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.

 

 

“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. 

Voice (29)

chicago-union-station-granger-28“Is the train station able to gaze at itself, revive the past, double it, a double as quiet as the face, the moving lips of my reflection within a mirror. Quiet as silences within the silences of Theolnious Monk’s piano. During the Twelfth Street Station’s heyday did people’s dreams truly float above the platform upon which I pcuture myself waiting for an Illinois Central train to arrive or depart, a platform lined with cardboard suitcases, ancient steamer trunks, duffel bags, shopping bags, string-tied bundles and cartons, colored gals carrying everything they own in a warm package they cradle in their arms, all of that dreaming and waiting, waiting, every shadow and echo and breath of those lives dust and grit and somebody brooms away each morning from the station’s concrete floor.”

— John Edgar Wideman from Writing to Save A Life: The Louis Till File

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.

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

“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)

Tuning in for Radio Imagination

A FEW MONTHS back, I posted a note about being poised to go down a rabbit hole.

I didn’t realize how true that was going to be.

I apologize for the radio silence, but I’ve been working on “Radio Imagination.”

Since the beginning of this year, along with my other usual reporting, writing and city wandering, I’ve been doing weekly research at the Huntington Library, preparing for a big project for Clockshop, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit art organization. Clockshop’s founder, filmmaker Julia Meltzer approached me, and several other writers, artists, academics, to discuss an idea that she’d been fleshing out for sometime.

Her plan was to create a year-long series of events, spanning the city all dedicated to the legacy and impact of  San Gabriel Valley-based, science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler.  Going in, I only knew the boldfaced details about Butler and her work, but I was tasked with creating a “posthumous interview.” Though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look or sound like, I liked the places it allowed my brain to go.

A few weeks into the Octavia E. Butler archive at the Huntington Library, I knew it would become less and less clear before it would  find focus. She had a big, busy life and there were many possible paths to travel — I  just had to trust the process.

I’ve never quite been inside someone’s head the way in which Butler has allowed us  to be in hers. She was a avid and honest chronicler of her life — her work, her surroundings, her worries, her triumphs and disasters. Moving through pages of journals, letters, commonplace books,  mimics the effect of her whispering to herself as she goes about her tasks. We’re eavesdropping on process, the roundabout road in building narratives — both on the page and in life. Tomorrow four writers, Robin Coste Lewis,  Tisa Bryant, Fred Moten and I —  will premiere new pieces inspired by our time in the archives, listening to Octavia spin stories about life on so many different planes.

I can’t express what a gift this experience has been.

We are sold out (!) for tomorrow night’s event at Clockshop, but if you want to try to fly standby,  those waiting will be admitted if ticket holders do not show. A podcast of the event will be forthcoming so stay tuned.