Thursday, February 28, 2008

A New Reading Series in a Gallery in San Diego: Who Would Have Thought?

Without meaning this as a criticism, because there’s no reason anyone should have thought differently, I’ve been interested to note how many people assume that the city of San Diego must have at least something of a poetry scene. And certainly it does. But what’s there and what isn’t might be surprising.

Just in case anybody’s counting, the city of San Diego is currently the eighth largest city in the U.S. The massive size of its city limits somewhat exaggerates its population, but not entirely: San Diego County registers as the 17th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the country.

At this time, most of the literary series in the San Diego area happen at colleges: UCSD and San Diego State both have fairly large literary series, USD and Cal State San Marcos and a few small private colleges feature a reading now and then. Downtown there’s San Diego City College, which runs a lot of readings and music aevents and does good activist work in the heart of the city, to the extent that the city has a heart in the way that other cities do, which it only sort of does.

Also downtown there’s the Too Much Information GLBT reading series, which emphasizes important social issues and welcomes performative and experimental approaches. There are also a few small local scenes, spoken word to some extent but not only, one or two downtown, one in Oceanside/Escondido/North County, and perhaps one or two others that I barely know about. In La Jolla, D.G. Wills Books and Warwick Books host a number of events each year featuring first-rate writers of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. UCSD has participated with the San Diego Museum of Art in featuring a few readings at the museum in Balboa Park. Local libraries feature an occasional reading too, and there’s even a mystery book store that brings in lots of mystery and crime writers, mainly for book signings. I haven’t lived in the area for even three years yet, so I could be missing something, but those are the series that I know about.

So that’s not nothing, that’s quite a bit. But is it quite a bit for the 8th largest city in the United States? It might seem, from that perspective, a little thin.

Like Los Angeles, San Diego County is large. There are many interesting writers here, but they often live far apart from each other. Getting to and from events is time consuming and, given the traffic, often not easy. Unlike Los Angeles though, arts culture is not the main business of San Diego. Still, there’s more going on here than there might be. But there’s also less than there might be.

What there certainly is not is any community-based scene centered on experimental/avant garde/post-avant/New American poetics (whatever you want to call it). Nothing like Beyond Baroque or The Smell in L.A., the Artifact series et al in San Francisco, Spare Room in Portland, Subtext in Seattle. You know the kind of thing I mean. While TMI, for instance, welcomes innovative literary approaches, that’s not automatically the center of their concerns.

But now one such series is starting this Saturday at Agitprop Gallery in North Park. I wish it well, and look forward to participating. It’s being co-hosted by James Meetze, who has organized a few area readings in the past, and Sandra and Ben Doller. If you live in the San Diego area, come on out. If not, I hope you’ll wish them well in gaining a toehold.

Here are the details:

NEW Triple Threat Reading Series--sponsored by 3 San Diego Small Presses: 1913 Press (ed. Sandra Doller), Kuhl House Press (ed. Ben Doller), Tougher Disguises Press (ed. James Meetze) announces its inaugural event...

Come one, come all to the first reading in North Park's new and explosive series. We begin with Noah Eli Gordon & Joshua Marie Wilkinson who are reading in support of their fresh new collaborative book Figures for a Darkroom Voice.

Agitprop Gallery in North Park
2837 University Ave. San Diego, California 92104
(entrance to the gallery is actually on Utah)
7:00pm Saturday, March 1st.

Noah Eli Gordon's first book, The Frequencies, was published by San Diego's own Tougher Disguises Press in 2003. Since then, he has had five other books appear, including Novel Pictorial Noise, which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series, and published last year by Harper Perennial. Last year also saw the release of Figures for a Darkroom Voice, a book
written in collaboration with Joshua Marie Wilkinson. He writes a column on chapbooks for Rain Taxi: Review of Books, and his reviews and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Publishers Weekly, Boston Review, and Denver Quarterly. He teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado in Denver. See him reading with Joshua Marie Wilkinson here:

Joshua Marie Wilkinson is the author of Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms (Pinball, 2005), Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk (U of Iowa, 2006), and The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth (forthcoming from Tupelo Press). He holds a PhD from University of Denver and lives in Chicago where he teaches at Loyola University. His first film, Made a Machine by Describing the Landscape, a documentary about the band Califone, is due out next year. He curates Rabbit Light Movies, a website devoted to short poem-films, and recently co-edited an anthology of conversations between younger poets and their elders, which is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press. See him reading with Noah Eli Gordon here:


rodney k said...

Hi Mark,

Could it be the case--or am I even right in thinking--that the institutional interest in "experimental"-type poetry in San Diego (UCSD, your own at San Marcos) has tended to dull the need for homegrown series like Artifact or Spare Room? When I think of San Diego & poetry, I think of UCSD esp., and all the poets on "our" part of the spectrum that have studied or taught there, the archives, etc.

I ask partly because the recent Perloff/Hejinian/Retallack/Lazer events up here--spread out across Portland State, Lewis and Clark College, and Spare Room--brought home the institutional indifference to the experimental up here. If, say, Reed, or Lewis & Clark, or even Portland State hosted experimental poets more consistently, would the Spare Rooms and Subtexts in the smaller cities like ours dry up?

mark wallace said...

A very interesting question, Rodney, but I think I'd probably have to say no, I don't think so. Buffalo, NY, a smaller city than Portland or San Diego, had all those poetry events at UBuffalo and a city full of such events as well.

I think the issue has more to do with the nature of a given city itself, its history, why people have come there, so forth and so on. San Diego has no hugely significant history as a city of literature, and in fact there aren't more than a few books of literature that are even about San Diego, or set in it, although that's changing. San Diego was still a pretty small town until the 50s and 60s, and it exploded because of the always growing military presence and then the real estate boom, not the sort of things that necessarily inspire literary-minded folks. But of course the population explosion here had a lot to do with the creation of UCSD itself, in the sixties.

Probably if it weren't for the universities here, there'd be almost no presence of experimental literatures in San Diego at all. Most--not all--of the people with interest in that kind of work have come here simply because of college or university jobs, and so there'd be no such community scene even without them.