Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reflections from an L.A. Poet

Suzanne Lummis led the Los Angeles Poetry Festival's multiple poetry readings throughout the Big Read month. Here are her reflections on the experience:
The three readings titled "The Deer Lay Down their Bones: Poems by and in the spirit of Robison Jeffers" featured long-time, well-published Los Angeles area poets and some accomplished newer poets, all reading selections of Jeffers along with their own work. I organized these under the auspices of The Los Angeles Poetry Festival, and the readings appeared on the Festival web site.

October 3, Saturday, Eagle Rock Branch LibrarySarah Maclay, Carine Topal, William Archila, Brendan Constantine, Charlotte Innes, Terry McCarty.
With 32 in attendance this library room looked fairly full. The audience included many Los Angeles area poets, UCLA Extension poetry students, and a few from the community, including a couple with their eighteen year old daughter who was attending her first poetry reading. Most, including the family, lingered for a long while afterward and seemed delighted with the experience. On my way to my car I passed a cluster of people still talking about poetry -- in the middle of the parking lot. Of the three readings, this one felt the most intimate -- like a salon. It would've been nice to have drawn more people from the surrounding community, but the following Saturday's reading did considerably better in that regard. Here, especially, the main result may have been the kindling, or re-kindling, of the poets' interest in Jeffers, and the way that this event fortified the participants sense of artistic camaraderie Later many enthusiastic emails circulated among the participating poets, all extolling Jeffers and their sense of fellowship. I've attached a copy of these emails.

October 10, Saturday, El Alisal (co-produced with The Historical Society of Southern California and "Lummis Day"Charles Harper Webb, Suzanne Lummis, Cecilia Woloch, Dale Raoul (actress), Jamie Fitzgerald
When all sixty seats filled, other people sat wherever they could -- well over 70 from far and near, some very near -- they walked over. Interestingly this audience included several stray Jeffers aficionados, people from here and there who'd always liked Jeffers then heard about this reading. Also History buffs showed up, and -- along with a number of noted poets -- many people I've never seen before at poetry events, or anywhere. I felt this reading was especially well paced and various, spirited. Dale Raoul, an actress, did a lovely job with the Jeffers poems she chose -- wonderful to have someone from one of the other arts involved. Again, a happy mood prevailed after the reading. Several people bought books. In my set I'd told the audience that I believed no one should grow up in a house without poetry books -- I'd never lived in a place that didn't have poetry on the bookshelves. During the reception -- a fine one provided by The Southern California Historical Society -- a working fellow from the neighborhood came up with a copy of "In Danger" and asked me to dedicate it to his son. "For him" he said, pointing to the the baby carriage. He took a photo of me together with his wife and baby, and they seemed quite happy and proud to be introducing their boy to contemporary poetry, at the age of six months.

Saturday, October 17, Arroyo Seco Branch LibraryDorothy Barresi, Lynn Thompsn, Erika Ayon, Judith Pacht
This one had an especiallly improvisational and participatory quality, which made for good fun and engaged the audience, who numbered 35 -- again, plenty for that room. A couple or more Occidental Students were in attendance, various library patrons, at least one visual artist I recognized, and a fair number of Los Angeles area poets. To his regret Pete Fairchild couldn't come; his wife had planned a birthday surprise. I invited, impromptu, William Archila to read something of his in the spirit of Jeffers. He rose to the occasion with a fine poem, one revolving around the Guayabera, a style of shirt common in Latin America that William felt would look good on Robinson Jeffers. Erika Montenegro, the saavy librarian, chose to set up this reading to resemble a panel, with the poets together at a table. At the end of the reading I invited Erika to pose a question to the poets, and following that the audience posed questions, and also talked to each other -- but in an orderly fashion. And then many poets in the audience began spontaneously to annouce their upcoming readings -- also in an orderly fashion. Of the three readings this one drew out the most discussion of Jeffers and his poetry; whereas the others involved simple presentation of his poems with some comment from the poets on why they chose those particular poems. Erika had set out a fine reception, and, as before, many in the audience stayed for a long while afterward engaging the poets in conversation.

Many thanks to Dale Steiber and Emily Bergman for support and assistance on all readings.

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