PICO & SEPULVEDA: The Imaginary, Forestalled Anthology of L.A. Poets


By now, the Dr. Demento theme song has begun to fade from the memory of all but a small continent of those born between 1942 and 1957. I suppose there are a few outliers who could identify the song, but he core of those who could correlate the song and the radio show are in that fifteen year stretch. In a similar manner, only those born in that period are likely to have attended or been friends with poets who read at the Alley Cat reading series.

Jack Grapes and Michael Andrews founded Bombshelter Press in the mid-1970s that focused on poets who were reading and publishing their poems in the vibrant magazine scene in Los Angeles, which included BACHY, BEYOND BAROQUE, INVISIBLE CITY, MOMENTUM, and RARA AVIS. One of their undertakings was a series of anthologies that drew upon the roster of the poets who were reading at the restaurant in Hermosa Beach called ALLEY CAT.

In November and December, 1975, the anthologies included work by the editors as well as Kate Ellen Braverman, James Krusoe, Dennis Ellman, Michael C. Ford, and Eloise Klein Healy. Over two dozen additional poets read at this venue on the last Sunday of the month, a few of whom went on to gain national reputations as writers or performers. In particular, one should note the inclusion of Bob Flanagan as one of the featured readers. At that point, Bob was only 23 years old, but he had matured at an astonishing rate since the first public appearance in front of his peers at an unfinished office tower building in downtown Los Angeles.

It should come as no surprise that a fair number of the poets never kept at it and quickly faded into unpublished anonymity. The list of those who persevered, however, is quite intriguing: Frances Dean Smith, who deserved a term as Ocean Park’s poet laureate; Barry Simons, who had a documentary film made about him by fellow poet Rod Bradley; Bonnie Desjardins and Chris Desjardins, who edited an important anthology at that time called BONGO CHALICE; the late Bob Greenfield, who won a NEA Creative Writing grant in the early 1990s; Rita Shantiris, whose work went on to appear in several magazines, including Poetry; and K. Curtis Lyle, whose books have been printed by Beyond Baroque. Other poets who read included Jay Jenkins, who went on to serve as the lawyer for the band X; Michael Tracy, a visual artist who designed Jim Krusoe’s first full-length book; and Peter Kriener and and Carol Marsh, who were significant participants in the Beyond Baroque workshop. Rounding out this are poets such Elliot Fried (who taught at CSULB for several decades and edited a couple of anthologies of poets aligned with the Stand Up movement); Nancy Shiffrin, Roger Taus, Dan Ives, Ben Pleasants, Loren Paul Caplin, and Linda Backlund. Almost 50 years later, Shiffrin and Taus are still writing, which should serve as a grace note of the longevity of this scene.

Unfortunately, the one book that should have been published in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles that did not ever happen was PICO & SEPULVEDA, which did get announced and begin assembling poems for, but never appeared as a finished book. An anthology that focused on two dozen of the above poets would have been a major contribution to defining the Los Angeles scene at that time. I would go so far as to say that it would be interesting to see what a poet critic such as Ken Funsten would come up with if he were to sit down and go through books and magazines published between 1972 and 1976 and work up an imaginary table of contents for such an anthology. The follow-up challenge, of course, would be to write an introduction to that table of contents that contextualized the absence of a dozen poets from the book, including Ron Koertge, Gerald Locklin, Paul Vangelisti, John Thomas, William Pillin, Bert Meyers, Wanda Coleman, Joseph Hansen, John Harris, Holly Prado, Harry E. Northup, and Charles Bukowski.

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