Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

The Power of Collaboration

Tidal RiseSince 2nd grade, from the age of seven (7) I have known instinctively deep down that there were three things I wanted to be when I grew up: a singer, a teacher, and a writer, in that order. However, although I still might not be a “grown up” since I believe we must all fight the impulse to ever really become one, there are a few enduring “take away” lessons I’ve learned in the process of realizing each of these ambitions that stick with me like my AARP card. The happiest moments I’ve been privileged to experience were always shared. In studying music, my goal was to be an operatic diva. But the best things that happened always happened in rehearsals for projects that took us all outside of ourselves and our narrow, singular viewpoints, and gave us a peek at being a part of something larger. Similarly, in teaching, the times when groups of like-minded teachers had the opportunity to work together on big projects that affected the lives of many students for the good of the all form my fondest memories looking back. So, imagine my surprise when, in the highly competitive marketplace of getting into print, an opportunity to collaborate once again presented itself.

On Saturday, September 19, 2015, the results of this literary collaboration will be presented publicly at The Second Poetry Circus. The brainchild of the wickedly talented and extremely energetic Nicelle Davis, The Poetry Circus is a collaborative effortMENU that I am both proud and humbled to be a part of. No less than thirty-three poets/writers have contributed to the gorgeous chapbook that will serve as a sort of “program” to guide the audience through the evening’s presentations. The event, slated to take place at the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Los Angeles, CA, from 5:30 to 9:30 PM, will feature the poet laureate of Los Angeles, Luis Rodriguez, and offer readings by an incredible lineup of 32 poets, including me! There will be haiku balloons, circus performers, crafts for kids, free carousel rides, a book fair, and literary organizations all coming together to create something larger than the sum of its parts: a chance for people of all backgrounds, preferences, political leanings, and/or religious (or non-religious) persuasions to come together to experience, revel in, and celebrate ART that takes WORD as its medium.

All I can say is that this beautiful dream that is the Poetry Circus proves once again that collaboration offers more inclusion, promises more memorable results, and is a whole lot more fun than competition ever was. Not only that, but it extends to everyone who ever wanted to run away and join the circus the chance to realize that dream and participate in the magic-making that is both the WORD and the circus.Balloon2

East Meets West in Venice (Beach)

Reading Room: offering up the palace bards  –

The wireless is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph
is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York,
and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same,
only without the cat.

-Albert Einstein

Post-Apocalyptic Looting never materialized, but there was plenty rapturously poetic plunder to be had Friday evening, the 20th of May, 2011 at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Venice Beach. In the house, four women squared off to read from recent and/or upcoming works: Amy Holman and Martha Rhodes representing New York hip; Dorothy Barresi and Stephanie Brown boosting some righteous California cool. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the end of the world (or impending doom, which ever comes first) than to sit in the dark with a group of strangers/fellow travelers, listening to poetry “instruct and delight”.

Bizarre Headlines inspired much of Amy Holman’s most recent work, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window, from Somondoco Press, June 2010. Wrens Fly InStarting out with a poem about an unsuspecting woman’s very peculiar encounter with a “burglar” who broke into her apartment, cut open her couch, and waited inside until she literally sat on him, startling them both, the poems are not only rendered with supreme clarity and wit, but they are heartily entertaining and quite funny. Holman’s comment after reading this poem: “I just don’t think someone who breaks into your apartment and hides in your couch is a burglar!”

Then there was the peculiar adventures of the alligator-wrestling pastor, and the  curious case of  “1500 Parakeets Rescued from 2-room Apartment” by cops who arrested the lonely retiree who had captured and bred them, and who had let them fly freely throughout his tiny living space: “Seven hours of casting nets and foul words,/ then releasing to shelters in Berlin and outlying./ I write in a 2-room apartment and find/ all the perches parakeets take purchase/ of from shelves to frames to cluttered mind/ and the screeching has no volume control./ It has verses, beats, and searches/ for more — a hole, or the sky to extol?/ They must have flown in shifts.”

In marrying the specific, outlandish details to her own lyrical perceptions, Holman creates something wistful and full of wonder. Part freak show, part searing insight, each poem offers up a concise narrative outside of the “ordinary” range of experience, in which she uncovers the circus that is the human condition, and exposes it (gently) to the light of her piercing intellect.  Light-hearted, but not light-weight, Holman’s poems are euphonious and mentally stimulating, curious, un-jaded, and I really liked her work.

Spiritual Judgment Day – what self-respecting apocalypse prediction could be allowed to lapse, unnoticed, unmentioned? In honor of the occasion, the second poet to read, Dorothy Barresi, started out with the title poem from her second book, The Post-Rapture Diner: “A thought you cannot call back, / and empty shoes like/ exclamation points/ on every road from here to Tucson”… “and all we know of the present/ is a spatula in a coffee can/ on a cold grill, pointing to heaven.” Always compelling, Barresi’s work questions, ponders, probes, and turns the world (and the status quo) over in the mouth like a SweeTart.

American FanaticsSomeone in the audience requested “It Is Good To Be Amongst Catholics Again,” which is also my favorite poem from her newest book,  American Fanatics, (University of Pittsburgh Press, August 2010), a poem that studies the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles: “Where I live: / a tentacular metropolis/ of adorable desires. // Where I’ll die: the tiny proscenium/ of my open grave’s/ dirt apron, crying ‘mommy, please,’ // to little effect.” As the piece builds “a cathedral of expletives,” it summarily derails the “mysteries” of a logo-centric institution. Speaking directly to the angst of an entire generation, the next poem, “John Lennon’s Lips,” carries the weight of shared experience: “In the hour of vindication,/ the least obvious question. Are you still you? // The ambulance attendant/ sways back and forth/ holding a spray of tubes and ready oxygen above the bleeding answer/ because our conveyance is artless/ in its speeding dispatch/ and traffic, even at the hour of death, remains heavy.” Profoundly stilling and centered, Barresi’s work provides an arresting contrast to Holman’s.

Next in the sequence was Stephanie Brown, another “California-domiciled” poet whose book, Domestic Interior, (2008, also from the University of Pittsburgh Press),  closely examines the “secret spaces of marriage, parenthood, and knowledge,” among other things.  With all their peccadilloes exposed, we find ourselves riveted to “the neighbors,” vicariously listening to “The Satanists Next Door,” which Brown deadpanned, effecting something between documentary and stand-up: “What is that? Is that a kid? Is that Tom?// No, it’s her. // Eew, I think that’s a whip./ No, it’s a hand coming down hard./ No, listen, there’s like a wind-sound to it.” Keenly observed, this poem imagines crepuscular pillow-talk between partners who find themselves unwitting(?) voyeurs, witnesses to some of life’s grittier moments, as one of the two speakers speculates: “Whatever you think is happening, it’s not happening./” The penultimate conclusion: “It sort of scares me./ Freedom of religion./ Yeah, you’re right./ And we have the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other side. It balances things./” (Which drew a laugh from the audience.)

“See, e.g., Hildegarde, Fatima, Blake, McLuhan,” another keenly observed, conversational poem, starts out: “The ditto sheet recopied each year was your teacher’s piece of wisdom.” Masquerading as a friendly little chat, ” ‘If you want to look thinner, you need to carry a big purse,’ she told me, casually. ‘I was reading that.’ ” the poem delivers “that received wisdom” in “Visions of the afterlife, the future, the past:/ Castles and mansions, spirits — / Their words hang on them like talons, starting to grasp.”

End Times — concluding the evening’s program,  Martha Rhodes presented a sneak preview of her upcoming book, The Beds, due out in 2012, from Autumn House Press. Delivered forcefully, her imagery spare and clean, and her language accessible, the work examines relationships that are imploding, in effect, bringing an “apocalypse” to us, after all. For the attentive audience, an auspicious event, indeed.

Traffic Signals

Poem-Craft: musings on yarn-spinning, fabric selections, and the like –

No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed
as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement
of traffic, unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation,
because of a grade, or in compliance with the law.

California Vehicle Code, Section 22400. (a)

California may be one of the only states in the union where you can get a traffic ticket for driving too slow. On the morning commute out of the Mojave, we hurtle toward Los Angeles, 80 miles-per-hour, bumper-to-bumper in the pre-dawn dark. Imagining ourselves smugly independent in our separate vehicles, we slalom downhill toward our destinations unaware that we actually travel together. Our fates are tied: we’re always just one blown-out tire away from our lives’ intersection at freeway and collision.

Resisting the urge to speed is difficult. Knowing this, the city recently put in a new (and confounding) traffic circle down the street from my house, at the junction of two highways, where there have been far too many such “fatal attractions.” The results are obvious: before the circle was put in, there were hundreds of failures to “yield the right-of-way,” whereas since the traffic circle’s installation, nary a shrine has been erected to commemorate the loss of yet another family member to these mean streets and the carnage brought on by our haste. The traffic circle arrests us, detains us, makes us slow down and pay attention.

traffic lightIn a similar fashion, we’ve all been taught to read for speed, that is, to quickly pin down the point of whatever it is that we’re looking at. Whether it’s a menu, a computer screen, a novel, a do-it-yourself book, the stock report, or even a movie or television show, it’s all about deducing the main idea, comprehending the supporting details. Just like when we navigate through the surface streets and highways of our lives, punctuation and the particulars of form/genre of a piece of reading material provide us with the necessary conventions and “traffic signals” while “texting.” Poetry, as a genre, is a “traffic circle” – it requires us to slow down, do some sight-seeing, take in the view.

STOPWith regard to punctuation, I liken a period to a “stop” sign. It directs us to come to a complete stop, exhale, and draw in a new breath before proceeding. Similarly, a semi-colon is like a flashing yellow light; it says “stop, look both ways, proceed with caution.” And a comma allows us to perform what’s colloquially referred to here as a “California roll” – that is, a rolling stop (no brakes, one foot on the gas, ready to proceed through the intersection).

When crafting “traffic signals” for readers to follow, poets use the conventional method (i.e. punctuation) most of the time. However, more and more with contemporary poetry, poets experiment with “new technology,” that is, they try to craft new ways to give readers the same kinds of traffic direction, but without relying on the conventional green/yellow/red light signals we’ve become accustomed to. For example, Clint Campbell engineers just such a “traffic circle” in his poem, “Night Follows” by utilizing line breaks to form “flashing yellow lights” and wider than normal gaps between words (i.e. white space) to install “speed bumps” that work together to slow down our habitual “speed reading” patterns, get us out of our “ruts,” and give us signals to follow in the absence of punctuation:

Night Follows

"Night Follows" (2010). Clint Campbell. Brushed air.

Signaling – although there are no commas in this poem, the gaps (white space) within a line mark places where we should slow down before proceeding. Similarly, as there are no periods, there are no “hard stops.” Rather, we find ourselves passengers, rolling along with the poem’s movement right through to the end. As opposed to the iconic traffic jam at rush hour, this poem’s form and surface structure create an experience that can be likened to traffic when it is flowing smoothly.

Intersections – on a very basic level, the “rules of the road” exist to keep us from colliding with one another. These (sometimes unwritten) rules are conventions we agree to follow in order to ensure our own safety and the safety of others. “Safe” in our individual cars, however, we are isolated from our traveling companions. As human beings, our natural instinct is to reach out, to try to communicate with one another, to intersect.

On a literal level, this poem keenly observes several intersections: those that deal with changes in light (i.e. dusk or dawn) as day/night overlap; changes in traffic lights from red to green to yellow and back to red; and the experiences shared by the poem’s speaker and the other person the speaker addresses throughout (i.e. “the skies deep/ as your eyes”).

But the “engines” that drive this poem are found at the figurative (or hypertext) level. For example, the poem’s two central images work toward signaling what lies at the “heart” of the matter: “These hands to clench     a fist/to take money / /These hands to hold with tenderness too/ cut flowers” (9-12). “These hands” evokes an (internal) engine that drives the speaker (as well as the audience), that is, a feeling of tenderness, perhaps even love. “These hands” then intersect with a second set of “engines” – that is, the need or will or desire to succeed (“take money”) and simultaneously, to find beauty (“cut flowers”) in a material or physical world. The intersection of these two “engines” conveys the ever-present tension between our internal desires, or what drives us, and what is driven by us, that is, the external means we seek for fulfilling those desires.

Under Construction – Some might read this poem’s final image: “the untraceable midnight       colors/ toned and slick/ a dark scaled shark just behind/ just beyond” as an omen; others may see an intriguing invitation. Where the poem takes each reader depends on the back streets and inroads found in each one’s imagination. The poet’s work, however, is done in translating the images in his/her mind into words and leaving them on the page as “pick up” lines, ready to be devoured.

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