Meanwhile, in California: Veintiocho LA Poets & Writers @ Beyond Baroque

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At Beyond Baroque in Venice, Los Angeles, readings occur in a black room that looks & smells like a place a mutinous 1930s Navy commander would get court-martialed in. I got to the reading on time, which is early for California, causing me to get eyeballed by performers who must have been wondering what’s the angle of the young kid with the notebook & the camera. I wonder that myself sometimes. It was Sunday, so the drinks from Friday night’s ‘Housewarming Party’ and Saturday night’s ‘End of Summer Symbolic Blowout’ were weighing on me and all I wanted to do was listen to cool stories told by cool people. After a while, like most readings I wander into, the room filled with strangers I couldn’t help but say look interesting. Poets from a mile away.

1. Co-host L.K. Thayer absorbing light and lit. 2. The room becomes a vacuum as Elya Braden reads the hardest poem of the day. She trembles as she says: “They say you can’t take blood from a stone, but my heart bleeds for my lost babies.” 3. Comedian-turned-cowboy-poet Jeff LaBeouf begins, “I was smoking medical marijuana when I had the thought that cows are reincarnated old hippies.” They both love grass, he says, ‘Moo’ is just ‘Om’ backwards, “and on rainy nights they shit magic mushrooms!”

Taking over hosting duties for their writing teacher/guru, Jack Grapes — who arraigned the show then inexplicably fled to Paris — poets Adesh Kaur and L.K. Thayer seductively combined high-style with low-brow, as they reminded the crowd of the way the LA Poets & Writers Collective keep readings moving. Each reader gets two minutes and fifteen seconds, then they are interrupted by a remote controlled fart machine, and if that doesn’t work, “then you get hit with the water pistols,” said Adesh, holding up a lime green, plastic Derringer threateningly. This righteous practice embodies a line from their mission statement: “We speak no one’s heart and no one’s mind but the heart and mind of the collective.” Countless radical tonal shifts speckled an afternoon that showcased 28 poets — one building you up, the next knocking you down — creating the sensation of slow, heavy breathing. I kept finding myself thinking, How could anyone follow that?,’ and then somebody did, because somebody has to.

Thayer was the first to read and suggested you “become what you slay.” Chanel Brenner followed and spoke about her younger son’s depression, blaming herself for it, wishing she had shown more love to him when he was younger. Next was sixty-eight year old poet Roz Levine, one of the day’s many female poets to take the podium and blow away my first impression of them with a rich, fiery style. “Why does your stomach hang over to your vagina, Grandma?…It’s my hang-over, little one,” Roz replied, going on to describe recently getting her first tattoo and wanting to buy a pair of ‘Killer Boots’ that’ll have him “on his hands and knees asking for pussy pudding.” Man, those grandkids are gonna get some awesome birthday presents.

1. A well earned intermission. The phrase written on BB’s welcome arch: “Limping up the aisle, / I already tasted blood.” 2. C. Culp brings as much grace as she does rage to her story of abuse at the hands of her father in her poem ‘Breathe, Just Breathe.’ “Don’t breathe a word of the crinkle in the sheets we share together.”

Robert Carroll said he had some family members in the hospital and talked about the Blues. “When the Blues becomes what you have nothing left to lose / it becomes the news.” After came the dark powerhouse, Andrea Weiler: “I yanked out my right eyeball and took a picture of the seam,” then Satan said, as he opened her legs, “Lose your childhood and innocence in a waterfall of fire.”
At the intermission it became clear that I’d attracted as much attention as I suspected and Kaur asked me if I wanted to read, warmly declaring me a member of the collective. Oy. My heart raced. I looked over the piece I had in my purple pocket Moleskin and said OK, against the judgment of my anxiety. I wanted my 2:15 of play in that weird, dank room.

1. Kelly Ebsary was the first of the day to embrace the water guns, outstretching her arms and shouting lines over the laughing crowd as she was hit on her eyes and cheeks. Made me think Nickelodeon should sponsor readings where at 2:15 the poet gets slimed. 2. I’ll let Angela Robinson speak for herself. “You fuck for pocketbooks? I fuck for houses!” “I want Stevie Wonder to play the harmonica up in my pussy.” Maybe borrowing Roz’s boots would get the ball rolling, huh?

Coming from the break, Patty Lopez’s wildfire poem made her sound like a true Southern Californian: “It’s father, he’s watering the roof to keep us from burning. But he’s not watering it, he’s talking to it, he’s containing it, he’s holding it.” Jean Partel follows with a solid theme for the day: “I hope I’ll be seen for what I am.” After reading a piece she wrote for one of her favorite poets, Ellen Bass, Merry Elkins told the audience how she sent her the poem and that Ellen responded, saying how honored she was and how happy it makes her that the poem ends with “A belief in & search for your own voice.”

My unplanned reading went surprisingly well and after two other recruited audience members went up the event ended, leaving me to feel the difference between who I was when I entered the reading and who I was leaving it. The roles felt jumbled– listener, speaker, reporter, customer– even though they’re all the same.

1. Bara Bara Burns was another audience member that was asked to read, and thank God for that. She came to Hollywood to be a starlet and ended up an addict, and now she says, “I’m a junkie without my junk…I love living on the edge, but now it’s round.” 2. I will never forget her. She said the last lines of the day while both guns soaked her, “Where quiet desperation is lost & never found…I wanna get down, I wanna get down, I wanna get down.”

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–David Ohlsen, an LA native, is a thoughtless product of UC Riverside’s Creative Writing program and is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.

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