A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOS ANGELES POETRY AS I KNEW IT
When there was an El Nino storm,
people still went out to poetry readings.
That was 1998.
NEXT magazine was the beacon
telling you where to find the word banquets.
And the first place I went
was the Midnight Special Bookstore
on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade
because it was listed in NEXT.
Politics in the air at Poetic License.
Poems with "Free Mumia" messages.
Lots of fingersnaps for a line or even a word.
People filled with strong notions
of what was right and wrong.
Just about every reading
was filled to capacity.
And it was easy
to find readings
every night of the week.
It was also possible
to make acquaintances
and real friends.
In those days,
people weren't always worried
about being Published.
You could go to Kinkos
and print your own DIY chapbook--
breaking even by selling it to other poets
Went to the Rose Cafe
and was exposed to poetry as Disciplined Art.
Long introductions for features
and open readers told to return
next week when time ran out.
(Eventually, the Rose Cafe
became the template
for most readings in Los Angeles and Orange County today.)
Those were the days
before venues and readings closed,
gasoline prices climbed,
popular poets and hosts moved out of state
or left the Earth entirely,
remaining poets began feuding
and a quiet movement began
to encourage uniform standards of quality.
raise the bar for booking features
and discourage the kind of open mikes
that attracted musicians and comics.
For some, this was a great notion
Oracles said that it was good for poetry.
I heard phrases like "layers of meaning"
used ad nauseum.
And other poets said not to complain
about changes in the scene--
or other poets themselves.
For it was perceived as
causing the entire scene
to suffer grievously
from intemperate words.
And today, there are fewer venues.
And just a few poets with power--
some of them use it more generously
Recently, there was a rainstorm
in Santa Monica.
It wasn't as strong as an El Nino.
And people did come to the reading--
but not nearly as many
as on a torrential night
thirteen years before.