Series on Series
The Los Angeles Poetry Festival
by Suzanne Lummis, Director
Despite its gala appellation, The Los Angeles Poetry Festival is one non-profit organization that in most years would prefer not to exert itself producing massive city-wide festivals. Most years it's quite content simply to bring in some distinguished poet teachers to lead workshops in the community (Steve Kowit, for example, and Dorianne Laux, Billy Collins, Robert Dana) or to produce focused individual events such as the annual Newer Poets Reading at the Los Angeles Central Library. In 1995, it absorbed itself in a massive outreach for material, then the compilation of the anthology Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (still in demand but now out of print). In 2000, it devoted much time to the creation of an intricate on-line experience -- the "Poetry Noir Corridor" off the Festival home page (www.lapoetryfestival.org).
However, it was a city-wide poetry festival that gave rise to this organization, and several subsequent festivals that established it in the collective imagination of the Los Angeles poetry monde, so now and then the Festival's principal organizers bow to peer pressure and agree to undertake the formidable task once again.
This year's festival, though, October 11 - 21, will gather itself around just a dozen events--a manageable size, not the thirty-plus event occasions of some years past. This sort, like the one in '94 and the first of two in '99, we call "little" festivals. (We have experimented with other exotic adjectives but keep coming back to the pedestrian, but serviceable "little"). And yet this handful of poetry readings will fall under a grand and expansive title: Global Climate: Poetry 2001. While past festivals have featured individual readings devoted to raising awareness of some issue, this is the first time we've been moved to put the whole festival in the service of a larger cause.
Wherever possible, then, the readings -- curated by organizing committee members and other independent poet/organizers in the community -- will be devoted to raising support for various environmental organizations, each one chosen by the organizer of that reading. So far these include Friends of the L.A. River, Tree People, The San Joaquin Valley Endangered Species Recovery Program, and Echo Station, a local organization that rescues animals.
The Festival produces readings in traditional and non-traditional locations for poetry. This year we've secured a room at The L.A. Zoo, in The Los Angeles Central Library, at The Brewery (East Downtown), The Korean Cultural Center, Skylight Books, Espresso Mi Cultura Coffee House, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, the UCLA Campus (under the aegis of the UCLA Extension), and a gala closing reading at the site of the Festival's newest ally, Loyola Marymount University.
If there is a central event, that might the reading at Beyond Baroque (Oct. 14, Sunday, 4 p.m.): "Noir, Post-Noir and Non-Noir," a two-part evening with several Los Angeles area poets followed by the featured reader, National Book Award winner Lawrence Raab. Raab was invited because a number of poets here are intrigued by his manner of combining a commonplace, day-to-day world with elements of science fiction, the supernatural, the occult. We also enjoy his understated humor.
Another distinctive feature of this particular festival is the focus on poetry in other languages, specifically Spanish and Korean. It came to our attention that while many people who speak English as a second language do very well in conversation it's exceedingly difficult to understand the poetry of another language. (In fact, we've heard rumors that even some native English speakers claim not to understand poetry in their own language. Imagine.) Still, there are people in these communities eager to hear poetry, so Antonietta Villamil and Sung Yi have arranged for two Spanish language readings and a Korean/English event.
We have posted the schedule of events on our website, which also includes profiles of our organizers and a lively cross-section of poetry local and national. And of course The Noir Realm.
The principal funder of the 2001 festival is the ever beneficent City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, with valuable supplementary support from the West Coast branch of Poets & Writers, Inc. (with support which it, in turn, has received from the James Irvine Foundation).
(Suzanne Lummis is the director of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival and author of In Danger from Heyday Books, a selection of The California Poetry Series. Other poems can be found online at The Cortland Review, Issue #16 (www.cortlandreview.com), and in the Spring '01 issue of The Drunken Boat (www.thedrunkenboat.com). She leads several levels of poetry workshops through the UCLA Extension, and will be teaching this Fall at Loyola Marymount University.)