David Dominguez, David Olivera
and David St. John

Hosted by Catherine Sandstrom Smith
Skylight Books, Silverlake
October 12, 2001

This second night of poetry organized for the week long Los Angeles Poetry Festival was a joy to behold. Hosted by poet Catherine Sandstrom Smith at Skylight Books in Silverlake, not only was the poetry first rate, but the venue was beautiful and poet friendly, and, most importantly and amazingly, it was also packed to the gills. Each reading of the festival supports a worthy cause and in keeping with the Fresno Poets theme of the Three Davids reading, this reading supported The San Joaquin Valley Endangered Species Recovery Program.

Catherine Sandstrom Smith was the perfect host, making a small but praise worthy introduction for each poet, but allowing the poet speak for themselves with their poetry.

At the end of her introduction Smith alluded to the endangered species being supported by the reading and poets, likening the three Fresno poets to the Fresno Kangroo Rat which has ears the same size as its brain. When the audience laughed at the possible misstep of the comment, she clarified, “Fresno poets know how to listen.”

The featured readers David Dominguez, David Olivera and David St. John are all graduates, and most likely continuing students, of the so called Fresno School of Poetry which came out of the teachings of Fresno State University Professor Phillip Levine (a living poet, would you believe.) Their work and their dedication to craft as well as the similar feel of their poetry is all you need to realize that poetry is a living art and that schools of poetry did not end with the all hallowed Beat Generation.

The poets took to the stage in alphabetical order, with David Dominguez, the youngest of the three Davids, reading first. His work is rich in texture and meaning. Growing up in Fresno, he spent time working in a sausage factory.

He read several poems from the series he wrote about his time there. Whether describing the food that is created there or the food of the Latin people who work there, Dominguez deftly brings images to the listener. There are colors “rich and brown/ like a river that would not stop” and a contrast of colors between the “Ox Tail Soup” that a co-worker eats and the clean white linen napkin that is packed with his lunch. My favorite though was a poem about Fresno called “Highway 99” which appears in HOW MUCH EARTH. In it the titled road is “a cement spine that left industrial Fresno and throbbed with life.”

Next up was David Olivera, who left the dry earth of Fresno and moved to the more moist climate of Santa Barbara, where he became the small ocean town’s Poet Laureate. Alluding to The Three Tenors, he joked that when he was told that he was going to be in a show called The Three Davids, he was afraid that they were going to be forced to sing. Olivera opened with a poem entitled “Patience” where he admitted, “I have never learned patience/ only how to mimic the symptoms.”

He also chose to read a poem from the much missed Larry Levis, an alumni from the Fresno days. He chose ‘The Oldest Living Thing in LA” a fabulous poem about a night in the life of a captured opossum that alludes to a history of Los Angles that no one can quiet grasp, or perhaps wants to ignore. It’s a beautiful poem. He closed with a poem called “White Noise” which he said was an old poem that had been improved by shortening. A mixture of memoir and reflection of his childhood and home where the outside world would send up “dust in the house my mother’s been trying to clean for forty years.” the poem was moving as is most of Olivera’s work.

The final David of the evening was David St. John. He joked about the nature of his life and poetry. Complained that he was a shitty surfer, but was thinking about writing a group of poems called, “Harry Potter and the Karma Sutra.” He also gave praise to the Festival’s keynote poet, Lawrence Raab, saying that 25 years ago Raab had cut the last line and a-half from the poem he was about to read. He was incensed at the time, but only because Raab was right and it was a better poem without the extra line and a-half. The poem, “Dolls” was inspired by Rilke’s poem about dolls and the idea that you give to them, but there is no return, much like God’s silence. Though I can’t weigh into the argument of the lost lines, the poem was fabulous.

He went on with a few suicide note poems, but assured the crowd that he wasn’t trying to be depressing…oh the lot of poets. “After Ascent” ends with the typical St. John humor, “the only evidence is my heart lived and then I died…so what.” This was followed closely by “Loving Romey Schneider” about a friend who had overdosed, where “the whole of my existance revolves slowly into some kind of brutal truth/ at last.” He then weighed in on the patience issue that Olivera had raised with, “patience is in my clothes, but never in my heart.”

Depressing or not, David St. John can cut to the bone with his words, and gave an incredible reading as did all of the Davids. I love a reading with a host who knows when to sit down and poets who know how to pick a good cohesive set that takes you up and down their emotional world like you’re in a poetry theme park, and I was not disappointed.

Carlye Archibeque



Hosted by Suzanne Lummis, Festival Organizer Beyond Baroque, Venice
October 14, 2001

The first part of this reading boasted Los Angeles Poets in a Noir Mood with readings by Richard Garcia, Henry Morro, Jim Natal, Eloise Klein Healy, Cecilia Woloch and Terry Wolverton. I missed this part due to the fact that I had passes to an advanced screening of the film IN THE BEDROOM, which I highly recommend, by the way, but that’s no excuse. It’s just my excuse. So I was late and repentant and sure that the first part of the reading was extraordinary. I did however, finally get a chance to see Laurence Raab, the man who writes about B-Movie monsters and vampires in an upper class poetry statesman sort of way.

Raab was introduced by Festival organizer Suzanne Lummis, and launched into an amazing set of poetry. I’m not joking when I say that every poem was interesting and each one seemed different from the last in imagination. This man knows how to pick a set of poetry to keep an audience awake.

As a nod to the noir readers that came before him (which you know I missed) his first poem, “Assassin’s Fatal Error” is about a character in a noir style thriller who knows that his death is necessary for the plot and how the character deals with his fate. He continued with the theme and read what he called a “noir fragment”, a funny poem with the quality of a noir voice over muddling through lines like “she was the best mistake I ever made.” Raab then switched to the supernatural with “Voices Answering Back: The Vampires” a mournful tale told from the point of view of vampires made lonely because the world no longer believes in them. The vampires take a line from the Sermon on the Mount and tell the disbelievers, “you have said if you stop believing in us, we inherit everything.”

Finally he read the poem I had been waiting for, “Attack of the Crab Monsters” a marvelous play on the 50s B-Movie genre. He told the audience that he often gets desperate emails from high school students telling him that they have to write about the poem, so “what’s it about, and I have to turn it in tomorrow.” He tells them, “if you want to know the truth, I think it’s a love poem.” They never write back. Raab then told the audience that even if you’ve never seen the specific movie he’s talking about, “you know the story, even if you don’t.”

The poem is told through the eyes of a minor character trying to make sense of it all. He explains the inconsistencies of his B-Movie world and being a minor character, falls prey to the plot and becomes a monster with the brain of a man, finally begging his beloved to “put down your flame thrower.” # His next poem, “The Bad Muse” is so funny I snorted, and so true, that as a writer I was stunned Mr. Raab knew me so well. I tells the tale of what a bad muse would whisper in your ear. Things like, go to sleep, just give up, I’m sure there’s enough emotional poetry in the world, who would want to hear that. What I want to know is how to exchange that muse for one of Raab’s.

His set just went on from there, great poems, great intro stories. His last poem, “The Horrible Hand” was the perfect ending. He begins with the problem of starting a poem, “No, I just can’t write today.” But then he gets a title, “The Horrible Hand,” and tells himself, “having arrived unbidden, it seemed like inspiration.” He starts by using the film “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” only it’s a hand. After a few tries and some horrible verse, he ends the poem with a question, “could a murderous, disembodied hand rally be the right approach?” To which I, and the rest of the audience I’m sure, sing a resounding, yes!

I was not overly familiar with Raab’s work before the festival, just the poems that people had suggested to me over the years because of their theme, but after this reading I am a convert. His work is precise and well timed, but also had a universal appeal in theme and meaning. A great feature for a fabulous festival.

Carlye Archibeque

A Bi-Lingual Event:
Jue Ruimg Kim, Ko Won, Sung Y. Yi, and Richard Beban, Carine Topal, Alicia Vogl Sanez

Hosted by Suzanne Lummis and Sung Y. Yi
The Korean Cultural Center
October 18, 2001

Six featured poets read at the Korean Cultural Center in an event organized by Mr. Sung Yi in conjunction with the L. A. Poetry Festival and the Korean Literature Society of America. In a reading unique to this year’s Festival, American and Korean poets were able to share their work with each other in their native tongues before a mixed and appreciative audience. The event was ably co-hosted by Mr. Yi and Suzanne Lummis director of the L. A. Poetry Festival.

The Americans read first starting with Carine Topal who read three poems; her last poem was memorable for poignantly expressing nostalgia for a world that never was. Following Ms. Topal’s reading her poems were read again in Korean by Ms. Tae Sun Jay with charm. Mr. Yi did the translations.

Next up was Alicia Vogl Saenz who read three fine poems characterized by lyrical beauty and intelligently emotional metaphor especially evident in “Saturn’s Rings.” The Korean renditions (again translated by Mr. Yi) were expressively read by Ms. Ki Jah Roh.

Last of the English language poets was Richard Beben. Appropriately Me. Beben read a poem inspired by an anecdote by Li Po the great Chinese poet of antiquity who exercised a big influence on all East Asian poetry. Since this reading was dedicated to the National Resource defense Council Mr. Beben finished with the poem called “Opossum” a humorous tribute to urban fauna. Mr. Beben’s poems were translated by Professor Sung-Won KO and read by Mr. Man Eun Jo in a voice that matched the material well.

The Korean poets were represented by Mr. Sung Yi, Ms. Hye Ryung Kim and Professor Sung-Won KO who writes under the pen name of KO Won. Since these poets are not as well known to the larger poetry community as their American counterparts let me give some background on each reader.

Hye Ryung Kim is a poet, novelist and short story writer who recently won the Korea Times of LA literature award and has a noteworthy reputation as a short story writer in Korea. Ms. Kim began with two touching poems inspired by her new born baby read first in Korean and than in English translated by herself.

Professor Koh read next, and he has a large body of work available in English and Korean. Among his many books are THE TURN OF ZERO, SOME OTHER TIME and BUDDHIST ELEMENTS IN DADA. Following two poems written in Korean Professor Koh ended with an English language composition based on a Korean creation myth that made facile use of word play and extended metaphor.

Mr. Yi is a leading advocate of poetry in the Korean-American community and a respected novelist who won the Central Daily Newspaper prize for literature. He closed the reading with a moving poem about his mother’s death during the Korean War that was full of vivid images. He also read a poem in the traditional shi JO style rendered in English with a terse and sharp economy of expression.

Mr. Yi and Ms. Lummis are to be congratulated for putting together this outstanding cross-cultural reading.

Richard Modiano



Hosted by Larry Jaffee
Zen Restaurant, Silverlake
September 18, 2001

With 25 open readers plus a large audience, Zen Theatre was relatively full. Energy and enthusiasm abounded. Though off to a late start the night kicked off with a bang: Larry opened by great reading from Federico Garcia Lorca s A Poet in New York. It was like prophecy. The night continued with the best in open-mic poetry I have heard in years. We entertained some great speakers like Shermal Pearl, who spoke about the festival and Buddy Love, who gave us information about what the Friends of the LA River are all about.

The open-mic poets got three minutes each and used them energetically and in most raucous fashion. It was like being taken back in time to one of them Dog-nights of old. Frankie Drayus “breathed” life into the opening spot and kicked the night off just right. Neil Aitken was in fine fashion as usual. Cesar Valez and Anthony Ramirez read for us, as well as Kubes and Steve Aranda. Feliks Derbarmdiker ripped it up as well as Jelena (who joined us by bicycle) and Ivan Smason. Hart Fisher unapologetically let loose his thunder and brimstone baby. He s an October kind of guy. Mani Suri came, hung out and read for us. He was spectacular as usual. Mary Cahill blessed us all as angels and boy were you guys. Brandon Backhaus thought it was weird to be alive. Rick Weinberger, who makes it out to all the festival spots, was great in refusing the right to remain silent. Valerie Provines was perfect with bells on and read the most lovely poetry. Yuki Uehara and Jill Weiss were great additions to the show. Inspi-Rachel Kann is always a showstopper. Seven read to us from his diary a most haunting and personal trip into his own psyche. None other than Lewis McAdams himself took the stage and poeticized. Even Larry Jaffe jumped in with a little unprotected poetry.

The night has to, hands down, go to Phillip Martin, Mike Sonksen and Mr. Slim for ripping it up each on their own and together during Mike s Alive in Los Angeles. I have never felt more alive at a poetry reading and you can quote me. Suzanne Lummis took us out, and thanked us all for lending our voices to the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. It was indeed a spectacular evening.

Brendan Backus


Michael Datcher, B.H. Fairchild,
Richard Garcia, Willie Sims,
Katherine Williams

Hosted by Gail Wronsky
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles October 21, 2001

The Readers: Fairchild, Sims, Wiliams,
Garcia, Datcher

The closing reading of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival took place in the fairly new University Hall at Loyola Marymount, and if nothing else can be said, at least I now know how to get to LMU. But of course, more can always be said about a reading where the creme of the crop of LA poetry chooses their proxies to read in such comfortable and comforting surroundings. The theater, as I said, seems new. It has cushy seats unmarred by shoes or bubble gum and the stage was elevated but not so much so as to created distance between the poet and the audience. This said, several of the readers still chose to come to the people and read standing floor level with their listeners. Theater performers might call this breaking the forth wall, I’m not sure what it’s called in poetry, but it can be a nice change of pace. The readers were all chosen by one of the directors of a prestigious Los Angeles reading.

The Series Directors: Natal, Lummis, Frank
Clough, Modiano, Iannaci, O’Halloran, Datcher

Arguments have been made here and there about the Festival organizers and their choices, but ultimately there are only so many slots for poets in a given venue or festival. It is ultimately the right of the people who put their hearts and souls and time and money into the organization of the event to choose who will represent them.

The event was hosted by Gail Wronsky and then each series director would take the stage to introduce the poet of their choice. The World Stage was represented by Michael Datcher, who gave a moving performance that included a poem about the September 11th events, reminding us that “sometimes in tragedy, we forget, that all life is valuable. His second poem, “Terms of Surrender” written for his wife, and fellow poet, Jenoyne Adams, praising her, “your heart is the size of unpaid reparations….” Datcher is unabashedly black and does not shy away from the issues of his race, his humanity or his beliefs. At one point during a poem inspired by the current counter attacks that Israel is unleashing on Palestine, a woman from the audience challenged him by shouting, “do you know why they’re doing that?” Datcher whipped out his manners and politely told the woman that he would be willing to discuss the matter after the reading. His last poem, “Narrow” kept to theme and addressed the narrow vision of manhood that black men who have been exposed to prison use to define themselves, “manhood is overrated, and undervalued, like a tech stock before it splits.” Datcher was the obvious choice for the World Stage, but in this case he was also the best choice to represent the long running weekly Lemert Park reading.

The Valley Contemporary Poets reading, which hosts a monthly reading in Encino bringing high caliber poetry to the vast wasteland of the Valley, chose Richard Garcia to represent them in the reading. Garcia read a selection from his book, Rancho Notorious, called “Certain Images Excluded From my Poems Form a Parade” which he had written to include all of the great images he had collected that were unsuitable for use in poems. His set was brief and ended with the mockingly titled, “Richard Garcia Steals a Poem.” Overall, Garcia was charming and professional in his work and his presentation, a good choice.

Willie Sims was introduced by Suzanne Lummis as the choice of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, who also host a reading series at the beautiful Downtown Library. Sims read three pieces, the first a slam on poetry readings and poser poets called “A Good Time Was had by All,” where “smug smart assed white poets wearing black…” hang out. His second piece was a rap style piece commenting on the fact that most “gangsta rappers” come from nice middle class families, that contains the priceless line, “I did a drive by high on Eskimo Pies.” He closed with “The Rise and Fall of a Macho Man,” which chronicled the change in mind set of a young buck looking to…connect with women to the older man happy to make any connection with the opposite sex. Sims was a seemingly bold and highly entertaining choice to represent the LAPF.

At the far edge of the San Fernando Valley exists a place called Sunland Tujunga. They have a library there that hosts an incredible monthly reading that, up until recently, was hosted by Jamie O’Halloran. Her choice to represent the reading that is Sunland Tujunga was Katherine Williams. Williams began her set with a poem entitled “Solo” which she dedicated to “all the biophysicist who aren’t here.” Followed by a emotional “No Elegy” about the September 11th bombings. She apologized at one point for her constant need to sip at her water bottle, “it’s the anti depressants,” she quipped, “you can see how well they work.” She finished her set with the melancholy but amusing, “More Beautiful in France,” which tells us, “women are more beautiful in France, it happens as soon as you plane lands.” Williams reads with the precision of a prima ballerina and it is clear that she puts just as much practice into her work. O’Halloran said in her introduction of Williams that you rarely see her in print because she is always writing, and it is clear that this was no overstatement.

The final poet of the reading was the unflappable B.H. Fairchild, chosen by the curator’s of the Poet X reading at the Third Street Promenade. He was the only reader of the day who seemed calm and confident with the setting and his place as a poet. He read his work with conviction but never beat the audience over the head with meaning. Either you got it or you didn’t. All his poems struck a nerve with the audience, but none so much as “Omaha Beach,” where “a place that’s truly haunted, makes you feel unreal.”

It had been a whirlwind week of poetry and socializing and I was sad to see it come to an end. Of course there are always poetry readings in Los Angeles, but there is something great about an organized festival and I hope to be writing about it again next year.