The Glory Year of Momentum Press

August 21, 2020

***********. Alicia Ostriker. — Leland Hickman — Len Roberts — Marine Robert Warden ************

In the last week of 1978, I published THE STREETS INSIDE: Ten Los Angeles Poets, an anthology that reflected the editorial influence of Leland Hickman. I often wish that I had aimed for a book of 200 pages with 30
poets, each averaging somewhere between five and ten pages. This might have diminished the presence of the prose poem and the long line poem in the anthology, but it would have been far more representative of the various scenes.

Don Gordon
James Krusoe
Ron Koertje
Doren Robbins
Paul Vangelisti
Dennis Phillips
Alvaro Cardona-Hine
Holly Prado
Harry Northup
Carol Lem
Frances Dean Smith
John Harris
Wanda Coleman
Manazar Gamboa
Bob Flanagan
Jack Grapes
Charles Bukowski
Gerald Locklin
Eliot Fried
Deena Metzger
Aleida Rodriguez
Exene Cervenka
John Doe
Peter Levitt
K. Curtis Lyle
Kate Braverman
Leland Hickman
Dennis Ellman
Bill Mohr
Eloise Klein Healy
Joseph Hansen
John Thomas
Stuart Z. Perkoff
William Pillin
Luis Campos
Gerda Penfold
Michael Andrews
David James
Martha Lifson

Of courses that’s 39 names, so having an anthology of 30 poets would have meant telling several of the above that she or he was being left out. Well, in that case, go for 40, and consider whether to include Tony Russo, William “Koki” Iwaomoto, Frank T. Rios, or Bill Margolis, or Estelle Gershgoren Novak.

Most of the poets I’ve named were largely associated with with several points-of-refraction: Papa Bach Bookstore; Beyond Baroque; Chatterton’s Bookstore; KPFK-FM; Woman’s Building.

If you’ve reviewed the above list, and not said to yourself, “Wait a minute! Where’s BERT MEYERS?”, then you are not yet familiar with that period of work in Los Angeles, for Bert’s name was who I heard another poet immediately mention right after a reading I attended at the Evergreen Theater when Ben Saltman’s name was mentioned. “Saltman’s good, but he’s not as good as Bert Meyers.”

In fact, should not Bert Meyers’s poem “THE DARK BIRDS” have opened this revised, retrospective anthology? Or for that matter, his poem about Los Angeles: “The world’s biggest ash-tray.”

And would Robert Peters not deserve to have been included, too?

So now we’re pushing beyond well beyond 40 poets. Indeed, this is the degree of poetic diversity within Los Angeles at the time. It is within the above context that Clayton Eshleman is editing Sulfur magazine in Los Angeles, and Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Jack Skelly, and David Trinidad launch the next generation of Los Angeles poets as they make Beyond Baroque a “must read” place for East Coast poets such as Tim Dlugos and Language poets such as Ron Silliman and Barrett Watten. Within two years, Dennis Cooper’s LITTLE CAESAR press would be putting out a volume of poems by Michael Lally, whose career as an actor never quite matched Harry Northup’s cinematic performances, but whose HOLLYWOOD MAGIC in 1982 provided the perfect maverick complement to Northup’s huge volume, ENOUGH THE GREAT RUNNING CHAPEL, which was highly praised by Los Angeles poet JAMES CUSHING.

And I have to admit that the above anthology would have been far more useful as an introduction to Los Angeles for poets who would be arriving very soon in town: Suzanne Lummis and Charles Harper Webb, in particular. Lummis and Webb would discover that a young poet who reviewed THE STREETS INSIDE in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Laurel Ann Bogen, was intent on making her mark on Los Angeles poetry, too, and would by the end of the next decade become known as one of its leading STAND UP POETS. Those poets would find support from a magazine in Long Beach, PEARL, edited by three women, including Joan Jobe Smith.

(Take another look at all the poets I’ve named, by the way, and ask yourself how many had received NEA Creative Writing grants at that point (1979). Three: Charles Bukowski, Deena Metzger, and Robert Peters. Hansen had received a grant, but it was for his prose.). The denial of a grant to Lee Hickman at this point remains a sore point with me.

I devoted most of 1979 to getting the next round of books ready for publication, and it turned out to be “glory year” of Momentum Press. Here are the four books I published in 1980, and the reviews they received. Leland Hickman’s poetry was republished by Nightboat Books, and Alicia Ostriker’s book remains in print, and is available on Kindle.

TIRESIAS I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite – Leland Hickman
(Momentum Press, Bill Mohr, editor and publisher)

Nominated by the Los Angeles Times as one of the five best books of poetry published in the United States in 1980.

Great Slave Lake Suite is a book-length section of a longer poem, TIRESIAS, which Leland Hickman began writing in the mid-1960s. Parts of TIRESIAS first appeared in New American Writing, edited by Richard Howard; Beyond Baroque magazine (edited by George Drury Smith and Jim Krusoe), and Bachy and Momentum magazines, both edited by Bill Mohr. Leland Hickman’s poems had also appeared in Hudson Review and Trace magazine.

Great Slave Lake Suite combines, in a symphonic structure, narrative and meditations revolving around the author’s homosexuality from his childhood and his adult life, centering on a jonrey to the Great Slave Lake region of the Northwest Territories. Hickman’s ability to interweave a staggering variety of rhythms is hypnotically alluring.

Leland Hickman (1934-1991) was an editor as well as a poet. In addition to working on Bachy for its final nine issues, he also was the editor and publisher of Temblor magazine from 1985-1990. Temblor, which featured many poets aligned or associated with the “Language” movement” as well as maverick figures in the avant-garde, was “one of the most important magazines of its day,” according to Douglas Messerli. With the editorial assistance of Bill Mohr, Stephen Motika’s Nightboat Books published TIRESIAS: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman in 2009.

For an article in French on Hickman’s poetry, see:

REVIEWED IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES by Peter Clothier (October 5, 1980)

“(T)he “principle of identity” asserting the essential continuity between man and world, self and other…. is the deep romanticism of much poetry today – the search for the recovery of this principle. Thus, the continuity between self and world emerges as a major theme in L.A> poet Leland Hickman’s GSLA, a song of the self alternately confessional and prophetic, lyrical and bardic. The books guided by the loose, a-chronological thread of a personal history – childhood joys and trauma, boyhood games and adolescent awakening to homosexuality, brutal transition into young manhood and final growth to maturity. The intense, pain-and-love-ridden relationships with father, mother, friends and lovers form the core of work whose larger perspective is the endless variety of the California landscape and cityscape.

Hickman’s long poem moves readily from easy-going, sometimes painfully realistic narrative into passages of ecstatic, even hallucinatory incantation, and still others into quiet lyricism, through a remarkable range of emotional intensities. In an established American tradition, he works additively with language, image and rhythms, allowing them to build into a broad, coordinated tapestry, well-woven to the fullness of his vison. The potential for movement from “re” into “love,” from separation to identity is not only the theme but also the process of the book.”

“(Hickman) immerses his psyche in the melodic, the rhythmic and harmonic densities latent in his own natural language and mercilessly pursues them to reveal ‘the hidden’ in himself … The achievement I sense in it so far is that of a stylistically sure and emotionally complex poem whose tone and entire sonic movement feel totally natural and authentic, wiry but not strained, an exhilaratingly disciplined ‘open’ improvisation with scarcely a wasted move.” – Stephen Kessler, Bachy magazine

“The craft and intelligence which Hickman wields in forming this vivid work makes the publication of this book a vital event for poetry in America.” – Martin Nakell, SULFUR

“I bow to Hickman’s grueling and powerful honesty and ability to sustain an affirmation …. His monolithic drive is really quiet something to pull off today … the power of the kicking Coltrane-like stanza heaves… Hickman’s work on the father is undoubtedly the most thorough since Olson, less mythic, and much more open to background, especially child sexuality.” – Clayton Eshleman, POETRY NEWS

“He’s the real thing …. It’s a work of such vivid beauty, of such obsessive honesty that it srartles, illuniates another part of that shadowy scroll, Truth …. A stunning work.” – Laurel Delp, LA WEEKLY.

“I know of nothing else written today quite like Great Slave Lake Suite. It reminds m=one of Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins, sometimes, in the sound play of its diction. It is a “word-rain” that draws its own parallels to Beckett and Faulkner and that asks (but not in so many words) to be compared to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the ambitiousness of which it mateches – in the breakthrough of its lines and eroticism of its mysticism.” – Rudy Kikel, GAY SUNSHINE

“One of the most ambitious poems of growth and sexual history ever attempted by an American poet … passages of overwhelming energy and beauty.” – Robert Peters, SMALL PRESS REVIEW

“(His) art requires considerable attention – both for its intense linguistic brilliance and for its moving courage. With relentless yet shifting rhythmic intensity, the Suite is sustained for 100 pages and leaves the reader exhausted, stunned and inspired… The voice in the poem is distinct, utterly personal in the best sense of the word…. The poet has put himself at the service of the poem, not the other way around, and as a consequence we (as readers) find ourselves inside a psyche which is taking us places we’ve never been before.” – Stephen Kessler, CONTACT II

“A first-rate work of poetry, real quality, and an attention to structure and resonance.” – John Rechy

HE MOTHER/CHILD PAPERS — Alicia Ostriker (Momentum Press, 1980)
This volume of poems established Alicia Ostriker as one of the rising figures in American feminist poetry. The Mother/Child Papers would subsequently be republished by Beacon Press in Boston and by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“Alicia Ostiker’s The Mother/Child Papers describes, first, the birth and nuture of the author’s third child. Secondly, the book fall under the demonic shdow of the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh. But on the third and most telling view, Otriker’s work details the achievement of a connection between personal history and public fact as both present themselves to a very intelligent and interesting writer … I would, in short, like to see more book-length journal work from Alicia Ostriker, who has important judgments and saving observations to draw from the richness of her life and mind.” — Mary Kinzie, AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW (July-August, 1981)

“Defense of motherhood is a plucky undertaking for a poet these days, perhaps; Ostriker’s joy in it, not as an institution, but as a generous human experience, provides a warm emotional center to the work.” – Peter Clothier, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Feb. 1, 1981)

COHOES THEATER – Len Roberts (Momentum Press, 1980)
HONORABLE MENTION – Eliiston Awards, 1981 (University of Cincinnati)

“Cohoes Theater proves Len Roberts to be a skilled crafman. Each poem is a hard honed unit like the house the poet built near the Delaware River. It is rare to find lines worked so tight and taut which do not betray the labor and time put in them …. Whether floating through the air or skinny-dipping in the quarry, or lost in the memories of Boney’s Grill, this poet has things to share. But, of couse, we all have stories; the few who tell them so well should be welcomed company.” – Louis McKee, Small Press Review

“What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” – Gerald Stern

“I read (Cohoes Theater) at one sitting, tranquil and interested in your own calm humanity…. Curiously tender and intelligent writing.” – Allen Ginsberg

After Momentum Press published Cohoes Theater, Len Roberts (1947-2007) went on to have another half-dozen full-length books published, including From the Dark; Black Wings; and Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2001).

*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *

BEYOND THE STRAITS – Marine Robert Warden (Momentum Press, 1980)
“Warden took the time and effort to master literary craftsmanship before attempting this opus. His care results in poetry that can stand beside Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and the work of Jakov Lind…. emerging as Mary Shelley wrote of her Frankenstein, “from that twilight zone between sleep and waking.” A section of erotic love-poems following the war-poems offers an appropriate counter-point.” – Robin Michelle Clifton, SAMISDAT