Friday, June 02, 2006

For a few months, I considered moving back to LA, but feared its cultural vacuity. The art world, of course, is booming but poets there seem more marginalized there than anywhere else. Wichita appreciates poets more. I know Harryette Mullen is there, as well as Martha Ronk, Cal Bedient, Maggie Nelson and I hear Claudia Rankine is moving to LA, as well as many other great poets...but perhaps I just can't get past my memory of doing a reading there with local poets who blew soap bubbles and read about their "clitora."

Actually, Sun and Moon Press used to be in LA. I once interned there for a winter term when I was a bored college student. It was a storefront press two blocks or so from LA County Museum, on Wilshire blvd, which is a major thoroughfare. The press was cavernous, gray carpeted, many roomed, hushed since it was usually only Douglas Messerli, the Sun and Moon editor, who padded around its empty hallways. I had it in my head that I would meet poets and go to their apartments and eat their brie and listen to their thoughts on Tristan Tzara. But bored at home, I was now bored at the press, where I would open desperate little cover letters and put them in a neat stack which was never read. My only company was Douglas Messerli who was a bearish man with a whitish beard who did not think much of me, which is understandable since I was 20.

I was an idle intern and I had a hunch that Douglas Messerli devised Sissyphean tasks just to get me out of his hair. One day, he told me that he had a grand project for me: to manually count all the books in the storage room. He needed a grand total. Why, I had no idea, or for what purpose, I was not sure. There were thousands of books, towers of books, shelves and boxes of them. So I took my little step ladder and started counting the books, one after another: Bruce Andrews, David Antin, Eleanor Antin, Rae Armantrout, Daphne Athas, Paul Auster….I wrote down a number at every 50 books to keep track. After the third hour, I resentfully began losing count and making up an estimate in my passive aggressive way. I could not finish the task in one day. The next day I asked, rather hopefully, what the agenda looked for the day, and Douglas Messerli looked up and said, “Oh, continue the inventory.” And I was banished into the storage closet to continue my count. I continued to count and count, like the flawed little human abacus I was. On the fourth day, I still wasn't finished and I had it. I told Douglas Messerli that I don’t think I could do it any more. He understood and then banished me to the backroom where all the file cabinets were and that was where I was sent to alphabetize all the order forms. And that was my first encounter with Language Poetry.


At 7:40 PM , Blogger Joseph said...

Coming late to this. Funny story about Douglas. He's still there in the same location, changed the press name to Green Integer...

The experimental poetry community seems to be picking up in Los Angeles, though. Lately there's been a reading every few weeks worth going to. There's the Last Sunday of the Month reading series, Jane Sprague runs a quarterly reading series in Long Beach, RedCat theatre has an experimental writing conference every October/November, and new presses like Make Now Press and Insert Press, as well as journals like New Messes and The Fold are shooting new life into the area. Seriously, I've been here for 6 years and I've never seen the community more active, even as it remains not very cohesive.


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