Notes on a Hair Club for Poets Reading – Ronnie at Number 34 – 25 February 2012

Roy Anthony Shabla was elsewhere. But Eric Lawson was very much there. Dude, Eric Lawson got there at, like, Tuesday o’clock in October, he got there so early. Also there were host John Brantingham, his super wife Ann, lLöyd Aquiño™, Michaelsun Knapp, Michael Torres, Natalie Morales, Alexander Vogel, Luke Salazar, Marta Chausée, Kevin Ridgeway, Jason Brolliar, and John’s former RA Deron Grams, from England back in 1991. I don’t know how they found that last guy.

So…

  1. Michaelsun started the open reading with a poem about his Irish or Irish-American grandmother. I forgot to pay close attention when he mentioned the title, so I just wrote down “[something something] Wild Irish Rose.” The poem involved Mikey periodically singing. He also read “Cartographer.”
  2. Alexander Vogel Alexander-Vogeled an Alexander Vogel from an Alexander Vogel of Alexander Vogels: “#12.” It was Alexandervogelacious. He also read “Hardcover Paperback” and Gordon Lish’s “How to Write a Poem.”
  3. I read “Operation: Overshare” and “Amity,” receiving a healthy response.
  4. Luke Salazar began with a poem I think is titled “Trash Digger.” Then came “To the Curb” and “Word for Windows Saved My Life.”
  5. After a brief announcement by John Brantingham about the upcoming (February 2013) San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival in West Covina and its audio-chapbook fundraiser, lLöyd Aquiño™ read one of his favorite poems that he hasn’t published, “A Boy Imagines Himself.” The Valentine’s Day-themed “Candy-Coated Hate” and “Solitary Dance” followed.
  6. Eric Lawson read “Residual Breeze from a Passing 747,”“Stunt Buffalo,” and “Hot Mess in a Cow Costume,” a true story about a very drunk woman in a cow costume.
  7. Kevin Ridgeway read “Comparing Imaginary Hit Men,” a poem from his new chapbook Burn Through Today. He also read “Sunday School Blues” and “Creepy Dolls.”
  8. Denise Weuve read “Chiwa Master the Palm Reader” (I hope I got the title right.), “Little Fifteen,” and “Iscariot.”
  9. Michael Torres read “The Coltrain” and “Remember Me Like This.” He had copies of his chapbook to sell, too.
  10. Natalie Morales read “My Mother’s Advice” and a poem describing a song she’d heard.

Adrienne Silva was the first feature. It was her first time as a featured reader and she acquitted herself quite well, despite the anxiety. Her set went as follows:

  1. “White Boi.”
  2. “A Slice of You.”
  3. “Broken Neck”
  4. “Paint,” which she dedicated to Mikey and lLöyd
  5. “If There’s Any Love in Me, Don’t Let It Show,” titled after lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s “Shape of My Heart”
  6. “Sequel”
  7. “Red”
  8. a piece that began “No man can serve two masters…” and was based on something her father tried to teach her
  9. a fifth-grade journal excerpt
  10. another fifth-grade journal excerpt
  11. “At the House of Plenty”
  12. “Hungry”
  13. a song, complete with guitar: “Sixteen to Nineteen”

Next up was G. Murray Thomas, whose first feature it was not. His set had a very cool feel-good energy augmented by haiku scrumptious lysergic acid (in the poems, not the poet):

  1. “My Typewriter Has Not Healed Yet,” inspired by a conversation about a tattoo
  2. “Life Is So Much Easier Now That I No Longer Know Everything”
  3. haiku
  4. haiku
  5. “Prejudice,” inspired by a true story about an open-mic he attended
  6. a piece that begins “In India, drunken monkeys have taken over an old plantation…”
  7. haiku
  8. haiku
  9. Someone next to me uttered something, so I missed hearing its title, but the next piece was about a trip Murray took twenty years ago.
  10. “Coyote on Acid” for his friend John Gardiner
  11. his friend Tom Foster’s “Why I Don’t Take Acid Anymore”
  12. “Butterflies and Bridges” about quantum mechanics, and probably acid
  13. “Dolls on Drugs,” definitely about acid
  14. haiku
  15. haiku
  16. a poem about recycling”
  17. haiku
  18. “The Last Call Haiku”
  19. “The Morning After”

After the reading came the nominations for next month’s feature. Various people spoke up for lLöyd, Luke, and me. But I just featured last month and didn’t want to be greedy, so I demurred. Natalie Morales then became the third nominee. During a grueling session of rock-paper-scissors, lLöyd took out his competition and won the crown for March. Le roi est mort; vive le roi!

Calling Out for Possession: “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather”

Like “Cancer Is the Answer” and “How to Be a Drunk,” “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather” first appeared in Pear Noir! Number 4 (Summer 2010), all three poems having been both submitted and accepted on April 10, 2010. The third in the trio was originally written July 24, 2009, in the middle of that mean summer when I had no job, little money, and less hope.

I really, really like “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather.” The poem combines creepiness, poignancy, surrealism and wit in ways I still seek to replicate whenever I set out to write a new one. I really enjoyed writing it, wondering afterward, “Where did that come from?” After my nth rejection slip, I remember wondering whether it was perhaps a bit too disquieting — the relationship between the narrator and his stepfather verges on the incestuous, and is almost certainly exploitative. But I think the poem nevertheless retains a kooky charm and a saving loophole — the abusive relative is wholly a figment of the speaker’s imagination — that leavens the mix. Plus, I really like some of the lines. Plus, while I typically struggle to end poems gracefully, I pull off a decent conclusion here.

I don’t know what else to say. It came from you-knows-where. It went in unexpected places. I finally brought it in for a successful landing. So there you go. Fun ride.

Notes on a Tebot Bach Reading – Goldenwest College – 24 February 2012

I wish more people had shown up tonight, especially to support my friend, first-time feature Karie McNeley. But I did see a few familiar faces. I chatted with Eric Lawson about the Factory Readings at Santa Ana’s The Gypsy Den, where I will be featuring next month (Tuesday, March 6th, 8:00 PM). I talked with Thomas R. Thomas for a while about jobs, school, and money. Cory De Silva and Zack Nelson Lopiccolo, Karie’s partners in Bank Heavy Press, showed up. So did Karie’s mom, dad, and little sister Kelsey. Then there were a couple of Tebot Bach reading regulars, as well as prime mover and shaker Mifanwy Kaiser.

Because there weren’t a ton of open readers, they jumped right into the first feature, Karie, whom Tom introduced after reading a short poem, “Heavy Inertia” by Brisbane, Australia’s Matthew John Davies, which appeared in Bank Heavy Press’ fourth iteration, Husbands and Malfeasant Dogs. Karie herself began by reading “McSomething,” about nothings and somethings. Then, from Bank Heavy’s third collection, Pom-Pom-Pomeranian, she read “Country Time for Lemonade.” That was followed by “The [Last?] Garage-Sale Bargainer Doesn’t Understand the Word ‘Free’,” “Bodies Based,” and a poem she wrote for class last semester, “Bang Boom.” “The Sleeping Poem,” written in a form called a zaka (which Zack and Karie invented), followed. Next came the humorous “Cat Box” and “Thoughts on a Kissing Picture.” The last two poems have recently been accepted into other people’s journals. “Shotguns and Seagulls,” one of her first poems Zack and Cory helped edit, will appear overseas in David Caddy‘s Tears in the Fence [UK]. And Pearl has accepted “Chubby Girl Rant.”

The second feature, Gayle Kaune, most recently from Port Townsend, Washington, gave us our money’s worth. She read for a good thirty to thirty-five minutes, beginning with “Hanford Reach.” She then read a poem about ballet and about her childhood and adolescence in Las Vegas. A “bloody” poem followed, along with a poem partly about trendy poetry descriptors du jour, such as capacious, muscular, and paradigm. Her next, more serious piece, “Also the Rising,” addressed her father’s dementia and death. While “Orvietto” described an excursion in Italy, “The Stones and the Weather” was set in Port Townsend. Next came “Alchemy,” then a poem about the surreptitious prostate-cancer epidemic in this country. Her last two poems were “Ketchikan” and a partly ekphrastic one set along the Columbia River. Overall, she showed a lot of prowess in discussing nature, family, life, and death.

After a ten-minute break, Cory De Silva began the open-reading portion of the night with “A Chance at Immortality” and Clint Margrave’s “In Our Twenties.” David Rosenfeld, a Tebot-Bach regular, read two nature poems, “Maiden Flight” and “Rumors.” Then Paul Sandor, another regular, who sat at the same table as I, read “Romeo and Juliet Redux.” For my turn at the mic, I read “The Authority Figure” and “Truthful Wishing about Oregon”; I should have drunk some water before going up, because I stumbled a bit. Tom Thomas read “Late Shift,” “The Swallows Come on Her Birthday” (?), “Scotch,” and a poem beginning “I find it slipping…” Next, Eric Lawson read “Love Is Like a Tweaking Ferret with Tourette’s” and “Poets for Sale.” Finally, Zack Nelson Lopiccolo read “Skit,” which appeared in Short, Fast and Deadly, and “Girlfriend Poem,” which will appear in the next issue of Carnival.

After the reading, I stuck around long enough to chat a bit with Mifanwy, who said she liked my poetry. So I guess I’ll keep showing up, paying my dues, and hoping it’ll all lead to something. Fingers crossed.

Notes on a Bank-Heavy Variety Show – Gatsby Books – 23 February 2012

What a treasure Gatsby Books is! Now it hosts not only Kevin Lee’s Hump Readings smack-dab in the middle of each month, but also, starting tonight, Bank Heavy Press‘ variety show on the last Thursday of each month. (It hosts other events, too, but I’m most concerned with the poetry stuff.) Anyway, go there and thank them for being such great supporters of the Long Beach literary scene by buying their books.

Tonight’s event was attended by a number of familiar faces — feature Daniel Romo, Luke Salazar, Marianne Stewart, Jeff Epley, Tamara Madison, John Schlegel — as well as many of Daniel’s students from Lakewood High School and Cerritos College. And, of course, there was the Bank Heavy crew, albeit not in their usual togs. Zack Nelson Lopiccolo sported a dress and eyeliner. Karie McNeley wore a brilliant homemade reptile outfit, complete with Day-Glo talons. Corey De Silva dressed like a hillbilly, complete with stuffed pig. Their costumes added one more degree of razzle-dazzle to the affair. Or it spoke to deep-seated neuroses. Or both — they really aren’t mutually exclusive options.

  1. Luke Salazar started the reading with some recent familiar crowd-pleasers: a poem about certain phrases’ being romantic codependents that really should break up; “Babble”; and “Even My Bad Ideas Are Pretty Damn Good.”
  2. Jeff Epley read two pieces from his featured section in Bank Heavy Press’ Husbands and Malfeasant Dogs: “No Seventh Street Departure” and “Head Case.”
  3. Sergei Smirnov, one of Daniel Romo’s former and Jeff Epley’s current students, read “V-Day 2012,” “Logic,” and “I Overheard Two Idiots.”
  4. I read “Scenes from a Picnic” and “Spud.”
  5. Marianne Stewart, who gets extra points for having made Bank-Heavy Press buttons for the trio and she to wear, talked first about being a bit neurotic regarding her poems. She read “The Now and Then Girl,” “That Christmas,” and “My Damn Door.”
  6. Jonathan Bauer read “Refusal” and an untitled poem written for a literary blog created in Daniel’s creative-writing class at Lakewood.
  7. Melissa Wells read “It’s on Me.”
  8. Tonight’s first feature, singer and guitarist Grace Davis, performed three songs. She didn’t offer their titles, but I read some names off her set list, which lay upside-down on the floor in front of her: “Just Like We Do,” “Time,” and “Tired.”
  9. After a five-minute break, during which I discovered his poems were published with mine in the same issue of Pear Noir!, Daniel Romo took the stage. He read pieces from both of his forthcoming books, poems from Romancing Gravity (Pecan Grove Press) and prose poems from When Kerosene’s Involved (Black Coffee Press): “Listen,” “How to Do Your Makeup Like a Chola,” “French Kiss,” “1.21 Gigawatts,” “Word Problem #37,” “Formal,” “Reliving,” “At First Sight,” “Clairvoyance,” “Thesis,” and “Dreamcatcher.”
  10. Steve Bramble read an excerpt from his novel Grid City Overload.
  11. John Schlegel read “My Hair Poem” and a piece beginning “Pythagoras carefully measured his triangles with preciseness…”
  12. Coco Magik, AKA Gatsby proprietor Sean Richard Moor, read two selections from Todd Moore’sThe Riddle of the Wooden Gun, a large array of poems about John Dillinger.
  13. Maury Long, another one of Daniel’s students, read “Just Another Day.”
  14. Into the spotlight with her, Gatsby proprietor Alisha Attell brought her daughter and a vacuum cleaner, a new Bissell Cleanview Helix, and subsequently stole the show. Alisha read from the vacuum cleaner’s user’s guide while seductively handling the appliance, playing hazardously with plastic wrap, and otherwise delivering a deadpan, arch performance.
  15. Matt White read a piece written for a high-school psychology project on bipolar disorder.
  16. The Bank-Heavy trio closed out their inaugural event by each reading a poem from their various anthologies. Zack covered Kevin Lee’s “A tall black guy sipping red wine, reading a novel, a parrot on his shoulder sits on a foldout mesh lawn chair on the sidewalk outside a pale green apartment building with a ‘For Rent’ sign dangling above a garage door.” Cory did his own “The Killer Sits.” And Karie read John Gray’s “5 PM and the Rain Won’t Stop.”

I was actually in a mood to stick around after the reading, but I had promised Raquel not to stay out too late, so I skedaddled after saying good bye to various folks.

Notes on an On Common Ground Event – Whittier Law School – 23 February 2012

I arrived on campus just a few minutes before the event and bumbled around a bit before discovering Classroom 1 at Whittier Law School, where I was greeted by host Shannon Phillips and introduced to poet and Whittier College professor Tony Barnstone. Barnstone, in collaboration with local musical duo Genuine Brandish (John Clinebell and Ariana Hall), has created a show called “Tokyo Burning,” which combines Genuine Brandish’s songs with poems from Barnstone’s collection Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki.

Wow. What a potent show! I’m so glad I came. Powerful poems, powerful songs. Barnstone’s poems masterfully explored an array of perspectives from the Pacific theater of World War Two. Genuine Brandish’s songs displayed excellent musicianship and beautiful harmonies, despite the sometimes disturbing subject matter. I wish many more than fifteen people or so had shown up, but the event’s 12:30-1:30 time did fall right in the middle of the work day.

  1. The first poem, “The Battle for Saipan,” went with Genuine Brandish’s song “As If We Weren’t Americans.” Written from the viewpoint of a Japanese-American intelligence officer whose family back home has been interned in a camp, it explores the hysterical response of many Japanese nationals in Guam to the invading Allied forces, many jumping off so-called “suicide cliffs” to avoid the imagined inhuman depredations of American soldiers.
  2. “A Black Rain Fell” describes the precipitation that fell, as dark and sticky as tar, in the wake of the atom bombs’ pulverizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three or four such poems were condensed into the accompanying song.
  3. As the Americans drove the Japanese from New Guinea, the imperial forces were cut off from their supplies, sometimes resorting to cannibalism to fend off starvation. The poem and song both titled “White Pig, Dark Pig” are named after Japanese euphemisms for the Western POWs and native New Guineans used as meat by soldiers who found themselves in dire straits.
  4. “The Perfect Life” was particularly inspired by the experiences of a Dutch colonial woman living in the Dutch East Indies, who was taken by Japanese forces and forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” Over 250,000 women across Asia were thus kidnapped and abused, only a quarter of whom managed to survive starvation and gang-rape. Hall added that to this day, human trafficking remains the third largest international criminal endeavor.
  5. “The Thin Man” discusses a military nurse in West Virginia who learns the war is over, jubilantly kisses a nearby soldier, the eponymous ectomorph, and eventually becomes his wife for forty years.
  6. Let’s see whether I get this right. The song “Tokyo Burning” is based on the poem “Tokyo Burning” and another poem that Barnstone read, “Fireflies Over Tokyo.” They concern the 1945 campaign of firebombing major Japanese cities, prior to the atomic bomb attacks. More than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, were burned alive. The firestorms were so intense that they boiled the rivers, cooking those who jumped into it to try to cool off. The song covers the perspectives of both an American airman dropping the bombs and napalm and a Japanese housewife on the ground.

After the performances came a brief Q&A. Clinebell mentioned that he met Barnstone at a house party a year and a half ago, and that he wanted to involve himself in a musical project that could help people and spread awareness. Hall was initially ambivalent about becoming involved, about being a woman singing about such violent material, but then she changed her mind, recognizing the importance of the endeavor and its ability to promulgate information and peace. Barnstone had been researching this material for fifteen years, ever since dining with retired brigadier general Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Barnstone’s then-wife was Japanese — his former mother-in-law had survived an Allied firebombing — while his father had been drafted into the American military near the end of World War Two. He thus had a complex perspective of the war’s events, a perspective that provoked his interest more deeply and significantly as time passed.

I do encourage everyone to experience this show. In the future, the trio will appear at Beyond Baroque and may appear at the Los Angeles Book Festival.

Notes on Two Idiots Peddling Poetry – The Ugly Mug – 22 February 2012

Why does licorice spice herbal tea taste a bit like shaving soap? Owner Phil at The Ugly Mug was out of peppermint tea again, so I had to make do. I should have learned from last week’s cup.

What was different about tonight? Graham sat at my window corner table with me. I learned he’s always in a suit and tie because he does legal work in Lake Forest, not because he’s the secret president of nearby Chapman University. So much for using my poetic prowess to get a job over there.

Who else showed up? Martha Stothard. LilBob. Michael Miller, the publisher of Moon Tide Press, which recently published tonight’s feature, Susan Davis, who came with her husband. Seth with the glasses and Mike with the beard. James Kelly. Heidi Denkers and friend. And a special guest from the East.

  1. Ben started the reading with Ricki Mandeville‘s “Fractions” from Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug.
  2. Michael Miller, who had set up two stacks of Susan Davis’ collection, I Was Building Up to Something, on a neighboring table, read the funny “Meet Up,” which he dedicated to anyone who has ever been to a meet-up group to get a date.
  3. Martha read “The Bully,” about a police detective with whom she had a bad experience connected to her leaving the employ of Walmart. Then she read a piece by Albuquerque poet Gail [Somebody], “Valerie the Bat.”
  4. I read “Recessional” and “A Fable.” While reading “Recessional,” I received some gratifying gasps and cries in response to the stanza about the wasp and the apple. Graham and James later gave me positive feedback on both poems, though I usually don’t think of them as among my best work.
  5. Graham read some more haiku. He keeps getting better and better at them.
  6. Jacob Slobodien read two impassioned, downbeat love poems, “Broken” and “One Year.”
  7. James Kelly read an untitled piece beginning “The universe moves in chemistry and gravity…,” “Superman Versus the Pomegranate-Throwing Monkeys of the Eighth Dimension,” and the quasi-sonnet “Donna,” written in response to a decades-old assignment from undergraduate days.
  8. Susan Davis then took the stage. An initially unprepossessing presence, she came off as modest, thoughtful, dry/wry, solemn, wise, and funny. I really liked her poems; I wish I’d had money to buy her book. She began with “Bachman’s Pond,” which ended on such an unexpected note that we were at first too surprised to clap. She then read “Domestic Expectations,” “School Morning Drop-Off,” “Still Life,” “Gravity,” “Memoriam,” and “Curses.” Then came a Valentine’s day poem for and about her dogs, “Social Contracts,” as well as “Sums,” “We Know,” and the divorce poem “Undertaking.”
  9. During the break, Seth collected money for the feature. Then I got the bathroom key and unlocked the door, only to have it slammed back shut from the other side; how had they gotten inside without the key, and why didn’t they take the key inside with them? I came back to my table to find one of The Mysterious Other Buckleys, Kate Buckley, whom I’ve heard of numerous times but never seen in the flesh, who had come all the way from Tennessee, sitting in Graham’s chair and chatting with Michael Miller. She paid me no mind. Finally, Ben signaled the end of the break by reading Daphne Gottlieb’s “open water” from Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug.
  10. Seth read “Is It Me?,” “Thank God for Toilet Paper,’ and “The Mirror.”
  11. Kate Buckley read a few poems from her iPhone; she said she usually makes fun of people who do that, but she couldn’t get the printer to work at her “work condo.” She read “The Haunt,” quickly moved on to “”Winter Garden” before we could applaud, and finished with “Polarity: A Polemic.”
  12. Steve Ramirez read “Ode to a Brownie” for Seth, “Dictionary Entries About Ex-Girlfriends,” and the potent “Thus Spoke Aquaman.”
  13. Ben Trigg closed out the night with two poems, one that started “She Didn’t Mind the Lack of Premarital Sex, But…” and one that started “Every Dress You Own Is a Loaded Gun,” which he had dedicated to Martha and last read at her feature on October 26.

Okay, so there you go. I shook Graham’s and Martha’s hands goodbye, waved to a couple of others, and hit the road.

Running Towards, Running Away: “How to Be a Drunk”

I used to teach a couple of doors away from Ted Archer. Before he left teaching for the business world, before I exchanged eighth-grade writers for college ones, we worked together for a year at The Harker School in Silicon Valley and remained friends afterward. Ted was quite an amazing guy. He received two degrees in four years from Stanford University, where he played varsity soccer and was the president of his fraternity. He also liked to run.

In fact, Ted still likes to run so much that a few years ago, he began participating in Marathon des Sables, a six-day supermarathon of over 150 miles through the Moroccan Sahara. The first time Ted ran it, he was the first American to cross the finish line.

He wrote and published a book about his experience, Carved by God, Cursed by the Devil. While it discusses Ted’s preparation, his running, it also discusses his complex relationship with his alcoholic sister, who seemed to tap her potential in inverse proportion to Ted’s tapping his. As someone who left Harker under somewhat of a cloud because of his own drinking, as someone who had begun writing again after many years, I was inspired to fuse alcoholism, desert running, and commitment into a poem.

I wrote “How to Be a Drunk” the night of April 4, 2009, bolstered by a 7&7 or two made with diet cherry 7Up. I sent it to Ted; I never heard back. I submitted it to journals. I felt odd about sharing “Ted’s” poem with the world, just as he felt maybe a bit conflicted about sharing his sister’s story with his audience. I felt odd about the probability that I was “writing what I know”; I have usually been cagey enough never to admit just how much regularly got poured down my throat.

On April 10, 2010, the poem was accepted. “How to Be a Drunk” first appeared in Pear Noir! Number 4 (Summer 2010). I still drink, though not nearly as assiduously as I once did.

Notes on a Redondo Poets Reading – Coffee Cartel – 21 February 2012

Having breached the Orange Curtain and braved the tail-end of rush-hour traffic, I got to Coffee Cartel at about 7:30, which left a perfect window of time for me to order some peppermint tea and try to get my head in the game: why hadn’t I refilled my prescription? Besides my pharmaceutical oversight, I was still giddy and distracted about recent good news. But enough said…

Tobi Cogswell and Jeff Alfier sat at their usual table, except for when Tobi swung by my seat to recommend Red River Review, an online journal out of Texas that she thought I might like and to which I might want to submit.

There came Jim Doane, ready to kick off another reading by the Redondo Poets.

There came Peggy Carter, who sat with Tobi and Jeff; I hope Peggy’s impending knee surgery goes smoothly.

There came Wanda, for whom Jim Doane chivalrously found an appropriate chair and placed at an accessible table.

There, right by me, sat a woman ostensibly studying, blasting crappy R&B out of earbuds with insufficient soundproofing. Even after Jim set up the sound system, even after the poets started enunciating into the mic, crappy music bled into the sonic mix. Someone on a neighboring couch asked her to turn the music down; she got a little defensive because she was just studying and had been there first, before “all of this…poetry crap” started happening, but she did turn down her jams. Then the loud whispering to her friends began. Someone else asked her to keep it down. It took another half-hour to forty-five minutes before the poetic onslaught succeeded in driving her party outside.

But I digress. Here were the readers, called to the stage in reverse-cowgirl order:

  1. Kat read “Me.” It was about her.
  2. John Schlegel read “Self-Tied Magic,” a poem about fly fishing, and “The Problem,” a poem about tolerating a racist cabbie. He had written both of them recently, just for tonight. He apparently tries to write two new poems for the reading every week.
  3. I read “Island Living” and “Last Lines of Poems by Fox Brummagen (1917-1985),”  receiving more animated responses to my introductory comments than to the poems themselves.
  4. Tobi read “Feast of the Red Sash” by Carolyn Adams and “Five Foot Enigma” by Michelle Hartman, the editor of Red River Review.
  5. Jeffrey C. Alfier read a piece from Daniel Tobin’s The Narrows, “Drinking with My Father at Muse’s Bar.”
  6. Wanda read “New Orleans and All That Jazz” and “The Vice of Life.” The second poem was new to me.
  7. Tonight’s feature, Diana Sieker, is an unpublished local high-school teacher who brought her academic posse with her. She started writing poetry seriously after learning how to meditate. Her poems were thoughtful, usually untitled, and usually recited from memory, despite their length. They also included some snappy wordplay. She began her set with a piece that began “Beaten to death…” and “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” an ode to hypocrisy. Her next poems started with “Metallic souls aimlessly flying…” and “I’ve ridden psychedelic trains through different planes…” Then she read something dedicated to her favorite philosophers, Ken [Somebody-or-Other] and Morris Berman. She ended this set with a poem beginning “This system is fucked. That being said,…” Tonight, surprisingly, was her first feature, prompting Jim Doane to give her some props for her assured performance.
  8. After a break marked by the passing of the poetry chalice and the necessary departure of Tobi and Jeff (they had stuff to do on other fronts), Zachary Wolk took the mic, reading from an iPad a poem starting with “It was raining down hard, into the countryside…” and a rather longer piece, “Color-Blind.”
  9. Peggy Carter read “Skin” and “Vanilla Milkshake,” the latter poem addressing her feelings about her upcoming surgery.
  10. Amanda read nothing. She didn’t appear when her name was called. Amanda? Amanda? Who’s Amanda?
  11. Russell read Matt Cook’s “James Joyce,” a witty, somewhat surreal poem I enjoyed quite a bit.
  12. The young, fedora-ed Harrison Cortez, a first-time reader, read poems with the opening lines “Climb atop the highest mountain peak…” and “Through his eyes, you could see his mind…”
  13. Ian Drummond, an administrator at Diana Sieker’s school, read “Blueberry Pancakes” and a haiku about a cricket. He used to be an English teacher before he “turned to the dark side of the Force.”
  14. Diana Sieker so impressed Jim Doane that he beseeched her for an encore. She read a love poem written during a particularly monotonous faculty meeting. She read another love poem starting with “The stars were aligned…,” about a horrible relationship with no closure. She closed with “Know How I Know How God Exists?,” the answer to which was successively “tacos,” “poop,” “atheism,” and “consciousness.” It was a long poem; I liked the first half better, which seemed quirkier, less on-the-nose.

LIGHTNING-FAST LIGHTNING ROUND! John Schlegel read a piece he had just written during the reading. Zack read another earnest piece that started with “The generation of ideas…” Zack’s friend read an inspirational blurb from Ray Bradbury. Wanda read “Pep Pills for Human Ills.” Boom. That was it. Zip. We all went home.

Notes on The Valley Poets Reading Series – Village Book Shop – 18 February 2012

The night was one of what host John Brantingham called “interesting happenstances.” Feature Jessica Drawbond-Page had gone to urgent care with pneumonia, feature Michael Torres was running late, feature Alan Passman was running even later, and co-host Scott Creley’s car had broken down. In a darkened Village Book Shop, we sat and waited — owner Deborah Gould, a bunch of open readers, Ann and Archie Brantingham, lLoyd Aquino‘s friend Albie, Lance Schaina, Michelle Dougherty, Adrienne Silva, and some others I didn’t meet. There was a smaller crowd than usual.

We waited until about 6:45, forty-five minutes past the official start time, and then slid into the open reading, the list for which included a question phrased something like, “If you could make your own ice-cream flavor, what would it be?”:

  1. I had signed up at slot #4 and answered the question with “kimchi with candied bulgogi.” But no one signed up ahead of me, so I went on first. I read “July 1984,”“Celebration,” and the newer “The Anxiety of Influence,” which I dedicated to Charlotte  San Juan, although she was at work. People liked the first poem quite a bit, which surprised me a little. They all went over pretty well.
  2. K. Andrew Turner offered sadness-flavored ice cream along with “On Loneliness,” an untitled poem he had written about ten hours earlier, “Salt Pine Wind” off his phone, and another new, untitled piece.
  3. Before lLoyd Aquino came up to read, John mentioned that the new fundraising item for the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival had come out, an audio chapbook of lLoyd’s work titled Poet Killed by Cliché. I wish I’d had more cash on me last night. Anyway, lLoyd suggested whiskey-flavored ice cream, or at least whiskey, and then started with “Loose Fiction” (dedicated to John Mayer), which is one of his first published poems. He also read the longer “How to Write.”
  4. Elder Zamora proposed bacon ice cream, which Denny’s may already offer, and read a poem called either “Raccoon” or “I Killed a Raccoon.” In either case, a raccoon died because of Elder.
  5. Tom Thomas borrowed the idea of unflavored ice cream from The Simpsons and then read some “dad poems” and a poem about an incident of which he thought his dad was probably unaware. I’m not used to Tom’s having titles for his shorter poems, so I spaced out long enough to miss what he called the first one. The second poem he read was “USS Iowa (BB-61),” followed by “A Day at School” (about, I think, an acid trip) and “Scotch.”
  6. Augie Hicks would flavor her ice cream Rumplestiltskin, possibly the best flavor of the night. She read the Dylan Thomas-inspired “Do Not Go Gently Into the Night,” “Stop Marching on My Parade,” “Me, JC, and Al” (accepted by A Few Lines),”Binge,” and some poem ending with the word “Fencepost.”
  7. Scott Creley finally arrived and read missing-feature-Jessica’s “Your Ass Is Mine.”
  8. The first feature present and accounted for was Michael Torres, whose first book, The Beautiful Distraction, just shipped that day. Michael didn’t mention ice cream, but he did come prepared with a couple trays of Rice Krispie treats, a cooler filled with pitchers of Kool-Aid, trivia questions about himself, and a bag filled with prizes from Dollar Tree. He started his set with “The Coltrane [Col-train?]” Then he asked us where he went to school; Michelle Dougherty won a tiara and a wand for answering “UC Riverside.” He then read “The Street Sign I Look For” and “Madison and 45th” (a New York poem) before asking the audience his astrological sign (I won a glider for answering “Taurus” — thank you, Facebook and my freakish memory for star signs!) and what he liked to drink (John Brantingham won a tie for answering “anything.”). Then it was on to “If I Told You Why I Was Really Late,” (I think) “Trousers,” and “In the Bathroom at Work, I Write.” For guessing that he wanted to be Superman when he grew up, Ann Brantingham won a Jesus coffee mug; the other acceptable answer was “a firefighter.” Then she won again, a bubble-blowing kit, for guessing he was sixteen when he received his first real kiss; she gave the bubble stuff away to someone. The next three poems were “Chile,” “I Can Remember,” and “Slutdog Weekends,” which was a “poem” he found written on the back of a cheesy plaque about friendship. K. Andrew Turner subsequently won a very cool ping-pong-ball gun for guessing that Michael’s least favorite Brady was Marcia. The set continued with “Donut Shop” and “If You Happen to Be Walking By,” followed by two final trivia questions. (What’s Michael’s favorite holiday? Scott Creley won a back scrubber for guessing “Halloween.” What does Michael hate? Adrienne Silva correctly answered “Haters” and won something I didn’t see.) The last poem was “Meeting Places.”
  9. Alan Passman had arrived in the meantime, so he jumped right into the spotlight, Spider-Man T-shirt and all. He received his MFA from Cal State, Long Beach, and has published two chapbooks on Viva Vox Press, bringing copies of each with him, in case anyone wanted one or both. He began with “Living Together Continuum” and “Hundreds of Women Running Rampant,” two pieces forthcoming in Crack the Spine, He expressed his love of pop culture and read “Ode to Super Mario Brothers” and “The Cape and Cowl Can’t Hide My Disappointment.” After that came “In the Future, Tense” and “When I Go Back to [San] Pedro.” His last two poems were the disquieting “Rubber Duckie, You’re the One” and his tour de force, which Scott requested, “Conan the Barbarian and I Go Grocery Shopping.”

That was it. The reading was done. Time to go to Casa Brantingham and hang out. And so we did, and more fun was had. Even Deborah showed up.

Notes on Poetry Stew – Artlife Gallery – 16 February 2012

I got lost last time. The cooks behind Poetry Stew, David McIntire and his adored wife Cat, list directions on their Facebook Events pages whenever a new monthly reading is coming up, but in January, I relied on my GPS instead. Unfortunately, Artlife Gallery has only been around a year or two, and the maps in my GPS are from 2008, so they couldn’t get me there.

This month, I relied on the McIntires’ Facebook directions, which, in all honesty, aren’t that complicated. When I arrived, David greeted me by name, recognizing me from Facebook. He even remembered my plaintive post about the previous navigational difficulties. Good memory.

Tonight’s feature was to have been Cassandra Love, but vicissitudes vicissitated, so Brenda Petrakos, another local favorite, heroically stepped in. She showed up around the same time as two men in suit jackets, dress pants, and hats, who classed up the joint more than I in my t-shirt-and-flip-flops ensemble could manage.

We were invited to avail ourselves of “snacky goodness.” Luke Salazar showed up without his usual fedora — so much for making a hat trick of hats, although there was a trio of Davids. Then the reading formally began. In her opening comments, Cat talked about doing a lot of poetic outreach in schools and such, getting fresh blood into the local poetry scene, getting bigger crowds for their features; it sounded like a plan that was good and noble and true.

  1. David “#1″ McIntire read a piece from Pablo Neruda, whom he had just discovered this week. Everyone agreed that Neruda is pretty awesome. I kept my mouth shut because I still need to check him out; I once bought my ex-wife a collection of his work, but that was a long time ago, before I read poetry on purpose.
  2. The first personal randomly called from the open-reading list was Marty, a jokester I recognized from the Richard Garcia reading at LMU Extension back in December, who read “Ridiculous but Nice: [LONG SUBTITLE],” which rhymed intermittently and interestingly.
  3. Vachine, one of the men in hats, read numerous pieces during his five minutes: “Sea Story: Fish Tale,”  a variety of tercets, “Sabbatical” (a work in progress), and “Mortician,” a poem he had submitted to NoirCon.
  4. Luke Salazar read a poem about moving to Fullerton, “To the Curb,” “I Was Ready,” and a compilation of his good-bad ideas posted to Facebook.
  5. After Luke’s five minutes, David #1 started a discussion on masturbation, which continued until he summoned Peggy I-think-her-last-name-is-Carter, whom I recognized from the Keith Niles reading at Coffee Cartel, to navigate the night’s discourse back to less wanky waters. She read “Skin,” “Unrelenting Death,” and “Normal.”
  6. Cat McIntire read “The Ultimate Hoarder: Rhymes Inspired by Marty,” the frustrated “PPO, You F-ing Ho,” and the melancholy “Solitary.”
  7. Kiran (sp?) read a couple of poems from his phone: one inspired by his brother and one inspired by Shakespeare in the Park. Tonight marked “the popping of his poetry cherry,” as David #1 noted, since Kiran had never read before at a reading.
  8. David “#2″ Slavin — Jeez! I finally clearly heard his last name! — anyway, the guy taking over the LMU Extension Poetry Series reins from Peggy Dobreer, read “Spider Feast” and an homage to his favorite artistic medium, photorealism.
  9. Feature Brenda Petrakos was introduced as the first poet who made Cat listen instead of reading a book, back when Brenda featured at Coffee Cartel. Brenda also hosts a reading every fourth Friday at Rapp Saloon (1436 2nd. St., Santa Monica). She started her set with a piece of fiction, the title of which I missed, about a burned-out English teacher named Roger’s impotent attempt to teach William Blake on a Monday. She moved on to the raging “This Is Not a Poem,” then the rather celebratory “Madrid.” Then came another story, this one about a woman in a white halter top, her anxious boyfriend, and his friend Hal, a potential romantic poacher. She followed the second piece of fiction with a poem about Camden, England, where her “misery broke” on a trip to Europe amidst depression. Finally, she offered us a Valentine’s Day poem about the transformative power of love.
  10. After a short break, David #3, the other man in a suit jacket and hat, who had a nice voice, read the ultimately uplifting “What Will Matter.” After finishing, he left the paper with the poem at the front of the room for others to take and copy.
  11. Flor, a woman with unusual hair, read poems about her daughter’s cat, about a beautiful overlook in Culver City, and about a music and dance event that Santa Monica puts on in the summer.
  12. Wanda read a poem for Brenda because the feature had mentioned New Orleans: “New Orleans and All That Jazz.” She moved on to “Noir Town,” although she struggled a bit with the correct pronunciation of noir. It became an amusing motif, with the audience periodically helping her out: “Nwahr…nwahr…”
  13. I read two poems roughly relevant to my recent birthday, “Mothworn” and “Aquarian Freakout.” Though my performance was mediocre — I couldn’t get the poems to pop quite right — people were generous with their applause, very appreciative and gracious.
  14. David #1 finished the program with two new poems, “They Will Wait” (dedicated to Calder and Jill) and “Warm and Informed.”

After the reading, as usual, I slipped out the door like a thief in the night.