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the hawk atop a parked car
looks on as i go
one of the best movies i saw in 2009, and to date the best L.A. movie i’ve ever seen—better than chinatown, better than kiss me deadly (filmed also on bunker hill a few years earlier in 1955), better than blade runner, better than rebel without a cause (filmed in 1955). kent mckenzie made it 1958 – 1960 and charles burnett helped rescue it. check out this scene where the principals roar thru the third street tunnel and emerge downtown—
Look around you. People are in trouble.
What kind of hat is that?
Two guys both wearing fedoras. One of ’em, sunglasses perched on the brim, striped polo shirt, big watch, tattoos the length of his right arm, wide leather wristband, he tries to run down gate 69A, but immediately saunters back somewhat downcast. Is he plain luny? That plane boarded some time ago.
He approaches the Continental clerk with his sharp pinkish bony face, gesticulating, complaining. How many times a day does she face guys like this? She, late-middle-aged Filipina, remains calm, face to the monitor, hands on the keyboard. “I can’t do anything about that,” she says.
He jerks his hand backwards as if he’s about to smack her, but he’s pointing his thumb over his shoulder, glowering at her and glowering all around. She doesn’t have to take that. She leaves. He leans his elbows on the counter—takes out his cell phone (that implement of last resort, it has replaced the cigarette of generations past as the accessory to posturing)—makes a call. Or do people in situations like this merely purport to make calls? Are there really all these people on the other end waiting around to take their calls, when the multitudes have these idle moments?
Are they calling one another in airports like this, each of the many thousands of them, milling about big noisy echoey transit centers and waiting rooms across the nation, throughout the states, in the cities, sending out phone calls at random moments that are picked up by others in similar places, or waiting in dental offices, on the street corner, or mom at home? Are they call calling mom? Or their girlfriend, “Girlfriend, you never have anything better to do, girlfriend, they have screwed me over again at the airport, I have missed my flight, again!”? Nations within nations, calling fretfully, to say they missed their flight, again?
They have been abused by the transportation system!
They have missed their connections, they’re gonna have to start the ticketing and boarding process all over!
The man in the fedora with the black band strides off purposefully, still talking (as if), cell phone clapped to his ear.
thru birdshit windshield
dead sparrow on neighbor’s roof
nice day, I smell smoke
by rigoberto gonzález | Dec-19-2009
Many writers and/or readers, I’m certain, will identify with one of my burdens: during the holidays, members of my family think it’s easy to shop for me–books (any books) or blank journals. And if you’re like me, you’ve got a discriminating taste as well–there are certain types of books we prefer, right?–and when was the last time you wrote in a journal? For me it was high school. Freshman English class. I had to. I hated it.
But ‘tis the season for shopping shenanigans and mistletoe mishaps, and instead of rolling my eyes at gifts I’ll probably re-gift unread, I’d like to highlight a few noteworthy titles that came through my desk in 2009, and which I couldn’t resist picking up right away because I’m the type of reader that welcomes books that are insightful, engaging and above all, provocative:
1. Anatolia and Other Stories, Anis Shivani, Black Lawrence Press.
After the 2008 release of Nam Le’s critically-acclaimed story collection, The Boat, I didn’t think anyone could replicate that daring and convincing reach of inhabiting a range of nationalities until I picked up this collection. Its inhabited by series of courageous and ill-fated characters navigating through cultural and class collisions in such charged locations as Dubai, Tehran, and the U.S. during the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. What results is a disconcerting portrait of the world in crisis–a world that insists on repeating the mistakes of its colonial and imperial past.
2. Beauty Breaks In, Mary Ann Samyn, New Issues Press.
Perhaps one of the most critically underrated poets, Samyn has nonetheless a large following of devoted readers who seek out her gorgeous lines (“Tonight’s moon is one way a sorrow earns its keep.”). The poems are arranged alphabetically by title (hence inspiring my own list here) but her book takes the reader through an emotionally-charged journey from betrayal to confusion to forgiveness–no matter how dark or dark the well of loneliness, beauty breaks in.
3. Girl in a Library, Kelly Cherry, BkMk Press.
Though at first the title appealed to the bookworm in me, this gorgeous collection of essays is full of stunning articulations about the writer’s relationship to writing (which changes as the political climate changes), to other women writers (from those who inspire to those who provoke), to the varied encounters and revelations that shape an artist’s education. Cherry’s own writing is so honest and unpretentious, so level-headed and curious, that it offers what it set out to do: create a portrait of the imagination.
4. Sugarless, James Magruder, University of Wisconsin Press.
The story of Rick Lahrem, a high school student and budding Broadway queen living just outside of Chicago is one filled with the hard-won joys of adolescence: he’s coming out, he’s finding his theatrical avenue for self-expression, and he’s even falling in love. But it’s the 1970s in the suburbs, and Rick’s flair for show tunes has his mother reaching for the curative powers of religion. What’s a boy to do? Sugarless, at turns hilarious, at turns touching and poignant, is a novel that reminds us that no matter who, no matter where, growing up is fabulous and queer.
5. Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone, Matthew Shenoda, Boa Editions, Ltd.
No poet exercises the healing powers of poetry like Shenoda, whose verse reads like prayer, incantation–the soothing words of hope to mend a damaged world. In this book, the Coptic Egyptian poets returns to his cultural roots and the legacy of strength so necessary to confront the hostilities against entire communities because of language, nationhood or religion.
6. Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, Sarah Schulman, The New Press.
Dangerous times require revolutionary solutions, and Schulman (who recently delivered the David R. Kessler Lecture at CUNY’s Graduate Center on the topic) makes powerful suggestions about how to battle a social disease from one of its starting points–the home. But the more provocative moments come in the discussion of its consequences and how certain harmful dynamics are replicated within the LGBT community. Daring, radical and compelling, this book is the ultimate queer activist handbook.
7. Weapons Grade, Terese Svoboda, The University of Arkansas Press.
The versatile Svoboda (who last year published Black Glasses Like Clark Kent–an amazing exploration of her uncle’s suicide and his military past) takes a righteous step into the land mines of political poetry. She tackles such weighty subjects as war crimes, environmental concerns, third-world sweatshops and America’s loss of freedoms in this tough-minded collection of poems that sets the stage for the final section of the book–poems about the irreconcilable conflicts between family members who dwell within an emotionally desensitized and dysfunctional society.
8. Women of Color and Feminism, Maythee Rojas, Seal Press.
In the age of a Wise Latina on the Supreme Court and an African American First Lady in the White House–you gotta love 2009 for Sonia Sotomayor alone!–feminist scholar Maythee Rojas breaks down the complexities of this space of being (the intersection between race and gender) that’s also perceived as a threatening conflict zone. In clear, accessible language, Rojas walks us through the expressive, artistic, mythic, cultural and sexualized representations of women of color, humanizing them one chapter at a time.
9. World Ball Notebook, Sesshu Foster, City Lights Books.
Ever inventive, Foster doesn’t call these 118 entries poems, he calls them games, as in the Mesoamerican sport that’s played with a stone ball–all the more challenging, all the more fragile. Just like in his satyrical novel Atomik Aztex, in which he created a parallel universe in which the Aztecs were not conquered by the Spaniards, the playing field of World Ball Notebook–where conflict and corruption reign supreme–begins to look startlingly and comfortably familiar.
first published in Critical Mass: the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors:
Two powerful Los Angeles poets on par with other Angelino luminaries like Kamau Daaood, Luis Rodriguez & Lewis MacAdams are Steve Abee & Sesshu Foster. Both of these authors released new books recently. Over the course of one week in September 2009, I was able to see both poets read live. Though they are both very individual and stylized they share an urgency and raw truth seldom seen or spoken of in celluloid city. This article will review their new books and break down the background story for each of these two great poets. Both reside on Los Angeles’ eastside, Abee in El Sereno and Foster in Alhambra.
rainy day on the
110, car crashes around
the next turn, and next
Atomik Aztek: A Conversation with Sesshu Foster + Book Giveaway!
12 December 2009 by molossus
Sesshu Foster is the unofficial poet laureate of East Los Angeles, but only because such a position refuses officialdom. The author of critically acclaimed novel Atomik Aztex, City Lights also released World Ball Notebook, his latest collection of poems, centered on the ball, the ball court, and sport through the history of the Americas, in late 2008.
In partnership with City Lights, Molossus invites our readership to compete for a free copy of World Ball Notebook. To participate, send a psychic questions about the secrets of Life (see last question, below), to . The winner will be announced 16 December on Molossus.
It’s been almost five years since City Lights published Atomik Aztex. Any significant news from that Los Angeles?
Ah, it’s coming up on four years now, and “that Los Angeles” typically lives and dies in a media rainshadow, in the glaring absence of any representative coverage of its issues, its news, its realities. It’s not surprising. That’s a major theme, part of what Atomik Aztex portrays through the metaphor of “alternate realities”: that Los Angeles exists on a separate plane, willfully denied by the technology of the dominant culture. Since the publication of the novel, there have been marches of millions of immigrants and immigrants’ rights supporters in major cities across the nation that have addressed some of the issues and articulated some of the struggles of that Los Angeles, but for the most part, it goes unheeded, neglected and denied—immigrants working in kitchens, yards and fields, cooking for and feeding us all, cleaning up after us all, in the apartheid state of California/America. It’s analogous to the idea in the 1980s that AIDS was a gay disease. There’s some coverage of the drug war in Mexico because it impedes tourism but none of the torn social fabric of whole towns and villages missing the adult working population, of conflicts and controversies surrounding immigrant communities in the U.S. but not in the cultural shifts and exchanges taking place. What strikes me about “that Los Angeles” is that it’s the most likely formulation of the world of our future, of the world our children will be living in. If we allow the media and the dominant culture to willfully ignore it, and live in the nostalgia of some Reaganomic past, neglecting the issues of that Los Angeles, we’ll end up in a future we never dreamed of, where issues and struggles may assume crisis proportions—seemingly all of a sudden, Katrina-like, globalized, catastrophic—when for actual fact these realities have existed on the ground for generations. The realities are there, the social dialogue is not.
World Ball Notebook contains extracts from travel notebooks, email poems, postcards and blog posts. How did you know when it was completed manuscript? Or, is it completed?
It’s an open-ended book. The elements, extracts and sources are indexed to chronology, but they’re not ordered chronologically. It’s semi-arbitrary, the way an index can be an alphabetized list of randomly ordered entries, like these entries from page 310, Colombia: Inside the Labyrinth by Jenny Pearce: “Magdalena River, marijuana, MAN, Marulanda Velez, Manuel (Marin), MAS, massacres, Medellin, Medellin cartel, media, Mexico, middle class,” etc. World Ball Notebook is structured like an index, but it’s never closed, definitive, absolute. One of the books I’m reading now is The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. It’s some 700 pages, which I was sort of irritated to read in the editor’s introduction that Damion Searls redacted into journal entries from 7,000 pages of Thoreau’s original material without ellipses or brackets or other indicators of where cuts and splices took place. He just cut, spliced and abbreviated, as he says in the intro, according to his own notions or tastes. But that’s the modern and modernist methodology: synecdoche and metonymy rule. Except for William Vollman, nowadays the Tolstoyan or Dickensian encyclopedic mode is out of vogue. There’s the modernist struggle against that kind of realism or naturalism, and the post-modern struggle against that struggle, against reductivism and symbolism. If I discuss it further, I’ll have to get into how my innovations or experimentation fails to get me out of the modernist/post-modern box.
I admire your ability to incorporate elements of indigenous heritage without exoticizing them, without the sort of neoliberal delicacy that it seems to me early Chicano writers and their direct literary descendants sometimes resort to. Any thoughts?
I came of age during the Chicano movement and witnessed how it, like other countercultural and civil rights movements of the time, expressed and articulated community needs and demands that had been roiling below the surface for generations. It was exciting. Most contemporary ideas about ethnic identity are forty years old. My perspective on the indigenous elements in Atomik Aztex is that I view them as political and social iconography and ideology (see the Chicano murals painted in the Ramona gardens housing projects, or Estrada courts, for example), not ethnography of the millions of living Nahua speakers in Mexico. Our identity as Americans, as citizens of whatever it may be, is collectively bound up in on-going discourse and dialogue about our relations, our culture and history. Times change, and we can’t recycle categorical definitions of ethnic character that are forty years old any more than we can recycle racist assumptions about the self from the 19th century. People do, of course, but writers are supposed to be hipper than that, more up to date.
I’m tired of people defending literary Los Angeles—that seems to me like an early, insecure stage of development, and I’m more interested in the people that are here, writing. Who should Molossus readers look out for? What Angelinos are you reading and listening to now?
Angelinos, eh? I’m interested in L.A. writers or other writers (like Thoreau for example) whose work has more than stylistic influence or innovation, but whose project is interesting. Luis Rodriguez writes poetry, essays, novels and stories. Luis is engaged in a McSweeney’s/826-like project as a writer, running a community cultural center and bookstore in Sylmar, Tia Chucha’s, and publishing an admirable poetry imprint of the same name. That’s an interesting project. Projects like those, it seems to me, elaborate on the writer’s work and open up the modernist/post-modern box in interesting ways. Who should readers look for? What about writers whose effort and aesthetic extend beyond sentence structure, beyond the size of the advance, beyond hiding in academia? I’m always on the lookout for writers who embrace a larger idea or ambitious vision. Who else? I probably like the usual suspects that everybody else likes. Who are the new guys? Salvador Plascencia, Ben Ehrenreich, Will Alexander—he’s not new. Yeah, Jen Hofer, Douglas Kearney. Maybe somebody people don’t know is Ruben Mendoza, publisher of the zine Sickly Season—check out his website at http://www.sicklyseason.com. He’s taking it in a different direction.
What are your current projects?
Taking the idea of “that Los Angeles” with its secret history of unknown and neglected and denied events. Mysteries. In a word, I’ve been writing stories about that. In the current issue (#32) ofMcSweeney’s Quarterly, I have a story, “Sky City,” that’s one of some linked stories related to “the Mysteries of East L.A.” which is a book project I’m working on with Arturo Romo-Santillano, whose website is http://www.revumbio.com. We produce the website http://www.elaguide.org, “your guide for driving and walking tours of East L.A.” The current economy weighs on us like a dead horse, but if we get out from under it, we hope to expand the website to include lit, testimony, interactivity, audio, video, etc. We produce an occasional fake radio magazine, “The Recent Rupture Radio Hour,” the next installment will be at Barnsdall Park in spring 2010. We get a panel of artists, community activists, and the Chicken Man to answer psychic questions about the secrets of Life.