Los Angeles Poetry


LA-Telephone-2-Cover

The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 2 2012-13 is a collection of new work by contemporary Southern California writers and text-artists compiled and designed by poet and digital artist Brian Kim Stefans.

Including new work by:

Will Alexander
Diana Arterian
Thérèse Bachand
Molly Bendall
Guy Bennett
Byron Campbell
Geneva Chao
Andrew Choate
j.s. davis
Larkin Higgins
Erin Jourdan
Siel Ju
Janice Lee
Deborah Meadows
Béatrice Mousli
Dennis Phillips
William Poundstone
David Shook
Chris Stoffolino
Daniel Tiffany
AJ Urquidi

The volume is free for download from Mediafire (see links below).

The collection was created based on a semi-open call to writers and artists for up to 7 pages of work, set in 6 x 9 in .pdf format, which were then assembled into the present file. All choices were made by the artists and presented as they created it. Several artists contributed notes and statements about their work.

PDF

https://www.mediafire.com/?58d0d39mmv13bdy

Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/LATelephoneBookVol2

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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.

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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.

Lost Poets of Los Angeles

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Following are some paragraphs from an application to do work at the Huntington Library concerning three pre-war Los Angeles poets, Julia Boynton Green, Olive Percival and Nora May French. I’m sure all of you have heard of none of these writers (though if you have, please contact me immediately). More neglectorinos dug up during my research for the historical anthology of Los Angeles Poetry.

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Julia Boynton Green

I came across Green’s poetry while researching another project, a historical anthology of Los Angeles poetry. I call the anthology “historical” because it will also consist of essays describing in some detail the various clusters of poets included. In Green’s case, she is part of an interesting early trio of women poets in early Los Angeles which includes Olive Percival (1869-1945) and Nora May French (1880-1907), both of whose papers are also collected at the Huntington. Unlike Percival or French, however, Green has never had a posthumous publication or reprints of her books, nor has she attracted the attention of scholars. I would also, however, like to look at Percival and French’s papers in case there is material that has been overlooked by past researchers.

Green was born Julia P. Boynton in New York, and spent the first 29 years of her life in New York State and traveling Europe. She published one book of poetry, Lines and Interlines, when she was 26. American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies, published sometime in the early 1890s, notes that she married Levi Worthington Green in 1890 and that, after their six months in Europe and a move to Rochester, “her literary work has been seriously disturbed by so many changes and diversions.” She moved to California in 1893, but she didn’t publish her next book of poems, This Enchanted Coast: Verse on California Themes, until 1928 in Los Angeles with the Times-Mirror Press over forty years after the publication of Lines and Interlines. Her final book, Noonmark, appeared in 1936, possibly self-published, out of Redlands.

I don’t have much more information about Green. The books’ acknowledgements pages note that she published in such journals and newspapers as The Boston Transcript, The Forum, The New York Times, American Poetry Magazine, Los Angeles Saturday Night, The Poetry Review (London) among a host of others that I’d never heard of.

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Nora May French

Interestingly, toward her later years she published poems in the science fiction journals Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, largely because, I think, she wrote many satires concerning her dislike of modern life, particularly its machinery, but in the process managed to describe such speculative possibilities as whether someday airplanes, for example, might become sentient: “Will shrewd Invention, further, give the plane / A singing voice unknown to stork or crane?” she writes in “This Thing Incredible.”  “Prodigious Proxies” anticipates some of the concerns of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick: “Will mutinous machines / Tread beauty, silence, peace, beneath their hooves / And, whether man denounces or approves, / Emerge the brutal end and not the means?”

Green’s poetry from her first book, Lines and Interlines, while very interesting and formally accomplished, was not included by John Hollander for his amazing two volume anthology American 19th Century Poetry (Library of America), most likely because he had simply not come across her work due to her disappearance from the New York scene. This is unfortunate because much her poetry exceeds by far writing by many of the minor, since-forgotten figures he included. She took a very anti-modernist stance in her poetics—one poem, “Locoed,” rails against the arrival of free verse—and so her poetic style never much transcended what she had already developed in her youth; a taste for sonnets, ballads and rhyming couplets persists well into the 20th century. But the range of her concerns was wide; she wrote lovely, never trivial poems about nature, reflections on art and aesthetics, effective poems about love and death, narrative poems and, finally—what I find most original and fascinating about her—several anti-modern satires.

The website Archivegrid notes, tantalizingly, that the Huntington’s collection includes “correspondence, poetry, articles, stories, drama, and three unpublished books” by Green. Of course, I hope those three books are of poetry on a par with what has appeared, but I’d be interested new material of any genre. Consequently, another website lists a series of poems that she published after the appearance of Noonmark, some of which I’ve been able to locate, some not—drafts of these poems would be welcome.

My goal is to assemble a book, if not of a “complete” poems, then of a selection. I’d like to include whatever prose about her literary community, her writing practices and her views on poetry and writing that I can find. Green represents something quite important to Los Angeles poetry; she is the earliest English-language poet I can find, in fact, who has a substantial body of work that rises much above the level of the derivative material by the countless other L.A. poets of the time and could have a national audience. Green is distinctly Californian, if not an Angeleno, in her preference for the quiet pleasures of her garden over what must have seemed the terrible encroachment of technology on everyday life, most interestingly as it descends from the air. Even as I write I hear the sound of a propeller plane overhead, nothing compared to the occasional swarm of helicopters which regularly descend on my Hollywood neighborhood—Green might have been the first to complain of such things in poems! Though she falls somewhat into the tradition of Los Angeles boosterism inaugurated by the newspaperman Charles Lummis to encourage emigration, she is never less than detailed in her attentions to plant and animal life on the “enchanted coast,” and is never governed by anything but her own impulses to create and respond to the world.

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Olive Percival

I’d also like to research the papers of Nora May French, an intense poet who committed suicide at the age of 27. The Outer Gate: The Collected Poems of Nora May French appeared in 2009 from Hippocampus Press, which usually focuses its attention on writers in the H.P. Lovecraft circle. While French didn’t write science fiction or “weird” verse, her circle of writers during the last year of her life in Carmel included George Sterling and a few others who crossed over into the uncanny. French’s poetry is much denser than Green’s, more visionary, and, as her early suicide might suggest, pained and impatient. I don’t think there are any more surviving poems—her mother apparently destroyed all of her lighter, humorous verse because she thought it would hurt French’s reputation as a writer—but I’d love to take a look anyway.

Olive Percival, known largely as a collector, travel writer and designer of fabulous gardens (the Huntington has published a book of her designs) published two books of poems as well as a series of memoirs. One of Percival’s books, Leaf-Shadows and Rose-Drift (1911), anticipates some of the Asian-inspired stylistics of major Imagist poets like Ezra Pound in his book Cathay (1915). I haven’t been able to locate her second book, Yellowing Ivy, published the year after her death in 1945. While my least favorite aspect of her book of Asian-influenced poetry are the rhyme schemes—it’s unfortunate that she didn’t discover or embrace free verse—I’d love to see whether she either moved past her Asian mode, past her devotion to fixed rhyme schemes3, or if not, developed the method of her first book into something more substantial.

I haven’t contacted a press yet about the poems of Green, but I am in discussion with a few presses about the historical anthology itself. Consequently, I’m working on a series of essays for the Los Angeles Review of books on my various “clusters” of L.A. poets which should start appearing over the next year. In 2011, I published a selection of “lost” L.A. Poets in the San Francisco journal Paul Revere’s Horse. It included two poems French, two by Green and three by Percival in that selection—I can give you a copy for your archives if you’d like.

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Almost all of this music is still unavailable on services like Spotify and Pandora, and much of it is simply not available commercially at all. But a few of the bands (like Marina Swingers and the Deadbeats) have reformed or created websites where their music can be purchased. My next post will be a series of links to these sites. In the meantime, enjoy!
Su Tissue, Suburban Lawns (Photo: Bruce Kalberg)
1 Wild Kingdom — Roma / Destiny (1981) 5:51
2 Abecedarians — Benway’s Carnival (1985) 5:09
3 Suburban Lawns — Janitor (1981) 2:31
4 Zolar X — Science (1982) 1:25
5 B People — Can Can’t (1981) 2:27
6 Life After Death — In Living Color (1985) 1:54
7 Christian Death — When I Was Bed (1985) 7:57
8 Beat-E-O’s — China Sleeping (1981) 2:12
9 Wet Picnic — He Believes (1982) 5:33
10 Dogma Probe — Thirteen (1982) 4:30
11 Iron Curtain / Steven Fields — Legalize Heroin (1988) 5:07
12 Null And Void — The Motorcycle Song (1982) 2:27
13 Savage Republic — Next To Nothing (1982) 3:24
14 Human Hands — Blue Eel (1981) 2:51
15 Gleaming Spires — While We Can (1982) 4:19
16 Nu Beams — One Step For What? (1981) 3:09
17 Abecedarians — I Glide (1986) 7:31
18 Standard Of Living — So Hard (1982) 1:53
19 Rich and Famous — Neutron Star (1978) 4:05
20 Monitor — BEAK (1979) 1:50
21 Fibonaccis — Some Men (1987) 2:42
22 Freshly Wrapped Candies — Judas (1987) 3:41
23 Green on Red — Two Bibles (1981) 3:29
24 League of Nations — Thin Ice (1984) 3:42
25 Atila — Mr. Kritik (1981) 1:12
26 Outer Circle — Another Moon (1982) 3:25
27 Rand Kennedy — Enorma Jones (1983) 1:03
28 Animal Dance — Under Pulse (1984) 3:21
29 Steaming Coils — Singing Notice (1991) 3:12
30 Geza X And The Mommymen — The Paranoids Are Coming (1982) 3:11
31 Null And Void — A Party Filled With Thieves (1982) 3:33
32 Rikk Agnew — 10 (1982) 2:58
33 Trotsky Icepick — Mar Vista Bus Stop (1988) 3:03
34 IQ Zero — Zero Gravity (1981) 3:09
35 Perfect Imperfect Circular — From The Ocean Above (1986) 4:09
36 The Plugz — Touch For Cash (1981) 2:40
37 The Screamers — 122 Hours of Fear (1978) 3:32
38 Deadbeats — Brainless (1979) 2:31
39 Fourwaycross — Apologize (1985) 4:18
40 Cindy Lee Berryhill — Headin’ For The Border Line (1987) 3:56
41 The Weirdos — Helium Bar (1980) 3:22
42 Jobriath — Heartbeat (1974) 2:45
43 Kommunity FK — Incompatible Disposition (1983) 2:48
44 Drowning Pool — Festival of Healing (1987) 2:56
45 Peter Ivers — Sweet Enemy (1974) 2:46
46 17 Pygmies — Suit Of Nails (1985) 3:35
Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza, Saccharine Trust (Photo: Victor Sedillo)

 

 

Disk 3

47 Phranc — One O’ The Girls (1985) 4:58
48 The Cramps — Green Fuz (1981) 2:08
49 Pop Art — Never No (1987) 2:31
50 Moebius — Video Soldier in a Radio War (1982) 4:26
51 Party Boys — I Love You (1986) 3:22
52 Johanna Went — Slave Beyond The Grave (1981) 2:50
53 Marina Swingers — Little Swine (1979) 2:57
54 Eddie & The Subtitles — Magic (1981) 3:53
56 Autumnfair — Arterial (1986) 3:09
57 The Untouchables — Lovers Again (1985) 3:27
58 Vidiots — Laurie’s Lament (1981) 1:41
59 Slow Children — Spring in Fialta (1981) 3:24
60 The Salvation Army — Happen Happened (1981) 3:02
61 The Nerves — Hanging On The Telephone (1976) 2:05
62 What Is This — Days Of Reflection (1984) 3:42
63 The Dickies — Attack of the Mole Men (1979) 3:41
64 Zoogz Rift — The Great Apes Ate Grapes (1979) 2:34
65 Marnie Sounds — Coquette, Circus Girl (1991) 5:48
66 The Quick — My Purgatory Years (1976) 5:17
67 Le Forte Four — The Lowest Form Of Music (1980) 3:09
68 X — Adult Books (1981) 3:19
69 The Brainiacs — Stunned (1979) 2:33
70 Boyd Rice — Untitled (1977) 1:40
71 Opal — Happy Nightmare Baby (1987) 2:57
72 Pat Smear — Golden Boys (1987) 3:20
73 Redd Kross — Love Is You (1987) 2:29
74 Descendents — Impressions (1987) 3:08
75 Twisted Roots — The Yellow One (1981) 3:03
76 Nip Drivers — Cindy (1984) 1:34
77 Jimmy Smack — Untitled (1982) 1:27
78 Vivabeat — Man From China (1979) 5:23
79 Cindy & the Gidget Haters — Pogoin’s For Me (1980) 2:18
80 T.S.O.L. — Soft Focus (1982) 3:33
81 Christian Lunch — Strangling Of a Small Dog (1981) 1:43
82 Black Randy and the Metrosquad — I Slept in an Arcade (1980) 2:30
83 The Skoings — Do The Orbit (1977) 3:23
84 20/20 — Yellow Pills (1979) 4:17
85 Visiting Kids — Trilobytes (1989) 3:21
86 Fender Buddies — Dancing a Frenzy (1980) 1:48
87 Red Hot Chili Peppers — Why Don’t You Love Me (1984) 3:23
88 Germs — No God (1993) 1:54
89 The Motels — Art Fails (1981) 2:58
90 The Bangles — Going Down to Liverpool (1984) 3:43
91 The Toons — Video Games (1982) 2:46
92 5uu’s — The Birth Of Compromisation (1985) 3:02
93 Minutemen — The Anchor (1983) 2:34
94 A Produce — Pulse (1988) 4:00
95 Urinals — Surfin’ With The Shah (1979) 2:42

Jimmy Smack (Photographer Unknown)
96 Che Blammo — Stupid for Your Love (1981) 3:07
97 Hundredth Monkey — Mute Lament (1986) 4:50
98 Bad Religion — Chasing the Wild Goose (1983) 2:50
99 100 Flowers — All Sexed Up (1983) 2:43
100 God And The State — My Name Is Mud (1985) 2:42
101 Hilary — Goose Step, Two Step (1983) 3:37
102 The Romans — Big Neck (1983) 1:46
103 Nick Paine — Solid State (1985) 3:23
104 Afterimage — Strange Confession (1984) 2:47
105 Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo — Forbidden Zone (1980) 2:52
106 The Alley Cats — King Of The Street Fights (1981) 3:43
107 Thelonious Monster — I Live In A Nice House (1992) 3:47
108 fIREHOSE — Brave Captain (1986) 3:15
109 Magnolia Thunderpussy — Circle (1985) 4:33
110 Concrete Blonde — Tomorrow, Wendy (1990) 5:09
111 The Rub — Death of Pop (1987) 2:46
112 Gone Fishin’ — Too Many Eyes (1986) 3:11
113 The Wake — Forever’s Fair (1985) 3:38
114 Ethyl Meatplow — Silly Dawg (1990) 3:37
115 Bone Cabal — I O Betulah (1983) 4:34
116 Dos — Taking Away The Fire (1986) 4:15
117 Food And Shelter — Nun With A Gun (1984) 3:18

 

118 The Kipper Kids — Sheik of Araby (1983) 4:28
119 Flesh Eaters — See You In The Boneyard (1981) 3:30
120 Rain Parade — This Can’t Be Today (1983) 4:35
121 Alfalfa — Jewels (1985) 3:09
122 Mark Lane — Pushing and Pulling (1981) 3:15
123 Holly Beth Vincent — Honalu (1982) 3:49
124 Earle Mankey — Mau Mau (1980) 3:18
125 Q — Sushi (1982) 2:02
126 Tyrants in Therapy — In the Shadow of Hitler (1984) 2:31
127 Saccharine Trust — Drugstore Logic (1986) 2:28
128 B People — Give Up (1980) 2:02
129 White Glove Test — Peter (1986) 3:04
130 All — Alfredo’s (1988) 3:52
131 Mumbles — Diamond (1990) 4:09
132 Red Temple Spirits — Soft Machine (1989) 4:02
133 Crimony — Vampire Party (1988) 2:37
134 Plebs — Redhead (1982) 1:44
135 Failsafe — 1943 (In Germany) (1984) 3:33
136 Susan Rhee and the Orientals — There’s Something In The Air (1983) 4:32
137 Zimbo Chimps — Inca Vacation (1985) 5:21
138 Swamp Zombies — We Just Don’t Belong (1989) 4:14
139 The Unknowns — The Streets (1982) 2:42
The Plugz (Photographer Unknown)
140 Francis X and the Bushmen — Grey Talk (1987) 4:15
141 Peace Corpse — Mental Malady (1986) 3:12
142 Pilgrim State — Deathwish (1983) 3:24
143 Ten Foot Faces — Get Out of That Tree (1986) 2:23
144 Gary Valentine — The Ballad Of Nathaniel West (1979) 4:01
145 Gothic Hut — Undermatter (1988) 5:37
146 Christian Lunch — This Media Sucks! (1990) 4:30
147 Blackbird — More (1987) 5:09
148 Frank Zappa — Duke of Prunes (1979) 4:20
149 Wall Of Voodoo — Longarm (1980) 3:46
150 Kommunity FK — No Fear (1983) 5:13
151 Departmentstore Santas — Kaleidoscope (1984) 2:49
152 3D Picnic — Murdermaid (1991) 3:03
153 Friends of Ghosts — Juju Digby Juju (1986) 3:57
154 Iron Curtain — The Burning (1987) 5:01
155 The Last — You (1989) 4:47
156 The Bullets — That Certain Glow (1987) 3:48
157 This Ascension — Alex Kidd (1989) 3:55
158 The Rub — Who Killed Bob Crane? (1987) 3:35
159 Extremes — Animals Part III 1 (1979) 3:32
160 Alisa — I Want To Be a Prostitute (1982) 2:38
161 Marty Gras and the Flamingos — New Clothes Part 1 (1981) 3:21
162 Death Ride 69 — Elvis Christ (1988) 4:49
163 The Middle Class — A Blueprint for Joy (1980) 2:27
164 Sparks — Angst In My Pants (1982) 3:28
165 Flash Bouyancy — Do The Ray (1980) 2:42
166 Suburban Lawns — Hug You (1983) 4:49
167 The Jetzons — 4/3/2001 (1982) 4:18
168 Fishbone — Slick Nick, You Devil You (1987) 4:44
169 D.O.M.E.S. — It’s Too Bad, Mother Dear (1985) 3:44
170 Kim Fowley — 1980 – Run For Your Life (1979) 3:12
171 Caterwaul — Not Today (1988) 4:01
172 Deception Bay — All My Future (1991) 4:50
173 Cathedral of Tears — She Won’t Talk (1983) 3:58
174 Paul Collins’ Beat — You and I (1979) 2:49
175 T.S.O.L. — Silent Scream (1981) 2:46
176 Mnemonic Devices — Marriage Of Convenience (1982) 3:42
177 Artistic Decline — Andy Warhol (1983) 1:43
178 Gary Panter & Jay Cotton — Artist’s Hymn (1989) 2:11
179 Mark Lane — Love Is So Aggravating (1981) 2:34
180 The Egyptian Lover — I Cry (Night After Night) (1984) 5:04
The Screamers (Photographer Unknown)
181 Motor Totemist Guild — Get Angry (1984) 2:43
182 Black Flag — Its All Up To You (1985) 5:20
183 Claude Coma And The I.V’s — Minimum Wage (1982) 2:41
184 Bulimia Banquet — Satan’s Doorstep (1986) 2:24
185 Battery Farley — Dress For Obscurity (1985) 3:39
186 Corpus Delicti — No Conflict (1984) 2:56
187 Shadow Minstrels — Popular Song Of The Hour (1983) 4:23
188 Dennis Cooper — Seven Poets Chosen By John Ashbery (1983) 2:18
189 L7 — Snake Handler (1988) 2:29
190 Los Illegals — Guinea Pigs (1983) 4:45
191 Danny & the Doorknobs — In Exile (1985) 2:40
192 Christian Death — Romeo’s Distress (1982) 3:15
193 Red Wedding — Drums (1982) 3:47
194 Subjects — Augie (1982) 2:36
195 Steaming Coils — Diamond Pillow (1987) 3:43
196 Agent Orange — Blood Stains (1980) 1:46
197 The Squad — Scene Of The Crime (1981) 2:36
198 Dark Arts — Rivers (1986) 4:59
199 The Death Folk — Hobos (1989) 3:36
200 Doubting Thomas — Helen Keller (1987) 2:50
201 L.A. Burgers — Color Eyes (1980) 3:03
202 45 Grave — Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood (1980) 2:38
203 White Glove Test — Dream #10 (1986) 3:41

204 Great City — Night Flight to Tangiers (1986) 5:05205 The Toasters — Teenage Tease (1980) 3:59

206 Irritators — Whack the Dolphin (1981) 4:20
207 The Middle Class — Out Of Vogue (1978) 1:07
208 Arrow Book Club — Get Down Part 4 (1980) 1:33
209 Oingo Boingo — Only A Lad (1979) 4:16
210 The Unknowns — Not My Memory (1981) 2:21
211 Paul Roessler — Dull Dreary World (1983) 3:29
212 Infantry — The Call (1987) 3:50
213 Zoogz Rift — The Breather (1986) 4:22
214 Legal Weapon — Too High (1985) 4:14
215 Savage Republic — Mobilization (1982) 3:21
216 Peer Group — I Saw That Movie (1981) 1:07
217 Choir Invisible — Hands of Another (1981) 3:49
218 Lotus Lame And The Lame Flames — Bad Sex (1983) 3:40
219 The Go-Go’s — Lust To Love (1981) 3:28
220 Ex-Voto — The Devil’s Work (1990) 4:11
221 John Trubee — Blind Man’s Penis (1976) 1:41
222 The Brat — The Wolf (1980) 3:30
223 Pat Smear — Sahara Hotel (1987) 5:24

224 Peter Ivers and David Lynch — In Heaven (1977) 1:46225 Nip Drivers — You Need Us (2000) 1:10

226 X — I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts (1983) 4:15
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Following is the outline of a series of essays about Los Angeles poetry I will be writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books. It mostly concerns “experimental” writing (of course), but certain folks like Henri Coulette, a master “formalist,” and writers of color who might not be considered experimental have prominent spots.

1. The Mexican Period and Chicano Writing
Overview of poetry publishing in the period before U.S. colonialism; review of some of the genres of poetry that were created during this period; consideration of what it meant to be “Mexican” and/or “Chicano” in that period; look at the work of the most accomplished poet, “Dantes,” in relation to other Mexican poetry of the time; consideration of themes developed here and later Chicano writing.

2. Three Women Poets: Nora May French, Olive Percival and Julia Boynton Green
Difficulties of finding work by early Los Angeles Poets; review of the fine book print tradition (Ward Ritchie, etc.); review of issues related to “landscape” art and its promotion by people like Lummis to encourage migration out here and how Percival and Clark relate to this; ends with focus on Nora May French.

3. Thomas McGrath and the McCarthy Era
Quick review of the life and works of McGrath; consideration of the various left-leaning magazines circulating at the time; look at certain key incidents, such as the firing of McGrath, the Ginsberg reading and the LA Poets anthology; a look at the writing of Curtis Zahn, James Boyer May, Josephine Ain and Peter Yates; Bertolt Brecht.

4. The Case of John Thomas
Brief review of the Venice West scene, including side notes on poets such as Stuart Perkoff; recounting of John Thomas’s biography (including his trial for child molestation); consideration of the poems and “Patagonia”; linkage to Bataille and the libertine tradition in French literature; considerations of Thomas relationship to the English tradition of “earthy” spiritual writing, including Blake and Hogarth.

5. The Watts Writers Workshop
A review of themes of Black Arts; consideration of the specific contribution of Los Angeles poets; look at the origins of the Watts Writers Workshop started by Budd Schulberg; consideration of Quncey Troupe and other poets who came out of this scene, culminating in the writing of Michele Clinton; consideration of the more “cosmic” side of their legacy in such writers as Will Alexander.

6. The Success and Failure of Henri Coulette
A consideration of literature in the academy in Los Angeles and the problems of “formalist” writing; a review of Coulette’s life, including the accidental pulping of his second book and his descent into alcoholism; a close look at Coulette’s poetry; considerations of American “formalism” and Coulette’s dual devotion to the writing of Berryman and Larkin.

7. Charles Bukowski and the Meat Poets
A defense of Bukowski’s early poetry against his later writing; the question of libertinism etc. as first posed in the Thomas essay; a look at the writing of disciples of Bukowski, including one not often associated with him, F. A. Nettelbeck (Bug Death); reflections of the fame of the Bukowski approach and its specific hold on “Hollywood.”

8. Art and Text in the Seventies
Strange origins in Wiliam Cheney and his miniature books; the Los Angeles text-art scene including Ed Ruscha, Allen Ruppersberg and Guy DeCointet; a side note on Hugh Fox; side note on Aram Saroyan; a consideration of the present day emphasis on performance and conceptual writing, asking whether conceptual texts such as Ruppersberg’s deserves to be called “poetry”; a consideration of William Poundstone.

9. The Little Caesar Scene
Consideration of the punk scene in Los Angeles at the time; a look at the writing of Rimbaud; review of the poets, most especially Dennis Cooper, and their attachment to the New York School; a look at the writing and life of Bob Flanagan; questions about relationship of the “abject” to poetry and performance art; a note on Amy Gerstler.

10. Leland Hickman and Temblor
A look at the Momentum scene around William Mohr; a note on Sulfur edited by Clayton Eshlemen; a note on Sun & Moon and Green Integer; a note on the publishing activities of Paul Vangelisti; a consideration of Hickman’s writing; an overview of Temblor and the writers associated with it who remain in Los Angeles (such as Diane Ward, Dennis Philips, etc.); side note on Robert Crosson.

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I just wrote this about a paper I will be presenting in Pomona in November for the PAMLA conference:

Zine Days: Rimbaud, Punk and the New York School in the Poetry of Little Caesar Magazine (1976–1982)

Dennis Cooper’s magazine, Little Caesar, marked a revival in “transgressive” poetry stemming out of the Beyond Baroque literature organization in Venice. Poets and musicians including Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Bob Flanagan, David Trinidad, Jack Skelly (poet and editor of Barney) and the punk band X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe (among many others) were part of a short-lived scene that is still largely under-recognized nationally, even locally. This talk provides a brief overview of the history of the magazine and attempts to outline the distinctive elements of its coterie aesthetics.

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Below are the results of my internet searches and Facebook status update responses concerning “experimental” or “underground” theater and dance in Los Angeles. Not all of this could be called “experimental” — the Blank Theater Company, for example — but I’ve included them just for my own perverse reasons.

I’ve seen nothing by most of these writers, directors or groups, except for things ar REDCAT, notably a production by my brilliant friend Melanie Rios Glaser and her company The Wooden Floor.

I’m excited to see Alice Tuan here. I had never heard of her, but according to her biography, she’s done work with the Flea back in New York. Most of my best theater experiences were through the Flea and the writers associated with Mac Wellman and the “Little Theatre” series curated by Jeffrey Jones, so I’m interested in seeing what she does. She also studied with Paula Vogel, with whom I studied (for one semester) out at Brown.

If you know of any other writers, directors or organizations that belong here, please let me know!

Alice Tuan / CalArts
http://directory.calarts.edu/directory/alice-tuan

Anatomy Riot (Show Box)
http://www.myspace.com/anatomyriot

Bootleg Theater
http://www.bootlegtheater.org/

Bryan Reynolds / Transversal
http://www.bryanreynolds.com/

CalArts School of Theater
http://theater.calarts.edu/

Circle X Theatre Co.
http://www.circlextheatre.org

Circus Theatricals
http://www.circustheatricals.com/

City Garage
http://www.citygarage.org/

Cornerstone Theater Company
http://www.cornerstonetheater.org/

Diavolo Dance Theater
http://www.diavolo.org/

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
http://heididuckler.org/contact/index.html

Highways Performance Space and Gallery
http://www.highwaysperformance.org/

Hollywood Fringe Festival
http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/

Mady Schutzman / CalArts
http://directory.calarts.edu/directory/mady-schutzman

Meg Wolfe
http://www.myspace.com/dancemegwolfe

Melanie Rios Glaser / The Wooden Floor
http://www.saintjosephballet.org/view/default

Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble
http://www.notmanapart.com

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
http://www.odysseytheatre.com/

Orphean Circus
http://orpheancircus.com/

Poor Dog Group
http://www.poordoggroup.com

Psatticus Productions
http://www.psittacusproductions.org/

REDCAT
http://www.redcat.org/

Rogue Machine
http://roguemachinetheatre.com/word press

Sacred Fools
http://www.sacredfools.org/

Simone Forti
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_Forti

Son of Semele Ensemble
http://www.sonofsemele.org

Susan Simpson / The Manual Archives
http://www.manualarchives.org/

The Blank Theater Company
http://www.theblank.com/

The Actors Gang
http://www.theactorsgang.com

The SpyAnts Theater Company
http://www.thespyants.com/

The Underground Theater Online
http://www.undergroundtheater.com/Home.html

Theatre 68
http://www.68centcrew.com/

Theatre of Note
http://www.theatreofnote.com/

Travis Preston / CalArts
http://directory.calarts.edu/directory/travis-preston-0

Upright Citizens Brigade
http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group
http://zombiejoes.homestead.com/

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I had insomnia last night, and in the midst of it proposed this discussion group at the Public School here in Los Angeles. If you don’t know, the Public School is a forum for spontaneous informal courses and discussion groups. You propose a course (one which you would either teach, attend, or teach a few sessions of), and if there is enough interest over time, a time is agreed upon and the course moves forward. We’ll see who (or what!?) bites.

The Poetic Research Bureau is housed in the same space in Chinatown, so if this goes forward, it would probably be considered a PRB-sponsored project as well.

Chapters In Los Angeles Poetry

I’ve been doing research on poetry in Los Angeles from the late 19th century to the 70s, mostly concentrating on radical or experimental trends. Los Angeles doesn’t have a strong “tradition” or sense of continuity with its past “cultures” of poetry — moments happen, linger, then disappear. I’d like to rediscover and examine some of these moments, since even just scratching the surface, I’ve come up with some interesting material that is practically unknown to the general reader.

Each week, I would send out a .pdf of a set of poems and poets, along with whatever useful essays, interviews and other secondary material I can find. The discussion would be largely informal, and I invite everyone to bring laptops so that we can actually do research as we discuss. Some issues will include simply discerning the “poetics” of that particular writer — who they might have been influenced by, what they have added to — the content of the writing, the moral/ethical stances, the success or failures, etc. — whatever it is that makes the poem unique (failed poems can be very unique).

We’ll also play around with questions of what a “Los Angeles poet” is — several of these writers didn’t live here past their 30th years, and a few didn’t even live here ten years (I’d like to include Robinson Jeffers and Bertolt Brecht in the discussion).

Among the groupings I’ve come up with: the “Little Caesar” crowd at Beyond Baroque, so named after the journal published by Dennis Cooper — who would go on to become famous for his explicit, gay, often sadistic fiction. Amy Gersler and Bob Flanagan (“Slave Sonnets”) was part of this scene, as well as the members of X for a while. Another group is those folks centered around Thomas McGrath, a leftie who moved here to take a job at Los Angeles College and was fired during the McCarthy era. He stayed around and mobilized a pretty interesting group of writers. They would be the ones to host Allen Ginsberg’s first reading in LA. A little later, a radical “New American” kind of scene sprung up in Venice — the “holy barbarians” — where poets like Stuart Perkoff and John Thomas lived, and the Situationist Alexander Trocchi wrote parts of Cain’s Book.

Early in the century you had the singular figure, Nora May French, who, after writing a small group of highly wrought poems, shot herself in despair over a love affair. She and a small group of primarily female poets seem to be the earliest (outside of the Spanish writing, which I’d also like to look at) sophisticated poetry here. We’ll also take a look at some of the other poets who seem to have something to do with the poetics of Bukowski, but who are actually more extreme — F. A. Nettlebeck, author of the book-length Bug Death is one example (though he left the area around the time of its publication) — and who could make more claims to being “avant-garde” formally.

Well, the list goes on. I also want to look at people normally associated with art — Ed Ruscha, Allen Ruppersberg and Guy de Cointet — and theater and dance, such as Brian Reynolds, Simone Forti and Erik Ehn, though he’s since left the area. In this way, I’d like to expand the idea of what constitutes “poetry,” especially in light of the interesting work being done by present-day poets, conceptual writers, artists and performers in LA.

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Today was one of those fugged up days when you sit around and go through your Abe.com and Amazon.com shopping carts, prune them (“save for later”), go back and forth between the sites looking for the best prices, and buy a shite load of stuff, some of which costs all of $0.01 (shipping: $3.99). That’s what it’s like to be a poet–and a poet researching the writing of Los Angeles is bound to get some good deals!

So this is what I bought today, just FYI (content for this blog rarely comes from deep insights from the author, but from the capriciousness of his actions):

L.A. Exile: A Guide To Los Angeles Writing 1932-1998
Evan Calbi, Paul Vangelisti, editors

Place as Purpose: Poetry from the Western States
Martha Ronk, Paul Vangelisti, editors

Last Words
Guy Bennett

Alphabets: 1986-1996
Paul Vangelisti

Lee Sr. Falls to the Floor
Leland Hickman

Fine Printing: The Los Angeles Tradition
Ward Ritchie

Mavericks: Nine Independent Publishers
Richard Peabody

Geographies
Robert Crosson

Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond
Peter Selz

Abandoned Latitudes: New Writing by Three Los Angeles Poets
John Thomas, Robert Crosson, Paul Vangelisti

Stand Up Poetry: The Anthology
Charles Harper Webb

La Medusa
Vanessa Place

Musical Metropolis: Los Angeles and the Creation of a Music Culture, 1880-1940
Kenneth Marcus

Grand Passion: The Poetry of Los Angeles and Beyond
Charles Harper Webb

North America Book Of Verse, Volume Three
C. F. MacIntyre

The Garden Prospect: Selected Poems
Peter Yates

Specimen 73 : a catalog of poets for the season 1973-74
Paul Vangelisti

Footnotes & Headlines: a Play-Pray Book
Sister Corita

Nevertheless
John Thomas

Remote Control: Power, Cultures, and the World of Appearances
Barbara Kruger

Invocation L.A.: Urban Multicultural Poetry
Michelle T. Clinton, Sesshu Foster, Naomi Quinonez

Bohemian Los Angeles: and the Making of Modern Politics
Daniel Hurewitz

Selected Fiction/ Collected Later Poems/ Selected Criticism and Essays
James Boyer May

This last one, a boxed set, is far and away the most expensive, but the books are really beautiful, and I don’t think more than 100 copies were created. I’ll have to write some serious criticism about May to bring the price up!

Most of these are books that 1) I couldn’t get in the UCLA library, 2) were so cheap that, even if I could find copies, I just wanted one, 3) were selling for a lot less than it appeared they were worth based on competing prices, or 4) in my twisted mind were just so cool I wanted one for myself.

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It’s strange to me that the same month that sees the publication of Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman would also see the poems of Nora May French in book form.

I came across French in the first few days of my research into Los Angeles poetry, trying to track down publications in the UC libraries and so forth, but found them hard to come by. Dana Gioia included some poems of hers in his anthology (co-edited with Chryss Yost and Jack Hicks) called California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, but otherwise she doesn’t appear in too many contemporary anthologies (such as the excellent volumes of 19th Century Poetry from the Library of America).

French wasn’t terribly prolific, and she died at the age of 26; about 100 pages of this collection is of her poetry, the rest being a long biographical essay, several remembrances and miscellaneous reviews of her work, many of which were more concerned with her dramatic death by suicide than the quality of the poetry.

I’m not sure that too many readers today will find her poetry exceptional, at least those that don’t have at least some fondness for writers like A.E. Housman and the poets of the Nineties (Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson, etc), or poetry by women of the early part of the century, such as Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay. (John Wilkinson has written a really nice essay about John Wieners particular fondness for women poets such as Teasdale, but I don’t think French makes an appearance in that. It appears in his excellent collection The Lyric Touch.)

She couldn’t be considered an “early Modernist,” and even a much older writer like Edwin Arlington Robinson makes her seem old-fashioned, but this isn’t suprising considering the rather provincial nature of Los Angeles at the time (population around 300, 000). She moved to San Francisco and eventually Carmel in the last year of her life, though did spend a year studying painting in New York.

I actually enjoy trying to puzzle through these occasionally cramped, overwrought verses, and I think she compares favorably to more fluid writers in her circle such as George Sterling. She had that urge for gem-like porfection that Pound admired in Theophile Gautier, which is not something I see in a lot of early American poetry. If anyone I’d compare her to, it would be someone like Sylvia Plath, as, indeed, she was quite obsessed by death in her last years, and her poems are incredibly economical, with really very little time to spare on the niceties of literary ornament.

This very short one is metrically a little daring for her, as she preferred standard ballad meters for most of her work.

Vivisection

We saw unpitying skill
In curious hands put living flesh apart,
Till, bare and terrible, the tiny heart
Pulsed, and was still.

We saw Grief’s sudden knife
Strip through the pleasant flesh of soul-disguise—
Lay for a second’s space before our eyes
A naked life.

Kind of has a Thomas Eakins (i.e. The Gross Clinic) element to it, but also reminds me of certain Plath poems such as “Morning Song” that seem ambivalent about the relative values of birth and death. There was, apparently, a number of light, humorous poems of French’s that were destroyed by her family after her death as they didn’t seem “poetic” enough, which is too bad since she often seems rather humorless in the poems that remain. The few humorous poems in this collection are very good.

The publisher, Hippocampus Press, is mostly known for work in the H.P. Loveraft vein; I think French got on her list due to her friendship with George Sterling and the appreciation of her work by Clark Ashton Smith. Below is the press copy:

Nora May French (1881-1907) is an enigmatic and ethereal figure in American poetry and in the poetry of California. Born in Aurora, New York, she came to Los Angeles with her family when she was a little girl, and in the course of her brief and tragic life she lived and wrote more intensely than many who live a full span of years. Her poetry possesses its own kind of cosmic consciousness, aligning it with the work of Clark Ashton Smith and her friend George Sterling. Its delicacy and pathos render it an imperishable monument to the throbbing emotions and aesthetic sensitivity of the woman who, although beloved by all in Sterling’s Bohemian circle, suffered keenly from her own love affairs and committed suicide in November 1907. Now, more than a hundred years after her passing, her poems have been gathered in this volume for the first time. The book includes an extensive biographical and critical introduction by Donald Sidney-Fryer, tributes to French by her contemporaries and by later admirers, and a selection of reviews.

Nora May French published no books in her lifetime, but her Poems were assembled in 1910 by George Sterling and others. That volume, however, was incomplete, and many fugitive poems have been added by Donald Sidney-Fryer and Alan Gullette, two of the leading authorities on California poetry and the poetry of fantasy and terror.

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A sequel to an earlier group of Los Angeles PDFs. My apologies for the occasional crappiness of some of these scans, but I’m often using books with delicate or really restricting binding.


flanagan_cover

Bob Flanagan, The Kid is the Man
(Bomb Shelter Press, 1978)

Early poems by an artist better known for his extremely masochistic performance work, written around the time when he was hanging out at Beyond Baroque with the Little Caesar crowd. I posted a later collaboration of Flanagan and David Trinidad, A Taste of Honey, elsewhere on this blog.

abandoned_lattitudes_cover

Abandoned Latitudes, by Robert Crosson, John Thomas and Paul Vangelisti
(Red Hill Press, 1983)

This is a very excellent and various collection of writing by the three authors. Crosson is an under-appreciated Los Angeles poet who writes in a sort of fictional quilt style, which is to say, it is very much “collage” work but based on his own skewed narrative imagination. Selections of his Daybooks were recently published by Otis Books/Seismicity Editions.

Paul Vangelisti, of course, was the editor of Invisible City, an important journal of poetry from the seventies and eighties (among other several other excellent editing and translation ventures before and since) and is a prolific poet whose selected poems, Embarrassment of Survival, appeared in 2001. Here is an interesting video of his recent interview with Ezra Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz.

I posted a collection of John Thomas’s poetry elsewhere in this blog. This “unfinished” prose sequence is by turns beautiful and harrowing, sounding at times like Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia and George Bataille’s The Story of the Eye. It also reminds me a bit of that Jack Nicholson movie Five Easy Pieces, though I don’t know why — I guess I keep expecting Toni Basil to appear suddenly in it.


anteroom_cover

William J. Margolis, The Anteroom of Hell
(Inferno Press, 1957)

These poems can seem, at times, like a parody of typical “Beat” poetry of the time; as the title of the book suggests, it is full of visionary, stream-of-consciousness condemnations of conformity and modern life, as well as lofty, faintly archaic paeans to love. There’s more than a bit of Gregory Corso and Arthur Rimbaud traipsing around these pages, though without the humor; Jim Morrison probably read this as a teen.

It’s actually a pretty enjoyable read, especially given the historical context, as the author was a key figure in the Venice West scene and a occasional collaborator with Wallace Berman on Semina. The book itself is a beautifully printed, which might come through in the .pdf, or not.

cointet_a_few_drawings_cover

Guy de Cointet, A Few Drawings
(1975)

I posted a video of Guy de Cointet’s theater on Youtube. There are actually several great resources about this French-born Los Angeles artist on the web, such as here and here and here and here, as well as a cache of .pdf reprints of various essays and reviews about his work. I also posted a photo and brief intro to his work elsewhere.

This collection of “drawings,” which are really more like concrete or visual poems and are quite hilarious, confirms for me the rightness of calling de Cointet a “poet” (even if, in this time of conceptual literature, I hardly have to break a sweat to make that argument). A full list of his compelling, but extremely expensive to procure, publications can be seen here.

cooper_missing_men_cover

Dennis Cooper, The Missing Men
(Am Here Books/Immediate Editions, 1981)

A really beautiful, simply but elegantly produced collection of early poems and very short fictions by the well-known author Dennis Cooper. Cooper’s own website suggests that all of the issues of his seminal journal Little Caesar appear online in pdf form, but this turns out not to be the case, though I do love the first page of the first issue which lays out their editorial philosophy:

In Paris ten year old boys clutching well worn copies of Apollonaire’s ALCOOLS put their hands over their mouths in amazement before paintings by Renoir and Monet. Bruce Lee movies close in three days. This could happen here.

levitt_running_grass_cover

Peter Levitt, Running Grass
(Eidolon Editions. 1979)

I don’t know much about Peter Levitt, but found his poems in a couple of Bill Mohr anthologies and appreciated them for their quietness, formal integrity and detail. From what I know, he is living in the Bay area now, but certainly lived a great portion of his younger years in L.A. This book has a nice, short introduction by Robert Creeley.

perkoff_love_cover

Stuart Perkoff, Love is the Silence
(Red Hill Press, 1975)

Ah, Stuart Perkoff… probably the most well-known of the many poets in Los Angeles who never fully realized their talent (Nora May French being the first). He figures prominently in Lawrence Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians (several photographs of him appear in the appendix, along with the likes of Los Angeles residents Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth… haha, that’s another story), as well as in the later, very interesting scholarly study of the Los Angeles arts scene in the sixties, Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California, by John Arthur Maynard.

Even better, though, is that he is the one Los Angeles poet to appear in Donald Allen’s New American Poetry in 1960, and his collected poems, Voices of the Lady, was published by the National Poetry Foundation in 1998, though now appears out of print.

This selection was made by Perkoff and Paul Vangelisti a few years before Perkoff’s death. Like the poetry of Margolis, it might seem a bit dated in style, but in fact, after a few reads, Perkoff’s distinct personality, which is not lacking humor or irony, and the sureness and playfulness of his formal talents come through. Olson was a big fan, and in some ways, he’s kind of like the West Coast Paul Blackburn.

I really enjoy this book for the image it gives me of some aspects of life at Venice Beach in that time of oil derricks, “jazz canto” and extensive drug use — by turns “existential” in its despair but cosmic, infused with a giddy, bohemian light. (Well, I’ll give describing his poetry another shot later.)

Phivos Delphis, Modern Greek Poems
Translated by James Boyer May (Villiers Publications, 1954)

Just throwing this up for you James Boyer May fans. I don’t know much about the poet he is translating, but though these “versions” are a bit archaic and stiff sounding, they fit together another piece of the puzzle of this nearly unknown poet. I put his Selected Poems: 1950-1955 on this blog earlier.

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Here’s a clip from a performance by the artist/writer Guy de Cointet, who I mention in my roundup of Los Angeles poets. It’s almost impossible to find work by de Cointet in print — any help in this area would be much appreciated!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAawW3tFVwc

gdc_espahor

gdc_halvedpainting

gdc_srummel

This page has some photos from his other performances.

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los_angeles_poetry_cover

Los Angeles Poetry I
(Villiers Publications Ltd., London: 1958)
Edited by James Boyer May, Thomas McGrath and Peter Yates.

This is the representative collection by what I loosely call the HUAC generation — both McGrath and Edwin Rolfe (who doesn’t appear here) were either fired or blacklisted due to their political views, and others in the collection were affected by McCarthy-era madness. An interesting study and anthology of this group of poets (though not including the avant-garde or non-political ones) is Poets of the Non-Existent City: Los Angeles in the McCarthy Era, by Estelle Gershgoren Novak.

Included in this collection is a weird, Joycean poem by the eccentric Philadelphia writer Gil Orlovitz (who frequented Hollywood as an a screenwriter; CA Conrad is a big fan, and you can read about him on Conrad’s blog), poems by surreal, experimental photographer Edmund Teske, a large slab of McGrath’s Letter to an Imaginary Friend devoted to the pleasures of sex, early work by the well-known poet and teacher Ann Stanford, and spare, compelling work by Josephine Ain, who doesn’t seem to have written much but whose name appears frequently in the literature on the period.

Other poets include: Melissa Blake, Guy Daniels, Gene Frumkin, Sid Gershgoren, Stanley Kiesel, Bert Meyers, William Pillin, Lawrence P. Spingam, Zack Walsh, Mel Weisburd, Peter Yates, Curtis Zahn — I don’t know much about these poets except that Bert Meyers has a collected poems titled In a Dybbuk’s Raincoat.

This anthology is a testament to the impact of the Thomas McGrath, who lived here for ten years, on the Los Angeles poetry world, since nothing of comparable scope was published for a few decades.

may_cover

James Boyer May, Selected Poems 1950-1955
(Inferno Press: San Francisco, 1955)

I’m quite mystified by James Boyer May. He’s best known as the editor of Trace, a small press journal that reviewed and charted the progress of small press journals worldwide. A chapter of the book Mavericks: Nine Independent Publishers is devoted to him (along with the likes of James McLaughlin and John Martin), though I haven’t read it yet.

The idiom in these poems is unlike anything I’ve come across in American poetry, though it does have a strange resemblance to certain British poets such as those associated with “Cambridge” writing — a high tone that is open to vulgarities, a careful, tradition-wary metrical precision, a moral earnestness, a syntactic and lexicographical density, even a tendency toward Hopkins-esque word-clusters — though May was born and raised in Los Angeles. “Incredibly, ideals of bomb-feared noons — / here, violent blooms should scintillate, / men supplicate annihilative plans.” (from “Ossia”).

May, due to his connection with Villiers (see above), helped Ginsberg publish the first edition of Howl in the UK, which in turn led to the books being confiscated in mail on the way back.

thomas_cover

John Thomas, Epopoeia and The Decay of Satire
(The Red Hill Press: Los Angeles & Fairfax, 1976)

Now here’s a difficult case: an undeniably excellent poet who died in prison, serving a sentence for having molested his daughter; a poet whose early work seems to show a visionary breadth and bounding imagination, but who barely published any new poems (or republished, times over, older poems) during the latter part of his life; and a poet Charles Bukowski called “the best unread poet in America” whose style synthesized elements of the most opaque of Olson’s Maximus poems or the collage aesthetic of the Tennis Court Oath (but who was also, at times, sexually frank, morally unambiguous in his amorality, and could tell a good story, like a West Venice West Georges Battaille).

Outside of this small group (most of which also appear in his first collection, called John Thomas), Thomas published a chapbook of poems called Nevertheless in 1990, and contributed to the excellent volume Abandoned Latitudes (with Paul Vangelisti and Robert Crosson) in 1983. A good, if not probing, obituary was published in the UK Independent; a much more detailed, and harrowing, account of his personality by his daughter, Gabrielle Idlet, appeared a little later in the LA Weekly.

clinton_cover

Michelle T. Clinton, High Blood /Pressure
(West End Press: Los Angeles, 1986)

I don’t know much about Michelle T. Clinton — there’s almost nothing on the internet about her — except that she doesn’t live in Los Angeles anymore, and that she has a second volume of poetry, Good Sense & The Faithless, also from West End Press (1994). She’s also recorded a spoken word cassette called “Black Angeles” (1988) with Wanda Coleman, who writes that Clinton’s poems are “exorcisms — the rootings out of racism and sexism.”

I thought of her as a sort of female Etheridge Knight at first, as some of the poems reminded me of Knight’s “Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane,” with its anecdotal focus on the most hidden parts of society, occasional use of Black English, and somewhat nihilistic underlying philosophy. But Clinton’s poetry is far more interesting — less “literary” (following through on that distrust of the “literary” that runs through much of Los Angeles poetry) though formally quite precise and refined. These poems, unsettling as they can be (and funny also) are packed with an amazing energy, frankness and skill, not to mention searing anger.

honey_cover

Bob Flanagan and David Trinidad, A Taste of Honey
(Cold Calm Press: Los Angeles, 1990)

Bob Flanagan is best known as a performance artist, cystic fibrosis sufferer, and subject of the documentary Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (view his Super Cystic Fibrosis Song for a taste of that). David Trinidad is best known as David Trinidad, well-known New York poet. But in their younger years they were hanging out at Beyond Baroque with Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler and the teenaged Kim Rosenfield and publishing with Cooper’s press Little Caesar (follow the link for full issues).

This is a really enjoyable little volume — 12 poems of 36 lines each, and in iambic pentameter! It has some of the crazed feel of the Berrigan/Padgett collaborations but with a distinctly LA setting. The formal constraint gets you trying to read the poems as monologues (in the manner of, say, Browning), and brings them to a level that Flanagan, in his short, difficult life, was able to achieve in his solo poems (but more on that later).

The cover image, a combined portrait of the two authors, looks a little to me like David Carradine.

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9780982264515

You’re invited to a publication party for
Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman
published by Nightboat Books & Otis Books/Seismicity Editions

with brief readings by Bill Mohr, Stephen Motika & Martha Ronk

Saturday, December 12, 5-7pm
Arundel Books
8380 Beverly Blvd, 3 blocks east of La Cienega Bl.
Phone: 323-852-9852

Los Angeles poet and editor LELAND HICKMAN (1934-1991) was the author of two collections of poetry: Great Slave Lake Suite (1980), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Lee Sr. Falls to the Floor (1991). He was the editor of the poetry journal Temblor, which ran for 10 issues during the 1980s. This new volume collects all of the poems published during Hickman’s life as well as previously unpublished pieces. The volume, edited by Stephen Motika, features a preface by Dennis Phillips and an afterword by Bill Mohr.

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As some of you know, I’ve been researching the history of poetry in Los Angeles for the past two months or so. I haven’t done much more than take out a bunch of poetry books and anthologies from the library and do some web research, but in fact there isn’t much critical writing about the “history” of L.A. Poetry available. I did find a very useful dissertation by the poet and anthologist Bill Mohr which covers a large portion of this story, but it’s quite rough at the moment (I don’t know if he’ll publish it as a book, but it needs revision).

One book, Venice West, by John Arthur Maynard, was very useful for the Beat Era. And in general, my project was inspired by a wonderful art book called Catalogue L.A.: The Making of an Art Capital 1955-1985, which is a documentary chronology of the birth of the visual art culture out here.

I was hoping to publish capsule biographies of these poets with this initial post, but I think that’s going to take longer than I thought. Some of these poets, like Thomas McGrath, are better known for their work elsewhere, but McGrath was important for his time as organizer, editor, and general cultural force for the ten years he lived in Los Angeles. Like many poets in L.A. at the time, he was called to testify before HUAC and lost his job as a result.

Nora May French (the link is to a website that has several bios and all of her poems) will be a new name to most of you. She moved here at the age of seven, in 1888, when the population was roughly 50,000 people. As if in anticipation of the transformations the city would undergo when the movie industry took over, French was very beautiful and a little imbalanced, finally killing herself by ingesting cyanide (after, I think, trying to kill an ex-lover of hers).

Indeed, many poets in Los Angeles died prematurely (especially among the group who hung around Wallace Berman in Venice, as documented in the beautiful book Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle), due to heroin, alchohol abuse, suicide and freak accidents. Our most widely-read poet was, of course, a raging alcoholic.

Probably the most famous death of a poet in Los Angeles was that of Bob Flanagan, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, and who documented his long decline (he did, in fact, live much longer than his doctors had predicted) in his book The Pain Journal and in the film SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. It doesn’t appear that he wrote (or at least published) all that many poems, but I’m still looking into this. I’ve found a few chapbooks and anthology appearances. My favorite writing by him is the great collaboration he did with David Trinidad called A Taste of Honey.

Another figure who is not often considered a “poet” but whose work clearly skids over in that direction is the artist Guy de Cointet (born in France). A recent issue of Artforum contained a large tribute to him by artists such as Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, much of which can be read online. Most of his writing was of plays or performances (he might be the most representative figure of experimental theater out here, for all I know), but many of his art books are clearly some form of cryptographic poetry. Here are some of the hand-drawn ones in a seemingly Lettrist tradition; most of what I’ve seen in the library has been typeset. (He kind of reminds me of Gaudier-Brzeska in this photograph.)

This list is primarily geared toward “experimental” poets, but of course, such a category is fluid, and I somehow find poets like Nora May French “experimental” to the degree that no one was probably writing poetry in Los Angeles at the time (and she was so weird). As the list moves toward more contemporary figures, it is spotty, as I’m really concerned with poets of the past. But I’m posting this specifically to get some feedback, especially concerning names that I’ve overlooked and possible places I could go to find information about some of the more elusive ones (such as de Cointet, whose books are incredibly expensive and have never been reprinted).

I have yet to go through back issues of Coastlines, Invisible City, etc., but that is next on my agenda. I haven’t gotten my hands on a few anthologies yet, such as Specimen 73, edited by Paul Vangelisti.

Tacked on to the end of this list is a group of writers and artists who I somehow want to claim as Los Angeles poets, either because they lived here for several years (such as Brecht, who can be seen as a sort of analogue for Duchamp in New York, though Brecht really didn’t like it out here for the most part), use a lot of text in their work (such as Ruscha, Pettibon and Ruppersberg, the latter of whom could almost be called a “conceptual writer,” which is useful since much poetry out here now is “conceptual” in nature), or have collaborated with poets and published their own poems, such as Simone Forti, the legendary choreographer.

David Antin, of course, doesn’t live in Los Angeles, but his wife is often considered part of the continuum of the arts up here (at least in Catalogue L.A.), and I can’t help but think his turn toward conceptual performance was influenced by the L.A. art scene. William Poundstone, a digital artist and writer, is kind of the unifiying figure of all the diverse genres represented here, as his work is as influenced by artists like Ruscha as it is by the Oulipo and concrete poetry (as he states in this interview I did with him several years ago).

(Of course, I’d like to claim Morrissey for this list, but that’s really stretching it. But if any of you know of any other Latin American poets who wrote in Los Angeles, let me know!)

Poets
Nora May French (1881-1907)
James Boyer May (1904-1981)
Edwin Rolfe (1909-1954)
Thomas McGrath (1916-1990)
Josephine Ain (1916-2004)
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
Henri Coulette (1927-1988)
Bert Meyers (1928-1979)
Robert Crosson (1929-2001)
Stuart Perkoff (1930-1973)
John Thomas (1930-2002)
Jack Hirschman (1933-)
Lewis MacAdams
Leland Hickman (1934-1991)
Guy de Cointet (1934-1983)
Aram Saroyan (1943-)
Paul Vangelisti (1945-)
Wanda Coleman (1946-)
William Poundstone
Will Alexander (1948-)
Douglas Messerli (1946-)
Calvin Bedient
Michelle T. Clinton
Dennis Philips (1951-)
Bob Flanagan (1952-)
Dennis Cooper (1953-)
David Trinidad (1953-)
Harryette Mullen (1953-)
Diane Ward (1956-)
Amy Gerstler (1956-)
Sesshu Foster (1957-)

Figures on the Periphery
Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
George Open (1908-1984)
Gil Orlovitz (1918-1973)
David Antin (1932-)
Simone Forti (1935-)
Ed Ruscha (1937-)
Allen Ruppersberg (1944-)
Raymond Pettibon (1957-)

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