Tag Archives: Laurel Ann Bogen


Happy 100th Birthday, Edward Field, Stand Up Poet Par Excellence

June 7th, 2025

Today is Edward Field’s 100th birthday.

Mr. Field is one of only two surviving poets who appeared in Donald Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry, in 1960 Gary Snyder, who is a half-dozen years younger, is the other survivor.

Edward Field was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Lynbrook in Long Island. At the age of 20, he was a crew member on a bomber plane that crashed on the way back from a mission over Europe. A film was made based on the poem he wrote about the experience of surviving that crash.

He has had a dozen books of poetry published, including Stand Up, Friend, with Me, the title of which inspired the name of a school of poetry largely associated with Los Angeles in general, and Long Beach, California, in particular. Poets such as Gerald Locklin, Charles Harper Webb, Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, and Jack Grapes all contributed to its emergence as a significant component of West Coast poetry.

Field also has edited several anthologies, including two editions of A GEOGRAPHY OF POETS, which was the first mass-published paperback anthology to give poets in Los Angeles, such as Eloise Klein Healy, any significant recognition.

With gratitude for all you have done for poets, Edward Field, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

As a way of sending you a birthday card in this blog post, I have obtained permission to reprint a poem by Gerald Locklin that is dedicated to him. It appears on page 152 of the recently published book, REQUIEM FOR THE TOAD: Selected Poems, edited by Clint Margrave (New York Quarterly Press).

“where we are” (for edward field)

i envy those
who live in two places:
new work, say, and london
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris
hawaii and wwitzerland
there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be homecoming.
I am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: I am talking about hope.



New animated film honors Edward Field, WWII veteran and a hero on several fronts


Linda Albertano (1952-2022) and Jean-Luc Godard

Poet, actress, and performance poet Linda Albertano died today. For well over 40 years, she worked the stages of Los Angeles as an exemplary spoken word artist whose recitals left audiences buoyant about their immediate prospects, no matter how grim they might have felt walking into the theater.

I first heard her perform at the Powerhouse Theater as part of a set of presentations connected with the Olympic Arts Festival. IN the years afterwards, she was a central member of NEARLY FATAL WOMEN, a troupe of women who performed their poetry with subtle layers of theatrical cadences. The other members of the ensemble included Suzanne Lummis and Laurel Ann Bogen.

Today, Jean-Luc Godard also died, and the director of such classics as “Breathless” and “Contempt” (my personal favorite) certainly deserves to have his lifetime of work acknowledged for its extraordinary impact.

But grief is ultimately about proximity.

And Linda Albertano, it the is image of the final time I saw you performing at Beyond Baroque that flickers on the screen of memory right now. Granted, your fortitude in reading at the L.A. public library just a couple week ago, as weak as you were, also plays alongside in a double screen, but you were someone that Godard should have made a film in which you were given the most memorable scene, which no doubt might have been startlingly brief. A tiny moment of time was all it ever took for someone to remember you the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022

NEARLY FATALWOMEN — featuring Linda Albertano

(thank you, Phil Taggart, who says. he recorded this in Oxnard around 20 years ago)

Phil Taggart

Ventura County Poetry Project

more poetry here… over 1000 videos
AskewPoetryJournal youtube page

Anthologies Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Books Painting Painting and Sculpture

Beyond Baroque — Sabrina Tasaroff’s Installation at the Huntington and Hammer

I have twice visited the Hammer Museum in the past month, both times shortly after a visit to the best dentist in the world, Dr. William Chin. I owe the good fortune of having a dentist worth a 30 mile drive through Los Angeles freeway traffic to the recommendation I got in the 1980s from my dear friends, Bob and Judy Chinello. So much of life is the odd chance meeting. My recollection is that I met Bob and Judy through Sandi Tanhouser, who had known them through her own job. One day in Ocean Park she went to vote and told me when she returned from the polls that she had bumped into friends who turned out to be living just down the street. Over the years, both Bob and Judy were among the handful (along with Brooks and Lea Ann Roddan) who encouraged me when things often looked bleakest, especially in the 1990s. I suppose it’s hard not to get sentimental in one’s old age, but I remember visiting Bob and Judy when they had moved to the San Fernando Valley and going out to the front yard to rake leaves and how it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

The first time I went to the “Made in L.A. 2020 (a version)” show I expected to see the installation created by Sabrina Tarasoff, but it turned out that her work is only at the Huntington Library. There is, however, a plaque on a wall at the top of a staircase that provides information about her project. The museum was more crowded than I expected it to be and there was a line to see one of the exhibits that was long enough to make me want to get on the road back to Long Beach before afternoon traffic got too dense.

The second time I went to the Hammer was this past week. This time it was Linda who had the dental appointment, and we dropped by the apartment of our long-time friend Laurel Ann Bogen, on the way to the Hammer and picked her up, too. On my first visit it had occurred to me to return with copies of several anthologies of Los Angeles poets that could help “frame” Tarasoff’s project. Linda took photographs of Laurel and me holding up anthologies along the plaque listing the Beyond Baroque project.

I was grateful that attendance was much lower the second time so that we could enjoy Brandon D. Landers’s paintings, which I want to visit for a third time. The three of us stood in front of one of them for several minutes, noticing how the man and the woman who were portrayed in the painting were not alone. There was a third figure who had been “painted over,” but whose clothing was still faintly visible under the layer of black paint. I need to spend yet more time with this painting to be able to write a proper appreciation, but it is worth a trip to the Hammer in and of itself to see it for yourself. I usually look at work first before I read any notes put on a museum’s walls, and I had already noticed the frequent appearance of wall sockets in Landers’s paintings when I read a comment on a wall plaque that Landers made in response to a question about them. “I am the outlet,” he said, or at least that’s the way I remember his quip.

We were also impressed with the large-scale paintings of MacArthur Park by Jill Mulled as well as the recreation of Nicola L.’s sculpture that was meant to be interactive, but which we had to refrain from coming into contact with due to the lingering pandemic. Her sculpture, with its inversion of interior and exterior points of view and participatory subjectivity, would earn my vote as my favorite piece except that I think the vote would better serve a living artist, such as Landers.

I have jury duty this coming week, so I will not be able to schedule a visit to the Huntington until I have that obligation cleared off the table.

“Five Anthologies at the Hammer” — Photograph by Linda C. Fry

(Part Two)

Sometimes an anniversary happens to coincide with the cycle of one’s ordinary appointments in such a way as to give the interruption of routine an almost jovial hint of coincidence’s blessing.

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of Linda and me getting married, and I did not want the occasion to be reduced to a dinner out on that evening, so I proposed that we get away from the filthy air of Long Beach on our anniversary and we drive up to Santa Monica to enjoy some fresh air on the beach and get to hear the sound of waves. (Long Beach, contrary to its name, has only a long embankment of sand as the actual figure of its name; the breakwater in the bay forestalls any meaningful surf, and the water is disgustingly foul.) I furthermore proposed that we spend the night at the hotel we spent the single night of our honeymoon at twenty years ago. I was still a grad student back then and had to hurry back to the campus from our wedding in Thousand Oaks to resume my job as a teaching assistant as well as grading papers; so one night was all that could be spared.

We first went to Bergamot Station, where we saw a couple of galleries still very much in business. The painting that impressed me the most was Steve Galloway’s. I am familiar with his work, but want to see more of it as soon as possible. We then went to the beach, my first visit there in quite some time. Whenever I am there, it’s hard for me not to reflect on all the years I lived in Ocean Park and how frequently I would walk down near the spot where we were enjoying the mild sun and breeze.

The Embassy Hotel on Third Street in Santa Monica is now named the Playhouse, and we enjoyed our stay there very much. About a quarter century ago the Minnesota poet Jim Moore (whose book WHAT THE BIRD SEES I published in 1978) came to Los Angeles to read his poetry and he asked me to find a hotel that was not the standard cubicle. I don’t remember how I found out about this place, but he told me that it was exactly what he had fantasized. It’s been refurbished since those years, but it still retains a European ambience.

Staying overnight also had the advantage that driving to Dr. Chin’s office was a matter of a half-dozen blocks, after which we headed to the Hammer.

This is one of the photographs that Linda took of the room. This morning, the words “The Storyteller’s Chair” came to me as I thought about putting the photograph into the blog. And so it is.

(All photographs in this blog post are by Linda C. Fry, who retains the copyright and who has given permission for her photographs to be used in this blog post.)


DARK INK: An Anthology Reading

— Saturday — October 24, 2020

The Los Angeles Dodgers may have just lost a game in the World Series that will go down in their franchise’s history as far more stunning in its implausibility than KirK Gibson’s home run back in 1988. In this case, though, the tape loop will verge on infamy, as it involved a two-error sequence that was closer in quality to what one might see on a Little League field.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of reading with a wonderful set of poets earlier in the afternoon to celebrate the Halloween season by revisiting our contributions to DARK INK, an anthology of poems “inspired by horror.” Edited by the indefatigable Eric Moraga, this collection seems even more lively than it did when it first appeared two years ago. If you need a book to provide a counterbalance to the colossal infarction of American democracy that is being addressed in the ICU of electoral politics, then this volume is the one to get by the end of the coming week. It will provide almost enough imaginative solace to keep the thought of the unbearable in historical perspective.


Here was this afternoon’s line-up:

Robin Axworthy
Laurel Ann Bogen
Amanda Bradley
Cathleen Calbert
Mike Cantin
Sarah ChristianScher
Scott Noon Creley
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Brian Fanelli
HanaLena Fennel
Jerry Garcia
Sonia Greenfield
Seth Halbeisen
Armine Iknadossian
Victor Infante
Rick Lupert
Daniel McGinn
R.S. Mengert
Bill Mohr
Mish (Eileen) Murphy
Robbi Nester
Terri Niccum
Alan Passman
Lee Rossi
Jennifer Lee Rossman
Beth Ruscio
Jason Schneiderman
Rob Sturma
Ben Trigg
Ellen Webre

Each of us read one poem. I chose to read “The Ghoul Convention,” which I wrote well over well over a decade ago in response to a WSP convention. (WSP stands for “White Supremacist Party,” a political organization that used to be known as the GOP.) The reading was recorded and will eventually be made available to watch online.


“The young ones can’t catch on. Stay calm,
even when confronted with the hilarious panic

of a half-dead corpse. After waiting all year,
don’t leave the picky eater picnic with any regrets.”

The old ones give each other shoulder rubs
while reading back issues of Ghoul Housekeeping.

Next year’s panels are announced: Topiary Management.
(“Even a ghoul must plant his garden.”)

Wraith of the year! Eidolon of the decade!
The world is not an ugly place, not yet.

No natural enemies, a voiceover recites.
A very young ghoul is digging holes in a huge field

too far from any city to be a place for mourning,
yet the bereft come here to be alone, or grouse.

“Ignominy,” an adolescent mutters. “Carnival music,”
a widow responds. “Casual acquaintances,”

their companions proclaim. “Whores for hire
in all but name.” “Depends on your definition

of virginity,” said a half-naked ghoul getting dressed
again. “I don’t like accidents,” the seduced insist.

“Unintentional carnage is so boring, so effete.”
“Magnanimous spite is the only motive I respect.”

Borrowing the sentiments of triumphant candidates,
the ghouls repay their debts with orphaned toys.

(This poem first appeared in SKIDROW PENTHOUSE, in 2011. My thanks again to its editors.)

Books Performance Poetry Poetry Readings

Laurel Ann Bogen’s New and Selected Poems

Monday, June 18, 2018

“The Terror to be a Magician”: Laurel Ann Bogen’s Metaurban Self-Portraits in Psychosis in the Produce Department

Midway through the second decade of the 21st century, American poetry written and published in the first decades of the Cold War has rapidly receded into movements or schools, such as the Beats or Confessional poetry, in which the best known examples seem to isolate themselves into a distant cul-de-sac. Indeed, the current century’s difficulties in accommodating the rapid oscillations of post-modernity have relentlessly enlarged the gap between mid-20th century poetry and contemporary verse. Literary criticism itself is largely responsible for generating this disenabling fiction in which a limited set of canonical writers in the Confessional school, born before the end of World War II, has become a self-enclosed pantheon that precludes their successors from redefining the legacy of that school’s poetic progeny.

The Confessional school is often presented as a closed case; actually, not just a closed case, but as a kind of minor sub-plot within post-modern poetry that does merit having a single anthology dedicated to its practitioners. Given the abundance of anthologies that manage to plump out volumes on comparatively smaller subsets, such as feminist avant-garde poetry, this aporia is extraordinarily puzzling, especially given how many of Confessionalism’s first generation have found their way into anthologies during the past thirty years. The assiduous campaign against this school’s alleged limitations seems to have been successful in confining its success to its mid-century insurrection against academic poetry dominated by New Criticism.

This widespread dismissal has genuine consequences, especially for poets on the West Coast who have chosen to work at least some of the time within the Confessional milieu. Even though Laurel Ann Bogen’s Psychosis in the Produce Department was published well over two years ago by Red Hen Press, I have not been able to locate any reviews whatsoever of it. The neglect would seem in part to be due to the discomfort that Confessional poetry still manages to generate. Stephen Burt, for example, notes that the “confessional model has become so predictable …. that it has become something many sophisticated poets and critics avoid or even disparage.” Confessional poetry in recent years, however, is no more predictable than Beat or Language or Feminist poetry; rather, it is the imagined template of sophisticated critics that is predictable.

Before considering Bogen’s volume of poems, therefore, let us examine the template of Confessional poetry that has become fixated in critics’ views as overly predictable. The confessional poem, according to Burt, derives from a quartet of suppositions, including its self-reflective performance as “part cri de Coeur and part diary; it draws contrasts between present and past self; its lack of obvious structural constraints connotes speech from the heart; and it deploys post-Freudian claims about generational succession, sexual attraction, or gender identity … as central to what and how we know and feel.” Nor is Burt alone in this assessment by contemporary critics. As seen in Miranda Sherwin’s preference for “psychoanalytic poetics” over Helen Vender’s term “Freudian lyric,” the general consensus in framing confessional poetry is to assign it a default mechanism of mental crisis, instability, and psychic redemption.

It is the second item in Burt’s checklist that I want to call particular attention to at this point, for it rather sloppily attempts to square the circle of personal consciousness. The “self” that Burt invokes in regards to confessional poetry is not subjected in his account to any interrogation whatsoever, let alone the kind of layered distinctions he makes in examining Terrance Hayes’s poetry. In Hayes’s case, the self becomes inherently deserving of post-modernist critique: “Is the self (whatever that means) a performance? What makes for a good performance, or an authentic one (what that means)? Such questions have generated enough recent scholarly books to weigh down an ocean liner, but they have proved hard to make into good poetry.” If so, these questions were not too hard for Terrance Hayes to take on with efficient playfulness, Burt would argue, and I would agree, but also add that so, too, have a number of poets working in the Confessional mode.

Furthermore, the uses of psychoanalysis and mythic figures as generative imaginative strategies for addressing emotional distress, vulnerability, and trauma are more widespread than has been critically acknowledged. While Bogen’s writing has been primarily categorized as belonging to the “stand up school,” as defined by Charles Harper Webb, her poetry is also an intriguing instance of the hidden heterogeneity of more recent practitioners of the Confessional School. It is in the ways that her poetry goes beyond the Confessional that we will find its most appealing value, though it is in being a permutation that it derives the primary impetus for its longevity.

Within the original poetic domain, Bogen’s title for her most comprehensive collection of poems, Psychosis in the Produce Department: New and Selected Poems 1975 2015 steps on stage with the casual confidence that a mature actress has exuded ever since she was a demurely witty, droll ingénue. As her title suggests, the intensity of mental breakdowns careers throughout the selection. Echoing rather deliberately the psychological travail of the narrator in Allen Ginsberg’s “With Walt Whitman in the Supermarket,” the easy way to categorize Bogen would be to consign her to the confessional bracket, and the book’s title rather flamboyantly – almost flippantly – announces the ordinariness of this debilitating mental condition. Even in the midst of plenty, the title suggests, one can easily dissolve into a state of acute mental distress.

Indeed, there are more than a sufficient number of poems in Psychosis in the Produce Department to stamp Bogen’s union card in the Confessional School. Titles such as “27 Years of Madness,” “The Power Lines Are Down,” “Vulnerable Street,” “Bones Dig This Dream,” “cold cold cold,” “Spankings I’ve Known,” “Doppelganger Redux,” “Guilt,” “I Eat Lunch with a Schizophrenic,” and the mordantly witty “The Virginia Woolf Guide to Rock Collecting” all intimate a coruscating set of self-portrait canvases. However, if a vulnerable candor underscores Bogen’s free verse lyricism, it entails a more rigorous imagination that one might expect from the confessional impetus. In a poem from the 1970s, she confronts the seductive ministrations of institutional psychiatry:

The hospitals were clever

They said: you have the gift
why do you want to destroy it?
And I will tell you now
it is not a gift
to know that words are not your own
to know you can produce
a prism from nothingness
it is a terror to be a magician

The dispossession of words, in this instance, is not meant to serve as a swift detour to the confrontation with language as it has played out in various avant-garde guises since the early 1970s. Rather, it is paradox and metaphor that Bogen summons as emotional states of consciousness aligned with that supreme emotion, surprise, without which all over emotions lose their internal momentum. To be a magician is to have the capacity to conjure both presence and absence.
In Bogen’s vision of the social identity of a poet, this polar paradox of affirmation and negation – “words are not your own” // “ a prism from nothingness” – goes to an extremity of absence-presence in “Live Steam at 8:40 a.m.”:

In this poem there are no words
all language has stopped
but the pumps boil
live steam
live team
live steam at 8:45

Heart poach / we rip at skin
alone and without noise
to get at the beat
the color
and where the words are
but this is a poem
where there are no words
and all the colors are extinct
rising like steam
that hisses in our throats
like wordless lies

In this poem the words sizzle
and evaporate

in this poem the words rise crazy

In this poem ourbodies ache
our fingers can nurder us
but even though we fear death
we offer ourselves to each other
as if the muscle and breath
of our bodies can also heal

This poem cradles in its palm
those things that cannot be said

It asks that you touch this page.

The deictic accentuation of “Live Steam at 8:45 a.m.” is far from the only poem in Psychosis in the Produce Department that pushes through the familiar boundaries of Confessional poetry and suggests that other discourses are at work, including the performative self-transformation of an imagined self within a specific urban environment. Among the poets who both live in Los Angeles and frequently perform their poems in a manner befitting the city’s flaunted ambiance, Laurel Ann Bogen stands out for the profuse invocation of her milieu as a trampoline for metaphors. It is the city’s incandescent awareness of itself as the producer of the individual’s theatricality that gives her poems a haunting plasticity. As in the case of that expert witness of flaneurship, J. Alfred Prufrock, Bogen is on very familiar terms with the significant role that fantasy plays in reassuring one’s fallibility, and how the dialogue between absence and presence coils and recoils; the erasure of intimate revelation by a voice “at home in the shadows” continuously palpitates in her poems.

In whose dreams will these stars shimmer
100 light years from now?
Their blown-up images snipped
of imperfections – the errant mole,
an ingrown hair, when paste
does not pass for diamonds.

Confined by fame, Pilates and exfoliation,
tucked in canyons, behind gated walls,
some corner the market on chihauhuas
others collect bags of kudos.
They tell me Rodeo Drive is a state of mind.

As for mine,
it skims along
Hollywood Boulevard like a chauffeur.
From the back seat
I hear my voice
at home in the shadows –
I don’t want to sleep yet, Bogen,

I can see and not be seen – invisible to a world
in which I was born. Now you see
me, now you don’t.

If the first half of the poem critiques both the illusions of immortality and the limitations of rewards and public recognition, the second half savors both the self-determined control and the pleasure of evasion. The poem anticipates the sleep that will bring dreams that are no more than “a state of mind.” The iconic street itself, with all its quotidian tawdriness, promises a more substantial cinematic arousal in which the narrator can embolden one’s imaginary biography. If Bogen’s poems concern themselves with the resilient vulnerability of her self-consciousness, they do so with a deliberate display of the consequences to the singular identity.

Funny how failure and falling
sound alike – the firings failing
and falling pling pling pling
in my brain
my managed care brain
my climate control brain
That fiction and fission
sound alike is funny
this friction and fiction
sound alike, ha-ha.

The final two parts of this eight part poem both point to the endless present tense of self-portrait work in an epiphora of apparent singularity.

The friction of my life
against my life is my life.

The fission of my life
despite my life is my life.

The singularity of “my life” is deceptive, though, for it is always already splitting into the fissures of other lives and other imagined roles, including that of the quintessential Los Angeles figure, the private detective, or as Bogen stamps her calling card: L.A. Bogen, Detective Supremo:

My very name
rolls on the tongue
like an apertif
or a recalled cheese
an open parenthesis of mayhem
on the make
in the sulky afternoon
of Los Angeles

The “private surveillance” she offers the reader, however, is that of the guidance that leads to unexpected encounters:
And suddenly
the bougainvillea greet you
like a happy extortionist

and it’s Cinco de Mayo
everywhere you look
as I melt into crowds
just one step behind you.

In this instance, the poet enables the reader to see the possibility of reconciliation between the self and the things of the world. The bougainvillea’s audacity is that it demands we surrender the “cherished image” that the “hardened arm” so deliberately clings to and experience the flowering in and of itself as the holiday of independence from self-dependency. It is not “crowds” of people that the Detective Supremo flows into, but crowds of meaning.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this collection is the number of poems that have little to do with any personal crisis. Bogen’s ability to distance herself as the author or even the protagonist of the poems would seem to run counter to Confessional poetry’s privileging of the first person pronoun. Indeed, even though there is a steady undercurrent / groundswell of references to the typical topics of confessional poetry such as guilt, corporal punishment, suicide, etc., Bogen’s poetry uses these topics as a means of grounding the transformation she has yearned for all the while, a transformation that can only be fully accounted for and comprehended if one embeds Confessional poetry within the discourse of the feminist poetry of the 1970s.

In thinking of the development of feminist awareness in the 1970s, when Bogen was first writing, publishing, and reading her poems in public, one must remember that group activities such as consciousness-raising were an important – indeed, crucial – ritual in breaking free of patriarchal domination. To read poets, born after World War II, who aligned themselves with the Confessional movement without emphasizing a feminist context is to oversimplify their literary project. As Alan Williamson has pointed out, “confessional poetry – almost from the moment that unfortunate term was coined – has been the whipping boy of a half a dozen newer schools.” Or instead of “whipping boy,” should we say “nasty woman,” which might clarify that point of the attacks on confessional poetry. Feminist poetry was the single area of poetic activity in the 1970s, but in poetry’s politics, it would not have been acceptable to cast aspersions on feminist agency. Dismissals of confessional poetry, however, were far more palatable, and accomplished a severance of the links between confessional and feminist, thereby reducing the power of continuity within the critical discourse.

In a poem such as “I Dream the Light of Reason II,” Bogen demonstrates that her confessional poetry has not confined her imagination to the genre of memoir-in-verse. As if dealing from a deck of cards to a table full of patriarchal gamblers, each face card demands to be played, “as it lays.”

The Reasonable Woman is a hope chest, a locked cabinet.

The Reasonable Woman is pleasant enough.

The Reasonable Woman is the converse of sex.

The Reasonable Woman is a durable good, a sound diagnosis.

The Reasonable Woman is a subordinate clause.

The Reasonable Woman is childproof, although Heidi is already up to her knee.

The Reasonable Woman is a skillet, a war bond.

The Reasonable Woman is a fugue heard on the intercom.

The Reasonable Woman is a graph of stock options, the percentage of return.

The Reasonable Woman is open to suggestion.

The Reasonable Woman is a string bean, a cauliflower, a field of potatoes.

The Reasonable Woman is a packet of Alka-Seltzer in the Accounts Payable file.

The Reasonable Woman is considering bankruptcy.

The Reasonable Woman is a stacked heel, a running shoe.

The Reasonable Woman is a pair of pantyhose in the bathroom sink.

The Reasonable Woman is fat free.

The Reasonable Woman is a shadow of herself.

Why would The Reasonable Woman become unreasonable?

Bogen’s sardonic titular character enumerates the options and expectations imposed on women as a collage list of grievances and conditions that can have but one outcome. To be “unreasonable” would be to make herself the primary clause of a sentence; it would mean that self-definition takes place in a social economy activated by a contract not dependent on war bonds, stock options, and the economic repression of bankruptcy.

The remote chance of success in this metamorphosis has been obvious from the start of Bogen’s calculations. In an early poem from the late 1970s, “The Disappearing Act,” the anonymous female narrator admits that:

women are such fools
I am like those fools
with my shackled independence
tunnel vision
of soiled diapers
and dishes

For this narrator, the choice to become otherwise will require the capacity to laugh at the outcome in choosing to be an author:

a pen to save me from the cold
my wits
forced autonomy

Yes, there is something to be said for farce

Nevertheless, Bogen reminds us of the power within each person’s grasp to confront these velleities and use the symbolic power she invokes in “The Red Pencil” and to start anew, even if crossing that boundary requires the surrender of everything marked with inextricable sentiment:

My fingers still close
around red pencils
still move blindly
across paper
canceling time and recrimination
like an exile returning without baggage.

Bogen’s poetry is unlikely to get the full measure of attention it deserves, but that could easily be said of a thousand working poets in this country right now. That it will not receive even a minimally sufficient recognition is more dismaying. Nevertheless, the work will find its own intriguing path in the years to come. Bogen has produced a body of work over a forty year period that has a vibrato of tonal consistency while being able to look into more than the mirror of her own self-consciousness, and the poems taken as a whole shimmer on the tongue of a reader’s memory unlike any other aftertaste. The difficult trek of a mind and body at odds with each other resolves in a quiet advice:

The unopened gift is still a gift. It is given like a forecast or traffic report – backgound to common cash and carry or extraordinary good fortune. There’s a high pressure front ahead: A hand is offered.
Take it.

Bill Mohr / Summer, 2017 / Long Beach, CA
(Accepted for publication in Poetry Flash a year ago. Printed in my blog out of frustrated impatience.)

(Note: An earlier version of this review was presented as a paper at a panel on poetry organized by Steven Gould Axelrod at the PAMLA conference in Pasadema, CA, in October, 2016. My thanks to those who attended and made comments and suggestions.)

Ground Level Conditions Poetry

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.

Film Poetry

Laurel Ann Bogen — “Wings That Which Takes Flight”

When Charles Harper Webb was putting together his first anthology of Stand Up poets, one of his leading choices as a representative figure was Laurel Ann Bogen, whose performances of her poetry over the past forty years have made her a legend in Los Angeles poetry. Along with Linda Albertano and Suzanne Lummis, she has also recited her poems as part of the poetry performance ensemble, Nearly Fatal Women. Her new collection of poetry is a retrospective of her work, “PSYCHOSIS IN THE PRODUCE DEPARTMENT,” which will be officially published by Red Hen Press in April, 2016.

I have obtained her permission, as well as the consent of producer and director Doug Knott, to post a film adaptation of one of her poems, “Wings That Which Takes Flight.” Bogen’s voice is heard in the film, though she does not appear in it.

Performance Poetry

Put Your Ears On: poetry videos

Monday, February 8, 2016

In the late 1980s, poet and actor Harry Northup asked me to take over a poetry reading series he had started at a coffee house on Melrose Avenue called Gasoline Alley. Running a weekly series halfway across town from where I lived in Ocean Park was not something I wanted to undertake alone, and I only agreed to be Harry’s successor because Phoebe MacAdams said that she would share the job. This was not the first series I had run; a decade earlier I had been in charge of the reading series at Intellectuals & Liars Bookstore in Santa Monica. After running the series for two years, I realized that very good readings were not being recorded at all. In fact, a lot of the writing in Los Angeles was not being documented on film or on tape in any way. It was about that time that cable television was establishing itself as a major alternative to the traditional format of television broadcasting; in order for cable franchises to make inroads, they had to make concessions that the major networks had long taken off of any negotiating table. One concession to the customers who had to accept the exclusive domination of the cable franchise system in their neighborhood was to provide a public access channel and studio space with which to make programs for broadcasting.

I decided to sign up for a couple of classes at Century Cable in Santa Monica that would enable me to become a producer of a show that focused on Los Angeles poetry. Starting in 1990, I hosted a program called “Put Your Ears On,” which featured poets such as Lee Hickman, Harry Northup, John Thomas, Bob Flanagan, Scott Wannberg, Jim Krusoe, Ellen Sander, Laurel Ann Bogen, and Richard Garcia. I have just posted on YouTube several of these programs.

“Substitute Teacher” – Bill Mohr – YouTube Link

Ball of Tension – Bill Mohr – YouTube Link

“My Turtle’s Passport” – Bill Mohr – YouTube Link


Books Performance Poetry

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.



Books Ground Level Conditions Poetry

Wanda Coleman; Academic Canon Formation

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I am still in a state of begrudging acceptance that Wanda Coleman is dead. I can close my eyes and still see her at Beyond Baroque’s first site on West Washington Boulevard reading Garcia Lorca’s poem, “Green. I want you so much, green.” The Los Angeles poets had gathered to read their favorite poems by other poets and no one tipped their hands about their choices. Wanda’s choice was the most delightful one in an evening of splendid recitals.

Laurel Ann Bogen called last night and informed me that a memorial service for Wanda is planned for Sunday, January 19, 2014, at 2 p.m. at the Church in Ocean Park on Hill Street in Santa Monica.


Today, I am going to post what I had originally planned to insert as my entry on the day that I found out about Wanda’s death.

In my book, Holdouts, I cite Brother Antonius’s comment that that the East Coast is the canon of judgment and the West Coast represents the canon of creativity. That not much has changed since Brother Antonius (William Everson) proposed that binary was made clear to me when I was visiting Lynn McGee in Brooklyn a little over a month ago; one morning she went through her book shelves and pulled a couple dozen volumes for me to read while she went and visited a very dear friend who was in the hospital.

D. Nurske’s A Night in Brooklyn and Dean Kostos’s Rivering were the two books I’d recommend the most enthusiastically out of all the books I looked at. I have yet to get my own copies, so I can’t quote from them, but they were far better than most of the work cited and praised in Lisa Russ Spaars The Hide-and-Seek Muse, which was one of the books I spent a fair amount of time perusing. Part of the problem with Spaars’s evaluation of contemporary American poetry is that she has accepted the restrictions of her job as a reasonable compromise because it rewards her with social status within the critical realm.

“My only charge was to write about current compelling poetry for readers who are intelligent and interested in poetry but who might not necessarily be poets. The only other stipulation made by the Chronicle was that I consider for presentation poets with some sort of university or other higher education affiliation and/or who publish with a college or university press” (Spaar 11). It is the “only other stipulation” that is the central problem. In submitting to that requirement, she has announced that any poet who lives outside the domain of her employer is (by implication) someone whose writing is not compelling enough to deserve the attention of intelligent readers.

Spaar’s attitude has a term in the locker rooms of competitive athletes: trash talk. Teams will often use this kind of commentary as motivation to make the extra effort even when they are exhausted from a long season of practice and performance. Her willingness to dismiss a significant number of poets from the conversation about American poetry is not new. I met all too many academics in the 1970s who were not interested in the poets I was publishing because neither they nor I had any university affiliation.

The consequences of Spaar’s attitude lead directly to a purging of the accessible canon from the professional conversation of those who shape the anthologies used in college classrooms. As a result, students have little chance at an early stage of their development to read work that originates outside the confines of academic discourse. The dismaying part of Spaar’s and the Chronicle’s smug discrimination is not just that the poems of Scott Wannberg and Marisela Norte are not accounted for, but that their social value as cultural workers is left by the wayside.

Spaar does not even have the grace to admit in her introduction to the book that her willingness to accede to the Chronicle’s cultural immigration policy poses a predicament. I would be more in a mood to grant her some critical amnesty if she had at the least said something to the effect that her employer’s restriction would have played out like this in the early 1990s, when the late Wanda Coleman won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize: “I’m sorry, Ms. Coleman, I cannot speak up for your writing. You are not published by a university press. Not only that, you do not have a B.A., let alone a M.F.A. Surely you understand your place in our society.”

I suppose the rules that Spaar ends up affirming as intellectually justifiable guidelines make sense when one realizes that her end goal is to be able to determine who deserves top billing in the corporate world of poetry writing. It takes slightly over two hundred pages to get to the key sentence, but Spaar’s not been doing all this reading and writing just to turn intelligent readers into committed fans of contemporary poetry. Rather, every academic critic must anoint a poet laureate; otherwise, one risks not being taken seriously. Spaar’s nomination? “Charles Wright is arguably the most significant, original poet writing in America” (Spaar 202). She’ll need more than a Chronicle article to prove that “arguably,” but it would almost be beside the point within her realm. The “blurb” has been written and has the credentials of academic citation.

All of this is not to say that I dislike the poets Spaar’s column has chosen to write about, such as Debra Allbery, Jill Bialosky, Alison Seay, Joanna Klink, Brian Teare, Ravi Shankar, Mary Szybist, Larissa Szportuk, Mary Ann Samyn, Srikaat Reddy, L.S. Klatt, Paul Legault, and Amy Neman. Of this list, I know and admire Brian Teare’s and Kate Daniels’s work and intend to take a close look at several others on this list whose work I am not yet as familiar with as I should be.

For the record, here are some of the other books I spent some time reading at Lynn’s apartment:

Jan Beatty – The Switching / Yard – University of Pittsburgh

Amy Lemmon – Saint Nobody (Red Hen)

Gerry La Femina – Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist

Joseph Millar – Blue Rust (Carnegie Mellon)

Nance Van Winckel – Pacific Walkers

Ann Lauinger – Persuasions of Fall

Elizabeth Haukaas – Leap (Texas Tech, 2009)

Kate Light – The Laws of Falling Bodies


Every one of these books had stronger moments than the prosaic efforts of Eamon Grennan, whose collection, Out of Sight, was very disappointing. His poems have little sense of efficient narrative and dramatic construction; his use of detail needs much more compression if his poems are ever to attract the enduring attention of readers. When Lynn returned from visiting her friend, I showed her a poem in Grennan’s book that required all of two minutes of attention to improve. Rarely has a supposedly mature poet needed so badly the firm hand of a devoted editor.