For local book denizens, April is far from the cruelest month -- it is National Poetry Month, and the megalithic Los Angeles Times Festival of Books takes over the USC campus on the weekend of April 20 and 21. In spite of the ever-changing climate of the publishing industry and new tablet technology, there's been a rise in boutique small press publishers across the country concerned with producing well-crafted printed books. Hundreds of small presses across America are producing poetry books; the number is probably even higher than that. This week L.A. Letters spotlights a few quintessential small presses and communities of poetry across the country that are redefining the art form and promoting community simultaneously.
Before diving into these small presses and communities, here's a quick word about a great unknown book store on L.A.'s Eastside called Seite Books. Located on Rowan Avenue where Boyle Heights and City Terrace meet, this bookstore is easily one of the most undercover poetry venues in the city. On Sunday April 21, Seite will host Boyle Heights bard Rebecca Gonzales and her event, featuring Conney Williams and Luivette Resto. And in regards to the L.A. Times Festival of Books, Kaya Press is hosting their Smokin' Hot Lit Lounge with other L.A. small presses like Writ Large, Finishing Line, Les Figues, and Gold Line Press, among several others for their second year in a row. A lively milieu of indie authors will be presenting their work and hosting writing workshops all weekend long at the Festival. The dynamic community of small presses in L.A. is a microcosm for the rest of North America.
There is a fence up now. A very tall fence, not uncommon in Hollywood, reinforced with fabric like a blackout curtain, built atop a low ivy covered stone wall. The sidewalk lining the fence is dark and cold and one can feel security cameras and occasional human eyes watching your every move. Once you cross to the other side of Franklin Avenue the mood changes dramatically. You are now on the teeming downtown block of Franklin Village, where I have spent a good chunk of my adult life.
Countless times I have been sitting at Birds, or La Poubelle, or browsing at Native, or standing in the interminable lines at UCB, and looked up above the fence at the towering white Norman castle that dominates the skyline, so bright it dims light on the sunny side of the street. Countless times over glasses of champagne or Pabst, my friends and I have had hushed conversations about what goes on in that seven-story structure, which has been Scientology's Celebrity Centre and auditing headquarters since the church bought the building for one million dollars in 1973. I once even accepted an audition to act in one of the church's innumerable instructional films just so I could go inside. As I passed through the gates, I entered a beautiful garden where good-looking people sipped on espresso. I stepped into the lobby surrounded by soaring molded and gilded faux-French design, only to notice how faded and utilitarian everything felt -- like a great house taken over by soldiers during a war.
With Barack Obama's second term inauguration in January and the multiracial coalition assembled for his 2012 victory, observers everywhere hailed America's new demographics and electoral shifts: increasing numbers of Asian and Latino American voters exerting a national influence. But for Southern Californians, and Californians more broadly, this sort of diversity is old hat.
Granted, in the early twentieth century, white Midwestern and Southern migration drove population growth in Los Angeles and Orange County. Reyner Banham acknowledged these early waves: "They brought with them ... the prejudices, motivations, and ambitions of the central heartland of the USA."1
While it remains true that during this time L.A. become the "white spot," as noted by writers like Eric Avila, it also harbored significant numbers of immigrants living in and around Los Angeles. While a large Japanese population began to take root in the early part of the century, the Great Migration, particularly its later stages during WWII, brought greater numbers of African Americans to the region. And the Bracero Program, more or less a crude guest worker program, increased the metropolitan area's Mexican and Mexican American population to its highest levels.
Child obesity is intolerably high even for children in the best neighborhoods, but children of color suffer first and worst. In Los Angeles County, children who are of color and low income disproportionately live in the areas with the highest levels of obesity and the worst access to parks and schools fields. It is vital to address race, color, and national origin in any analyses of disparities in health and green access.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health published an otherwise excellent 2007 report analyzing obesity and green access compared to economic hardship -- but the report did not consider race, color or national origin.
The county mapped the prevalence of childhood obesity (see image above) for 128 cities and communities in L.A. County, with obesity rates varying widely from a low of 4% in Manhattan Beach to a high of 40.9% in Irwindale. The percentage of overweight and obese children tended to be higher in communities that provide fewer acres of parks, recreational areas, or wilderness areas. The report found a correlation between obesity and economic hardship. Cities or communities with a high economic burden -- measured as higher poverty, unemployment, median income, lower educational attainment, more dependents, crowded housing -- also had higher percentages of overweight and obese children.
Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?"
This week he hears from restaurant manager João Morlett:
"I was born in Mexico City. I am Mexican. My whole family is Mexican.
But at the tender age of six-months-old, my mother and I moved to Sao Paolo, Brazil because my father happens to be Brazilian.
My mother -- her name is Susana -- and my father met in Mexico and he went back to Brazil after my mother had me. My mother and father never got married and when we arrived in Brazil, my father left for Germany. So I never grew up with a father; he's never been a part of my life.
My mother and I stayed in Sao Paolo until I was about five-years-old. Then we moved to Southern California. Let's call this my Arrival Number One. I have four arrivals to tell you about.
This first time I arrived happened when I was about five-and-a-half years old. We lived in Huntington Beach, where my mother was a maid for a wealthy family. We lived in the house that she cleaned and took care of.
My Aunt Esperanza helped make this happen. She and my mom have a crazy relationship. They are the only two women in a family of eight -- two boys and six girls. My aunt came to Los Angeles probably close to forty years ago. She has two daughters, Vicky and Connie. They are my cousins, but I consider them to be my sisters.
Right around when I turned six, my mom and I moved back to Mexico. Queretaro is a city about three hours northwest of Mexico City. That's where my grandparents live and that's where I consider my Mexican hometown. We stayed there until 1994, when I was fourteen.
I Am Los Angeles is a video portrait series created by journalist and filmmaker Joris Debeij, showcasing the unique people and their ideas that make L.A. what it is. KCET Departures will be featuring these videos as part of our continuing coverage of the shifting cultures of Los Angeles.
It goes without saying that there are a lot of people striving to become actors in Hollywood. But for every bright young talent that arrives in Los Angeles aiming to work hard at honing his or her acting skills in the hopes of one day becoming an actor, there are few more aspiring actors of a different variety that showed up on the same day.
This second type really just wants to be able to tell folks back home that they're here -- and for as long as they manage to stay, they've made it. Gradually they become part of the landscape, and will continue to put in minimal effort for years, content to say the world missed out on their acting genius before they head home. That still leaves Los Angeles with a lot of people working really hard toward their dream, and they conjure a certain stereotype: the struggling actor, bussing tables and standing in line at auditions.
KCET Departures' "Writing on the Wall" guest editorial series continues with Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history, University of Texas at El Paso. His blog is dedicated to research on the art, architecture, and urban context of the Sheets Studio, with a special focus on its work for Home Savings and Loan. "I hope to inform the owners of these unique properties, and to get them in touch with living Sheets Studio artists and trained preservationists to help maintain this public art for generations to come," says Arenson, who lives in Los Angeles. He has news on a Sheets mosaic.
By Adam Arenson
This month, for the first time in thirty years, a Millard Sheets mosaic is being installed.
The mosaic is the only one of the artworks by Sheets (1907-1989) and other artists from his Claremont studio (active late 1950s-1991) to be on the move in recent years.
As JP Morgan Chase has renovated the former Home Savings branches they acquired from Washington Mutual after the financial meltdown, and as other buildings have changed hands, Millard Sheets murals have been rolled off the walls in San Antonio and San Jose; the wood-panel mural of the Rose Parade has been removed from a former Home Savings location in Pasadena and is now at Pasadena City College; and, unfortunately, there are instances in which Sheets Studio artwork has been painted over, in San Francisco, Redwood City, and Long Beach.
Thirty years ago, Missing Persons sang that nobody walks in Los Angeles, but experiencing La Brea Avenue suggests a new, more nuanced thesis: some walk in Los Angeles; they just don't stop walking. If they sit down, they do so in a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. La Brea offers a great many of those, some highly respected, yet with hardly a spot between them to take a breather without having to tip. Despite making genuinely credible claims to importance in eating, drinking, and specialty shopping, the street remains, on a human being's scale, for much of its twelve-mile length, starkly inhospitable. Perhaps La Brea still retains too much usefulness as a thoroughfare to make meaningful concessions to street life, yet that very automotive stream and its many attendant eyeballs entices businesses to open there and thus act as their own billboards. "Be here" and "Keep moving": this street somehow sends both messages, and also neither.
I put the question of La Brea's simultaneous abundance and discomfort to Los Angeles Magazine's Chris Nichols, as much of an expert on this city's streets as anyone I know. "It's in the middle of major change," he explained in an interview on my podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. "La Brea is ground zero for these dense apartment projects right now. I'm not defending that Carl's Jr. [formerly at the corner of] Santa Monica, but when a very low-grade car-culture thing -- easy-breezy parking, you go in and do your business -- is replaced by a dense, to-the-sidewalk, giant sun-blocking apartment building, the whole neighborhood is changed. You don't realize there's about to be a wall of humanity there that didn't exist before." La Brea, in other words, has become a locus of the dominant process in 21st-century Los Angeles, whether you call it "densification," "infill," or, to use the term favored by critics of Councilman Eric Garcetti, "Manhattanization." Garcetti stands accused of having presided over this process in Hollywood, and his opponents in the mayoral race have warned us that it could happen elsewhere if he wins. I've heard participants in radio debates speak portentously of the the coming Los Angeles in which citizens find themselves "all smushed up together."
Following last week's list of poetry venues for National Poetry Month, this week L.A. Letters salutes publishers of poetry and an important anthology. There's no shortage of slick poetry books, whether it be published by a small press like L.A.'s Les Figues, a major house like Penguin, or a university press like Wesleyan. I am always on the lookout. I'd like to start with City Lights Books because they are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year.
I've written before how visiting City Lights Bookstore is often the first thing I do when I arrive in San Francisco. Their third floor poetry room is one of the most comprehensive poetry sections in any bookstore in North America. Furthermore, City Lights has published several hundred poetry titles over the last 60 years. The City Lights Pocket Poets Series will always be the holy grail for poetry books, with volumes on giants like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jack Hirschman, Phillip Lamantia, Frank O'Hara, Kamau Daaood, David Meltzer.and Gregory Corso, among many others. I know I'm not alone when I say it's a starting point for countless young poets.
While the City of Los Angeles stumbles along an ordinance process to find direction for its public art, Metro has been rolling along. The next list of artists commissioned by Metro was recently introduced, and from that selection of eight artists -- selected from 400 applicants -- is a varied list of proposals and concepts for public art that will be installed on Phase 2 of the Expo Line as part of a provision to commit .5 percent of its construction budget to make the rail system a visual engagement between people and place.
Not unlike Phase 1, the concepts are designed to make station platforms engaging to pedestrians, rail commuters, and passengers and drivers in vehicles, says Zipporah Yamamoto, Creative Services Manager for Metro. Phase 2 of the Expo Line will feature a total of ninety-four art panels, with the installations ranging from 8 to 24 art panels per station, using glass mosaic, ceramic mosaic, and porcelain tiles fabricated for durability. The Colorado and 4th Street terminus station will host a sculpture by artist Walter Hood.
They don't have the theatrical scale of some Gold Line markers, like the basket-as-artifact symbolism in the Gold Line Bridge by Andrew Leicester, or Mariachi Plaza Station's "El Nino Perdido" by Alejandro de la Loza, or even most of stations along the Red and Purple lines, making the new pieces seem diminutive in comparison. It's not budget cuts as much as limited room. ""It's about limited real estate," said Yamamoto. "There isn't space for large scale works at most of the Expo Line stations."
The works are designed to be aesthetic links to the immediate neighborhoods that have a platform station. The ink on the artist's contracts isn't dry, but the proposals will be soon be introduced.
There cannot be a full review of public art until its installed, but based on the Phase 1 installation, the city is growing a sophisticated transportation ethos. Public art in stations is not the destination. The smaller works become markers along a journey that extends to a series of destinations to other city neighborhoods. During the first few impressions, there may be curiosity to the meaning of the works, and that can have locals and visitors feel like they are discovering a brand new city.