Monday, April 23, 2012

More ancient history of SoCal poetry explained for you.

Richard Beban (ex-L.A., currently France) takes the floor, in comments excerpted from a 2003 post to the CobaltPoets Yahoogroups listserve:

When I first came to poetry, nine years ago, I began attending the

Midnight Special workshop, then was asked, with Jeanette Clough, to help

run it and the readings. After a couple of years, and after publishing a

successful anthology, FORESHOCK, we had a falling out with the head of the

series, and we moved on. Five of us from that workshop began the Rose

series, first at Hyperdisc, after Ross Cantalupo ended his series.

I bring this up because, when we left the Midnight Special, I wrote a long

e-mail describing what had happened, and addressed it to the "poetry

community." The best advice I got in response to that e-mail was from

[James] Boomer Maverick, who wrote back and gently chided me, saying that the

Midnight Special reading was one very small twinkling star in the greater

constellation of LA poetry, as I would learn when I looked further.

It was great advice, for which I still thank Boomer. He was right. When

I got beyond my own limited perspective, I saw the multitude of scenes, of

possibilities, of readings, which stretch from San Luis Obispo to San

Diego, from Redondo to Riverside. And we tailored the Hyperdisc/Rose

readings to what we were learning, and to include all those "scenes."

When Kaaren and I set out with three other poet friends, Jeanette Clough,

Jim Natal and Jan Wesley, to create a Los Angeles poetry reading series in

March of 1997, we were seeking answers to a few elusive questions: What

is community? And how does one contribute to it?

The five of us, united only by our love of poetry, which we were all just

beginning to approach as craft, rather than pastime; by age (within five

years of each other, and of 50); and by conspicuous heterosexual

whiteness, wanted to create a reading series that would enhance and

contribute to an explosively heterogeneous poetry community. Los Angeles

was (and remains) home to some of the country's most accomplished writers,

as well as to black-clad poseurs who write their work on cocktail napkins

while waiting for the open mike to free up; to septuagenarians who'd

helped build the scene since The Beats, as well as to talented

high-schoolers; and to poets of enough races, colors, creeds and

persuasions to give Jesse Helms permanent night sweats.

A random sampling of local poets' names read like mail call for a

Hollywood-produced World War II platoon: Albertano, Arroyo, Barresi,

Ben-Hur, Bogen, Byrne, Campos, Cantalupo, Coleman, Cohee, Constantine,

Lafontaine, Lem, Lummis, Lupert, Mullen, Muske, O'Melveny, Quickley, St.

John, Tezcatlipoca, Tran, Uyematsu, Villamil, Weinberger, Woloch, Yamada

and Yates.

And their styles and personae were as different as their names. Gathering

even ten percent of this agglomeration into a coherent reading series

would be like attempting a hummingbird roundup with goldfish nets, but we

five were crazed enough about poetry to hear the potential of all those

wings thrumming in one venue.

We already had a hint of what we didn't want. We had all met in a

workshop and reading series sponsored by a local "leftist" bookstore,

that, despite its egalitarian marketing pose, was really just a fiefdom

for one man who was threatened by sharing power, and whose series rewarded

with featured readings primarily those poets who simply showed up week

after week.

While the workshop environment nurtured some excellent local poets, his

attitudes, selection process, and constant embrace of the new "voices from

the street," regardless of quality, guaranteed that the reading series

would never rise above a certain level of competence, and that the truly

excellent published poets of regional and national stature, whom he

dismissed anyway as elitist "page poets," would never grace the bookstore

during his reign.

Radical as some of our own political leanings might be, we approached

community with a conservative attitude compared to many of our peers: we

respected tradition. We recognized that the rich culture we found in Los

Angeles' poetry Petri dish had not been created parthenogenetically the

week before last, but had been nurtured over the years by hundreds of

diverse practitioners in and out of academia, from Ann Stanford to Charles

Bukowski, from Wanda Coleman to David St. John, from Exene to Stephen

Yenser. We wanted to create a series that would honor, and feature, as

many of the pioneers from the preceding generations as were willing to

read for us, as well as our peers and the best poets we could find of the

upcoming generation.

We wanted a structured open mike that would allow fledgling poets to

discover their voices, and to feel welcome, and would complement the

featured readers, who were the major guests for the evening, and who were

performing, despite their reputations and achievements, always for

audience donations, and whatever they made on book sales (handled for us

by the local independent, Small World Books, or by the poets themselves).

We also hoped to draw touring poets of national reputation, but without a

budget, we didn't hold out much hope of rivaling the reputation of the

now-departed Lannan Foundation reading series, or the Poetry Society of

America's Hollywood/poetry fusion jams at the Chateau Marmont.

All of our ambitions for community found a home at Hyperdisc, a tiny CD

store on Santa Monica's Main Street that had a small stage well away from

the traffic noise, a good p.a., and baristas willing to keep the

cappuccino machine quiet during the featured readers.

In keeping with our notion of hosting without ego-inflation, we five (who

rotated hosting chores each week) began our then-nameless program by

reading a piece by another poet (Jack Gilbert, at our inauguration) whose

work had moved the host, only reading our own work once a year in a joint

featured reading.

Los Angeles native and diva Laurel Ann Bogen, a generous teacher,

organizer and a well-respected poet for over twenty years, headlined our

first reading, our signal that we were honoring those poets who came

before us; but also celebrating that one could have years of chops honed

in books and still remain as kick-ass fresh as the performance poets being

spawned in the streets each day.

Laurel Ann's gracious willingness to headline at our pass-the-hat venue

helped us draw the attention of her working poet peers, and in subsequent

weeks we presented John Harris, whose Papa Bach bookstore had been the

Westside's poetry mecca in the seventies; Michael C. Ford, scuffling buddy

of the seminal LA rock band, The Doors; Holly Prado, Harry Northup and

Cecilia Woloch, part of the influential five-poet LA publishing

collective, Cahuenga Press; Harryette Mullen, UCLA's wordplay poet

extraordinaire; legendary (despite their youth) local teachers Dorothy

Baressi and Eloise Klein Healy; ex-Karma Bum Doug Knott, a Beat-influenced

father of performance poetry, as well as up-and-comers Esteban

Torres-Guzman, Jerry Quickley, Gabe Cousins, Brendan Constantine and Liz

Gonzalez, and poet-publishers Amelie Frank, Matthew Niblock, Marcia Cohee

and Mifanwy Kaiser.

By the time we hit the August heat, with our mid-month double-bill of

Momentum Press founder and Beyond Baroque workshop leader Bill Mohr,

paired with Ellen Sander, the seminal rock journalist and poet, our

series, then in its twenty-fifth week, was gathering steam and renown.

We'd given a podium to more than two hundred open mike poets already, and

were about to showcase our first East Coast headliner, Boston's Jack

McCarthy, an award-winning slam poet whose long, lyric works were also

being published in respected journals.

To wrap up a long story, Hyperdisc went belly up and we continued the

series, as the Hyperpoets, at Venice's Rose Café (which had much better

food and an art gallery) for the next 2 ½ years, realizing all of our

dreams of enriching the local community and its reputation, until we all

decided to call it quits so we could get back to writing.

But in our time we presented hundreds of poets, had publication parties

for Spillway, Rattle, Solo Magazine, Sacred Beverage Press, Cahuenga

Press, The Valley Contemporary Poets, Erica Erdman, Matt Niblock, The

Santa Clarita Valley Poets, David St. John; a benefit readings for Habitat

for Humanity, and raised over $700 one night to try to keep Sisterhood

Bookstore alive.

When Hyperpoets ended, we gave the $1100 or so left over in our kitty (our

small percentage of Small World Book's sales, plus donations we ourselves

had made to Hyperpoets) to an inner-city kids literacy program at which

Jan Wesley taught.

And all we were, Terry, were five poets with a sense of what we'd like

community to look like. So we created it. We DID something.

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