Here’s the selection of “lost” Los Angeles poets and first paragraphs of the intro that I edited and wrote for Paul Revere’s Horse. Included are poems by the Mexican poet Dantés, Nora May French, Olive Percival, Julia Boynton Green, Virginia Church, Alice Fowlie Whitfield, James Boyer May, Curtis Zahn, the music critic Peter Yates, John Thomas, super-masochist Bob Flanagan and Michélle T. Clinton.
Poetry in the United States is focused in two major urban centers, New York and San Francisco. While other cities have developed poetry “scenes,” it is these two cities that seem perennially able to renew their poetic identities, with fresh influxes of young writers and a substantial group of older, decidedly “established,” mentors to maintain a sense of continuity with previous generations and their aesthetic strategies. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, also have a number of writers with national reputations, and their traditions are old and deep, especially in the case of Boston, but none of them have risen to or maintained the status of a pole of activity, at least since the time of the New Americans, when an axis seemed to develop between New York and San Francisco. Of course, it is impossible to determine the exact parameters of a “major poetry city,” the term itself being inelegant, and writers in these cities (and others, such as Austin, Seattle, Lawrence, or Atlanta) don’t often sense a lack, or if they do, it is a productive one. However, these writers usually recognize that they are not in one of the cities associated with poetry—they identify as underdogs, loyal to their local scenes and perhaps even energized by their marginality.
A city not often counted in any of these rubrics is Los Angeles. One of the largest American cities, once dubbed the “city of the future,” it is legendary for its highways, the movie industry, miles of quasi-suburban “villages,” racial strife and wild economic disparities, and general air of being an outpost on the tail end of the country. It has also managed to nurture and sustain a number of poets who have attained national reputations, but nonetheless the city hasn’t acquired, to most eyes, an identifiable poetic “style” that illustrates to the readers of its poetry what the city means as an intellectual, artistic center, a stark contrast to the various styles of visual art—including the pop-inspired works of Baldessari and Ruscha, the architecture of Richard Neutra, the found art/assemblage aesthetics of Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz, the performance art of Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, and Mike Kelley, and the murals of ASCO—that have identified L.A. for decades. There are many reasons for this—there really aren’t many “older poets” active on the scene, for example, and many Los Angeles writers are quite happy to be working without an active local “tradition” anyway—but I won’t go much further on speculating why this is the case.