David Valjalo
CONCERNING HIS RELIGIOUS TENDENCY (25) John Thomas
ZYKLUS (25) Jack Hirschman
WHO COMES (26) Helen Luster
ANGEL OF MERCY! (27) Eugene Redmond
AT THE CHECKOUT STAND (28) John Montgomery
DAGWOOD (29) Ron Koertge
TRAVEL (30) Marguerie Harris
MY RUSSIAN GRANDMOTHER VISITS ME (31) Stuart Frieberg
GLAD DAY (32) Michael Horovitz
LA DOLCE VITA (35) Ted Simmons
GHETTO (36) Jack Hirschman
NOTES TOWARDS A HEADSTONE (38) Samuel A. Eisenstein
DUE ON TRACK 6 (38) Barba Margolis
THE BOMBING OF BERLIN (39) Charles Bukowksi
OF PASSIONS QUICK AND QUIET (39) Hilary Ayer
DUMPLING HILL (40) Gerald Locklin
THE WIND (41) Taliessin
JACOB’S LADDER (41) Yu Suwa
LATE FOR SEASONS OF LOVE (42) William J. Margolis
AN ANCIENT GOD (42) Helen Luster
A TALISMAN FOR THE NEW YEAR (43) Deena Metzger
JERUSALEM LTD. (45) Jack Hirschman
EXHIBITIONIST (46) R. Tevis Boulware
POEM FOR FRIENDS (47) Quincy Troupe
POEM ON GROWING OLD (51) Po-Chi-I

In alphabetical order, here are the contemporary poets appearing in this volume: Hilary Ayer, Tevis Boulware, Alan Brilliant, Charles Bukowski, Samuel Eisenstein, Stuart Frieberg, Margarie Harris, Jack Hirschman, Michael Horowitz, Ron Koertge, Arthur Lerner, Gerald Locklin, Helen Luster, K. Curtis Lyle, William J. Margolis, Barba (Barbara) Margolis, Deena Metzger, John Montgomery, Eugene Richmond, Yu Suwa, Taliessin, John Thomas, David Valjalo, Quincy Troupe, and Emmett Williams. Plus one by Anonymous, who should be at the start of the list, I suppose, along with the Master of Ceremonies in Eternity, Po Chu-I (aka Bai Juyi).

If I had been far enough along to coordinate a reading series back in 1972, I would probably be happy to have the overwhelming majority of the poets in this volume read. In particular, one notes the blend of the Beat (John Montgomery, John Thomas, and William Margolis) along with the proto-Stand-Up (Bukowski, Koertge, Locklin); along with Watts Writers Workshop progeny Quincy Troupe and K. Curtis Lyle, and British beat poet Michael Horowitz, and feminist poet Deena Metzger. To have a Chilean poet in exile worked into the mix is even more intriguing. Some people may not recognize some of these names, but for the record let me remind you that John Montgomery was the real-life poet who appeared in Kerouac’s “BIG SUR,” and William J. Margolis was a close poet friend of Bob Kaufman, a major Beat poet who is still a neglected figure.

In point of fact, was there a reading series organized by anyone in San Francisco in 1971-1972 that would have featured such a set of poets? I am not trying to stir up the sibling rivalry between L.A. and S.F. that Neeli Cherkovski and I tried to reveal as a media-stoked publicity gimmick through our editorial collaboration in CROSS-STROKES: Poems between Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the other hand, so many people (especially in Northern California) have a fantasy of that region being always much more active in terms of poetry readings that it gets a bit tiresome. A little fact-checking research proves the case to be different than expected. Thanks to the cultural work of Ted Simmons, we have evidence of one more distinguished reading series in Los Angeles County than has previously been acknowledged.