261 Columbus Avenue

THIS IS probably one of my favorite corners  to stand on on the planet.  Crossing Columbus Avenue, facing City Lights Books & Publishers.

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Over the weekend, City Lights’ co-founder, the poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, marked his 100th birthday and there was much noise and celebration throughout North Beach and beyond.

I have been visiting the store since before college, I would guess. Dragging friends along to wander among the many floors of books, later to pose outside under the signage. But always what was the most magical thing about this place was happening upon its founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, walking along Columbus or holding forth in one of the sunny cafes. This store is one of the important points on my personal map. I wouldn’t be who I was without it.

I wrote  piece for the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section that ran yesterday about both Ferlinghetti and the store’s legacy and impact. You can find it here.

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One hundred years ago today

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Gwendolyn Brooks Image via university of illinois

Elegy For Miss Brooks
i.m Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-2000

“There’s nothing left
to say. You have done
your dance away —
to the place we never thought
would gather you

though somewhere we knew
how days grow shorn. Unbrittle,
brave, graceful yet laceless,
you struck the stone till you were
the stone, or the face

each dark rock hides, if only
from itself, somethin else. The water
wears over us —
headed home salt-ward.
We wade in your wake

& pray. Forever
bendable, you never did stoop
whenever sidewalks hard heart
met your dandelion wild.
You fought that white

head though.
A thankful while, the wind
our way blew.
Without you, we might not know
what wind must do

it too refuses to remain
unseen, keeps many names
Gust, bluster, hurricane
Bronzeville’s heavy Hawk
You swirl and save us

from standing still
unsailed. What the devil
are we without you?
I tuck your voice laced
tight, in these brown shoes”

— Kevin Young

(happy 100th gwendolyn brooks)

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

Poetics of Location

I’M MORE THAN a little tardy posting this but projects have been flying in and out the door,  and my fingers are trying their very best to keep up. But this afternoon from a couple of weeks back remains on my mind.

Mike Sonksen (AKA Mike the Poet) is a civic treasure. He’s one of those faces that float into view at almost every poetry event and almost every corner of town. He’s a many-generation native of Los Angeles and with that he’s taken a multilayered interest in the city. All of it is up for exploration and inquiry.

Mike is also known around the poetry scene for his indiosyncratic city tours — on foot, by bus, via Metro —  that have always featured the energy and of freestyle poetry and history. For as many years as I have known him, this was the very first time I had  been able to take part in one of the downtown walkabouts.  This round he featured otherIMG_9387 poets along the way, among them — Traci Akemi Kato-kiriyama, Rocío Carlos and F. Douglas Brown —  who paused to share observations or self-reflections about sense of place or considered their personal place within with ever-shifting landscape of Los Angeles.

Much of the day and night before, it had been storming. Uncharacteristic downpours for May. But by mid morning the rain eased and the clouds pushed back enough to give the sky depth and offer a poem itself. We walked up and down hills, stood on overpasses and beneath flowering jacaranda trees to listen to aural snapshots of the city. Tourists in our own town. Just as we finished for the day, the clouds gathered again and the rain made an encore. Polite enough, however, to wait until the very last word. It was as if Mike had arranged it. Not once did he appear worried that we’d rain out, have to run for cover. Not one minute. He knows better. He knows how to read not just the streets, but the skies and the promises they won’t break.

To read Mike’s latest about L.A. new poet laureate, Robin Coste Lewis, click here.

 

 

Voice (27)

kitchenettefront

“In the ‘Kitchenette’ area on South Parkway. Chicago, Illinois. April, 1941 — Edwin Rosskam

Kitchenette Building 

by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

“We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,

Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong

Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

 

But could a dream send up through onion fumes

Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes

And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,

Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

 

Even if we were willing to let it in,

Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,

Anticipate a message, let it begin?

 

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!

Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,

We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

 

 

Type, Writer 

TO CELEBRATE this year’s Big Read title,  Fahrenheit  451 —  and its author, the late Ray Bradbury — we’ll be convening 4/17 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum to chronicle  your L. A. stories on the spot. The event  “Type Writer: An Afternoon of L.A. Stories Typed Before Your Eyes” will be held from 4 to 7pm in the Museum courtyard. Bring your typewriter and join in. For more information about the event and The Big Read click here.

I’d better get my “home row” fingers limbered up.