Friday, July 27, 2007

this is where I'll be this weekend, but where will you be?

Please join us for

THE SMELL LAST SUNDAY READING SERIES

Sunday, July 29, 2007
Featuring:

Susanne Dyckman
K. Lorraine Graham
Dana Ward

THE SMELL
247 S. Main Street, between 2nd and 3rd St, downtown Los Angeles
(enter in the alley in the back)

Doors open at 6:30 pm
$5

Susanne Dyckman received her MFA in Writing in 2003 from the University of San Francisco, where she is now one of the program's graduate thesis advisors. After being named co-winner of the Five Fingers Review 2003 Poetry Award, she was invited to join the journal's editorial staff. She has been a panel moderator at the 2005, 2006 and 2007 AWP conferences, and in 2006 presented a Creative Writing Pedagogy paper at the RMMLA annual conference in Tucson. For the past three years she has hosted the Evelyn Avenue Reading Series, which features experimental poetry, prose, and, on occasion, fine art.

K. Lorraine Graham is the author of three chapbooks, Terminal Humming (Slack Buddha), See it Everywhere (Big Game Books), and Large Waves to Large Obstacles, forthcoming from Outside Voices' Take Home Project. Dear [Blank] I Believe in Other Worlds was originally a pamphlet from Phylum Press. Narrowhouse Recordings recently released Moving Walkways, a limited-edition chapdisk of her work. Lorraine has just completed the extended manuscript of
Terminal Humming.

Dana Ward is the author of New Couriers, The Wrong Tree, and other chapbooks. He has new work available or forthcoming in The Recluse, string of small machines, the DC Poetry Anthology and seconds. He lives in Cincinnati, where he edits and publishes Cy Press.

The SMELL LAST SUNDAY READING SERIES is co-curated by Teresa Carmody (Les
Figues), Ara Shirinyan (Make Now Press), and Stan Apps (Insert Press).


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The energy, talent, and range of activities that I've found among the poets of Los Angeles has been one of the most attractive features of living in southern California. At least on the east coast, Los Angeles didn't have a reputation for having an active alternative poetry community, so to find out about everything that was going on there, and to be part of it at times, has been great. I've been getting up there about 5 or 6 times a year and wish I could go more. But, you know, I'm working for a living, and etc.

Part of this liveliness has to be attributed to the Cal Arts program, and the Otis College program also, which help expose young writers to non-mainstream poetries. These programs help Los Angeles continue to have a variety of young, well-informed writers who can contribute to the city's literary community.

In Washington, DC, where I used to live, we had a great poetry scene too. But I always felt we struggled with the fact that there were very few MFA programs in the area which took much interest in non-mainstream poetries. George Mason University played this important role for a time, while Carolyn Forche taught there, and helped introduce to the DC poetry community any number of fantastic young writers who have had significant success since: Heather Fuller, Jean Donnelly, Leslie Bumstead, Graham Foust, Carol Mirakove, Susan Landers, Mel Nichols, Ethan Fugate, Chris Putnam, Allison Cobb, Jen Coleman, and Kaia Sand, to name only a few. That's quite a track record, but with Carolyn now gone from George Mason, it's not clear that the connection between Mason and DC has remained. These kinds of connections really are fragile, and one person can make all the difference.

Even when new people were flowing in, though, I always remember being concerned that the audience (which is also to say, the participants) for what we were doing could dry up at any moment. I could imagine us very easily having the same 10-15 people at readings for decades, all of us staring at each other and saying, "Oh, it's you again." But I've been hearing that the DC non-mainstream poetry community continues to do well, and that's really great news.

Still, if I have a point here, it would be not a very original point, but still an important one: having a place to go where people share your literary interests is a fantastic thing, and not everybody has it. It requires that people make an effort, and even a few people making an effort can help fun and interesting things happen. If you know somebody that's doing this kind of work in your area, how about thanking them? And then helping them out?

5 comments:

douglang said...

I had not fully realized the significance of Carolyn Forche’s influence. That’s remarkable. As you say, one person can make an enormous difference. Of course, I’ve always shared your concern about the DC scene. Aside from a long fallow period from the end of the Folio reading series in 1978, to the emergence of Rod, Joe, Buck, yourself and so many others, beginning about ten years later, we’ve had a constant renewal of personnel and energy here. As I said at my recent reading at Bridge Street Books, regarding the product of Rod’s efforts specifically, it has made a massive difference in my life, and I would say the same of your efforts.

Your comments on the DC scene were also timely for me. I’ve been looking over a bunch of material that I generated a few years ago to send to the DC Poetry homepage’s History Project, and I’ve decided to start a blog dedicated to the DC poetry scene. My blog at Vox does not allow very many links, and I like the idea of having a more subject specific vehicle. I’m in blog heaven.

Small Fry said...

Doug, it would be great to see a blog dedicated to the DC poetry scene. I was going to post to my own blog about how much I enjoy the poets in LA and the city in general. The alternative poetry community in LA reminds me, in some ways, of DC (although in many ways they are very different). Both cities are major cities that are not known for being major centers of experimental poetry, but in fact they both have concentrations of really good writers. Not being in the thick of things in New York has its advantages.

I'd say more, but I've been meaning to blog about this on my own blog, but that will have to wait. Blogger has decided that my blog might be a spam blog, so they're preventing me from posting until they've clarified that it's legit. Blech.

sa said...

Hi Mark,

You might be over-estimating the influence of writing programs on the L.A. poetry scene, I would say. Both programs are quite a long way from the parts of the city where active literary culture takes place: CalArts in northern suburbs, and Otis far south, by the airport. And the majority of the participants in the Eastside scene have no substantial affiliation with either school (excepting Jen Hofer, who has been teaching there, and some of the organizers of Betalevel, who are alums).

I would say the center of the scene, currently, is a series of independent venues where literary events occur. BetaLevel, the Smell, and High Energy constructs are all quite near each other downtown, and a scene has grown up around events at these venues.

This is not to say that wonderful people don't teach at both the writing programs, and two of the CalArts faculty (Matias Viegener and Christine Wertheim) have made particularly important contributions, by organizing big conferences and, more importantly, by being excellent and original writers, and wonderful friends to many of us. Still, from where I sit I could easily imagine a quite similar literary scene existing even if the writing programs were not around at all. I, Ara Shirinyan, Joseph Mosconi, Teresa Carmody, Vanessa Place, Bruna Mori, Michael Smoler, and Marcus Civin are just some of the scene participants who have no relationships with the writing programs, other than friendship with some of the faculty and alums.

mark wallace said...

What you say makes a lot of sense to me, Stan. It was the same in DC too; the George Mason program is far out from the city, and the DC scene has gone on just fine in the years since the connection with Mason has been severed.

I think the point I was trying to get at was not the issue of who creates and sustains the community, but how communities continue to find new people to become involved. Like L.A., DC is large and cosmopolitan enough that one or two new interesting writers a year would just sort of show up, for whatever reason, usually involving jobs of some sort and not poetry. But we were always running the risk that there simply would not be enough local people to sustain that activity, and the influence of people from Mason made a big difference.

Of course, I was always more uncomfortable than some with the idea of a literary community of, say, the same 8-12 people for 8-12 years. I like in-crowds well enough but simultaneously feel stifled by them if there's not somebody new to talk to every so often. So I always felt it was important to try to get other people involved whenever I could, and that's why those sort of university connections seemed important. Imagine how different things would be if the only area MFA programs were actively hostile to innovative poetry, which was something like what in DC we often had to deal with.

Still, the question of how people find out about innovative/avant garde/alternative poetry remains a fascinating one. You have a story about your own experiences at Irvine regarding that, don't you?

Harold said...

Hi Mark.

I think it's interesting and maybe worth pointing out that while these LA writers do not necessarily all come out of the local MFA programs, they, with only a couple of exceptions, do come out of MFA programs somewhere, that is, they have an association, if only an estranged one, with MFA programs. And this seems significant to me if one is trying to analyze writers' communities and how they might or might not come together. Think of the expectations going into MFA programs and then coming out vis a vis community.