Poetry Los Angeles
Reading the Essential Poems of the City
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes
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Thomas McGrath, Suzanne Lummis, James Harms
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“Everything’s been Los Angelized,” complained Thomas McGrath in his personal record of wartime and postwar America, Letter to an Imaginary Friend (1962).1 Readers of his book-length poem in every part of the United States did not require a gloss for this outraged statement, especially if they knew that McGrath, a North Dakota native, considered himself a proletarian forerunner and exemplar of the counterculture taking shape in the 1950s along the West Coast...
1. The Pacific Ocean of the Poets
Robinson Jeffers, Mark Jarman, Derek Walcott, Lawrence Lipton, Eleni Sikelianos, Lewis MacAdams, Charles Wright, Susan Suntree
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Sun-drenched site of summertime revels. Beautiful young bodies silhouetted against foaming surf. Children building sand castles. Palm trees and seabirds framed in the rising and setting sun. Moonlight shimmering on the high tide. So much of Southern California’s powerful allure has consisted of indelible visual images derived from tourist brochures, magazine layouts, movies, television, and Internet video. Poets have contributed very little to this iconography. Throughout history poets have planted in our consciousness compelling language for the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, the Mississippi and Nile rivers, Italy’s Lake Como and Kashmir’s Dal Lake...
2. Hollywood, “Here” and Everywhere
Karl Shapiro, Bertolt Brecht, Vachel Lindsay, Randall Jarrell, Robert Hass, Wanda Coleman, David Wojahn, Frederick Seidel
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If we claim that the “district”—its official designation—of Hollywood is the heart and soul of Los Angeles, the cynosure of every gaze around the world, especially at Oscar time, we immediately run up against the chief paradox that attaches to city and district alike. Simply stated, Hollywood is hardly a place. It is more an idea of a place, a fantasy of a place, a wish-fulfillment of a place, a geographical neighborhood belonging to the social imaginary...
3. How Good, or Bad, Is Charles Bukowski’s Poetry?
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Charles Baxter wrote the following description of a visit to France in 2001: “Having been invited to Paris for an award, I was being interviewed by a French journalist about American and French writing, particularly poetry. The journalist asked me what I thought of the current American poetry scene, and I made some dutiful comments about a few of the leading figures and the battles between representational/linear and post-avant/ nonlinear poets. ‘Ah,’ the journalist said. ‘Here in France we all assume that American poets are making an effort to work their way out from under the giant shadow, the giant influence of Charles Bukowski.’”1...
4. On the Freeway: Moving Fast and Standing Still
Frank Bidart, Eloise Klein Healy, Wanda Coleman, James Schevill, Ron Koertge, Carol Muske-Dukes, Miroslav Holub, Allen Ginsberg, Mary Armstrong, James Harms, Dana Goodyear, Dana Gioia, Diane Wakoski
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It hardly needs demonstrating that the network of freeways, beginning modestly with the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940 and spreading like the proverbial spider web, is the dominant single landmark of Greater Los Angeles. Surface and aerial photos of the freeways have come to signify the city as much as the Eiffel Tower does Paris, or the Colosseum Rome. The notoriety began in earnest after the world’s first four-level (“stack”) interchange—of the Pasadena, Santa Ana, Hollywood, and Harbor freeways—opened in 1953...
5. South Central: The Lofty Towers and the Plains of Id
Elizabeth Alexander, Michèlle T. Clinton, Wanda Coleman, Jack Hirschman, Samuel Maio, Ice Cube, Harryette Mullen
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The term “South Central Los Angeles” referred to communities south of downtown in the long arc of flat urban space east of La Brea Avenue between the Santa Monica Freeway to the north and the Century Freeway to the south. Central Avenue bisects this space, and gave its name to the former designation of the area. The City of Los Angeles changed the official name to South Los Angeles in 2003 in order to purge the negative associations with the inner-city riot in Watts in 1965 and the widespread violence in 1992 following the trial and acquittal of policemen who beat up Rodney King...
6. Californios, and the Fertile Blood of Poetry
Lorna Dee Cervantes, Curtis Zahn, Gina Valdés, Gary Soto, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Richard Garcia, Aleida Rodríguez
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A logical strategy for this chapter on the ways poets have imagined the Latino presence in Southern California would be to use the foregoing chapter as a template. For ghetto read barrio; for protests against racist victimization against one minority, substitute another minority, brown for black. Lay over Ice Cube’s anthem “How to Survive in South Central” with the equally cautionary classic by Cheech and Chong, “Born in East L.A.”...
7. Interiors: Kinds of Sanctuary
Victoria Chang, Garrett Hongo, Denis Johnson, Quincey Troupe, Charles Gullans, Paul Monette, Carol Muske-Dukes
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Thanks to the largely benevolent climate and a century of boosterism celebrating the outdoor attractions and spectacles of Southern California—the beaches, deserts, and mountains, the freeways and open-air stadiums, Disneyland and Universal Studios theme parks, Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Third Street promenade—the exteriors of Los Angeles and environs have become fixed in the public imagination as the essential sites of the region. Even the fiction writers have focused on outdoor surfaces, recreational sites, and vistas rather than off-street life...
8. Exteriors: Signs of the Endtime
David Trinidad, Timothy Steele, Henri Coulette, Charles Harper Webb, Dorothy Barresi, Joy Harjo
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All lives take place in a constant exchange of interior and exterior situations. It’s not simply a matter of moving between the domestic realm and the out-of- doors. The garden, so beloved of poets, is often a space fenced in and adjoining the domicile so that no useful distinction, topographically, can be drawn between the flower or vegetable beds and the garage, back porch, patio, or lanai supplementary to the main housing unit. Without thinking much about it we all pass constantly across the liminal space from inside to outside, and then advance further outside...
Nik De Dominic, Patty Seyburn, Dana Gioia
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This book has argued that despite the lingering charge that Los Angeles has been insufficiently brought into focus by its poets, there persists among them an invigorating desire to examine closely the sites, persons, and presumed identity of the city, if only to compensate for the long absence of high quality loco-descriptive poetry about the region. In conversations and correspondence with poets who have written about L.A., whether they live there or not, I’ve heard constantly the sentiment that the city is extraordinarily attractive to the eye and mind and challenging to the poetic imagination. It offers provocative surfaces to match its historical depths...
10. Twenty More Poems About Los Angeles
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Publication Year: 2014