“You’re so serious” — In Memory of Holly Prado

August 16, 2019

I remember when a coterie of poets gathered together about 30 years ago in a small restaurant in Los Angeles to discuss the formation of a poet’s publishing cooperative. Holly Prado and Harry Northup believed that there was only one solution to addressing the shortage of serious poetry publishers in Southern California, and so they had recruited long-time friends to join them in an affirmation of literary self-empowerment. “What shall we call the press?” A few possibilities flickered around the table, but none of them bespoke the geographical cynosure of our imaginations. Then I thought of the name of the street the restaurant was located on, and said, “Cahuenga Press.” It seemed to resonate instantly. “Two iambs!” Jimm Cushing exclaimed, as if underscore the prosodic DNA of our undertaking. “Yes, two iambs,” I reflect now, playing off the trochaic names of the pair of poets — Holly Prado, Harry Northup — who will be inextricably linked as among the most original, courageous, and generous of all the poets in this scene.

If I begin with a metrical detail, however, it is only to highlight one of the way sin which Holly Prado served as an exemplary model for so many poets who had the good fortune to come across her work in the early to mid-1970s. Prose poetry is now firmly established as being fermented with vision and clarity as anything written in free verse and meter, but this equivalency was begrudgingly acknowledged when Holly Prado began writing and publishing the prose poems that went into her first book, nothing breaks off at the edge. Indeed, her novella, FEASTS, could be considered a book-length prose poem. It was that book, I should add, that not only made Los Angeles one of the few places in the United States where journal writing was respected and honored as a genre, but enabled my own personal publishing project to begin to flourish.

I occasionally hear people refer to my press, Momentum Press, as legendary, but in point of fact, it is Cahuenga Press that has lasted much longer. The first book was Holly Prado’s Specific Mysteries, and I would now like to cite some of the final lines of my favorite poems, “Rises in the Evening More Daylight,” in that collection, which is dedicated to Harry E. Northup, “the one I had always waited for.”

when someone says you’re so serious
I think “not serious enough”

There’s a wit there, as well as being absolutely resolute. Such determination was visible, in fact, when the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner wanted to run an article on Los Angeles poets in the early 1980s; the large, full-cover photograph of the magazine insert was of five poets: Paul Vangelisti, Leland Hickman, Dennis Cooper, myself, and Holly Prado, all of whom were not shy about telling the world that it was time to take not just one individual’s efforts, but all of Los Angeles poetry seriously. As Holly said in a poem, “Why go on / without such a family?” Indeed, a family with a variegated kinship that now permeates the entire region.

It is rare for gratitude to exceed sorrow, when one learns of the death of a comrade. I am grateful for everything Holly did as a poet who was also a superb prose poet, teacher, a critic, and a publisher. Few people, accomplished in so many areas, are granted easy lives. Instead, they are given serious lives that empower others to do likewise, enfolded by the love of poetry. It is now the turn of readers elsewhere to encompass that seriousness and to begin to account for it. Holly’s and Harry’s archives are down at UCSD in the Geisel Library, along those of poets such as Leland Hickman and Paul Vangelisti. She lives there, waiting for you.

Post-Script:

I have just received a notice from Harry E. Northup that Susan Hayden’s Library Girl Reading Series will feature the surviving members of Cahuenga Press in a 30th anniversary celebration on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, at 7 P.M., at Ruskin Group theatre, 3000 Airport Av., Santa Monica, CA 90405.