Voice (30)

Westside

“West Side” — image by Lynell George

Grocery on Venice Beach
by Denis Johnson 

Thank you salesperson I see your heart

quivering redly in its gossamer

I with this fiery  whirling atomic

symbol where I used to have a stomach

lighting my dead shoes

down the aisle

Briefly the gauzy but legible

future veils the place and is beheld

I can talk inside the mind

of my great-grandchild Oh unconceived

monster hurting your teeth on our dead Disneylands

we were here we touched this radioactive food

We didn’t have the claws and then something in our hearts sufficed

We didn’t have X-ray eyes we knew what was inside of everything

Descendants

I have paid and I have left

walked out of the little store onto a white beach

the light declining and lavender

walked past two women

as they knelt covered with gooseflesh

beside the Tarot dealer

past a man pretending to be a machine in a circle

of laughter

alongside but not too close

to people who no longer

live indoors or hide their thoughts

past the child

born in a towaway zone

the mother’s eyes like

a creek

numbers

and curses going by in the water

I leave you this record

of an invisible monstrosity and this

report of sadness

a semi-truck against the bruised roses

of sunset

emeralds in the velvet wound

the lights

of Malibu the cold

small lights

from –The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly — Poems Collected and New

Denis Johnson, 67

Advertisements

“Watching, Thinking, Listening, Assessing”

SOME NEWS:

IMG_9707

Excited to now officially report that I’ve been awarded the Huntington Library’s Alan Jutzi Fellowship to support the next leg of my research this summer in the Octavia E. Butler archive. I’m so grateful that she’s left so much of her story to learn from. Now looking forward to delving deeper.

It has been an honor to spend time in the archive and see a much more complex portrait of this Southern California native slide into view.

Stay tuned for more info about Butler here.

 

 

“Telling My Stories” 

SCENES FROM last week’s opening festivities for “Octavia E. Butler — Telling My Stories” at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. 


A special thank you to curator Natalie Russell who carefully selected 100 objects out of a vast archive of 8,000 to illustrate Butler’s life, work and struggle. It’s a beautiful survey of a singular life. We are all grateful to Butler for gifting her papers to the Huntington so that so many more people can learn about her way of looking at and being in the world. Most affecting is her depth of curiosity, her blinders-on focus. For all the sacrifice and sense of mission, her dedication at moments feels matchless.  

The exhibit is up through August. Come early. Give yourself enough time to wander through. There is much to linger over, digest and celebrate. 

Jamming to the 70s

JOIN US tomorrow afternoon at 826LA Echo Park for Roar Shack. On the bill: Chip Jacobs, Dana Johnson Geza X, Steve Hodel, David Kukoff and yours truly. The event: “I Remember That: L.A. in the 70s.” We’ll be reading pieces looking back at when L.A. was a bit more open, wild and it took only 30 minutes to get just about anywhere…. See you there.

Details here

Patience, Survival, Mind: Inside the Octavia E. Butler Archive

IN CASE you missed it. Last week, I took over the Huntington Library’s Instagram and led their followers through science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler’s massive archive.  I wanted people to have a sense of what it was like working with her papers, which also meant being privy to her hopes and fears and drive.

I’d been commissioned by Julia Meltzer at Clockshop to write a piece for their year-long Radio Imagination project, and my starting point was full immersion into Butlers personal papers — her journals, commonplace books and busy marginalia. I’ve learned much about her in my time here. What has struck me the most however, is just how vulnerable she felt within the writing process.

You can take a look at my Huntington Takeover here.

Also,  the lovely Julia Wick at LAist interviewed me about archive and you can view that here.

Thanks so much, Kate Lain at the Huntington for inviting me to take part in this. I really did have a blast.

img_5011

Stray Cards from the Octavia E. Butler archive, Courtesy  the Huntington Library. 

Voice (28)

toni1

“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison

 

“So be it! See to it!”


THANKS TO everyone involved and to all of those who attended Clockshop’s “Radio Imagination” reading honoring Octavia E. Butler last Saturday night. Our goal was to pay fitting tribute, but by all accounts we conjured her. From teaching herself — “guiding her own hand,” to warring constantly with isolation, to writing herself into being, Butler steered herself through a professional universe that could be as aloof as it was alienating.

She found an opening in a seam and made a place for herself. A roadblock was something to circumvent, just another plot-pont puzzle on a page  By articulating her desires, goals and plans — for decades — she built a sure path toward them.

“So be it. See to it!”

It was an honor to be a part of keeping her personal story aloft.

There will be more Radio Imagination events to come in this year-long celebration. A podcast of Saturday’s program will be available shortly. Stay tuned.


(Photos courtesy Clockshop)