LENDING A HAND
It takes a city of poets to organize
the Los Angeles Poetry Festival
Laurel Ann Bogen is known for her lively readings and fabulous hats. She is one-third of the poetry performance ensemble Nearly Fatal Women. She is the author of ten books of poetry and short fiction. the most recent is Fission, published by Red Dancefloor Press. She is also on the organizing committee of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival.
Carlye Archibeque: How did you become involved in the Los Angeles Poetry Festival?
Laurel Ann Bogen: It seemed like a noble undertaking…I have been involved since the first one in 1989, basically because I’ve always been a bit of poetry evangelist and this seemed like a good idea to “get the word out”.
CA: What inspires you to take on a task as large as a city festival for a subject with as little support as poetry?
LAB: Because I truly believe that if people were exposed to the incredible wealth there is to be found in poetry, it would enrich their lives. Also I guess I believe in the “if you build it they will come” mentality that if we offer to the city the opportunity to hear great work, they will discover something about themselves that maybe they didn’t know — like I can understand and get something from poetry.
CA: In addition to helping to organize the Festival you are a well-known and respected poet as well as a teacher at UCLA. Word has it that you were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. When was the first time you realized you wanted to be a poet? Was there a defining moment or was it a slow realization?
LAB: First of all I never was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, my publisher entered my name in the contest many, many years ago, but I never was a finalist. But to get back to your question, I guess the first time I really decided that poetry was a career option was when I was an undergraduate at USC in the 1960’s-early 70’s. It was a rather silly thought in retrospect, considering everything, and I didn’t really think it would work out, but I am bullheaded and I kept at it and next thing I knew it was 20 years later and I had a career.
CA: ThereÕs a lot of controversy in Los Angeles about what kind of background a poet needs to have to write well. What is your advice for someone whoÕs decided that they want to start writing poetry?
LAB: The first and best advice I can give any budding poet is to READ every poet that can. Not to stop with one or two but everything they can get their hands on, that is the only way to learn.
CA: What do you think of our new Poet Laureate, Billy Collins?
LAB: I think he’s marvelous, and have for many years. An inspired choice…he’s accessible to the masses yet can be quite profound.
CA: If you could pick the next Poet Laureate who would you choose? LAB: Philip Levine. CA: What about a Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, San Francisco has one, who would you like to see represent the city of angels?
LAB: Hmmmm….I don’t know, there are so many good ones, maybe David St. John or Charles Webb.
CA: Since the attacks on September 11th there’s been a lot in the news on the healing nature of poetry. Both Robert Bly and Billy Collins have been interviewed on NPR about the subject and one of them mentioned that in times of tragedy and war people tend to turn to poetry more than any other art medium. What do you think of that? Is there something universal?
LAB: Poetry works on a deep and subliminal level. When it’s good, poetry can offer us insight into ourselves and the world around us…so we don’t feel alone…that we’re not in this soup by ourselves.