Category: Poetry

Lynne Thompson, LA Poet Laureate, Features Henry Morro’s Poem, “Any Job,” on her LA Public Library Podca...

Lynne Thompson, LA Poet Laureate, Features Henry Morro’s Poem, “Any Job,” on her LA Public Library Podcast. The poem was first published in Interlitq’s Californian Poets, Part 3

 

The Podcast

 

 

Podcast Transcript

Title — Any Job

Date — January 17, 2022

Description — Poems on Air, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Lynne Thompson reads Henry Morro’s poem Any Job, published in the online journal Interlitq.

Hello! My name is Lynne Thompson, Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles and I’m so happy to welcome listeners to this installment of Poems on Air, a podcast supported by the Los Angeles Public Library. Every week, I’ll present the work of poets I admire, poets who you should know, and poets who have made a substantial and inimitable contribution to the art and craft of poetry.

Last week, the selected poem appeared in the online journal Interlitq; this week’s contribution to Poems on Air also comes from that same journal in the poem of Henry Morro. A native of Costa Rica, Morro arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1972. He’s taught in public schools and in prisons and has edited literary anthologies and journals. His work was included in Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (1995) and his most recent collection, The Zoot Suit Files: New and Selected Poems was published in 2020.

Today’s poem is “Any Job” by Henry Morro.


Henry Morro

 

Any Job

The men straggle into the cold warehouse
draped in tattered shirts, torn sweaters,
army jackets, their hats crowned
with logos—NY Yankees, UCLA,
Puerto Rico. Sometimes when they speak
I see gaping holes in their mouths
form the missing teeth.
Sometimes they arrive
in twos and threes—wandering
from warehouse to warehouse like a lost tribe.
Sometimes a son will lead his father
and speak for him, the father standing back,
his eyes open, the son boasting to me,
he can drive anything—give him a shot.
When they fill out the applications
they scribble the reason
for leaving each job:
laid off
temp work only
company moved away
owner died
Sometimes one of them is bold
enough to write fired.
Another one wrote,
fired for fighting,
and for another job he wrote,
fired for drinking with the boss.
Under “Special Skills” they scrawl:
forklift
Spanish
typing
sweeping
I glance out the window
at the downtown skyline.
I know that when I pull down
the Help Wanted sign, still they will keep
shuffling into the warehouses,
hunched in the cold,
gaping holes in their mouths.

 

About Henry Morro

Henry J. Morro was born in Costa Rica and at the age of two his family moved to San Francisco. He lived there until he was sixteen, when his family reversed the American Dream and moved back to Nicaragua. After the great earthquake in 1972, his family moved to Los Angeles. He graduated from California State University, Los Angles, and began writing poetry. He has taught poetry in public schools and prisons. He has also edited literary journals and anthologies. In addition to his poetry appearing in the West Coast and national publications, in 1994 New Alliance Records released Somoza’s Teeth, a CD recording of his poetry. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters. His new and selected, The Zoot Suit Files, was recently published and is available through Amazon and at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts center.

Sketches of Susan, by Suzanne Jill Levine, published in Interlitq


Susan Sontag

 

11/01/2022

Sketches of Susan

by Suzanne Jill Levine

 

When I first saw Susan Sontag in the flesh, in the 1970s, she was lounging against a window with her long legs crossed and resting casually on the windowsill. She was wearing her classic black turtleneck and jeans, and of course her thick black hair with the famous white raccoon streak. I felt intimidated. I was afraid to approach because I knew she had recently survived a bout with breast cancer, and I was concerned, possibly, about how to approach her without coming off as frivolous. Not only was she very serious in general, but she was battling with a serious disease, after all.  I have always smiled a lot–unlike your usual stone-faced academic or writer whose demeanor is meant to signify gravity. Such apparent levity (or levinity) has often been misread in sober circles. But, finally, I went over to her when she was standing near the table covered with a splendid spread of bagels, lox, cheeses and salads.

This was a brunch party in Fiction editor Mark Mirsky’s East Village pad where he and his Norwegian artist wife Inger were then celebrating their engagement. It was one of those walk-up apartments, at least three steep flights, where the bathtub was in the kitchen. The mood was festive and most of us were sipping champagne. I introduced myself, postponing my desire to prepare a bagel with lox, cream cheese and flourishes. She seemed to know who I was or at least that I had translated Manuel Puig, because the first thing she said to me was a question: “Is Puig queer?”

She was not one for polite chitchat but this abrupt probe caught me off-guard. I think I only managed to reply blandly “of course” with my usual non-referential friendly smile, trying to show I was unflappable, but she had the air of expecting a more elaborate comeback from a supposedly clever translator of edgy avant-garde writers.  Her question stopped me in my tracks because I wanted but didn’t dare to follow her question with several of my own.
The first would have been, well, after all, wasn’t she “queer”?
And then, how could she possibly not know that he was homosexual?
And why did she use, instead of gay, the term “queer” which at that time was still pejorative?
Or, and this made the most sense, but again I wouldn’t ask: was she inquiring, in code, if I were queer?  Or maybe, also in code, was she trying to find out if I had slept with Manuel Puig?  If this was her way of making me ‘fess up, I didn’t take the bait.

Starting in the 1980s the term “queer” became a radical category, signifying not only an esthetic but a broader range of human sexuality and a mainstay of cultural politics, but at the time I met Susan, queer still fell upon the ear as an insult, though more polite than “fag.”   I would like to think, now, that I had witnessed first-hand the trendsetter Susan Sontag in action, re-inventing “queer” as cool, defiantly positive, radical, outside of facile definitions of sexual orientation and social identity—and the world would soon follow her lead.

****

In December 2004, the cancer Susan had been heroically battling for decades, finally, sadly, won the war, and she died having just turned 71. Almost three years later, in 2007, her life’s work was ungenerously disparaged in a feature article published in the New York Review of Books, the same journal she had been featured in for decades. I didn’t doubt that the male author of the piece, a former friend of mine, was acting out, envious of her position as a “celebrity literary critic.” It was important, I felt, for the reader to share my inside knowledge about him, and so I wrote (and published in the NYRB “Letters” section) an irate repartee to vindicate her. I took him to task because his goal evidently was to belittle a remarkable woman, and because I, like other women in the arts and in academe, was hyper-sensitive regarding attacks with such a patriarchal tone.

Of course, Susan had imperfections, including her lack of sense of humor, especially as a novelist and filmmaker, and she seemed even naïve at times in her unchecked enthusiasm for artists and causes. Still, there was no doubt that her boundless energy to engage every corner of culture was admirable: she was gutsy, brilliant, ethical and often hit the bullseye regarding her views on esthetics.  She was a woman who defied the oppression of women by not making feminism her agenda. Or, simply, Susan didn’t want her writing to be pigeon-holed by her gender. Women should be able to write about anything and in any form they saw fit.

****

After that East Village brunch I think, because I left New York in the 1980s, I didn’t have any further encounters with Susan again until 1991, after she had written to me a letter about how much she liked my book on translation, The Subversive Scribe, which she described as “A continually lively and very generous book, full of lore and such a vivid and just account of how complex a process good writing is.”  This time, in Santa Barbara, we spent an evening together. I was already out west, teaching here at UCSB. It was April 18th, I know this from my journal, where I wrote “A magical evening.” At that moment her arrival in Santa Barbara was a life saver sent from New York, a spirit picker-upper (which often was not the case with her) as I felt profoundly isolated, surrounded by a foreign state of mind called California.

She had come to the university invited by the Humanities Center, to give a talk on one of her (and my) favorite writers, the Brazilian Machado de Assis. As she cost big bucks, the host was a bit peeved, not because it wasn’t an interesting presentation of, arguably, the most important Latin American novelist of the 19th century, but because it had just been published in The New Yorker. It was unseemly, at least those days, to give an invited lecture that was already published material. After her talk, I offered to take her out to dinner and for a tour of lovely Santa Barbara. The professors who were her hosts seemed relieved (and somewhat intimidated), so I assumed that I was doing them a favor.

Back then and even now, I enjoy Santa Barbara best when showing the place to visitors. As we were driving around town a bit before landing at a restaurant, she remarked on a detail that I had barely noticed—as a newcomer to “lotus land” (which the filmmaker Greg Nava called Santa Barbara)—and had passed over as insignificant.  The detail was the ornamental style of the street signs, and she asked if the street names were written with Chinese handwriting, meaning that they had been made by Chinese laborers who had been hired on the cheap to lay down the railroad tracks in California back in the 19th or early 20th century. I thought this rather interesting but didn’t know the answer.  When I did get to ask a Santa Barbara connoisseur if this were true, I was told that Susan’s conjecture was whimsical. Apparently my first impression of the curlicue lettering–that it was simply a Santa Barbara touch—was closer to the truth, but I liked Susan’s theory, all the same.

At dinner that night I spoke to her about wanting to do “real” as opposed to academic writing, as I had begun to attempt with The Subversive Scribe.  “You must write. Shoot for the stars,” she said. Without transition she added: “You look great.  You must be doing something right.”  She told me of her affairs, we shared stories of “our Cuban lovers” as her first longtime woman lover had been Irene Maria Fornés, the playwright whom I had once met when attending a play by her—at that experimental theater way west on 42nd Street—with the Cuban artist and architect Lydia Rubio, my first girlfriend, and my dearest friend.

At one point, Susan mentioned Joseph Brodsky as a significant passion in her life, almost as a trophy affair, and she exclaimed how lucky I had been to have been so close to Manuel Puig. “Write about your affairs with them,” she said. “Men are awful, they’re cold,” she said emphatically, “but women are devastating.” At the time of her visit, Annie Liebowitz was her new partner, and she remarked with certain emphasis, “When it’s over with your first lover, the second affair is sad, because you didn’t have it when you needed it, so the second time is always too late.” What she said, toward the end of our evening touched me the most:  she wrote essays, she said, when she was afraid to fail with her writing.

*****

In the Fall of 2003 when I was on sabbatical in New York, and, because of a tempting job offer, almost decided to move back there, I remember lunch at her preferred Japanese place, downstairs from the St. Marks’ bookstore. She of course was eating some live sea urchin still throbbing on the plate, and I had ordered my usual cucumber roll, miso soup and a seaweed salad. She promptly remarked, “you’re not having sushi?” as if to interrogate: “Are you a philistine?” to which I felt obliged to reply that I wasn’t a big fan of raw fish, but what was worse was the shame I felt for being a wimp. I tried to squirm out of the impasse by mentioning the advice of a doctor, my brother-in-law, who never ate raw fish because of the bacteria and mercury.  Susan poo-pooed this caution.

Nonetheless I guess it was hard to say no if Susan invited me to hang out, like the time she asked me to join her at BAM: who could decline such an invitation?  And so, I picked her up at her Chelsea penthouse, we went down to Chinatown (I am sure she ordered something too spicy for me) for dinner, and then we traveled to Brooklyn, to my relief, in a taxi. This lavish gesture delighted me, especially as I had been dreading the tedious subway ride. As a native New Yorker, I had been riding subways since age five, so they were no novelty to me. The subway ride was the main reason though not the only reason I never went out to Brooklyn. I also had the foolish prejudice that only Manhattan was the real New York.

To me, the dreary German, Russian or maybe Serbian opus magnus, whose title I don’t remember, was hard (aside from the seat) to sit through, but, as to be expected, Susan was intensely focused on the play from beginning to end. I tried to hide my disappointment (so uncouth after all) knowing that she was enthralled and, besides, she knew all about the creator of the work and was friends with one of the actors. Friends in the audience approached her during the intermission to talk all about it or simply to greet her; what a relief that they gathered around her. On that occasion as on others, I felt caught in deep waters.

Perhaps my favorite moment with her was when she insisted upon introducing me, as I was staying in the West Village, to her affable hairdresser Rick who had worked in the world of high fashion, and so we met at his retro comfy salon “Sip and Snip” on Waverly near 10th.  We sat in those swivel chairs facing the mirror like two women friends sharing a chummy moment, chatting about this and that, sipping tea with Rick as he snipped, darkened and washed Susan’s graying hair. I liked that Susan didn’t mind being seen in disarray as it were, with wet hair and covered by an unattractive smock; I liked that we were sharing a casual moment.

 

For the next few years, after Susan was gone, I would go to Rick’s to have my hair done every time I was in New York.  As he skillfully worked his magic, Rick enjoyed remembering her clever remarks or the stories she’d tell him.

The most strongly felt advice from her to me were her parting words (on the corner of 7th Avenue and 11th after that first visit to Rick’s) as we hugged good-bye, “Come back to New York, Jill, don’t stay in California. Let the city roll over you.”  And I watched her, the quintessential woman warrior a little worse for wear, head west on 11th Street to her next appointment, before the light turned green and I crossed the avenue.

 


Suzanne Jill Levine

 

About Suzanne Jill Levine

Writer, scholar, poet, editor, and translator of Latin American literature since 1970, Suzanne Jill Levine has published over 40 volumes of creative translations of the most significant writers in the Spanish language including Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Silvina Ocampo and Guillermo Cabrera Infante.  Her critical works include The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (Graywolf Press), Manuel Puig & the Spiderwoman: His Life and Fictions (FSG) and her five-volume edition of the poetry and essays of J.L.Borges (Penguin Classics).  The New York Times recently cited Mario Vargas Llosa’s review of her literary biography of Puig in “The 25 Best Reviews in 125 Years.” She is currently writing “a translator’s memoir.”

BREAKING: Elena Poniatowska, Miguel de Cervantes Prize Winner, and Vice President of Interlitq, Interview to Appear Soon

Bart Edelman’s Whistling to Trick the Wind, published by Meadowlark Press, reviewed by David Garyan


Bart Edelman

Whistling to Trick the Wind

a poetry collection by Bart Edelman

reviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read Bart Edelman’s interview with David Garyan focusing on Whistling to Trick the Wind, along with his role as an editor and poet.

 

Bart Edelman’s collection Whistling to Trick the Wind has arrived, and the moment couldn’t be more opportune. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party,” was the famous phrase first proposed by Charles E. Weller as a typing drill over a hundred years ago, and now Edelman is using it to introduce his poem, “Typing Drill.” When a great deal of poetry written today is nothing more than a keyboard exercise, Edelman is right to proclaim: “What drivel, what rot, what rubbish! / How does such nonsense originate? / Why should this be the exact time?” And when “A quick brown fox / Jumps over the lazy dog,” we recognize it as an English sentence which contains all the letters in the Latin alphabet, but one which Edelman, as a poet, is quick to analyze meticulously.

These poems are crafted, first and foremost, with the intricacies of language in mind, but there are no drills here. Edelman is a poet who has arrived to the linguistic track already in shape—his lines are fast, yet effortless; his rhythms are strong, yet elegant. His craft is capable of short and long distance, moving effortlessly from pieces like “Lost at Sea,” a short poem about love, to “Towards Sleep,” an affectionate prose poem about insomnia—quite long, and one that, unfortunately for those suffering from this condition, will not put them to sleep if they happen to read it. Indeed, this is a poet who’s trained for everything, but he feels no need to show his audience the exercises he’s done to arrive at this point.

Edelman has skillfully divided the collection into four parts: “Yellow,” “Red,” “Black,” and “White.” Readers will quickly notice that the color assignments are anything but random. Yellow is a color, in the most positive sense, usually associated with things like creativity, light, and growth, but poets, at least the good ones, don’t play in the usual way—they love irony, paradox, contradiction, among other things, and there’s plenty of that here. Edelman’s “Yellow” is a tumultuous one—a whirlwind of madness, truth, deceit, affection, disappointment, and chance all brought together. In “The Woodpecker,” we find that “no escape is possible. / Fate has a way of convincing, Even the most ardent skeptic,” but there’s also a sense of hope, freewill, in poems like “Easy Street,” for those who “got out of the game / When the time was right, / Left it all on Easy Street— / Lived for another day.” Indeed, individual agency is alive and well.

Red has most often been linked to passion, intensity, anger, and love, but here too, Edelman, in the most poetic way, strips the color of its clichés. His “Red” describes the dispassionate resignation we often feel when things like love have become a chore, rather than an emotion—when what we hear all around us seems false and unbelievable, like “the morning news,” and we simply don’t have the passion or energy to fight for change. In “The Age of Belief,” we “don’t need to entertain / A grand concept of God, / Or even love, for that matter; / These ideas burden the mind.” And as the speaker in “The Business of Love” tells us: “I should have retired / From the business of love / While I still had the chance, / But I was foolish / And far too unwise / For my own good.” Indeed, this is a section that does force us to reflect upon passion, intensity, anger, and love, but not in the moment—we’re confronted with all this precisely after those passions have faded. The end of anger may be a good thing, but usually not the end of love, and Edelman skillfully weaves these distinctions using language that’s honest and relevant to our own lives.

As we move on to “Black,” we expect Edelman to display a sense of despair, mourning, and the type of resignation in the face of love that his “Red” signified, but once again, Edelman is too skillful of a poet for that. Here we find optimism in the face of difficulty, strength, resilience, and the fervent desire for change in poems like “Revolution,” where Edelman writes: “Do not abandon hope / In those of us who remain / Unsure of our next step, / Unsteady on our feet, / Uneasy along the path,” and while there is a certain amount of despair here in poems like “Collapsing City,” where people are “Gripped tightly in nature’s fist / Unable to claim reason / as anything more than chance—” it’s a despair the speakers are oftentimes willing to overcome, and when they can’t, there remains the sinister agency to act upon humanity’s worst impulse—revenge—to get even with a cheating husband in “The Other Woman,” by loading “the Luger / He keeps by the bed, / Before discharging a bullet / Straight through his head.” Indeed, Edelman’s “Black,” while dark and tragic at times, is anything but passive and resigned—it represents the best and worst of what the human will can achieve.

White has traditionally been known as the color of purity and innocence, but Edelman’s “White” is anything but that. The speakers here are acquainted with murder, lust, and death, and many of them are going through life “Whistling to Trick to the Wind,” as the titular poem suggests: “Came to believe in a God / Whose perfection was never in question, / Promised to wire his mouth shut / If the Almighty would agree / To keep his miracles to himself.” And yet, there’s something simple and honest about the environment in Edelman’s “White.” In “The New Ralph,” we realize that the “advent of truth liberates / The common man in us all,” and in “The Shadows’ Forgiveness,” we’re reminded, once more, of “how reprieve lives… / Despite the absence of light.” Edelman’s pages, in this respect, contain all the colors of life, but they likewise have the strength to describe what happens when they’re absent from our existence.

This is poetry at its best—from beginning to end; each poem not only stands on its own, but builds a bridge for what’s to come next. Don’t miss Edelman on his journey.

 

About Bart Edelman

Bart Edelman’s poetry collections include Crossing the Hackensack, Under Damaris’ Dress, The Alphabet of Love, The Gentle Man, The Last Mojito, and The Geographer’s Wife. He has taught at Glendale College, where he edited Eclipse, a literary journal, UCLA, and, most recently, in the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. His work has been widely anthologized in textbooks published by City Lights Books, Etruscan Press, Harcourt Brace, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Simon & Schuster, Thomson/Heinle, the University of Iowa Press, and others. His newest collection, Whistling to Trick the Wind, will soon be published by Meadowlark Press. He lives in Pasadena, California.

Lynne Thompson Features Suzanne Lummis’s Poem, “Why I Am Not the Los Angeles River,” first published in ...

Lynne Thompson, LA Poet Laureate, Features Suzanne Lummis’s Poem, “Why I Am Not the Los Angeles River,” on her LA Public Library Podcast. The poem was first published in Interlitq’s Californian Poets, Part 1

 

The Podcast

 

 

Podcast Transcript

Title — Why I Am Not the Los Angeles River

Date — December 30, 2021

Description — Poems on Air, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Lynne Thompson reads Suzanne Lummis’ poet Why I Am Not the Los Angeles Review, published in the online journal Interlitq.

Hello! My name is Lynne Thompson, Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles and I’m happy to welcome listeners to this installment of Poems on Air, a podcast supported by the Los Angeles Public Library. Every week, I’ll present the work of poets I admire, poets who you should know, and poets who have made a substantial and inimitable contribution to the art and craft of poetry.

Happy New Year, listeners! I’m so pleased to be able to continue this podcast with a spotlight on poets who contribute to making Los Angeles a literary force in American letters. I’m not alone in recognizing these poets’ contributions. In 2021, several literary journals specifically spotlighted L.A. and California poets. One of those journals,  Interliq, included Suzanne Lummis in its four part feature. In full disclosure, Suzanne was one of the first poets I studied with and her reputation as a teacher and mentor is well-known and extensive across L.A.’s poetry community. She teaches in UCLA’s Extension Program, offers private workshops, and was a 2018-19 City of Los Angeles Literary Fellow. In addition to editing the anthology Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, Lummis is the author of three collections of poetry.

Today’s poem is Why I Am Not the Los Angeles River by Suzanne Lummis

 

Suzanne Lummis

 

Why I Am Not the Los Angeles River

               “I am the L.A. River!”
               —Assorted performance artists in
                1980s on-site presentation

 

I don’t trail for miles under

cement and steel-girder bridges as a spindly

brook, then sweep out to spread an inch

of melted snow and smoky run-off

across a concrete floor the width of several lanes.

I’m not the L.A. River.

 

No sandpipers high-step across me,

wetting their ankles. No kingfisher raises

its wings over my stilled inlets to study its shadow—

though I did once hold a macaw on my wrist.

And once, late night, in that Vermont Avenue tenement,

something scampered over my face—so

I woke, so I resolved to stop feeding

the mice, to stop setting out Rice Chex and tiny

cream cheese hors’ oeuvres on the kitchen floor.

But egrets don’t trace me, skimming their feet

on my surface. I’m not the L.A. River.

 

It goes its way, I mine. Sometimes we cross—

me above, on the thoroughfare, fiddling

for a tolerable station, delayed, grumbling,

running behind, and the river below, running

exactly on time. We’re both 24/7. We’re not afraid

of bleached daylight, or neon-slicked dark.

Each from our source, we came here

by hook and by crook, by turns—we rolled

into town. Rain-filled, that river drowns people.

Rain-swept, I’m not harmless either.

This city’s got something on us, and we’ve got

something on it—but River keeps mum,

like now, lets me do the talking.

 

Still, that’s not me out there, floating skins of plastic

stamped Food-For-Less

beneath the rufflings of low-flying birds.

 

Let’s stop all this gossip, mad rumors,

shadowed insinuations. I am not the L.A. River.

 

About Suzanne Lummis

Suzanne Lummis was a 2018/19 COLA (City of Los Angeles) fellow, an endowment to influential writers, musicians and artists of the city enabling them to create new bodies of work. Individual poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Spillway, The Antioch Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Plume (on-line and in-print), and The New Yorker.  She teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers Program, and a series of private workshops, Deep Poetry Knowledge.