The nice thing about going west from east is the ease with which I wake up early, since 6:30 LA is 9:30 GA. I shower, shave, dress up (for me), and zip to the UCLA campus to hit the green room before Elena and I start working the Poetry Corner Stage, which features a new poet every half hour. You'd think we'd get tired of hearing two full days of poetry, but it doesn't happen. We have too much to do but still we stop and listen. Elena's already in the green room buzzing with authors and entourages, and she's sitting down for coffee with David St. John, and I rush to join them. It's always a joy to see David because he's so welcoming and much more stimulating than the coffee I set down at the table. Robert Pinsky (who taught me much at Berkeley) comes in and Frank Bidart, who won the LA Times Book Award for poetry, and Marie Howe and Linda Gregerson and Dana Goodyear and Victoria Chang and we're introducing and sitting and chatting for twenty minutes before we have to get to work. It's a whirlwind of conversation, threads across time and place and new threads randomly. Robert mentions that we should get innoculated for shingles based on his own recent experience with this common illnes (and I think my friend John Guzlowski would agree). I talk with Frank about having heard that Lee McCarthy, a mutual friend and fellow central valley poet, had recently passed away, and we connected and appreciated her unique energy. Then Elena and I had to go work the stage.
It's always wonderful to see Bill and the staff of Small World Books (their presence is the best part of Southland Tales), who stocks the tables with a fine selection of poetry from people who'll read at the stage and other excellent poetry books that you should own. Saturday's lineup (and their most recent publications)? Funny you should ask:
Dana Goodyear & Victoria Chang , Honey & Junk and Salvinia Molesta respectively
Robert Pinsky, Gulf Music
Matthea Harvey, Modern Life
Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North
Carol Muske-Dukes, Sparrow
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival
Marie Howe, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
Jill Bialosky, The Intruder
This was supposed to be Jorie Graham's slot, but she cancelled.
To avoid dead air, Elena Byrne, Tony Barnstone, Sarah Maclay and I took turns reading from our works (and one of Jorie's poems).
John Felstiner, Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems
David St.John, The Face: A Novella in Verse
Cole Swensen, Ours
Connie Voisine, A Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream
Mindy Netifees & Richard Silberg, Sleepyhead Assassins and Deconstruction of the Blues
Get Lit Players: Classical Teen Poetry Troupe
Saturday featured a strong lineup with good variety. Robert and David and Connie were my personal highlights, and it was good finally to hear Frank Bidart read in his driving style. I went to Utah with Connie and she was a prize nominee this year! Her book is terrific and I'll teach it in the fall (note: order books, dumbass). Richard Silberg, an avant garde icon, and the Get Lit Players, a troop of young spoken word champions, were very pleasant surprises. John Feltsiner gave the first lecture at one of these events, which he peppered with other people's poetry. Good message, but I think some in the crowd were puzzled. It was one of the smoothest days we'd ever had. Only one reader forgot how to tell time, but we handled that quickly. And Jackson Wheeler, David Oliveira's Solo co-editor, showed up, and we caught up best we could.
Elena hosted a party that night at the Ruskin Center. I enjoyed the drive up, listening to Henry Rollins post-punk program on KCRW, Television, Joy Division, and especially (because I hadn't heard it in ages) The Normal's "Warm Leatherette," which bled into one of my own poems (albeit with a very different ethos), among his many fine selections. I showed up early, set up chairs and tables, while Elena and Carol Ann Davis cooked pasta and made lovely sauces and salads and there was wine. Lots of LA poetry royalty arrived at this casual gathering and to name a few would slight the many, but we ate and drank and enjoyed a fine first day of poetry and conversation and pasta and a perfect LA evening in the Miracle Mile.