John Kilroy 3.10.04
A Friendly Reader's Review of the Book Review
Begin any count of the 100 most powerful people in Los Angeles poetry, and you'll soon have to deal with the name of Steve Wasserman.
It's a bit problematic because so much of Los Angeles poetry is oriented to the Oral Tradition, and in my meager travels in the Los Angeles poetry scene, I've never heard his name mentioned. And there are more problems...literary scandal, even. Wasserman also deserves to be applauded loudly for much of his efforts.
Steve Wasserman is the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. This is a friendly reader's report, rather than an investigative piece of journalism, so please excuse the lazier, softer aspects of this essay. However, I would like to state up front that the Los Angeles Times Book Review is the last remaining vestige of a once-great newspaper, and Wasserman deserves full credit for this. This guy deserves a corner office and not a single day without an expense account lunch.
The front page may often be the same as the Orange Country Register. A newspaper that once shot the news at you with a powerful Robert Scheer piece on the front page is little more than press conference reports from the Pentagon or the Governor's office. The View section is gone. A Bella Stumbo feature on the humanity of Los Angeles is something you're just going to have to remember. You won't see the likes of it again. You're on your own when it comes to Los Angeles humanity...or take to the alternative weeklies. And the Calendar section is, well, dreadful. Unreadable. An embarrassment of journalism. Mostly star machine junk. And if a story is buried beneath the kitchen floor, Tim Rutten describes the color of the linoleum.
Then, there's the Book Review section. Wasserman works hard to keep his section Western. It's the only place left in the Los Angeles Times where one can find a depth in perspective beyond yesterday's primary results. You can find a Los Angeles that stretches back 100 years. You can find a Los Angeles that is Los Angeles, rather than a data stream of murder rates or weekend grosses.
In the Book Review section, you can find provocative pieces on gender. Science (read our coming extinction). Ways that men and women battle. Race. History as politics. You can read the Book Review, be shocked, think, and create a whole new viewpoint for yourself. You can bring your identity to the Book Review pages.
And, most importantly, you can find a poem.
Yep, a real live poem, just about every week in the Los Angeles Book Review. How's that for guts! In the pages of my local alternative Weekly, there's clearly no such thing as a book, much less poetry. Yet, here, in the bowels of my major mega-regional daily, there's often this brilliant little flowercracker of a poem. A couple weeks ago, it was a great poem by Kim Addonzio, an actual, living, working California poet.
For this, Steve Wasserman deserves a national award from poets. Thank you, Steve.
Additionally, the Book Review devotes two columns of type per month (according to my estimate) on reviews of books of poetry. The critic is Carol Muske-Dukes, a poet and professor at USC.
For all of this, I must add a note to Wasserman's employers, who are busy turning a great Los Angeles institution into a second-rate Chicago newspaper: “Do Not Mess With Steve Wasserman.”
The masthead on the Book Review has already been reduced from two to one. The editorial pages don't seem to be merited according to the weekly advertisements. However, the readers of the Book Review section should be recognized as readers of a daily newspaper until the day they die. This is the ultimate core group. If the Los Angeles Times ever guts the Book Review section, there's no reason for me to participate any longer in the slaughter of all those trees. Let the whole thing become Wal-Mart and Dell computer mailers. Oh, and news from the front. Er, I mean fronts. And the tax cuts that will pay for two wars according to Martian math.
And now for the problematic....
As your loyal poetry reporter, I must also publicly ask why so many large-scale treatments of poets in the Los Angeles Times Book Review section concern poetry written 50 or more years ago?
This is truly an amazing thing. While the rest of the world is worried about the size of Posh Spice's ass, the Book Review will splatter a spread on a dead poet with relentless abandon. Do I love them? Well, yes. I do. But, is there no poet capable of fogging a mirror that deserves a full page and a photo?
Poetry delivers the real news. It's just that poetry only half-articulates the news that has not quite been fully born yet. Poetry is the truth put on the table before you know for sure, with a million additional words, what it is we're talking about. Poetry strikes the truth gong in your chest, and you don't know why or how, but you know the damnt thing is true.
So, why can't the Los Angeles Times Book Review find a current poet and say, “This Person Delivers the News!”?
In a year-end wrap-up, the Los Angeles Times presented all the books published n 2003 that we should read. Only one poet out of six books of poetry recommended was breathing! In my view, this is scandalously shoddy reporting. Wasserman and the Los Angeles Times should be taken to task for this.
It gets worse.
In 2003, Carol Muske-Dukes, a Los Angeles resident, had the kind of year we all live for. Her book of poems, “Sparrow”, published by Random House, was nominated for a National Book Award. To my knowledge, the book was never reviewed by the Los Angeles Times Book Review (I missed the last two Book Reviews of the year). As far as I could tell, Wasserman allowed it to remain a complete secret from his readers. (Note: I believe the Calendar section published an article on Muske-Dukes.)
I can't imagine a poet in NYC or London being recognized in such a manner and receiving not a word in the city daily's Book Review. This is a literary scandal, is it not?
If there is one good thing about the Book Review's base neglect of Muske-Dukes, it is the feeling I get that the section refuses to review both of our books. I'm in pretty heady company. (According to one Harcourt editor, I wrote the best surf poem ever, but I can't get a review in SoCal!)
Poets have never demonstrated any awareness at all of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and that's a shame. They can gain an historical perspective on poetry—and the world—because that's what the section does best. They can also get the news in the section's weekly poem—a brave stroke in support of the great fireblossom moment that is poetry. Muske-Dukes is never apparently set afire by any poetry book she reads, so I'm not sure you'll find a great, living poet in her reviews. There's a lot of lukewarm. And a Los Angeles poet is rare.
And you won't ever find the headline, “I've Seen The Future of Los Angeles Poetry, and His/Her Name Is.....”
Michelle Daugherty 2.21.04
Shoes in Hollywood glitter because the sparkled pavement rubbed off.
I understand why I wear black hooker boots here,
Platform high enough to stretch the gum to it's snapping point
And allow me to leave the old tasteless gook behind.
I don't live in a ghetto.
I'm down the block.
I waste away in the turn around of a dead end street.
Beat up shoes hang,
Tongue sticking out in defiance from the power wires over my alley.
But instead of seeing the cop's fictionalized idea of a drug dealer
I think of the poor barefoot child who stepped on a syringe
-Or maybe it was glass and he was already high.
Either way it is sad.
Engine sounds of an El Camino brings me comfort
-Because I know they have a gun.
A Pig car dread for the same reason.
I don't live in nameless dark,
We are allowed streetlights, ours are just dimmed.
As if we need help carpeting our fornication.
For each crack in the ground,
I ask how many people this street has opened up for and swallowed whole.
I wonder how many adopted and aborted babies were conceived
On a couch or against a fence in this alley.
How many guilty mothers curled around their unborn
And decided to leave it in the
Dumpster two driveways down?
Is each black gum print a marker where some lost,
Molested child fell and drooled the gum in a drunken stupor?
I bet Beverly Hills kids remember to pick up their gum when they come to.
The high point of my street being the garden, which grows, ungrounded
And half decomposes because no one has time to decorate,
Or is it simply no one comes home voluntarily?
I am always driven home by police,
I broke curfew again and never know what to call home
When they ask where mine is.
There is a spider in my roller blades
Because their wheels won't go over the rocks that warn me away,
Or grip the streets slippery by the overflowing gutter of tears.
This street is full of cars that spew class,
And one-bedroom apartments that began as practice for owning a house
But became the dog carriers we sleep in
Because we always want to move away.
I don't care enough to fight out loud anymore.
Maybe I am inhumane enough to get a bigger cage soon.
I don't live in the gutter.
I'm up a curb.
But most people I know sleep on a sheet less mattress on the floor.
We try not to think of bed bugs
Or admit the flies that follow us come from maggots.
Maybe we're afraid one of us will go to the bathroom in the dark
To feel the worms crawling between our toes freshly coated by a 99 cent
Store sock sewn inside out.
I am not the projects. I am one cellblock up.
Still close enough to cheer with the bullets on New Years,
And close enough for my one-night stands
To find their keys with the hovering helicopter's light
-So they don't bother me as I try to coax myself to release my phobia of falling,
Falling off the Ballona Creek Bridge,
With no luck,
As usual I'll drift into tomorrow and smeared knowledge.
Still have burn marks paint can't reach.
Sink down in hopes of not being seen and provoking
Screaming noises from innocent cars.
…And ambulances always seem to go a little slower here.
Copyright by Michelle Daugherty
Wayman Barnes 2.20.04
Everything is Everything
Someone, once, in the Sixties, said, “Everything is everything.” No one is really sure who it was or why they made this statement, or even how or where, but ever since then it has been passed from cool person to cool person until, thankfully, it was told to us by Beverly Mickens at the Story Salon. We, the audience and employees of Jennifer's Coffee, nodded and went “yeah.” Two hours later, I can't remember the context of the saying, but the universalness of it is rattling around in my skull. Like many of the stories I heard tonight.
Yes, I know universalness is not a Webster dictionary approved word, but I think it sums up what I find so fascinating about good storytelling. No matter how specific to someone's own personal experience his or her story is, when told well, it resonates with each and every listener. So, even though, I have never been bitten by a monkey or chased by an angry mailman I can certainly imagine what it would feel like when someone tells me about it. And I think most people are the same way (atleast they should be).
Surprisingly, there are not that many places where one can go to hear good storytelling. If you like Uncle Roy/Mother Goose stuff, there is the occasional show at the local library and at a few annual storytelling fests. There are also the industry showboats like the UnCabaret and the omnipresent one-man shows. But nothing that people like you and me can easily get involved with (Assuming, of course, that we are alike and you are not Julia Sweeney or Beth Lapides.).
So, for me, it has been a most pleasant and increasingly rewarding fortune to have stumbled across the Story Salon.
Like most things I suddenly discover (and assume I'm the first), the Story Salon has been around forever – 8 years, in fact, which is forever in open mic time. Started by Beverly Mickens as a response to one too many nights of stand up, the emphasis of the Story Salon, as you can probably guess, is … stories, personal stories: anecdotal, improvised, written and spit shined, anything, really, that is true and honest, ANYTHING BUT STANDUP (which, I believe was the original name of the reading).
Another thing that sets this reading apart is that there is a screening process before you can read (for purists this probably disqualifies this from being called an “open mic,” but for those who have sat thru a few too many angry diatribes and drunken ramblings – purity can go fuck itself!), you have to have seen a previous show, you must call a week before to get a slot, and you must agree, several times, to stay within the time limit (5 minutes). All of this may be a pain if you just want to go and get your time in the spotlight, but as an audience member it is worth it, making for a more professional/entertaining show than one usually finds in a coffeehouse.
Of course, what makes or breaks the reading are “the regulars.” And the people at the Story Salon couldn't be nicer. They really make a newcomer feel right at home - In my day, I have been to more than my fair share of poetry readings where I have had to worry about getting back to my car safely. There are some SCARY poets lurking out there.
The venue, Jennifer's Coffee, is very warm and cozy. I especially liked the mochas (they had five different kinds of chocolate to choose from) and the food I saw others eating looked very yummy.
So go. The reading is free (although they do urge you, strongly, to buy something from the venue), relatively short (no Night of a Thousand Features), and very entertaining. And tell them, of course, that LitRave sent you.
Every Wednesday @ Jennifer's Coffee
4397 Tujunga Ave (corner of Moorpark), Studio City
Marti MacGibbon: The Mystery Beast
Marsha Lennox: The Tickle Bridge
Steve Robinson: Superbowl Sunday
Ross McKenzie: A Date with Destiny
Moira Kennedy: Vicky Viking, School Mascot
Wayman Barnes: How to Not Break-up with Margaret
Lori Weiss: Mountain Biking, Oui Oui!
Bonnie Pelton: Clean and Sober
Jim Gouldin: Witch in an A-frame
Dan Farren: Underwear
Frankie Drayus 2.19.04
Clayton Eshleman: journeying inward for poetry
At Beyond Baroque this past Sunday night, just minutes after I was huddled in my car listening to the Panthers lose to the Patriots, I unexpectedly entered a portal to another time and place: I attended a reading (and slideshow!) by poet and translator Clayton Eshleman and suddenly things like the Super Bowl ceased to matter. In fact, my sense of what mattered - matters - has been irrevocably altered.
Clayton Eshleman is a man who accepts his obsessions, a man who knows the meaning of idee fixe. For the past 30 years he has been journeying deep into several caves in France, and in the process he has become an expert on the Upper Paleolithic Era. He read from his newest book, "Juniper Fuse" but he has several others, including his famous translations of the surrealist poet Cesar Vallejo (which I highly recommend). The title comes partly from the wicks made of juniper stems which were used to light the caves back before there were such modern spelunking conveniences like headlamps. "Juniper Fuse" is a gorgeous, thick, heavy book, complete with full color plates of some of the cave paintings he has been lucky enough to observe. Imagine crawling 800 yards (that's 8 football fields) underground in order to view paintings which are 32,000 years old. I should add that he is neither a small man nor a young man, so it is all the more amazing that he has done this repeatedly and at all. A science writer named Marshack once yelled at him: "What is a POET doing in the caves?!" But this, Eshleman informs us with awe and contagious enthusiasm, is where art first started to happen. This is the earliest evidence we have of man attempting to represent his world outside of himself. Really then, this is the root of poetry. So where else should a poet be besides down in these caves?
One of his pieces dealt with what happened to him after being underground for several hours. He wrote about feeling like he was choking on himself, swallowing himself in order to give birth to himself -- an "oroboric carousel" -- and the imagery of somewhat violently burrowing into oneself via crawling into the earth -- a burial/resurrection -- death in order to achieve new life --resonated strongly for me. But then I've probably been reading too much folklore, too much Joseph Campbell. For more than I year, I've been studying historical linguistics (as a complete amateur, mind you) and the evolution of writing systems, so this particular reading was an intersection of so many subjects I find important. At times, he spoke images from dreams I'd forgotten I'd had. His poems reminded me of what I wanted to remember: to remain attentive to desire. To search and discover. To be brave in the face of danger. To simply accept and not to judge. To be through what one loves.
Clayton Eshleman makes every person in the audience consider going to Lascaux, even people who are claustrophobic. When he speaks about what he loves, you love it too. When he reads his poetry, you know that this is the thing he was made for. His voice fills the room with resonant joy. He is so alive with his passion. When he opens his mouth to speak, he “is” a poem.
Wayman Barnes 2.5.04
The Night of Dropped Things
First, it was the clip-on light, krplunking onto the floor as the second poet took the stage. Steve Ramirez, the evening's nonhosting host, tried in vain to nonchalantly attach it back to the music stand where the poet had laid his papers. Finally, after having no success whatsoever, he stood there and held it while the poet continued. The audience laughed knowingly, because this happens at every single reading of the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry.
Part of why this is funny is because the hosts, Steve Ramirez and Ben Trigg, have put a lot of money and effort into this reading. The sound system is topnotch and they put a lot of effort into promoting the reading, but, for some odd reason, they cannot get a decent clip-on light. So week after week it falls and either Steve or Ben will stand there holding it.
But, as fate would have it, tonight the clip-on light was not the only thing krplunking onto the floor. It seemed to me, and I am not exaggerating, that every person while they were on the stage dropped something: pen, paper, books, etc. Instead of Two Idiots Peddling Poetry it was Seventeen Poets Dropping Poetry (sorry).
Luckily, the poetry was top rate. It always is at this venue. And with the exception of a certain someone telling my girlfriend he would like to paint her posed in a half shell, I had a great time. The owner of the venue was even nice to me (He once tried to kick me out for no discernable reason, so this was a pleasant surprise).
For those of you who haven't been there, Two Idiots Peddling Poetry is a weekly open mic held at the Ugly Mug Caffe in downtown Orange, CA. The neighborhood is a movieland version of hometown USA. You can almost smell home cooked applepie and see Grandpa Joe whittling on the front stoop as you wave hello and shout “God Bless America and you, too – Grandpa Joe!” (If you like antiques, you do not want to go windowshopping here. You will go broke very quickly).
The best thing about the reading, besides the Two Idiots themselves, is the features. These guys get the best. Go to their Website to see all the great poets they have lined up. Another thing that makes this reading special is the audience. The place is constantly filled with people who are there just to listen to the poetry. This may not sound like such a big deal, but if you have been to as many readings as I have, it is refreshing to be in a room of people who are not there just for their own five minutes of stage time.
So go, have fun, and don't drop anything.
Two Idiots Peddling Poetry
Wednesday at 8 PM
Ugly Mug Caffe
261 North Glassell Ave, Orange, CA
Ben Trigg: How I Get My Ideas (Dean Young)
Michael Kramer: Winter Chores; Witnessed Tattoo
James Ysidro: Mother Goose; Talking About Relationships
Lowell Diabla: Barbie
Aaron Roberts: Candlelight (Tony Hoagland); Sonata (Mark Cox)
Jeremy Stephens: Untitled
Charlotte O'Brien: Postcards of Prague; Quilt; The Jewish Cemetery in Prague; Suicide's Last Secret; Calving; Delivery; November's Crescent; The Betta Fish; Tree/Woman Ben Trigg: In This Field (Dean Young)
Wayman Barnes: Eating
Sandra B.: Have I known you somewhere before?; A Celebration of Sorts; Not Today
Katherine Turner: What is she doing with My Underwear?; Trophy Boyfriend; Skinning You
Sid Shifter: In the Forest of Alexandria
Lynda Strong: Black Ice; “Aching Sky”
Cherene: “Sugar-coated shit”; Wow!
Marcus Omari: A Memory of MLK (June Jordan); Smells of Church
Michelle Daugherty: Brand Spankin' New
Jason Macbeth: The Weeping Orchard (Boris Pasternak); Distance; On Election Day
Michael Roberts: Untitled; Houdini Drowned
Bloodshot: These Days; One of the Best