Tuesday, June 23, 2009

April in June: LA Times Bookfest, Day 2, and Santa Barbara

The last day of the festival started off with one of my favorite living poets, Kim Addonizio, and it was good to run into her in the green room, along with Elena and Carol Ann and catch up briefly before the reading, and to meet Barbara Hamby again, who lives just about 80 minutes from my south Georgia home. We headed out quickly, though. The last day often is lower energy after Saturday, but not today. Here was the line up:

10 a.m.
Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within

10:30 a.m.
Kevin Prufer, National Anthem

11 a.m.
Barbara Hamby, All Night Lingo Tango

11:30 a.m.
Jim Natal, Memory & Rain

12 p.m.
Carol Ann Davis, Psalm

12:30 p.m.
Mark Irwin, Tall If

1 p.m.
Jeffrey McDaniel, The Endarkenment

1:30 p.m.
Juan Felipe Herrera, Half of the World in Light: New & Selected Poems

2 p.m.
Brendan Constantine, Letters to Guns

2:30 p.m.
James Ragan, Too Long a Solitude

3 p.m.
Sesshu Foster, World Ball Notebook

3:30 p.m.
Douglas Kearney, Fear, Some

4 p.m.
Gail Wronsky, Poems for Infidels

4:30 p.m.
Readings from the Great Poets

Kim pulled out her harp and blew blues in the middle of a fine poetry set and the crowd was awake and alive. Students I introduced her work to five years ago still talk to me about her influence, and her poems have made their way into the high school curriculum of at least two schools in south Georgia. Kevin Prufer, good friend of fellow poet Noah Blaustein, was charming and affable and his excellent work was well received. Barbara made the audience laugh and think, which is a perfect Sunday morning combination, better than church. The rest of the day was packed with LA area poets, except Carol Ann, who now lives in South Carolina. While it might be easy to dismiss the locals as locals, these are good writers. Jim's an old friend and his poetry is wonderfully observed. Carol Ann read from Psalm, mostly, a book I own and like. Mark, who teaches at USC, read his relatively more avant garde work, which I enjoyed, and so did the crowd. Jeffrey McDaniel's subversive, hilarious poetry pushes the boundaries, and I like that. Juan, who spent many years in Fresno, is aging nicely, and his beaming smile warmed the crowd. Brendan, whose poems I hadn't heard before, was sharp-witted and his performance brought lots of people to the tent. James, who draws a big crowd every year, gave his usual strong reading. I missed most of Sesshu (Margaret beaned in, and I had to escort her to the Green Room to hang out briefly before her meeting with Pico Iyer), but he kept the crowd, and quite a few of his young students showed up. Douglas Kearny read with spoken word energy and joyous ferocity, and he didn't let the stage restrict him. His work surprised me. (I read from the books I buy when I come back, and his was probably the class pick.) Gail writes dark, edgy poetry, and she's kind of an LA rock star (No, wait, that would be her daughter playing guitar in Kate Crash). Some of us closed the day reading poems from whomever wasn't us. The last slot is usually slow, so we wanted to spare a reader the indignities of a vanishing crowd. More people were there than we expected, though. I read a Larry Levis poem from California Poetry, an anthology co-edited by Chryss Yost, who provides a nifty segue into the next paragraph, the next city, because she lives in Santa Barbara and she would be joining us for dinner.

Elena tried to get me to stay for drinks with some of the poets, and it's an offer I hated to refuse, but I'd promised my Santa Barbara hosts Amy and George that I'd be in Santa Barbara for dinner, so I hopped in my lame-ass rented Aveo and headed north on Highway 1 through Malibu. Even in an Aveo, it's a beautiful drive, and in about 90 minutes I was there, greeted warmly by Amy and George and Mookie and Nigel. The plan was to dine at the Hollister Brew Pub, where they make excellent beer and good food in a mall. I headed up to Chryss' briefly to catch up with her and her menagerie. And we headed to Hollister for dinner. It was very, very good, but not as good as the company, because, along with Amy and George, Chryss, Dave, Patrick, Cookie Jill, and Barry came out and we enjoyed dining and drinking under the TVs tuned to various sporting events. The casual atmosphere allowed us to be, well, casual, boisterous, and loudish (but never loutish) at times. After dinner, we headed back to the house for a nightcap or two from George's cellar. We started with an amazing Golden Eye pinot and we concluded with a Williams Seylem Sonoma. In between I know we tasted something Rhonish (a grenache, I believe) from Paso Robles, and, after everyone left and Amy had gone to bed (early Monday meeting), George put The Bird and the Bee on while we sipped the last of the pinot.

The next day was quiet, as everyone worked. I went out for Indian food and wandered around on foot, the weather too overcast to head to the beach, and then had a nice coffee at Jeannine's with the ageless Barry Spacks and ageless Chryss and it was good to catch up on the local poetry scene and everything else. Ageless George and ageless Amy had tickets to see a famous blues act whose name eludes me, so many of the people from the night before came over and we hung out until they came back and we enjoyeed more wine and hung out and ate pizza and watched part of the Joy Division documentary, finishing off this too quick visit in high spirits. I had to drive to LA and fly back the next day, classes to teach, finals to write, energy renewed by this trip home, this time with good poetry and great friends and my wonderful hosts. I've been very fortunate to spend this time every year working the book festival and renewing my bonds with friends in LA and Santa Barbara. Soon after I returned home, the San Jesusita fire threatened George and Amy's house and Chryss' (the fire literally stopped at the end of her road) and probably several others and brought home the tenuousness of everything, my great fortune in these few days each year with the best people I know.


George said...

Blues act? It was Sonny Rollins.

You're ageless, too, Marty!

Marty said...

If I were ageless I probably would have remembered it was Sonny Rollins, but thanks.

Queen Whackamole said...

Martyfest may be the most wonderful time of the year...