Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Hollywood Notebook. Foto Essay: San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival

Review: Wendy C. Ortiz. Hollywood Notebook. Los Angeles CA: Writ Large Press, 2015.

Michael Sedano

That is a journal for old and young. The young in one another’s arms, scattershot subjects, heavy drinking, fidelity and infidelities, writer’s block, and a whelming sense of ageing intellect fill this “prose poemish memoir.” Wendy C. Ortiz’ Hollywood Notebook is a coming-of-age memoir, a past passing and to come account of a writer with a day job turning the corner into her 30s.

She thinks she’s getting old and nowhere, and is writing to kick herself in the muse and make something of herself. What she’s accomplished will please even old guys like me, tattered coat upon a stick, who doesn't understand some key stuff, but who knows that people will go through multiple comings-of-age in their consciousness and Ortiz’ 30s has been her first. I look forward to when she turns forty.

Hollywood Notebook reads a lot like that sounds, a commonplace book that assembles quotidian ephemera writ large. Setting it apart are those times when Ortiz’ meanderings build to flights of fun, eloquence, purposefulness, and more. For example, writing about writing in the book’s beginning, Ortiz observes, “I go through periods where my writing feels like a deep place I want to go to again and again, like a new lover whose first name I know, never asking about the last.”

It is not a ritual for me. It is not a wet place. It’s like walking around the lip of a volcano,
my body humming with the danger, and its beauty makes me just want to step inside. When it’s
not that, it’s the shadow next to me, lightly pressing its finger to my lips; when it’s not that, it’s
the shock of a lover I think I know everything about, until s/he brings out the instruments from
the box under the bed...and I want to know this experience again and again.
Which brings me here. (“eight” 11)

“Here” is Hollywood Notebook’s cast of themes assembled into tight little chapters. Lovers cheat, get over it. Peeping into neighbors’ windows. Drinking, a lot. Not writing, so she writes about not writing.

My pantyhose make me slip in the blood muck even as I insist that I like this life I agree
to go where he wants to go and agree to the hours that keep me running and the writing sits
abandoned in a corner like a mute tortured child waiting to be noticed. (44)

There’s a sense of declivity in the writer’s voice and in events she notices. Things go around and come around, like lovers and troubled relationships, rock music, and lovers. “I am hard-wired,” she writes, “to resist monogamy.”

Journeying to Irvine for a concert with big names Peaches, Bauhaus, and Nine Inch Nails, there’s a hint of resentment that adolescents today don’t know who Peaches nor Bauhaus are. Later in the notebook, the writer remembers sitting in cheap seats at rock concerts when she was 15, sneaking in with alcohol, and having more money at 15 than at 33.

People Ortiz' age will totally get this book. For old guys, Irony abounds in not knowing, witnessing the writer's enthusiasm: Who was this Trent Reznor, anyway? When not staring down the amazing light show and this cut, sexy man yelling and gasping and modulating his voice all over my eardrums, I was thoroughly entertained by the crowd. I wondered at the groups and clumps of people I saw and wondered: what is it that we have in common that we’re all here tonight? The people right around us were not even familiar with Peaches or Bauhaus, so we were all in for NIN...but really, what is the connection?

Good question, I ask, who is "Trent Reznor"? Luckily, there's Google, and I connect.

The blend of memoir with sentiment might lead one to think the writer suffers a Peter Pan complex, but Wendy is all grown up. As she observes after the concert and a end-of-the-night stop for doughnuts and companionship, “It made me happy to be an adult.”

Being a collection of the everyday, Hollywood Notebook has too many highpoints even to catalog, so finding all these makes reading Hollywood Notebook its own reward. One recollection, however, I cannot let pass unnoticed. Ortiz writes about reading her own stuff in “fifteen”:

I read at World Stage in Leimert Park. I drank two beers with S. and S. in a bar around the corner beforehand. I felt my voice go sing-songy as I read, with the cadence I wrote the piece in, with the nuances of the parentheses and brackets guiding me around in little labyrinths, which was just the effect I wanted.

It was a piece the writer had been reluctant to read. She floated on air after people complimented the piece. I’m sure the oral interpretation deeply influenced their praises, even if sing-songy.

Wendy C. Ortiz’s Hollywood Notebook makes a sterling contribution to the growing list of quintessential L.A. and Hollywood stories.

Visit the book’s website for ordering details.

San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival
“Los Angeles,” locals say they’re from, when someone asks. “LA” means Pasadena, Anaheim, San Fernando and Chatsworth

Poets from around here will tell anyone who asks, they’re from “Los Angeles,” even though they’re from one of the valleys on the other side of those coastal flats where El Lay sits. Like the San Gabriel Valley, whose 2015 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival continues in Pasadena with events through the end of the month.

Saturday, the Festival offered a packed room in the Santa Catalina Branch of the city’s public library. Hosted by affable Don Kingfisher Campbell, the line-up included Alexis Rhone Fancher, Joe Gardner, Elmast Kozloyan, Raundi Kai Moore-Kondo, Liz Gonzalez, Lois P. Jones, Matt Sedillo, and Mike the poet Sonksen. Seven Dhar read his Broadside Contest winner ahead of Sonksen. I arrived tardy and missed photographing Carl Stilwell billed as CaLokie.

Alexis Rhone Fancher holds her manuscript up, near eye level but 
without blocking her eye contact with her appreciative listeners.

You can view videos of each performer via the festival’s Facebook page, plus find details on remaining events.

A friendly audience encourages even uncomfortable poets to relax and work with the words to bring life into their own work. It’s an opportunity to lend aural presence to one’s expressions previously confined to print. Uniquely, reading one’s own stuff offers the only chance a writer gets to teach others how to read her or him.

Joe Gardner is trapped on the page, denying himself eye contact 
and directing his voice toward the floor rather than his audience. 

These poets have worked on their stuff. For most, they read their work effectively. Autobiographical content lends itself to dreamy readings and sentimental maunderings that these poets evade, more or less successfully. Most striking is the propensity of writers to adopt a “reader voice” so far variant from their conversational introductions that the manner shouts “poetry!” That’s what the words are supposed to do.

And what words! The day’s line-up ranges from Fancher’s noir account of a 16 year old with Uncle Kenny to Sonksen’s cadenced assemblages of places and personages that are puro El Lay. Gardner is a San Gabriel Valley poet, reading work located firmly in place with names like Dairy Valley. Kozloyan’s first piece bristles with indignation that she loads with significance. Kozloyan and Gonzalez are the only two poets to display their chap books. None were on sale.

Elmast Kozloyan reads with great animation.

As a photographer of public speakers and writers reading their own stuff, if I had my druthers, readers would not read. They would honor their art more by interpreting their expressions. Every writer made attempts to read words or passages with the emotion written and intended. Sounding natural, avoiding the artifice of the poetic voice is where they need practice.

A good portrait of a speaker shows them in mid-speech; mouth and eyes open, a dynamic posture. For that to occur, a reader needs to play to the cameras in the room. Ignoring the devices pointed their way, poets should make eye contact with both sides of the room. Saturday’s readers all worked the right side of the house and rarely looked to their left. My seats were on the left.

Raundi Kai Moore-Kondo is comfortable in the spotlight, reading, playing guitar and singing.

Dark spaces are no longer a big deal for digital cameras. High ISO sensitivity settings allow suitable exposures under wretched lighting. I used manual settings, 1/125 f/3.2 and 1/160 f/3.2. This tends to overcome conditions that make fotos taken on the same occasion look brighter or darker than others like bright colors, dark skin, white skin, standing in hot spots or hiding in shadows, holding up a white piece of paper. The speed is fast to stop motion without blurring. The aperture fuzzes out the busyness of the library stacks and architectural features.

Campbell’s videos are wonderful training aids as well as invaluable records of an important poetic event. “You had to be there,” once the lot of the spoken word no longer applies. Push a button and document the event to a file. The performance will be identical no matter the number of viewings. You can rewind and repeat sections at a mouse’s click.

Liz Gonzalez' set smiles with cultura and the poet's high comfort level
with her work and audience.

Lois P. Jones delivers from seated position, a good option for folks in the front row, 
problematic for the far rows who will crane their necks to see her.

Matt Sedillo delivers with power and works largely from memory,
allowing him to use the full technology of his body. In future, he will take
his hands out of his pockets to let him gesture freely.

Seven Dhar wins the broadside contest and gets 
to share the lyrical piece in a "command performance."

Mike The Poet Sonksen chants his stuff like pounding a drum. 
His is a virtuoso slice of oral life and puro El Lay.

Most readers were sharing new work, hence worked from letter-size paper or an electronic device. When reading from a published work, it's useful marketing to show the book.

The San Gabriel Valley poets to a woman and man need to consider an important element of beginning a reading called polarizing the audience. This means allowing the host's introduction hang there in the audience's attention. Let it sink in. 

Several poets started talking as they were striding up to the front. The informality of the setting may have encouraged them to step into the flow but a more effective technique is to step onto the stage in glow of the introduction. Find home base, stop, set your body in the scene. Sweep the house making eye contact, and only then, begin the first piece.

"Polarization" is a speaker's method of helping listeners orient themselves to change--from one poet to the next, to prepare for your change of pace, to allow the speaker to define the roles of speaker-listener: "I'm going to talk, you're going to listen." Audiences thus prepared will derive enhanced satisfaction in the experience, knowing the speaker up front is in charge.

Vote for Bloguero René

La Bloga's Wednesday columnist, children's picture book author René Colato Laínez is nominated by
Talleres de Poesia and Lunas Press to Premios Actitud El Salvador awarded by La Prensa de Los Angeles.

René writes: I am in the category “Personalidad con Actitud”. I need your vote. Please click the link. They will ask for your email address. Then they will send a code to your email address that you will need to finalize the vote. The last day to vote in April 15th. Thank you! ¡Muchas gracias!

He sido nominado a premios Actitud El Salvador otorgado por La Prensa de Los Angeles. Estoy en la categoría de Personalidad con Actitud. Necesito su voto para poder ganar. Visite el enlace para votar. Les pedirán su correo electrónico. Luego le enviaran un código a su correo electrónico que se debe agregar para poder finalizar la votación. La votaciones cierran el 15 de abril ¡Muchas gracias!é

1 comment:

Amelia ML Montes said...

Wonderful posting, Em! So glad to see so many writers and among them Liz! Que bien! Fabulous. Go, Rene!