Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Julia Stein reads from her novel where heroine gets arrested for civil rights!

2:00 pm EST, August 25, 2016, Julia Stein reads a selection from her unpublished novel 'Take a Piece of My Heart," Arts Express, WBAI radio 99.5 FM NYC. Her heroine takes part in the Free Speech Movement/civil rights sit-in at UC Berkeley during the hours the sit-inners are arrested:

Also, the reading will be streamed live online at and will be archived under Arts Express so one can listen to it in the month after 8/25/2016:

How Poets Can Change a City’s Culture? by Julia Stei

A Review of A Higher Form of Politics:  The Rise of a Poetry Scene, Los Angeles, 1950-1990. Sophie Rachmuhl. Otis Books Seismicity Editions, 2015.  249 pp. $12.95 (included is CD of Innerscapes Ten Portraits of Los Angeles poets A Film by Sophie Rachmuhl).
 Rachmuhl in her book constantly discusses what is LA poetry?  To answer that question, she combines Los Angeles historian Mike Davis, literary history, and the French sociologist Bourdieu to examine how poets can change a city’s culture through “a higher form of politics.” She uses Mike Davis’s argument in City of Quartz that three times intellectuals interened to change Los Angeles’s culture:  (1.)  the “Boosters,” intellectuals at the turn of the 20thcentury working for developers to sell the city through a tourist culture; 2.) the “debunkers” during the 1930s such as historian Carey McWilliams who debunked the Boosters’ mythology of fun in the sun; and  3.) the “Communards,” the  1950s small groups of avant-garde artists such asssemblage visual artists creating an autobiographical art as well as Ornette Coleman’s free jazz group—and I’d add Lester Horton dancers, the nation's first integrated dance company, with whom I studied as a child.  Rachmuhl is very right to call three groups of L.A. poets communards:  Black Arts poets in the 1960s; Chicano poets in the 1980s; and Venice poets of the 1950.
In describing Black Arts poets, the author fortunately describes the larger context of the1965 Watts Rebellion against an intensely segregated city and then the Watts Writers Workshop led by novelist Budd Schulberg. One wishes she’d add a bit more about Southcentral’s tradition of great jazz musicians—Eric Dolphy, Charlie Mingus, Buddy Collette, Frank Morgan, Don Cherry, Horace Tapscott, and Billy Higgins. Rachmuhl writes excellent portraits of three leading Black Arts poets:  Kamau Daaood, master poet whose work celebrates LA’s wonderful black jazz artists or often is a poetry/jazz collaboration; Father Amde of the Watts Prophets, whose record Rapping Black in a White World was a forerunner of rap; and Wanda Coleman, whose autobiographical poems about growing up in Watts or being a black single mother/worker/poet have searing honesty.

Rachmuhl uses the insights of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to explain what communards such as the Black Arts poets need for a successful intervention:  1.) growth of an audience that gives poets financial support and legitimacy; 2.) “growth of a network of writers, poetry organizers, and bookstore owners;” and 3.) rival distribution and “recognition networks multiplied, vying for cultural legitimacy.”The author traces how the Watts Workshop writers did develop an audience through their many performances in  night clubs to auditoriums gaining a wide audience and were thought as the voice of black Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Quincy Troup in 1968 edited the anthology Watts Poets: A Book of New Poetry and Essay which was sold in bookstores.
 Rachmuhl also has a wonderful section on the long-neglected Chicano/poets in L.A in the 1980s, tracing their intervention through the production of their two literary magazines and an anthology that developed an East LA Chicano audience. She has a fine analysis of Victor Valle’s brilliant poem “Cuidad of Los Angeles” which rewrites the city’s history from the viewpoint of a Chicano. In Rachmuhl’s portrait of Manual (Manazar) Gamboa, she describes him as a poet who after getting out of prison took part in the workshop at Beyond Baroque and then became head of Beyond Baroque,brilliantly editing Los Angeles first multi-racial magazine Obras, but was soon fired. Rachmuhl describes his terrific autobiographical poetry including about his time in jail and his pioneering writing workshops to thousands incarcerated in the prisons. L.A. in 2016 still carries out prison writing workshops that Manazar started. The book also ably discusses Marisela Norte’s marvelous poetry bicultural writing as well as her participation in the unique urban avant-garde Chicano scene in East LA including poets and visual artists who expressed both  Chicano pride and angry alienation doing performance art, placas, plays, gallery exhibits, art books, and readings. 

Rachmuhl’s third group of communards is the Venice Beat poets of the 1950s. Of the Venice beats only Stuart Perkoff published a book during the 1950s. Rachmuhl describes how Larry Lipton wrote a successful prose book about Venice beats called the Holy Barbarians that anointed poet Stuart Perkoff a poetry shaman and inspired a short mass media frenzy giving the Venice Beats an audience for a brief time in their 10 minutes of fame.The author fails to recognize Venice beats in the 1950s were influential as rebel symbols but not as poets. Unfortunately,she ignores the more important poets who were in the Tom McGrath group.

Rachmuhl’s misunderstanding of  1950s poetry are  a result of her using the old-fashioned idea of a split in U.S. poetry between formalist conservative modernism dominated by New Critics and the innovators found in Donald Allen’s anthology New American Poetry.  Cary Nelson’s brought out his breakthrough Repression and Recovery:  Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945 (1989). While the New Critics had  attacked and discarded 1930s left poets,  Nelson brought them back, with his brilliant criticism about pre-World War I left modernists, Harlem Renaissance poets, and1930s/ 1940s modernist dissidents. Then  Nelson’s anthology Modern American Poetry (2000) included for the first all ofU.S. 20th century poetry:  left dissident white poets and black poets throughout the century,Chinese immigrant poets, apolitical modernists,1940s Japanese-American haiku written in the concentration camps, and post-1960s multi-racial poets.  

In California many 1930s /40s radicals poets—Rexroth, Larry Lipton, and Tom McGrath--later inspired or publicized young writers.While Venice Beats scarcely published during the 1950s, the poets' group centered around Tom McGrath did.  Edwin Rolfe had published a book of poetry in 1938, his poetry on the Spanish Civil War made him the major U.S. poet to write about the Spanish Civil War, and he wrote the country’s best anti-McCarthy poems. After McGrath put out four books in the 1940s, and in L.A. he wrote much of his wonderful epic Letter to an Imaginary Friend how Americans survived hard times with grace in his Whitman-like voice.A young rebel Jewish working woman, Naomi Replansky made a splash with her first book of poetry of a 1950s free woman in Ring Song (1952) with Scribners. Don Gordon, the only one to grow up in LA,wrote movingly about World War II carnage in his 1940s book and in his book Displaced Persons (1958)  has themes apparent in his titles:  “Nobody Hears You,” “The Investigation,” “The Silent,” “The Dissenter,” “The Deportee,” “In the Gaunt Hour.”  

 Given the New Critics and McCathryite attacks, national recognition for these poets in the 1950s was impossible, but Rachmuhl’s idea of communards does fit McGrath starting California Quarterly and encouraging young poets to start Coastlines—the two important magazines publishing 1950s L.A. poetry. Part of these poets’ intervention succeeded in Los Angeles as the magazines bravely created free space for L.A. culture.

In the books’ section on L.A. women poets Rachmuhl omits three women who did wonderful work. A crucial part of 1970s-1980s feminist poetry was academics’ research and publications rediscovering global women’s poetrs.  Ann Stanford, a California State Northridge professor, published the path breaking Women Poets in English (1973), an anthology of 1000 years of poetry as well as another book on Anne Bradstreet, first poet of the American colonies. Stanford was also a fine poet publishing eight poetry collections of poetry as well as a teacher of many young poets.Another omitted poet/professor is Mitsuye Yamada focused her poetry on her wartime internment in two brilliant books of poetry:  Camp Notes and Other Poems(1976)and Desert Run: Poems and stories (1989). The third omitted poet is Sharon Doubiago, born and educated in L.A., but she has lived since her twenties outside the city.  In her epic poem on love in the time of genocide titled Hard Country (1982), Dubiago wrote about her Southern California childhood and adolescence.  She included for the first time in poetry the area’s history including Native history and basing her poem on Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, the first novel written about Southern California.

 Rachmul’s book unfortunately omits to follow the succeeding history of multi-racial communards joining together in an intervention in the literary culture in the 1980s.  Manazar’s firing from Beyond Baroque in 1980 spurred multi-ethnic poets to network reading spaces across the city from the Old Venice Jail to Manazar’s Galeria Ocaso in Silverlake, to Coleman/Straus’s show on KPFK radio, and to East LA’s CafĂ© Cultural and many others. I joined Electrum magazine, getting the magazine as much as multi-cultural poetry to carry on Manazar’s work of showcasing all of Southern California poetry, while John Crawford, who grew up in Pasadena and who had a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University, had his West End Press publish a multi-racial group of California poets—Sharon Doubiago, William Oandasan, Nelly Wong, Wendy Rose, Michelle Clinton, Sesshu Foster, Naomi Quinonez, Russell Leong, and my own book. Only Wong and Rose were not from Los Angeles. West End Press’s anthology Invocation LA:  Urban Multi-Cultural Poets (1989) grew out of this decade’s work. Unfortunately, Crawford moved to New Mexico for a college teaching job and continued his press there.

Rachmuhl also omits important Asian and Native American poets who were integral to L.A.’s 1980s poetry.Garrett Hongo grew up in Los Angeles, publishing three books of poetry: The Buddha Bandits down Highway 99 (1978), Yellow Light (1980), and The River of Heaven (1988), which was a Lamont Poetry Selection. In these books he writes stunning autiobiographical poems about his Asian Los Angeles. Native American William Oandasan, a Yuki Indian from Round Valley in Northern California, published seven poetry books with poetry guiding us into Indian country. He edited the magazine A, a pioneering poetry magazine of Native poets. During the mid-1980s he worked as an editor at the Native American Studies Center at UCLA and organized at UCLA a conference of Native American poets Nationally multi-racial poets had organized into the Before Columbus Book Foundation which in the 1980s had annual poetry awards, giving awards to William Oandasan’s Round Valley Songs and Invocation LA:  Urban Multi-Cultural Poets. These poets’ intervention was a breakthrough in gaining an audience, publishing, and laying the groundwork for later L.A .multi-racial literature which kept growing for the next 25 years and finally became accepted by 2015 as Los Angeles poetry with Luis Rodriguez the Poet Laureate of L.A.

Despite these omissions, Rachmuhl’s book is extremely valuable for showing how a French sociologist Bourdieu and Los Angeles historian Mike Daviscan help us understand how poetry is “a higher form of politics.” Rachmuhl’s portraits of neglected African-American and Chicano poets are both masterful, but her biggest accomplishment is her beginning to analyze the ground-up poetry revolution wrought in LA that eventually became the city’s literature by 2015.  Anyone interested in contemporary U.S. poetry should read this book, and future literary historians in focusing on more of L.A.neglected poets will certainly build on Rachmul’s work.

Julia Stein published Under the Ladder to Heaven (1984), her first of five poetry books. She did the only interview with poet Tom McGrath on his career in 1950s Los Angeles (On the Bus, 1992).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How Votes Were Nullified in California? By Julia Stein  June 17, 2016

By June 10, 2016, three days after the election, six million voters had been counted in California, but 2.5 million hadn’t been counted. Though pre-vote surveys showed Sanders only very narrowly behind Clinton right before voting day, the June 7 election count had Sanders 43% and Clinton 56%  (Sanders received 483,000 less votes than Clinton).  By law counties in California don’t have to finish their vote counting until July 8, 2016. Vote counting went slowly through June 16 when 1.9 million ballots still haven’t been counted (Truthdig). California votes were nullified.

According to the San Jose Mercury News in the 2012 primary election 31% of registered voters voted in California (2/3 of the states have more people voting), so the Democratic legislature in January 2016 changed the voting registration procedure making it easier and 650,000  people registered spring 2016, the largest increase in people 18-29.  The new law also allows people to be automatically registered when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, potentially adding up to 6.6 million new voters:   the legislature reasoned easier registration, problem solved. Though the state’s voting procedures and different ballots are quite complicated, a few Sanders’ supporters were the only people who tried to do any education on how to vote for new voters before election day.
June 6, 2016, the day before five states including California voted, the Associated Press and NBC  “News” both announced that Hillary Clinton had won the nomination based on a poll of super delegates, who don’t vote officially until July 25--a 100% false report. Mindy Romero, director of the UC Berkeley California Civil Engagement Project believes the AP report lowered turnout as many voters stayed home on Election Day—some Sanders voters stayed home.

A just released Harvard study by Professor T. Patterson and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Public Policy, and Politics, after studying eight cable news networks and newspapers, said, “The perception of the Clinton vs. Sanders race created by the media’s earliest coverage generated an aura of inevitability for Hillary Clinton and encouraged a dismissive attitude toward Sanders despite his early mega-rallies on the West Coast and huge advantage with small-dollar donations.” The Harvard study vindicated Bernie supporters that the mass media gave more coverage to Clinton “for the purpose of driving ad revenue and clicks rather than for the purpose of informing the public.”

Democracy Now on June 9, 2016, had Sanders consultant Larry Cohen say Sanders delegates at the Democratic Convention will criticize the problems in voting and will try to abolish the super delegate system. Super delegates are 15 % of the delegates whom voters don’t elect. The party elite, choosing super delegates from either other party elites or paid lobbyists who fund campaigns, instituted the super delegate system to end the voter insurgencies of the late 1960s and 1970s. Cohen argues corporations/Wall Street control the Democratic Party through the use of super delegates and their money, describing how in the state of Washington Sanders won with 72% of the vote but didn’t get one super delegate.

In Los Angeles voters recounted anecdotes of chaotic voting.  The Los Angeles Times reported June 14, 2016, that LA County Supervisors heard dozens of complaints from voters and poll workers about “broken voting machines, names missing from voter rosters, and polling stations that ran out of ballots.”  Marcia Martin, polling station inspector, said many voters were “recorded as vote-by-mail or never received their ballots, people complained their names didn’t appear on the rolls, and voters were registered with a party they hadn’t signed up for.”  Many of those complaining were first-time voters. Sanders voters complained they weren’t given ballots that allowed them to vote in the Democratic primary. Many poll workers were poorly trained.

L.A. County Register –Recorder Dean Logan acknowledged problems caused by “the surge in new voters and existing voters switching party preference …,” and he blamed other problems on a too-complex voting system which was “challenging for voters, cumbersome for poll workers, and difficult to administer.”  Logan added that L.A. country is overhauling its voting machine system, “eventually replac[ing] ink-based balloting with touch-screen machines.”  If Los Angeles or any other county in the state were serious about vote counting, they’d first train poll workers better and then just hire a great number of short-term workers to count quickly before, on, and just after election day.

Further, California voters are 48% Democrats, 27% Republicans, and 23% independents or 4.6 million independents, many of which are Sander’s voters and/ or young first-time voters who lean to Sanders. Democratic leaders know that about 48% reliably vote Democratic each election. Retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a pillar of the state’s Democratic elite, had a bad feud with Sanders’ supporters stemming from her being booed by them at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention. The Democratic elite might have good reasons not to invest in new, simplified voting procedures if they fear they will be rejected by the millions of new voters, but if the Democratic elite  restore the state’s New Deal heritage of free public tuition at UC and Cal State Universities (I went to UC Berkeley for $180/year in the 1960s), $15/hour minimum wage, etc, young voters will vote Democratic.

Similar voting problems to Los Angeles’ were reported across the state (San Diego voters held a protests against the same flaws as L.A. voters had complained), but no systematic study has been made and no lawsuit has been filed. If the state’s voting system breaks down with 650,000 new voters, how could it handle 6 million new voters? Though it’s commendable to make voter registration easier, the state needs to simplify its cumbersome voting procedures, get updated machines that also have paper ballots, get enough trained poll workers for the next election, and educate new voters before election day. Senator Senders on CBS news has endorsed open primaries, same day registration, and enough trained staff to get the votes counted quickly.

Californians who want to see votes quickly counted so they count should first try for a serious dialogue with the legislature and the counties that California’s voting procedures be simplified and able to handle 6.6 new million voters without breakdown. Now 2.5 million votes have been nullified by inept voting procedures, mass media propaganda, and the super delegate system.  If the state doesn’t improve how it votes, more millions of votes could be nullified in the next election.