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i was fortunate enough to be walking around saturday evening in downtown l.a. near 5th and main street, past the last bookstore (that’s the name of the bookstore) where folks were setting platters of vegetable dip out for a reading, i was glad to be able to make the reading. a movie company had a lane blocked off on 5th street with cops standing around and their big equipment vans parked on main street, with their spotlights and grips on 5th in an alley, beside (i realized) maybe the oldest building i’d seen downtown with those jutting cantilevered window boxes decorated with old-fashioned 19th century brocade masonry or latice. i thought those 19th century buildings had been blitzed from downtown, and now there’s condos on all sides, cupcake bakeries, vietnamese restaurants, and dog care establishments, even a large convenience store stocked with a wide variety of foodstuffs.

i was glad to see these things happening: livelier streets around 5th and main which used to be dead, skid row, new bookstores where none existed before, an emerging poet CHIWAN CHOI (who lives downtown) bringing out a first strong book (THE FLOOD from tia chucha press, a press I admire and respect as well, glad to see tia chucha’s continuing determinedly lo these many years), for a full crowd—a crowd that was busy buying books which chiwan signed at a table by the door, a popular crowd in a non-academic setting (these were not students required to be there, as in so many university readings), new life in the streets, new voices in poetry, and real appreciation for a ‘real poet’ who emerges for them out of their city.

i returned and waited for the reading because i liked what we read in my copy of THE FLOOD when we stood by the bert greene gallery (where my daughter mingled with friends at a student art exhibit) reading poems on the sidewalk: direct address of existential and poetic issues (not academic word play for lack of anything much to say), a breadth of actual experience—asuncion to NYC to L.A., some of the korean diaspora—articulated with heartfelt evocative imagery. maybe there’s some influence out of the jack grapes workshop of democratic standup poetics, a sometime school of l.a. poetry out of maybe the 1980s which reminded me of some of the strengths and some of the limitations of ernesto cardenal’s contemporary exteriorist workshops in nicaragua; no matter, choi goes beyond local influences in the poems, driving through the usual swales of words or mannerism to poems (say in a william carlos williams vein, localized in ‘not in ideas but things’) with pungency and potency. it’s great to see it happening. chiwan, speaking in the confident voice of the poems themselves, read them directly to the overflow crowd spilling out on the sidewalk. great to hear this terrific new poet step into the swing.

chiwan’s blog:

Chiwan Choi is a writer, editor, teacher, and publisher. He has been a member of the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective since 1989 and his poems and essays have also appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including ONTHEBUS, Esquire, and American Book Jam in Tokyo. Chiwan’s first book of poetry, The Flood, will be published by Tia Chucha Press in April, 2010.He is a regular in the Los Angeles literary circuit, often invited as a featured poet at readings at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, the legendary Beyond Baroque in Venice, and the Los Angeles Central Library.

After a two-year stint in New York, where he received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School at NYU, Chiwan returned to Los Angeles where he and his wife, Judeth Oden, launched a new publishing company to feature Los Angeles writers, Writ Large Press, in March of 2008.

He lives in Downtown Los Angeles with his wife and their dog, Bella. You can follow his writing on his blog,, on, and on The Nervous Breakdown (

May 2010
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