Bay Area Asian-Pacific-Islander-Amercan Poets and the Avant Garde Led by Barbara Jane Reyes

Sunday, December 18th, where were you Bay Area poets?

Small Press Traffic hosted an event curated by Barbara Jane Reyes, the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the California Book Award. Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Reyes presented a panel discussing Bay Area Asian-Pacific-Islander-American Poets and the Avant Garde. Participants included: Jai Arun Ravine, Margaret Rhee, Eileen Tabios, Truong Tran, and Jean Vengua.

Barbara began the afternoon by telling us of her own ambivalence about discussing ethnicity and poetics. She said she desired to deepen and make more complex the discussion around this intersection. She noted that sometimes a complex discussion is met with resistance. Sometimes avant-garde poetics is not discussed or tolerated within some sections of the APIA poetic community.  Class also plays a role as Reyes noted that APIA poetry has its roots in a politics that seeks to speak to the masses. In this context, sometimes the avant-garde is perceived as being intellectual and abstract with political alignments outside of the APIA community. With this background and set of provocations, Barbara turned the discussion over to the panel.

Jai Arun Ravine started us off. Jai is an engaging young writer who communicated enthusiasm and a set of poetic and artistic practices and endeavors deeply engaged with the complexities of identities, particularly at the intersection of multiple trans-identities.  Jai's blog describes Jai this way:

Jai Arun Ravine is a mixed race Thai American writer, dancer, video and performance artist. They received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (English/Creative Writing, Dance, Asian Studies) from Hollins University. They are the author of แล้ว and then entwine (Tinfish Press, 2011), the chapbook Is This January (Corollary Press, 2010) and the graphic poem project The Spiderboi Files. A recipient of fellowships from ComPeung, Djerassi and Kundiman, their short experimental film Tom/Trans/Thai recently exhibited at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Thailand. Jai grew up in Charleston, West Virginia and is currently based in the San Francisco bay area. They are a 2011-2012 Staff Writer for Lantern Review.

Jai treated us to a prezi presentation highlighting the numerous projects Jai is navigating. You can see these for yourself here: http://prezi.com/hxuhhi9qa7h5/jai-arun-ravine/

For a look at Jai's "Fan Christy" Karaoke project, click here.
And the "Tom/Trans/Thai" trailer here.
For even more, look here:

Jai's interest in the body, the multi-voiced, the non-conforming, that which crosses genre and queers categories of all kinds is very exciting and I look forward to reading and seeing more of Jai's work.

Next up was Margaret Rhee who read to us from a piece in progress that discusses two writers who have been important in Rhee's development as a poet. She cited both Fred Moten and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Rhee also made reference to Timothy Yu's amazing book (which I thoroughly enjoyed) Race and the Avant-Garde. Jai might also have mentioned Yu. Rhee noted her desire to move toward a more queer, more discomforting understanding of APIA poetry and suggested Yu was an example of someone headed in this direction.

Eileen Tabios began her talk by explaining that she is someone who tries not to criticize what others say about her work, whether she agrees with their interpretations or not. She noted that she traffics in capitalist kitsch and is interested in aesthetic attempts that seek to widen the boundaries. Tabios also said that some elliptical poetry which marks ethnicity gets categorized and exoticized as avant-garde. In her own work, Tabios noted she wants to write from a more archetypal place, one that might be understood through the image of an indigenous Filipino figure of a human with one hand raised, a figure that when viewed from a particular perspective appears to be connected both to earth and sky. Here the human is understood as connected to all; here there is no unfolding of time. "No one or nothing is alien to me" said Tabios. The avant-garde, she suggested, separates and in its very terms leaves something behind for something else. Tabios does not want to have to discard or leave behind anything. Tabios showed us a piece of artwork by Jenifer K. Wofford entitled "MacArthur Nurses" that she sees as achieving what she herself seeks in art and in her own work.

 In this work, Tabios sees Filipino nurses figured as an avant-garde of the Filipino diaspora. She pointed out how the nurses are not presented as individuals but the many.

Eileen has published her presentation from this event. You can find it here

Jean Vengua was the penultimate presenter. Jean, as her blog tells us, has taught at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and Gavilan College. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Prau, and a chapbook, The Aching Vicinities. With Mark Young, she co-edited the First Hay(na)ku Anthology, and The Hay(na)ku Anthology Vol. II. In the mid 1990s, Elizabeth H. Pisares and Jean Vengua formed Tulitos Press and published and edited the Debut: the Making of a Filipino American Film by Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, and The Flipside, by Rod Pulido. Her poetry and essays have been published in many journals and anthologies. She currently lives and works in Elkhorn, CA, near Salinas.

Jean shared some of her work, from her book Prau , or it might have been from Diario. She also discussed her current project working with U.S. Filipino periodicals. Again, her blog provides a helpful context. Jean's website explains:

 Commonwealth Cafe.info focuses on U.S. Filipino periodicals in the early 20th century, their migrating communities of writers and editors, and their influence on the emerging “Filipino American literature” (as it would later be called by the post-WWII generation of writers). The research reflects my interest in recovering U.S. Filipino literary heritage. Denise Enck, multi-talented writer and webdesigner, designed the site. The website is accompanied by a blog of the same name.
Jean discussed her interest in using what she called both the dreaming language of poetry and the utilitarian language of the newspaper.
Lastly, Truong Tran began his talk by saying that he was unprepared, explaining that of late he has been doing work with his hands rather than language. On his blog, Truong explains his current project The Lost and Found:
A Day In The Life

On days when I am not working as a poet and teacher, I try to wake up early. I empty my oversized messenger bag of books and papers and the previous day's half-eaten lunch. I place the strap over my left shoulder, with the bag firmly secured to my back. I begin to walk. I walk for as long as it takes to fill the bag with stuff: branches, findings from the local thrift stores, choice items left in boxes on sidewalks and, if I'm lucky, something I've never seen before. Once the bag is filled, I return home, empty the contents from the bag, creating mounds of what some might consider piles of junk. I see them as source materials and the beginnings to my art making process.

I am committed to using these recycled materials as an environmentally conscious artist but also as an artist who strives to make art accessible through both its practice and use of materials. Quite frankly, I get a kick out of forcing these disparate objects to come together, compromising and accommodating one another in their process of becoming something new, something beautiful.

I refer to what I do as art making because I do not paint, draw or sculpt in a traditional or learned consideration of artistic craft. My craft is founded in the doing. I glue things together. I make things fit. I dip things in wax. I cut. I build. I weave. I think. I fill things up with paint using ketchup bottles. I stare at things in hopes that these things will talk back to me. This is what I do. It makes me happy. It allows me to lose myself in the process of doing. It makes me sad. It allows me to find myself in the process of seeing.

I insist on it being called art at the end of the day (Truong Tran).

Go and visit Truong's blog to get a peek at some of his artwork.

Truong did discuss a current writing project that entails returning to earlier work, specifically his first book with the goal of erasing otherness from the book. He noted that this project strikes some people as deeply problematic but that he sees it as empowering. He is contemplating the design of the book, using a French fold, with the text black-lined on the outside, a design requiring people to cut open the book to get to the language that remains on the inside.

He then read something from Placing the Accents that when erased is transformed into "Placate."

All in all, a great, chilly Sunday afternoon in the Mission with engaging discussion after panel presentations which, sadly, I cannot reproduce here.



Fraser & Oppen on the Same Day

All in a Day:

Saturday, December 10th found me at work on the main first floor reference desk at the San Francisco Public Library from 10-2 where I fielded questions about Laughing Sal, Bergman's Fanny & Alexander, and books about Russian spies while also watching numerous Santas troop in and out of the library's bathrooms. They were part of "Santacon," a pub crawl for people who, for some unfathomable reason, enjoy dressing up in holiday Chris Kringle attire.

Then, off to a book party for Kathleen Fraser's newly published and lovely book movable TYYPe from Nightboat Books in New York. Hosted by Hazel White, the gathering was a pleasure. Jennifer Scappettone, Denise Newman, Susan Gevirtz, Steve Dickison, Bob Gluck, Peter Weltner, Michael Cross, Eleni Stecopoulos, Steven Gilmartin, Jamie Robles, and many others were in attendance. Kathleen read a generous selection from her book, about which Bob Gluck has written:

Kathleen Fraser never takes a short cut. In movable TYYPE she asks again, What can a poem be and do?--hanging words in the sky, opening the process collaboratively, turning the page into an environment, an installation. Intimacy is wedded to space and abstraction, and form itself is only a holding place in this spinning world. Her formal eclecticism becomes an expression of the mutability of life "in language under erosion."

Sometimes music takes the lead, "ear hinged forward." Fraser's musical syllables are not so much wrested from silence as they are examples of abundance, of fugal expectation. She casts into the world, tries it on: discomfort and pleasure, balance and awkwardness, trust and mistrust, presence and absence. The poems are not reduced essences but the multiplication of precise choices, including the typographic.

Fraser privileges attention a a gesture outward, even an offering. Precision becomes its own kind of emotion, a longing to be united with the world, to be carried up and held in the infinite patterning, and in that sense these poems are gestures toward connection and union (back cover R.Gluck).

Jennifer Scappettone writes:

Through the pull of collaboration with other artists and with the hours, hours' orologic, crossing languages and species of remoteness, Fraser's movable TYYPE searches time's keening in a material proliferation of Ys as the light (or bakelite shadow) from new coasts of Rome, observed, curves the march of extinction toward rescue instead: in lines exuberant, vigilant and cutting, recovering horizons of disappeared time with the hands (back cover J.Scappettone).

Fraser's book contains three sections:

 • 20TH CENTURY 2000
• Orologic
• The Disappeared
• A whodunit, for Barbara Guest
• 20th Century
• Alice’s shoe
• W I T N E S S 2007
• in the photo day
• cf story
• d spl cd v w l
• II SS 2011

Entitled "20th Century," the first is comprised of the following pieces: "Orologic," "The Disappeared," "A whodunit, for Barbara Guest,"  "20th Century," and "Alice's shoe." The second section consists of Four Artist Books, texts in collaboration" --and a thrid section includes new work.

Signaling pleasure, play, and attention to language's materiality, the titles of pieces and sections in the book are an invitation to the curious reader. And while the economics of book publishing and the prohibitive costs of color reproduction prevent the visual art from appearing with Fraser's writing, the book does not disappoint.  movable TYYPE includes a big chunk of work produced in collaboration with Hermine Ford, JoAnn Ugolini, Gonzalo Tena, and Nancy Tokar Miller. Fraser uses cut-ups, found material, journal responses and a generous receptivity to error to re/work, re/think meaning, relation, scale, perception. I love how Fraser's interest in "extending the graphics of typography," is enabled by an interesting practice of sustainability. By this I mean, she finds a way to return to writing that earlier she'd given "up [on] and filed...away" (172), only to return to it anew "for the pleasure of re/finding the meanings which had compelled me on a scale of arbitrariness." About hi   dde  violeth   i ddde  violet, Fraser writes:

I worked non-stop, using every word, letter and punctuation mark in the original and static text. This meant doubling-up on some vowels or consonants and allowing intentional misspellings, the product of which quickly absorbed me in its inventive possibilities. I ended up with 31 texts that I hung--happily--along one wall of my study and invited an audience of 2 to "view" (172).

Looking for a deeply satisfying reading that will urge you to the page? Fraser's movable TYYPE is the book for you.

Swiftly, then,

I scooted home to help my teenage daughter Alex with some review for final exams before heading out, a slice of pizza in mouth, to the Poetry Center's Oppen Memorial Lecture, featuring Peter Nicholls who dazzled all of us with his reading of impoverishment as a formal and political strategy in Oppen's poetics. 

The Poetry Center features the following summary of Nicholls' central concern:

In one of his later poems, Oppen speaks of poetic language as, ideally, something "impoverished // of tone of pose." The lecture asks what might constitute a political poetry in a social order in which a literal condition of impoverishment obtains, and how in refusing to adopt any kind of "pose," a poet might provide an adequate answer to that question. (Peter Nicholls)

It is impossible to capture the outline even of Peter's engaging argument, but I've noted down some bits and pieces here:

Nicholls situated Oppen's mobilization of impoverishment by way of Celan, Beckett, Leo Bersani, Robert Duncan, Bernard Buffet, Roland Barthes, and others. I was intrigued by Nicholls referencing Bernard Buffet's painting "Pieta" as an example of an art of impoverishment grounded in social reality.


I think Nicholls was suggesting that Buffet and Oppen share similar projects. We heard Oppen's poem: 


'out of poverty
to begin

again'     impoverished

of tone of pose that common

of parlance      Who
so poor the words

would    with      and          take on substantial

meaning        handholds         footholds

to dig in one's heels        sliding

hands and heels beyond the residential
lots       the plots          it is a poem

which may be sung
may well be sung              (Selected Poems 129)

Reading "Song, The Winds of Downhill," Peter pointed out that Oppen here begins by quoting Charles Simic's poem "White" (which you can read here) and from there went on  to discuss the tension between poetry and politics in Oppen's work and life--given the well known fact of his hiatus from writing, or at least publishing, for 25 years while the Oppens were politically active and then for a period, living in Mexico.

Exploring Oppen's dialectic negotiation of Marxism and existentialism, Nicholls suggests that for Oppen, poetry must recover something to stand on, for being in the world and being political, which is, for Oppen, a mode of social being. Predicated on a "social vision" rather than a dogmatic politics, a poetics of impoverishment enables Oppen to work within the impossible confines of discourse which is already always being absorbed in order to test what a poem can do, even if failure underwrites it all.

We also read a portion of Oppen's poem, "The Book of Job and a Draft of a Poem to Praise the Paths of the Living," a poem written "in memory of Mickey Schwerner," one of three civil rights workers killed by the Klan in Mississippi. Schwerner had lived with or rented a room in the Oppen's home. Part of what Nicholls focused on here is Oppen's resistance to enabling some kind of easy identification with the victims as well as the poem's formal and tonal impoverishment, Oppen's refusal of metaphor (in particular places, I think) as an act of negativity.

In the question/answer session after the talk, Michael Davidson suggested that what Nicholls was describing might be related to Adorno's negative dialectics. In response, Nicholls suggested that in Oppen there is more optimism for Oppen seeks a kind of plenitude, but situates it on a different ground, in dialectic, in which nothing is left behind.

From The Poetry Center, here's a bit about Peter Nicholls and some interesting quotes both from and about Nicholls' work:

PETER NICHOLLS is Professor of English at New York University, where me moved in 2009 after many years at the University of Sussex in Great Britain. His publications, that emphasize connections between American and European poetry, and the political and economic dimensions of literary works, include Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing, Modernisms: A Literary Guide and George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism, as well as many articles and essays on literature and theory. Nicholls co-edited with Laura Marcus The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature and with Gianni Cianci Ruskin and Modernism. He is US editor of Textual Practice, and lives in New York City.

“Oppen’s allusion to Blake... — ‘I must make no system, or I will be enslaved by another man’s’ — reflects his late fascination with Blake’s grasp of a vivid ‘actuality’ and his handling of the ‘little words’ in the Songs of Innocence and Experience: ‘Blake’s Tyger in the small words. They burn. The nouns are the visible universe, the night sky burning’. This ‘burning’ is the force of disclosure and revelation — the blazing forth of the ‘actual’ — but it is also, for Oppen as for Blake, a light which both illuminates and destroys, much as the divine creation gives birth to both the tiger and the lamb (‘One had not thought / To be afraid // Not of shadow but of light’.)...”

—Peter Nicholls, from George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism

“…the biography Nicholls is most interested in is not the record of the external events of Oppen's life, but the narrative of his intellectual and poetic development, and it's here that George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism proves itself most valuable. Simply put, as an account of the development of Oppen's poetics and of the influences on his thought, and as a series of illustrative readings of some of his most important poems, Nicholls's book is an exemplary piece of scholarship.” —Mark Scroggins


LeftWrite! 30 Years Later

Kaplan Harris. Photo: Andrew Kenower

On December 4th, 2011, Small Press Traffic continued its look back at the Bay Area Poetry scene by revisiting the LeftWrite! Conference of 1981 organized by Steve Abbott, Bruce Boone, Bob Gluck and others. Attended by some 300 writers of diverse backgrounds and poetics, the Conference had the goal of building a coalition of writers from a variety of Leftist perspectives. The conference proved to be contentious; throughout it the participants wrestled over how to bridge their differences and work together though they consistently disagreed about the core issues of class, sexuality, and gender.

Bob Gluck. Photo: Andrew Kenower
 Kaplan Harris began the evening by situating the Conference in its historical moment while he also described how it was organized, who did what, and then went on to outline the substance of the event. You can read his notes hereBob Gluck and Bruce Boone each provided their own recollections and located the conference in the context of their lives and political and poetic commitments while also discussing the current Occupy movements. Providing a sense of the variety of people and voices, Bob read a series of quotes from a number of the participants. You can read these here. Bruce remarked upon the enormous generosity of all the Conference participants, while also noting "the great divide, like the Rocky Mountains" that lesbian, gay, and women's issues constituted against the backdrop of a continuing struggle between the Old and New Left. Bruce also referred to the homophobia that reared its ugly head, igniting anxiety, anger and fear. Both Bob and Bruce discussed how the conference organizers and participants attempted to answer the question: how do we maintain differences and yet work together? A Left Writers Union was established during the conference; however, the prioritization of class over all other frameworks for analyzing and responding to oppression ended up with many--including Gluck, Boone and Abbott--feeling frustrated and outraged with the project. The life experience of organizing a Left writers’ movement erupted into a fragmented and polarizing endeavor, as identity categories were plotted along a hierarchical structure

The LeftWrite! Conference constitutes an important moment in Bay Area literary and political history and it was a treat to get to hear Kaplan, Bob and Bruce talk about it.

Bruce Boone. Photo: Andrew Kenower

Thanks to Andrew Kenower for his fabulous photos. Andrew maintains AVoice Box: Bay Area Recordings of the Recent Past

Bob Gluck's Selection of Quotes from LeftWrite!

Left/Write Conference 1981

I hold myself accountable to several communities: working class, gay, lesbian, feminist, leftist.   Judy Grahn.

Art is not a way out.  There is no way out.  There’s only what we’ve got and how to turn it around to reinforce our fighting genius.  Judy Grahn

Just because Cuba isn’t advocating lesbianism or homosexuality, it’s because they’re trying to solve problems 100 times more acute and more important to the people.  Aljendro Murguia

In the USA, when we say something takes time, it means we’re not going to do it.  Robert Chrisman

The left has done its best to hide behind the skirts, or actually jockstraps, of patriarchy and has made a fetish out of “great men” to look up to.  Ted Matthews.

“the single most common accusation made about left writing is that it’s rhetorical.  In 1930’s magazines such as New Masses and Partisan Review, cultural analysis and political strategy were seen to be closely interrelated.  ”  David Plotke

Native American writers:
Wendy Rose: reviewers say they are not qualified to review this writing because they don’t have an anthology background.  Bookstore put our novels in the anthropology department,
Also the juvenile section, in libraries too, as though they had to be kids stories.
[Bob's aside: just as they put mine in Human Sexuality, Gay Sexuality etc.]

Black writing
Sha’am Wilson Hayes
I see three basic resources for financial assistance.  First is self-help.  Second is “relative assistance” or  assistance from your relatives.  The third is manna from foundations which is of course rapidly drying up. There few new blooms in site, under the leadership of Shah Reagan.”

Discussion of how Black Nationalism and Lesbian Separatism have conservative elements.  Discussion of black vs African American.  “You try things out until they work”

A workshop on Translation as a Political Took against Poundism

A poem travels language to language and across time as common property, a portion of a greater text still to be elaborated, and “otherness that fecundates the commonplace, a translation turns us toward the original and beyond.  A process that of both paraphrase and invention, it modifies the metabolism of the imagination, the earth’s intangible tilt.  Michael Kotch

The question is not whom to translate but how.  Do you want to preserve the cultural uniqueness of the poem or do you want to make it understood in San Francisco.  Somewhere the potatoes is common, elsewhere it may be a luxury.  Woman with German accent

There hasn’t always been an opportunity to read works by women of color.  In some bookstores I still see their books in the “race” section separated from the woman’s section.  Gabrielle Daniels
There is a moneyed establishment that feels if you write about El Salvador it’s not feminist writing but if you write about Tampax it is. Unidentified woman.

Discussion of new technologies as a means of publication. 

Fewer podiums, more dialogue. 

I see the cassette tape recorder as a lethal weapon.  Vanguards of us should go out with radio cassette players and play some consciousness.  Kush

Well, native people got poems from other planets.  David Moe

In 1947 the California Labor School conducted the last conference in San Francisco like this one.  But the school and the movements it launched was smashed by McCarthyism.  What we are here today for is to make sure we are not smashed by Reaganism.” William Mandel. 

This is one of the most exciting days of my life as a writer.  Ron Silliman

In 1977 168,000 volumes of poetry sold, fewer than the 192,000 rapes reported that year.  Ron Silliman.

We live in a class society.  There is a bourgeoisie, lumpen proletariat and distinctions between peasants and intellectuals.  RV Cottam

She found it odd that sexuality and the Soviet Union were the cutting edges of the conference and felt, therefore, gays and lesbians needed to rethink their relationships to the Left.  Amber was more convinced now that ever we have to maintain autonomous movements or we’d be lost. 

An unhealthy dose of militaristic politics both east and west has created a milieu of transfigured decadence, lunatic humor and bizarre behavior that defies American Tradition.  It is an encircled phenomena with its roots in dada, futurism of fascistic Italy, constructivism of revolutionary Russia, surrealism, nihilism, anarchism, and film noir of Hollywood in the thirties.  Richard Irwin

Ecology as a common denominator David Moe. 

Excerpts from Kaplan Harris on LeftWrite: 30 Years Later

Kaplan set the scene:
30 years ago, Christian Fundamentalism was creating a monolithic message-controlled media empire using the very tools of technology that had previously been seen as signs of a godless modernity. 30 years ago advocates of social programs were besieged again and again by the red baiting of Cold War rhetoric. 30 years ago the film Cruising brought audiences the silver screen fantasy of a serial killer who targeted gay men in S&M bars of New York. 30 years ago Kramer vs. Kramer swept the Academy Awards after it dramatized the changing gender roles wrought by second-wave feminism – never mind that the show's host that year, Johnny Carson, mocked President Carter in front of his live television audience for the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis. 30 years ago a secretarial revenge fantasy called 9-5 was the second-highest grossing movie. But 30 years ago adventure stories about white men dominated weekend box office returns: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, Escape from New York, and yet another installment in the James Bond 007 saving the world from communists.
30 years ago Thatcher and Reagan were swept into office by a wave of free market ideology that dominated economic superpowers of the West. 30 years ago an army of conservative think tanks and industry lobbyists were hard at work preaching the virtues of privatization. 30 years ago during the first year of his administration Reagan nominated Milton Friedman to his Economic Policy Advisory Board. 30 years ago the Reagan and Thacker administrations launched an all-out coordinated attack on labor and social welfare programs that had been established since the 1930s. 30 years ago was the moment that Paul Harvey has called the "turning point" in neoliberalizing of the U.S. economy.
30 years ago Time magazine named Ayatullah Khomeini its Man of the Year. Ronald Reagan won the honor the following year. 30 years ago Arnold Schwarzenegger won Mr. Olympia for the fifth and final time. 30 years ago IBM introduced the IBM PC. 30 years ago computer geeks were on the rise. 30 years ago the mystery of who shot J.R. was solved. 30 years ago John Lennon was murdered. 30 years ago the start of the fall television season was delayed by a 3-month strike of the Screen Actors Guild. 30 years ago Derrida published The Post-Card (1980), Foucault wrote his history of sexuality, and the Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl (in January of the new year). 30 years ago when the clock was ticking down to the start of a pandemic that would be called AIDS. And 30 years ago gay bashing and anti-feminism were very much part of the American vernacular.
Changes in the culture. Change in the political economy. Where would the battle be fought?
And then introduced the conference:
It was against the backdrop of these events that Steve Abbott and Bruce Boone organized the LeftWrite Unity Conference at the Noe Valley Ministry in February 1981. Their goal was to bring together diverse writers with heterogeneous, often competing aesthetic agendas. In imagining a more democratic, inclusive agenda for the Left, the conference was far ahead of its time. There were workshops for “Radical Asian-American Writing," “The Political Impact of Lesbian and Gay Writing,” "Translation as a Political Tool," "Native American Writing," and more. What today is sometimes called ecopoetry was the main topic of a workshop titled, "Take It To the Streets/Living Leaves of Grass." [Schedule] The conference steering committee was comprised of several familiar names: Robert Gluck (logistics), Bruce Boone & Denise Kastan (Finance), Steve Abbott (Agenda), John Mueller (Publicity). Denise Kastan was then the director of Small Press Traffic. Workshop coordinators: Robert Gluck, Wendy Rose, Deborah Major, Jack Hirschman, Ann Finger, Francisco X Alarcon, Ricardo Mendoza, Rosa de Anta, John Curl, Susu Jeffrey, Merle Woo, and Bruce Boone.]
The attendance numbers vary depending on the different accounts. Hilton Obenzinger wrote a conference report describing 250 attendees. Conyus wrote a conference report describing 150 people in the audience for the opening panel. He added, "There was a noticeable absence of blacks, Asians, and Latins present" (Conyus 91). Robert Glück has written about the conference. He recalls, “To our astonishment, three hundred people attended Left Write, so we accomplished on a civic stage what we were attempting in our writing, editing and curating: to mix groups and modes of discourse” (LN, 33).


The LeftWrite conference was visionary for mean reasons but not least because it brought these groups together under one big roof. In the decade before the conference, the different coalitions held many rallies and protests for their individual causes. The reading schedules and announcements in Poetry Flash can provide a brief survey:
February 1973 - Farmworkers Reading
March 1973 - Poetry Celebration for International Women's Day (at Jewish Community Center, SF)
March 1973 - Benefit reading for the People's Community School (at Berkeley Art Center)
8/31/1973 - Benefit Reading with Creeley and Kyger (Unitarian Church at Geary and Franklin)
Chilean Refugee Benefit Reading - with Fernando Alegria and Michael McLure (SF Museum of Art, spons. Poetry Center)
12/2/1973 – Benefit reading for the Greek Resistance at the Berkeley Unitarian Church.
2/13/1976 Benefit for the Balasaraswati Music and Dance School (with Gary Snyder at the SFSU Poetry Center)
April 1976 - Tin-Tan Benefit reading took place at Intersection;
6/5/1976 - Pro-Prop 15 reading/rally (Stricter regulation of Nuclear Power Plants – Prop. 15 – Measure was defeated.)
10/02/1976 - "Cotati Freedom Poetry Festival" - "88 poets" for the Folsom Prison Poetry Workshop (at Caberet Club)
11/19/76 – "Poetry from Violence Against Women – (at Glide Memorial Church)
3/7/1977 - "Doc" Stanley Defense Fund Poetry Jam - (at Earth People's Palace, Berkeley)
7/3/1977 – Prisoners' Benefit Reading with poems of San Quintin Prisoners (Burlingame Public Library)
12/23/1977 - Amnesty International Benefit reading
4/2/1978 - Women Writers Film Festival: A Benefit for Women's Building (SFSU)
6/6/1978 – Benefit for Tassajara (at Intersection with Philip Whalen)
6/17/1978 – Benefit for Native American Treaty Rights (against "nine bills in Congress abrogating all Indian Treaties," held at Grace Cathedral with nine poets, two speakers, light show, and music.)
6/27/1978 – Benefit for Small Press Traffic Bookstore (at Intersection with Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oppen, Tom Mandel, Bruce Boone, and Michael Palmer)
8/10/1978 – Benefit Reading for Cassandra Peten ("facing 7-10 years in prison on an attempted murder charge after shooting" abusive husband, held at Women and Women's Writers Union with Peten, Gloria Anzaldua, Sukey Durham, and others.)
12/10/1978 – Benefit Reading for New World Press (at Intersection with Ishmael Reed and nine other poets)
12/15/1975 – "Giant Performance Benefit for Native Americans in Jail" (at South of Market Cultural Center with more than twenty poets, slideshow, and music)
4/7/1979 - Anti-Nuke Rally with Artful Goodtimes Poetry Sideshow
2/11/1980 - “A poetry benefit to aid the Committee to Stop the Movie ‘Cruising.’ The issue: Violence against Gays in the Media," held at Small Press Traffic.[i]

Kaplan also provided the LeftWrite Conference Program (see below) and he explored the impact of homophobia and competing visions of the Left on the conference's work and outcomes. 

LeftWrite 1981
Panel 1. "How Does Our Writing Arise From And Affect Our Communities?" (Nellie Wong, Alejandro Murguia, Judy Grahn, Robert Chrisman).

1. Past Political Lessons: An Overview of Left Writing (George Benet, David Plotke). Transcribed/edited by Calvin Doucet.
2. Native American Writing (Wendy Rose, Frank La Pena, Jack Forbes, Janet Campbell, Maurice Kenny). Transcribed/edited by Murray.
3. Black Writing (Deborah Major, Sha'am Wilson Hayes, Darryl Gauff, Clyde Taylor). Transcribed/edited by C.T. Hall
4. Translation as a Political Tool Against Poundism (Jack Hirschman, Stephen Kessler, Kosrof Chantikian, Michael Koch, Charles Belbin, Doreen Stock, Peter Kastmiler, Csaba Polony). Transcribed by Michael Koch
5. The Politics of Feminist Writing (Ann Finger, Gabrielle Daniels, Margo Rivera). Transcribed/edited by Steve Abbott
6. Chicano Latino Writing (Juan Felipe Herrera, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Yvonne Bejarano-Yarbro, Alejandro Murguai). "Rethinking Mobilization: Thoughts on the Left/Write Conference" by Juan Felipe Herrera.
7. Take It to the Streets/Living Leaves of Grass (Leslie Simon, Kush, Artful Goodtimes). Transcribed/edited by Steve Abbott.

Panel II. "How Can Writers Best Join in a Unified Political Struggle?" (William Mandel, Amber Hollibaugh, Ron Silliman, Diane DiPrima). Transcribed/edited by Steve Abbott.

8. Writers as Workers (R.V. Cottam, Inez Gomez). Transcribed/edited by Allen Cohen.
9. Radical Asian-American Writing (Merle Woo, Spencer Nakasako, Vicki Geraro). Transcribed/edited by Paula Herbert.
10. Political Impact of Lesbian and Gay Writing (Jeff Escoffier, Eric Garber, Roberta Yusbah, Amber Hollibaugh). Transcribed/edited by Calvin Doucet.
11. Criticism as a Political Tool (Al Richmond, Mirtha N. Quintanales, Richard Irwin). Transcribe/edited by Ken Weichel.  

Steering committee: Robert Gluck (logistics), Bruce Boone & Denise Kastan (Finance), Steve Abbott (Agenda), John Mueller (Publicity).

John Curl (Conference Coordinator).

Workshop coordinators: Robert Gluck, Wendy Rose, Deborah Major, Jack Hirschman, Ann Finger, Francisco X Alarcon, Ricardo Mendoza, Rosa de Anta, John Curl, Susu Jeffrey, Merle Woo, and Bruce Boone.

Many thanks to Kaplan, Bob and Bruce for an engaging evening!