To visit LA Poetry Festival


by Suzanne Lummis

The Los Angeles Poetry Festival is a twelve-year-old non-profit arts organization whose one-year old website has lately become the object of our energy and attention — particularly the evolving noir realm. Before I describe our work in progress, however, I should mention that despite the promise of perpetual festivities implied by our name, this organization is involved with many kinds of poetry undertakings beyond the occasional city-wide festival. For example in non-festival years we have compiled and published the anthology Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, sponsored workshops with noted out-of-town poets (Billy Collins, Dorianne Laux, Robert Dana) and produced two poetry contests for children and professional poets, with substantial awards. But 2000 is shaping up as the year we couldn’t resist the siren call of cyberspace.

While we have expanded a number of the existing features of the Festival site and developed some new ones, the noir realm now under construction is surely our most innovative web-based enactment of the organization’s stated goals: to introduce poets to one another’s work, to bring together the best poetry of the region with outstanding poetry from beyond L.A., and to help expand the readership for poetry.

The following is a little directory of the various offerings at www.lapoetryfestival.org

L.A. NOIR: Partially in the interest of drawing new readers to poetry we are assembling film noir images, and other black and white photos of the period, with noirish poems to create a series of thematic pages. Some of these images are collages we have painstakingly created, and a number are original photographs which I managed to obtain with a good Minolta, high quality film and a lot of trial and error. Also, Web expert Penelope Torribio located some wonderfully apt photographs and has been instrumental in helping us realize our poetry noir vision.

I have been invited to reveal something of how aspects of our website developed, and so I will try to recollect the rudimentary origins of this corridor off our main site. I believe the commingling of poetry and film noir in my imagination began with a desire to bring together Larry Levis’s "Fish" — his account of a run-in with a tough cop and the imprint it left on his psyche — with the visage of Orson Welles in his Touch of Evil persona. The Larry Levis piece stands as one of the great American poems of its era, and, in the cops-gone-bad category of movie villains, Orson Welles’ brilliant turn as Hank Quinlan reigns supreme. When these two came together in the first page we completed for the noir realm, I had the sense that the association drew forth subtle shades of meaning and implication — and emotion — from both the poem and the film.

In some cases these explorations have enabled us to bring twists to classic noir motifs. In our page called The Guns we present crime movie scenes and a memorable line right out of the mouth of Humphrey Bogart to produce a decidedly anti-violence sentiment. And Mary Armstrong’s blistering poem certainly doesn’t glorify violence — quite the reverse — but it doesn’t engage in sanctimonious hand-ringing either.

At the time of this writing we have completed six thematic pages and six more are planned, including The City, The Chase, The Attitude, The Obsession.

PUBLICATIONS PAGE: Showcases recent major poetry publications, mostly from Los Angeles area poets, and also a range of fiction, non-fiction and biography likely to be of interest to poets — with excerpts from each book.

CONTEST WINNERS: Some of the winning poems from the Fin de Millennium Contest funded by Poets Anonymous in 1999, with $3,000 and $1,500 awards judged by Thomas Lux, and other winners selected by Solo editors David Oliveira and Jackson Wheeler.

POEMS FROM THE ’99 FESTIVAL: We couldn’t include everybody, but here is a lively, various cross-section of work from featured poets. Whoever peruses this page should come away with a fair sense of the range of Los Angeles based poetry.

ORGANIZERS PAGE: Bios of the organizers, with examples of our poetry.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE SOUTHWEST: The first in a series of four planned pages featuring poetry from specific areas of the country, guest-edited by poets from that region. The Spotlight on the Southwest was guest-edited by Carol Moldaw and Arthur Sze.

We hope you will visit us soon at LAPoetry Festival.