Celebrating the Voices of Women in Poetry at ALOUD

April is National Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than at ALOUD next Thursday, April 24, when the Poetry Society of America brings their national series The Voice of Women in American Poetry to Los Angeles. The series, which pays tribute to the literary heritage of women poets, was first born out of a conversation about Emily Dickinson, arguably the greatest female poet of all time.

Alice Quinn, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America and moderator of the ALOUD event, and the poet Kimiko Hahn were discussing the importance of Dickinson to their literary lives and to the lives of all women poets. Quinn had long wanted to have a program celebrating the great heritage of poetry in America by women when Hahn summoned up the line “the landscape listens,” from the Dickinson poem “There’s a certain slant of light,” as a possible name for the program. They continued to play with names as the vision of the program soon broadened to include distinguished poets—both male and female—honoring the immense achievement of a wide range of women poets in the U.S., and all agreed that the format required a more simple, yet overreaching name—thus, The Voice of Women in American Poetry.

The initial segment launched in Boston last month with a two-day festival in partnership with the Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, involving some twelve poets, like the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Vijay Seshadri, Lucie Brock-Broido, Robert Pinsky, and Marie Howe, among others. The series went on to D.C. for an intimate program with poets Shara McCallum and Hailey Leithauser. Next up, the series comes to Los Angeles before culminating in New York in the fall of 2014. “To have spectacular poets, both male and female alike, come together to hold aloft the tradition of great women poets in this country strikes me as important and exciting work,” says Charif Shanahan, the programs director for the Poetry Society of America.

On the ALOUD stage, Marilyn Chin will explore the work of Ai, a National Book Award, American Book Award, and Lamont Poetry Award winner who passed away in 2010. She was known for her fierce dramatic monologues that gave voice to marginalized speakers. Also, Toi Derricotte will explore Anne Sexton, and Percival Everett will explore Gertrude Stein. To learn more about all of these poets—both the ALOUD guests and honorees—check out their work at the Los Angeles Public Library:

Book Jacket for: Rhapsody in plain yellowBook Jacket for: The collected poems of AiBook Jacket for: Tender
Book Jacket for: Selected poems of Anne SextonBook Jacket for: Abstraktion und EinfühlungBook Jacket for: Tender buttons : objects

To learn more about the upcoming ALOUD program, click here.

 

 

 

Tales from Two Cities

From the gritty drama of noir to the free-spirited poetry of the Beats, how does the literature of California tell us who we are? This Thursday, February 20, ALOUD kicks off the second part of this special home-grown conference in collaboration with The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Free and open to all at the downtown Central Library, Tales from Two Cities will explore the language, culture, and aesthetic that has helped to shape the writing of California. Here’s the full schedule of events, but for a sneak preview at some of the California voices gathering this week, check out these highlights from past ALOUD programs.

Walter Mosley, Between the Sheets: Sex, Literature, and the Future of Erotic Fiction. Listen to the podcast here.

 

Attica Locke, The Future of African American Literature and the Paradox of Progress. Listen to the podcast here.

 

David Ulin in Conversation with Joan Didion.

 

Poet Gary Snyder. Listen to the podcast here.

Learn more about the other upcoming participants and how you can watch the conference from home.

Wanda Coleman’s Muse Was Los Angeles

Wanda Coleman’s poetry was all music.  All street. All wild.  She was one of the most authentic people I have ever met.  She was entirely herself and if you didn’t like her, that was your problem.  She did not kowtow; she did not pretend to be anything that she was not.  I remember her leaning into me across the table when I asked her what she thought of so and so.  “That trifling yellow bitch!” she’d say, followed by that huge laugh and I’d be left wondering, “Is she serious?” There are poets who write privileged academic poetry, poetry that you need degrees to understand. And there was Wanda, playing the drum for the language of life, of poverty, of racism, of the soul of Los Angeles.

To hear Wanda read poetry was like being at the circus and watching all the animals come into the Big Top at once.  There was an energy and rush and movement to her performance.  Wanda brought the audience in with her hair, her laughter, but underneath was a deep sadness.  Los Angeles, her deepest love never gave as much to Wanda as Wanda gave to the city.  The Los Angeles of Wanda Coleman was a wandering mess of dangerous streets and unpaid bills.  Wanda Coleman’s performances of these poems ringed with sadness were electrifying.  She was our city’s poetry rock star; an uninhibited rush of raw emotion and longing.

Listening to Wanda Coleman’s work was listening to the dark story told in such a rage of lyric intensity and jaw dropping music that you felt you were inside love, inside the blues, inside the best kind of blues/jazz club listening to the city sing to you, never to sleep, always to wake, always to wake into another dark story with a dark woman dancing toward you, dancing and singing the Los Angeles blues.  Her poetry was laced with rage, with political overtones, with the song of the oppressed, the outcast, the alone, the underpaid, the ones to whom life is always teaching the same lesson:  We do not want you.  The ones who always sing back the same song:  But we will make music in this outcast place.

For all of us who write poetry in Los Angeles, Wanda Coleman will always be the voice singing in our dreams, threading through our poems, asking us to write truth and to write that truth in music.

By Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press

Come pay tribute to Wanda Coleman on January 18th at ALOUD.

Photo: Wanda Coleman at ALOUD, Los Angeles Public Library, 2013.
Credit: Gary Leonard

Tying the Room Together; Highlights from ALOUD

The year brought many unexpected surprises to the ALOUD stage: a first-ever live rap with local hip hop stars backing author MK Asante; Quetzal bringing vintage music from the Los Angeles Public Library sheet music collection to life; Persian short story master Goli Taraghi slyly comparing Tehranian and Parisian cabbies; the late Wanda Coleman delivering one of her last public readings—a passionate poetry tribute to James Weldon Johnson. We sampled sustainable Congolese coffee before a panel on coffee culture, and blissed out when The Dude himself (Jeff Bridges) ruminated on how “love is the rug that ties the room together.”

Please join us once more before the year’s end to laugh, question, savor, and reflect on some of our favorite ALOUD moments from 2013:

Three accomplished short story writers—George Saunders, Bernard Cooper, and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, unpacked the challenges of the short story form explaining how they work through their own daunting personal doubts.

“Language is like a sword that can defend you.” Iranian writer Goli Taraghi shared this wisdom along with other fascinating insights into how creativity and ingenuity can flourish despite censorship, oppression, and the struggles of an exile living far from her home and mother tongue.

MK Asante and Nick Flynn gifted us raw wisdom in their memoirs, both soaring meditations on the power of poetry, writing, and filmmaking as tools for transmitting universal truths, emotional healing, and unlocking individual freedom.

“Is this your first book in a box?,” asked graphic novelist Gene Yang of fellow illustrator Joe Sacco. Yang dove into a fascinating discussion with Sacco on process, while looking at how artists deal with the ethics of converting history into graphic narratives. Far from being contained within the boundaries of a box, these two artists showed how storytelling is illuminated through diverse forms.

The Feminine Mystique, a panel of multi-generational activists, expanded upon Betty Friedan’s seminal book by exploring the evolution of the feminist movement, and why feminism is still considered a “dirty word.” Highlights included learning about the radical and exploratory approaches women took to protect their health in the sixties (the first time anyone produced a speculum on the ALOUD stage!), and consensus from all participants that feminists today are in favor of a more inclusive movement encompassing class and racial equality for both women and men.

The Library jammed to the jazz and world music tunes of Don Cherry in a live tribute honoring an L.A. genius who spread his cosmic musical talent far and wide. In a first-ever hometown tribute, his talented family of fellow musicians—conducted by his son David Ornette Cherry— shared candid stories from his career while also introducing a new generation to his work.

The ALOUD audience was enlightened by a rich bilingual experience about the life of the late poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño. Here’s a gem from an audience member: “Otherness becomes familiar as the magic of unattainable syllables is rendered even more magical with the conveyance of heart pulse, bone and marrow intentions.”


Activists Albie Sachs, Eve Ensler, Jody Williams and artist Shirin Neshat—all by example—showed what we can do as citizens and artists in service of reconciliation, social justice and as agents for positive change in the world: “You cannot not respond to the world around you—culture has to be morally conscious.” —Shirin Neshat (pictured above)

Thank you for spending the year with us! We look forward to seeing you in 2014. Learn more about our 2014 program calendar here.

Fathers and Books

As some of us rush to the mall to pick-up a handsome pinstripe tie, or make last minute brunch reservations for Father’s Day this weekend, we wanted to catch our breath for a minute and reflect on our favorite father moments. At the Library Foundation, those favorite moments translate into books, so we asked our staff to recall a favorite book they associate with fathers, which incidentally could lend itself to a great gift idea. Happy Father’s Day to all this Sunday!

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

Book Jacket for: Catch-22 My father’s favorite book was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, because he so identified with Yossarian, the beleaguered protagonist, who was so estranged from military culture. Heller’s novel spoke to my father’s own experiences as an infantryman in the Pacific War, his scorn for officers who often took the easy route out while the “dogfaces” slogged through combat. My father never spoke about his war experiences, and my siblings and I were admonished not to ask him about them. However, I was able to learn quite a lot from a discovery I made in the storage locker of my parents’ condo in Culver City, in 1990, the year both my parents passed away. I found over 500 letters my dad wrote my mother from the Philippines. Some of those letters were written during the 160 consecutive days of combat my dad endured during the battle of Balete Pass, in northern Luzon.  Among the letters, I found a typical war souvenir– a Japanese rising sun flag– with the name of a Japanese soldier inked in black on white silk. I became obsessed with transcribing and deciphering my father’s letters and as well, I became obsessed with the identity of the owner of the Japanese flag. In 1995, I was able to go to the snow country of Japan to return the flag to the family of Yoshio Shimizu, the young man who faced my father in combat at Balete Pass. The Shimizu family and fellow townspeople welcomed me with great warmth.

By the time I found the letters, I could no longer ask Norman Steinman questions about the war. However, his letters told me a lot, and reading them, transcribing them made me feel incredibly close with my father. I encountered the lyrical, poetic side of the man– the way he was before the traumatic experience of combat. I sometimes describe my memoir, The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father’s War, as a posthumous collaboration with my father.

–Louise Steinman, Cultural Programs Director

 

 

Audubon Society’s Book of Birds

Book Jacket for: The National Audubon Society field guide to North American birds. Eastern region Growing up on a farm in Illinois, my fondest memories are of wandering down to the creek with my two sisters and brother, my dad and our dog Trixie to see what wildlife we could see. Often we’d spot a family of quail crossing the road, blue jays quarreling in the trees overhead or elegant Red-winged Blackbirds skimming gracefully across the top of the tall corn against the backdrop of a periwinkle sky. My father never went to college. I have no memory of ever discussing literature, art or the meaning of life with my father. But I do remember a copy of the Audubon Society’s Book of Birds on the roll top desk in our dining room. Next to it laid a small wooden bird whistle that I suspect came with the book that my father had ordered through the mail. This book is what I attribute my deep fascination with birds. My father’s love of wildlife bonded us together all these years since university, my move to Los Angeles, graduate school and my embarking on a career, many miles from the farm where I was born. Recently, my nine year old excitedly told me that he saw a bird at school, with long legs, that sang a beautiful song. And with wonder in his voice, he told me that the bird was the color of cinnamon. I must check the Audubon Society Book of Birds to see what this magical cinnamon bird might be.

–Jean Grant, Assistant Vice President for Advancement

 

 

Time for Bed Baby Ted by Debra Sartell and illustrated by Kay Chorao

Book Jacket for: Time for bed, Baby Ted I am in charge of putting my son to sleep—he is two and a half.  We have a little routine: kiss mommy goodnight, walk to his room, use the potty (he’s in training), put on pajamas, pick out a book, read three to four books together in the rocking chair, and then sing/whistle a medley of songs that always begins with “A Love Supreme.”  One of the books he frequently selects and that I especially enjoy reading is Time for Bed Baby Ted. Ted attempts to defy sleep by making his father guess what animal he is impersonating, but dad is smooth; turning Ted’s alligator impersonation, for example, into an opportunity to snap on his pajamas.  As you read on—you see the rituals Ted and his father share before bedtime.  There’s something so universal about sleep.  Happy Father’s Day and a big triple-shot of love to my Dad, who would freestyle stories, taking me on countless adventures as a child.

-Imani Harris, Assistant Director, Foundation and Corporate Relations

 

 

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh

Book Jacket for: The complete tales & poems of Winnie-the-Pooh My husband and I are expecting our first child this summer. As we prepare for the exciting new adventure by stock-piling adorable onesies and socks the size of pinky fingers, we get the giddiest over imagining what books we’ll read to our little boy. My mind goes wild with all the less than obvious choices—wouldn’t “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” make a great lullaby? Wouldn’t a four-year-old be amused by Nabokov’s use of synesthesia? (I would read him a G-rated version of Nabokov, of course.) Luckily to balance out my overly ambitious reading list, my husband has his head a wee-lower from the clouds and closer to the honey pot. As a soon-to-be father, he’s most looking forward to reading Winnie-the-Pooh to our son because he believes A. A. Milne is a philosophical genius, and (perhaps unlike my choices) is relevant to any age from 0 to 100. I concede to my husband’s fatherly instincts that reading a book that can last a lifetime is not a bad starting point.

–Bridgette Bates, Writer-in-Residence

 

The Leather-Bound Library

As a kid, my father was my absolute hero. To me, he had always been the tallest, strongest man who could fix anything, and was definitely the smartest person I had ever met. I remember thinking that the reason my dad must know so much, is because he always read a lot of books. His bookcase was massive and towered over me as a child, but I loved to just look at all the different titles he had accumulated into his personal library over the years. I don’t associate one particular book with my father, but I know that I was incredibly awe-struck by his pristine collection of beautiful leather-bound classic books that were decorated with fancy gold writing on the covers and gold page linings. To me, these books were works of art that my dad somehow possessed, and I revered them as such for years, not ever wanting to hold them for very long so I wouldn’t smudge the pages. Now that I’m older, I realize that these classic book collections are not as rare as I once thought, but whenever I see one, I am instantly reminded of my father, and his book collection.

-Sarah Charleton, Cultural Programs Coordinator

Eloise Klein Healy, L.A.’s First Poet Laureate, Welcomes Caroline Kennedy to ALOUD

The announcement of the City’s first Poet Laureate position came in December, and ever since Eloise Klein Healy has been fast at work creating a structure for Los Angeles to think about poetry. That task, although daunting, sounds poetic in itself: imagining landscapes and unlikely settings for poetry to take place, listening for ways to reflect L.A.’s diverse voices, visualizing tangible objects to disperse poetry. Healy, who has written seven books of poetry, has also played a pivotal role in the local literary community as an educator and publisher.  As the founder of Arktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press for lesbian authors, the co-founder of Eco-Arts, and the founder of Antioch University’s low-residency M.F.A. program, she is well-versed in not shying away from new challenges.

“I grew up in a café, and I learned that whoever comes in, you serve them, and I feel like everyone in the city of Los Angeles is my customer,” she says. So what might Angelenos look forward to with Healy as their server of poetry? She’s proposed an initial list of projects spanning from events in schools and libraries, to symposiums with teachers about how poetry is taught, to handing out local poems on postcards, to pop-up poetry events in barbershops and buses. “The more I can reach neighborhood spots, the more people are going to feel there’s something special about poetry—this is somebody reaching out to them, instead of them being scolded that they don’t read poetry,” she explains. “I’m a big believer in the power of the small.” But she just might go big too—she’s proposed an L.A. Poetry Day at Dodger Stadium.

As Healy searches for novel spots for poetry, she also wants to reach out to places like the Los Angeles Public Library that already have a supportive infrastructure and track record of celebrating poetry. On Tuesday, April 9 at ALOUD, Healy will converse with long-time poetry advocate Caroline Kennedy. Kennedy’s new anthology, Poems to Learn by Heart, collects over a hundred pieces that celebrate life moments and speaks to a range of readers. “It will be a far-ranging discussion on the role of poetry in the education and the development of children, which is particularly related to language and imagination,” says Healy, who has been an admirer of Kennedy’s commitment to and excellent taste in curating poetry.

What is Healy’s standard for good poetry? “Poetry is imagination acting on language and language acting on imagination, and all of these things that poetry asks of us are good training in our lives.” She later adds, “But poetry doesn’t have to be hard, just well-written.” Join ALOUD on April 9, for “Poetry to Live By.”

Bookmark This! #6

Happy New Year, everyone!

To ring in 2013, I’m excited to bring you another set of reading recommendations from more library enthusiasts.  This edition’s selections sweep us up in prose poetry; teach us about modern feminism; take us on a daring escape with a mother and her son; make us examine the concept of money in a fantasy world; and remind us about the intangible essentials to help survive the winter.

D. J. Waldie is the author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir and other books about Los Angeles and Southern California. The New York Times praised his “gorgeous distillation of architectural and social history” in 2007. His most recent book is House, a collaboration with Diane Keaton.

D. J. recommends Even So: New and Selected Poems by Gary Young.

“I began reading Gary Young almost 45 years ago, accompanying a writer of subtlety and emotional honesty as he perfected a form of prose poetry that exactly captures the way the ordinary and extraordinary intersect in daily life. Recollected in Young’s spare but lyrical sentences, episodes of intense significance are released from the humblest materials: a gnarled apple tree, a child’s nightmare, a scar, a meal. In this collection, drawn from his previous books with the addition of new poems, you can follow the arc of a whole life in which beauty and tragedy mingle just as they do for all of us. Work, illness, joy, loss, birth, and ever-returning nature become the matter of a man’s quiet habits. I have prayed with these poems for years, certain they are redemptive. The bravest deed, these poems assert, is to be present in this broken world with unceasing wonder and forgiveness always ready.”

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Kenon Breazeale is a Member of the Library Foundation, art history aficionado and retired professor.  She can often be seen leading tours of the art and architecture of the historic Bertram Goodhue building and new Tom Bradley wing as a board member of the Central Library docents.  Join one of the walk-in tours (starting in the lobby in front of The Library Store) every weekday at 12:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Kenon recommends How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

“Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman is a raucous, highly entertaining treatment of a serious subject. Moran, a thirty-something columnist for the Times of London, is writing to an audience of young women (Katy Perry comes to mind) reluctant to call themselves feminists. Her challenge: ‘Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? Congratulations! You’re a feminist.’”

“Moran’s ability to move smoothly between personal memoir, political rant and cultural analysis makes the book an easy read.  With her background in music journalism, Moran is especially strong on the way in which celebrity culture has become the locale where young women absorb lessons about femininity. She finds much to criticize but celebrates the rise of role models like Lady Gaga, rock star godmother to “all the nerds, freaks, outcasts, intellectual pretenders, and lonely kids. “ In other words, all the kids like Moran herself, who grew up as an overweight, literature-loving misfit in a chaotic working class household.”

“One more nice thing about Moran–she’s a lover of libraries. Here is a link to an article bemoaning the Tory government’s plan to balance budgets by closing local libraries.”

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Dale Hailey is the Assistant Director of Advancement Services for the Library Foundation.  A master of organization and lover of jewelry, she also makes some delicious lemon bars that are often in high demand at the office.

Dale recommends Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue.

“Room is told from the perspective of a five year old boy, Jack, whose entire life has been spent in an 11’ by 11’ Room with his mother (Ma) and a few basic household items.   His mother was kidnapped at 19, confined in a shed and repeatedly raped; Jack was born of these rapes.  What I found compelling was the intense relationship between Jack and Ma.  Ma created an environment rich in storytelling, songs, discipline, learning and love for Jack.  She spent little time (at least in Jack’s eyes) feeling sorry for herself and more time making his world as big and “normal” as possible.  Jack and Ma escape from Room, and Jack narrates how their lives change now that his world has been turned upside down.  I didn’t think I would find a book about this subject matter enjoyable, but experiencing life through the eyes of Jack with his innocence and joy was quite unexpected.”

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Dawn Coppin is the Library Foundation’s Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations.  She has managed to avoid almost all jobs involving heavy machinery, toxic chemicals, and yappy dogs and hopes to maintain this record for the next 25 years of her working life.  As a hedonist wanna-be, Dawn nevertheless finds herself spending much of the day in front of a computer writing about the realities of life made better by the Los Angeles Public Library.

Dawn recommends Making Money by Terry Pratchett.

“What is a leader to do in the time of fiscal austerity when you need more money to maintain and expand social infrastructure?  Well, if you’re Lord Vetinari of Discworld renown then you hire/persuade Moist von Lipwig (the con-man in the gold suit who got the post office running again) to take charge of the Royal Mint and accompanying bank.  Of course, he has to answer to the chairman’s barked orders, has an unfathomable machine in the basement that appears to cause the (dis)appearance of gold, is served by a peculiar chief cashier who must be a vampire, and needs to fend off the murderous intentions of family members.  It’s a fascinating and funny look at a parallel financial system, the possibilities in moving away from the gold standard, and a thought-provoking examination of what is the role of government vis-à-vis public debt.”

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A third-year student at UCLA majoring in art, Lydia Glenn-Murray interns with the Library Foundation, works for Miranda July, and is the art editor of Graphite (the arts journal published through the Hammer museum).  Also an artist, she experiments with all sorts of media.

Lydia recommends Frederick by Leo Lionni.

“Frederick is a wonderful children’s book about a little family of mice fervently preparing for winter. As the family gathers food, only Frederick seems to be idle. When the stocks run out and spirits are low, however, Frederick brings out the supplies he collected: warm sunshine, vibrant colors and words strung into a lovely poem. His contribution is profound. As an artist myself, I am constantly developing my understanding of the role of the artist in society. Only recently did it occur to me that the foundation of my personal belief had so much to do with this sweet story that my parents read to me when I was a child. I believe that art making should be, at its core, a process of generosity and contribution to society.”

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Still looking for something else to read?  More than six million books are available at the Central Library and 72 branches throughout the city and online at www.lapl.org in print, digital and audio formats.

Happy reading and stay tuned for next month’s issue of Bookmark This!

-  Posted by Erin Sapinoso

Robert Hass on Writing as Attention

Ten years ago, I took a poetry workshop with Robert Hass. One winter afternoon when half of the class, sitting along one side of a rectangular table, watched the snow fall through the windows behind the other half, Hass made a comment about a student’s poem as if looking at the poem through binoculars. The student had referenced a bird in their poem, the name of the bird I don’t remember, but Hass, an avid bird watcher, noted how that particular bird would not be in that particular landscape in that particular season that the poem inhabited. His correction was not to teach us ornithology, or to be petty, but to show us a flaw in the integrity of details. In all earnestness to this day, I try to apply this lesson to my writing. I try to call myself out on googling some unknown fact, incorporating the quick information into my writing. I try to ask: do I understand the ecosystem of this bird?

This fall’s ALOUD season kicked off with Hass conversing on his new book of essays, What Light Can Do. Again he showed there is little satisfaction in perfunctory answers as he read passages from the essays, sampling the breadth of topics he has wrestled with over the last 20 years—from war and his grandsons’ entrancement with armor, to the barren beauty of Robert Adams’ photographs of Los Angeles. His prose is not unlike his poetry, as moderator Carol Muske-Dukes remarked, in that the reader is aware that they are undergoing an experience. Perhaps that is the poet at work—honoring the experience—historical, literary, personal—handling the details with careful precision until they find something luminous.

Photo by Gary Leonard.

Listen to the podcast of the reading and conversation with Robert Hass here.

–Posted by Bridgette Bates

Newer Poets Primer: Part Three with Suzanne Lummis

Tonight, July 24 at ALOUD, the 17th edition of the annual newer poets program comes to the stage with six of Los Angeles’ freshest voices. There’s still time to reserve your free ticket here. To get ready for this event, we caught up with the guest curators of the event. In Part One, we caught up with Gail Wronsky, and Part Two, with Eloise Klein Healy. Here, Suzanne Lummis, the poet, creator and director of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival and longtime instructor at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, traverses the exploding nooks and crannies of the Los Angeles poetry scene.

Can you talk about your own writing life in L.A.? How does the city influence your work?

Suzanne: Some people need to retreat to a remote place in order to write—for the most part I thrive on the expansiveness and the variety of this huge metropolis, the bombardment of sensations.  I love to drive, at least I do when I’m not in a log jam on the freeway, or trying to back up. (I hate backing up; few things make me feel more vulnerable). But contrary to how some see and portray Los Angeles, there’s an abundance of nature here too, certainly here in Highland Park, and that contact with the natural world has produced some interesting results in certain of my poems.  It’s urban nature—strange and rather fierce.

How do you think the L.A. poetry community has evolved over the years?

Suzanne: Just as it seems the Los Angeles Poetry community can’t get any bigger it expands exponentially—Pow! It was kind of semi-centralized when I first arrived in 1979.  Now it’s composed of more little coteries and circles of poets than anyone can keep track of. Most of these overlap, but others are more or less self-contained, floating off by themselves.

The Long Beach region’s just hopping and jumping. Some young folks down there started up a little press called Write Bloody and Bank-Heavy Press, and a whole scene sprang up around that; and a lot goes on at CSU Long Beach.  And Mt. SAC College has been producing readings and writers’ conferences, there on campus and over in Glendora. And certain folks in the Glendora fraternize with the San Gabriel Valley poets… on and on. In fact it’s hard to talk exclusively about Los Angeles Central, without acknowledging all these outlying poetry coteries that border L.A. Ultimately, though, I’m interested to see what new poets will emerge from this aggregate of creative communities to assert themselves as disciplined, distinctive, compelling, uncommonly talented writers.

What are some of your favorite local venues to for poetry?

Suzanne: Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, the mecca for Southern California poets, tops the list, but I also think of the fabulous art gallery and community center out here in Northeast L.A., Avenue 50 studio, which has all kinds of lively events with special attention to poets of the East end of the city. The Valley Contemporary Poets series—known everywhere as “The VCP”—is the second longest running poetry series in Los Angeles. They’ve moved around a bit, but right now have a lovely venue in Tarzana.  Oh, and of course Rick Lupert’s series, The Cobalt Cafe in Canoga Park, and Larry Colker’s Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach are longtime mainstays of the community; every poet knows them. I’ve attended marvelous events at The Ruskin Club over the years, in that gorgeous space where a fine reception follows the reading.  Besides Newer Poets, the other high profile, very well attended annual poetry reading I’m aware of takes place at El Alisal, the “Lummis Home,” for the Festival of Northeast Los Angeles, first Sunday in June.

As a curator of this Newer Poets event, what speaks to you in selecting participants to read on the library stage?

Suzanne: First and foremost the poets selected should have ten minutes of accomplished, effective poetry—not just, say, three strong poems, three in-progress poems and two bad ones.  Secondly, I look for strong presenters—not big time performers necessarily, but poets who are audible, expressive and able to connect with an audience.  Finally it’s important to me that they’ve worked at the art and craft of poetry and are committed for the long haul; they’re not just hobbyists. Beyond that, it’s nice if they’ve begun to find a place in the community, and have supported other poets, gone to readings, been involved.  Oh, and one more criterion; I always hope to find poets who aren’t too altogether similar in style and approach to language. The series works best when it presents a range of voices and styles.

Can you give some background to the poets you selected to read for the event?

Suzanne: I’m delighted with the pairing of Angela Penaredono and Rolland Vasin; these two have all the qualities I mentioned. Angela was born in the Philippines and many of her poems take place in that environment or in some way concern that culture, and often there’s a lushness to her language. It’s imagistic, tactile, sensuous writing.  For those in the grass roots poetry community, Rolland will be one of the best known and most recognizable of the Newer Poets in recent years; he’s read all over and has generously attended and supported readings as an audience member. And, wow, here comes that performance energy. He’s got presence. Angela and Rolland have honed their writing in workshops, with me as well as other poet-teachers.

How are libraries important to you and for writers/poets today? 

Suzanne: In some ancient civilizations poets were called “the keepers of the word,” but, really, libraries are the ultimate keepers of the word. The library collects and holds onto books I can’t get anywhere—at least not easily—except at the Central Library. After the recent funding cuts, I believe virtually all the poets I know campaigned and signed petitions on behalf of the library to restore its funding. But it wasn’t only the poets and writers, people all across the city rallied around the libraries—finally, something everyone could agree on!

A poem by Suzanne Lummis (first published by The New Ohio Review):

Another Poem After César Vallejo

I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember.
I will die in Paris—it does not bother me–
perhaps on a Thursday…

- From “Black Stone Lying Upon a White Stone”

I will die in a freight elevator between the fifth
and sixth floor, on a weekend, or perhaps a Monday
following the end of Daylight Savings.  Yes,
it will be a Monday following the end of Daylight Savings,
because now, as I write these lines, I’m cranky,
as though cheated of an hour’s sleep.

It will be a day of rain, the same quality of rain,
the same aguacera, that carried off Cesar Vallejo,
though I won’t be outside to enjoy it—
passing with my umbrella beneath canopies of shops,
by little fruit markets—I’ll be stuck in some freight elevator.

Suzanne Lummis is dead,
and already a newsman is composing a short item,
getting her age wrong and where she grew up.
Already she has been fed to the fires
in some fine commercial establishment,
with a name like Death 4 Less.

Suzanne Lummis is dead, but now—today—
as she writes these words, her feelings seem locked
in a chamber she can’t find her way down to, spiral
by spiral, can’t key her way into.
When the poet wrote “César Vallejo is dead,”
how did he make himself stop?

She wants to go on reproducing the phrase,
like a child consigned to stay after school
until she’s covered the blackboard with white chalk,
till exhaustion drives her into her bones, till amazement
bursts in her skull—and she understands.

–posted by Bridgette Bates