by Janea Wilson
I didn’t start going to “serious” poetry readings until my first university poetry writing class. Sure, I’d gone to open mics and have seen plenty of slam poetry and spoken word, but never to anything I’d considered a literary reading. I had transferred to university wanting to write fiction, but the classes had already filled so poetry was my only option. When I’d read that attending poetry readings would make up a substantial part of my grade I got a little worried because I had no idea where to start. This is when I discovered the treasure that is Beyond Baroque.
Beyond Baroque is one of those places where if you go once, you’ll get hooked. It’s a community center with a mission to preserve the art of writing. Their mission is this:
[T]o advance the public awareness of and involvement in the literary arts; to provide a challenging program of events which promotes new work and diversity; to foster a place in the community for the exchange of challenging ideas and the nurturing of new work; to support writers through readings, workshops, books sales, publication, access to archived material and performance space; to encourage collaboration and cross-fertilization between writers and artists in multiple disciplines with the goal of producing mixed media art; to use the literary arts as a foundation for increasing education and literacy in our community.
It was here I came to see who I now consider a writing mentor despite my never having taken a class or workshop with her. Over the years I have learned so much about writing and overcoming subject-apprehension (is that a thing? I guess it is for me) through reading and re-reading her poetry. I “like” her on Facebook. I go to every reading of hers I can. Her sense of humor is a blend of dark irony and vulnerability. Once I heard someone say that Suzanne Lummis comes packing if not guns, lipstick. Her poetry sizzles and lingers, and if you ever get a chance to see her read live, you should definitely take it.
I read and reviewed her new collection, Open 24 Hours, and at the risk of waxing “fangirl” I absolutely recommend as a treat to yourself.
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Suzanne Lummis is the 2015 recipient of the George Drury Smith Award which honors an outstanding achievement in poetry. Having co-founded the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, led numerous workshops at the UCLA Extension School for creative writing, edited an anthology of poetry integral to the formation and expansion to the literary identity of Los Angeles, and a poem placed in The New Yorker, Lummis proves herself worthy of such an honor. Her newest book, Open 24 Hours, reflects the poet’s reputation as one who is vulnerable, sexual, comedic, and a bit LA noir.
This collection is divided into three sections: Substandard Housing, Broken and in Need of Repair, and The Fate Cookies. From the second section, her poem “Broken Rules #2: Everywhere I Go There I Am” opens with the epigraph, “No self-pitying poems.” Given her predilection for humor and irony, as we’ve read before in poems like “Letter to My Assailant” in an earlier collection, this epigraph may signal to the reader that this poem may in fact be a self-pitying poem. The poet’s tongue reads firmly planted in-cheek as the speaker narrates a scene at a dime store cafeteria—the last in downtown LA. The poet writes about a pair of women—frail, worn down, jaded—but still plodding along in life. In the volta, the turn, of the poem she writes, “Don’t be fooled, it’s just / another half-disguised / poem about me” (36).
The most cohesive section of the collection is The Fate Cookies. In these the poet imagines that fortune cookies are supplanted and heralded as fate cookies—as in, the messages entombed within the sweet and savory walls of the brittle dessert will lead her to a neutral state of finality and without a sense of serendipitous luck. The writer imagines the fates written on thin scraps of paper as a sort of play on dream visions. The speaker aligns with yet circumvents the certainty of the generic and leading statements. For example, “You Will Visit a Faraway Country That Has Been in Your Thoughts” repositions the fate as a challenge, calling the poet to actually question the idea of predestination and pseudoscience.
Open 24 Hours takes readers through various locales of Los Angeles. Lummis invokes the always available, always open persona of the city. She reveals and disrupts myth about writing poetry, and specifically writing poetry about and inspired by Los Angeles. This collection works to “raise the profile of poetry outside the bounds of Los Angeles,” and succeeds.
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