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

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.

 

 

Freedom to Live

Claudia Rankine via KCET

Just before I hopped out of town for a brief pause, I was able to speak to writer Claudia Rankine about her book Citizen: An American Lyric and the staged version that will be up at the Fountain Theatre here in L.A. until October 11.

Here’s a snip from the intro:

On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.

While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.

To read the interview in full click here.

Keeping the Light On

I JUST finished floating through nearly 900 pages of dreamy recollections —  those of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Two books arrive, just months apart, that provide a fresh look at the publisher and poet who was responsible for creating the necessary support for a new generation of thinkers and writers. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books — both the publisher and book store — has served as north star in San Francisco’s North Beach for generations. I review two books for the Los Angeles Times — Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals: 1960-2010 and “I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career” The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg – 1955-1997 .

You can find the review here.

Both books are beautiful offerings. The journals, a vivid testament to the life of the mind; the letters, a celebration of the evolution of a long and tender friendship.

image: City Lights Bookstore via found SF

Where is the love, Los Angeles?

aloudOH, THERE’S been a big reason why things have been a little quiet around here.

Lots of deadlines and projects and talks but here’s the biggest endeavor that’s been occupying a lot of my brain space and is going to be taking off in about a week and a half.

I’ve been working on a collaboration for ALOUD with the poet Mariesela Norte about Los Angeles — life along the margins of the big frame. Also in the big mix is DJ Mark “frosty” McNeil of dublab who will be weaving a live mix to accompany our words and images.

This will be our kick off for the summer.

We’re completely sold out but you can try to fly stand-by.

Info here.

oh, and PS: I should be getting back to regular posting very soon.

Stay tuned.

Voice (25)

cullen
Incident

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

Voice (23)

“Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were the all-seeing
Iluminati? They knew what you didn’t
And left you troubled like a strange dream.
Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs driving among the evening clouds.
You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.
You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.”

“Evening Talk” by Charles Simic

L.A.’s New Laureate

YESTERDAY, Luis J. Rodgriquez, was named Los Angeles’ second Poet Laureate, following Eloise Klein Healy’s abbreviated tenure. I’ve known Luis, like Eloise, for years wokring in the writers’ trenches, so this is particularly wonderful news.

I’m going to link to a piece from L.A. Weekly which shares a little bit about what Rodriguez plans to do in his tenure as the city’s poet.

Hearty congratulations, Luis!

Below some lines from his poem “Concrete River”:

We sink into the dust,
Baba and me,
Beneath brush of prickly leaves;
Ivy strangling trees–singing
Our last rites of locura.
Homeboys. Worshipping God-fumes
Out of spray cans.

Our backs press up against
A corrugated steel fence
Along the dried banks
Of a concrete river.
Spray-painted outpourings
On walls offer a chaos
Of color for the eyes.

you can read the rest here…

Photo: Kevin Scanlon via L.A. Weekly