Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Los Angeles Is No Place For A Poet Anymore If It Really Ever Were

Poetry: the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.

Name the poets from Los Angeles who have left any long-standing impression on the form. There are not very many of them in my memory, Bukowski stands out, and make no mistake, Bukowski was an anomaly here. The landscape, the people and the culture of Los Angeles make it nearly impossible to write poetry.

I was looking through old notebooks a few weeks ago, from my time spent in both New Orleans and New York, and I found that I wrote poetry almost constantly. At bars, in backyards, subways and by the river. I wrote on public transportation and in bed. Now, in Los Angeles I find it impossible to write poems like I used to, and I have been trying to investigate why that is.

New York, Paris, Berlin, Rome, New Orleans and even San Francisco, these are places with a natural and consistent rhythm. It’s as if the collective energies of these metropolis’s converge into the consciousness of everyone and the poems feed from that energy. This is I attribute to the close quarters and constant feeling of connection with those around you that these cities provide. I am simplifying, sure, but I truly feel that Los Angeles may be the loneliest and happiest place in the world, all at the same time.

Los Angeles’s landscape is gargantuan. It covers 498.3 square miles, compared to other major cities, Manhattan = 22.7 square miles, Paris = 33.5 square miles, New Orleans is 363.5 square miles, but half of that is water and uninhabitable landmass. What I am getting at, is in these other cities all classes, colors, and ideologies are forced to come into contact on a daily basis. This is not the case in Los Angeles. Here we drive to work, to the store, to dinner. We eat in strip malls with people of similar income and similar color and beliefs. We eat at restaurants with one name that boast a “fusion” style meal, a melting-pot of cultures.

Let’s be honest, America was not meant to be a melting pot, it was meant to be a salad bowl, where flavors, colors and textures could co-exist in a harmony. We were not meant to all melt into some sludge of similarity. Hence, when I walk the streets of Manhattan or boldly spend 24 hours out and about in New Orleans, I come in contact with all walks of life, from the poorest man to the richest woman. In Los Angeles, I do not. I spend my time in bars and coffee shops with aspiring actresses, screenwriters and executives. These people not only seek fortune, but also fame. And the industry they seek it in lacks any motivation toward innovation, risk or being creative incendiaries.

Hence, poetry in Los Angeles is dormant, dead. And the poems that will inevitably flourish here are the shallow and lonely kind. A wish for intercourse with a model, a job on set, or paparazzi snapping photos outside an underwhelming bar. Whereas New York City’s poems are of echoing footsteps in late streets, the flicker of footsteps and the traces of hip hop playing from windows. In New Orleans it’s blurry bar rooms, sweat filled sexuality and the stinging sound of jazz. And in Paris it’s insomnia and politics. But, in Los Angeles, it’s Bukowski, drunk and alone with a whore, embarrassed by his face and longing for success, which he will only want to cover with more success.

This is what I began writing today, searching for poems and finding people at the table next to me bragging that they went to summer camp with a friend of Seth Rogens. Liking everything is failure. Failing is what people here perceive as success. Poetry is a bone cleaned of the meat that once held life and meaning. But to write and to do it well one must be in the rhythm of nature, hence when an individual lives his or her life against nature, they become detached and unable to find the natural movement of ideas and sentences. Once they become conscious of that, it becomes an escalating battle so frustrating that ultimately everything becomes so extreme that things seem hopeless. The poet, by this point exasperated, must remember that Nothing is a failure, everything is to learn.

Los Angeles, a poet’s town? Maybe not, but a poet living in this town, must work harder in his imagination or memory to transport himself to the locales that inspire him. Either that or he must move.

~ Craig A. Platt

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The National are America's Nostalgia, Sadness, Frustrations and Failures

Raymond Carver once wrote, “"What good are insights? They only make things worse." Listening to The National confirms that with a true American feel. We have spent nearly the last twenty years searching for a band whose sound and lyrical power could describe the modern American experience. Not since Nirvana has a band’s sound so completely encompassed such a large group of people.

Funny that no one really knows whom they are and that their music doesn’t play on MTV. There is a reason for that, see The National are not tailor made for the young generation. No, they are for the generation of people who have left their youth behind, the ones that search for meaning in the hours between leaving the office and falling asleep. They are the band for the foreclosed, the bankrupt, the failed in love and the stoic, softly glazed glance at a half of face hidden in a mirror behind a line of bottles.

With lyrics like, sorrow found me when I was young / sorrow waited and sorrow won and a little more stupid, a little more scared / every minute more unprepared. They insist on loss, late night, glaring lights, blurred vision and all in the deep textured baritone of lead singer Matt Berninger.

What’s more surprising is last night at The Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles they filled a big room. A big room there to hear them, the headliners and they philosophized about loss, love, liquor and long winter nights. And standing there wondering what all these upper middle class hipsters were doing standing around listening were finding in the music. With a literary scene that has become overly cute with meta-narratives and wildly imaginative investigations of eastern European family trees, I realized that people were still seeking out pure Americana. And then it hit me, The National are America's nostalgia, sadness, frustrations and failures.

They are instinctively an American band, two guitars and a piano. They have a violin and drummer whose hits shake the room. The lyrics are literary and dreamy. They are indeed about loss and love. They are about a search for something. And maybe, maybe just maybe, the iPod, Blackberry, laptop, interweb scene is a little lost on what their bodies, their minds and their words are for. Maybe, just maybe, they need someone to remind them how low they could sink, how important flesh and blood and hate and sorrow are. Because, in the lyrics and the albums they create a litany of broken desperation woven into an American night.

And I'll try to find somethin' on this thing that means nothin' enough, is the lyric that leads into the chorus of Lemon World off the new album, High Violet.

And the great American short story writer Raymond Carver wrote: "life was a stone cutting and grinding..."

Perhaps The National have more in common with the great American Literary Voices then they do with modern pop music. Troubadours whose songs transport us to rural areas rainslicked and lonely, a bar room drama unfolding in a lonesome and desperate American night.

~ Craig A. Platt


Sunday, May 2, 2010



Dear Art World,

I would like to begin by apologizing in advance for letting you down, unfortunately we lack the financial backing we’d like to have, we have a small gallery here at Bystander, we’re working out of home on this thing.

Even more offensive to you, Art World, we’re going to hang the show in our home. But let’s be honest, the artists we chose can’t always paint masterpieces, sometimes they have to create some trash, make some mistakes, and well, if you laugh at the art or call it trash, that’s okay, it’s the name of the damn show. And you know what, Art World, we don’t really give a shit what you think, because according to most of your superstars everything they do is art and sometimes when they’re together they can’t help “pooping out art.” Right Terrence? So here it is, Trashed, stripped down and honest for the world, or the six people who show up to see.

The art world is flush with clean walled galleries, relaxed dealers standing with arms folded in the center of it all happy to discuss the importance of a work, the social and political significance of a photoshopped hi-res photo of some woman’s cooch spray painted and a pregnant woman peeing in the woods, or some specific drawing of a city's subway system, a blurred abstraction of a bird-on-a-wire, and maybe some words painted in clever phrases over bars of primary colors. The artists are in the business of flying from Berlin to LA to NY then on to Venice, and so on, as I’ve overheard or been boasted to at Mandrake on La Cienega. So how does a scrappy aspiring writer with aspirations towards owning a gallery finagle a group of rising art stars to show their work in his house?

For several years now I have been what I believe could be called a non-card-carrying fringe member of the exclusive art world. What that means is that I have attended more galleries that I care to remember, have seen the rise of art stars, gone to MFA open studios and plenty of house parties inhabited by complaining artists in every corner. To say it is a world I am fascinated by would be an understatement.

When a friend of mine challenged me a year ago to stop talking his ear off about what I felt was good and bad, right and wrong and the things I characterized as self-indulgent about the art world, and to begin writing good, well thought out criticism. I took him up on the offer, albeit not as often as I should’ve, and in addition I created the account I use on Twitter and the name of this blog, Artbystander. In that process I have met enthusiastic and ambitious artists, critics and fans, too many to name. These people have been an integral part in enriching my daily life and I thank them all for it.

Now, with another conversation being had on a Friday night after I’d had a few whiskeys and my friend in New York a few Makers deep as well, I blurted out the idea of having a gallery inside my house. A good idea, we both agreed, but how does one find artists interested in participating?

At the start I was without direction. Just a guy who thought it would be cool to have an art show in my house. I would randomly post to Twitter that I was looking for artists. And I received several replies of encouragement, but no artists came forward offering up their work for me to shill from the walls of my Silver Lake residence. A second conversation with an artist friend who was cleaning out his studio projected us forward to Trashed, or our hashtag on Twitter, #trashed. It took a few weeks of posts, ubiquitous quotes from art world public enemies and heroes, but eventually people started writing me and all of a sudden I had a group show in the works.

When I lived in New York and spent an inordinate amount of time with two artists and their friends from Syracuse University, I became obsessed with sitting in bars and scribbling on paper placemats, bar napkins, scraps of paper, etc… We’d try to trade drawings for drinks, start conversations with women based on some Sharpie’d work on a napkin, an incendiary work about some fraternity looking dude squeezing some poor NYU girl’s ass, we’d draw up some date rape work and the waitress would laugh, take it and bring us a free pitcher of beer.

My friend would say that work was “trash,” but to me it was art. So when I heard he was cleaning out his studio throwing out scraps of notes and sketches I offered to take it all and hang it in my house as a gallery show. He was up for it and Trashed was born. Now we have artists from all over participating and I’ve written what some may call the TRASHED MANIFESTO:

The show isn't meant to look clean or organized. It's meant to be studio trash, ramshackle and bare for the world to see and appreciate. Like looking at a skeleton or a gutted building. The raw materials. The individual parts rather than the sum of those parts. The idea of failure resonates in everything we do as aspiring artists, but begging the question, "what is art?" Also begs the question, "At what point do we fail as artists?" Perhaps the artist will send me art that didn't sell, or pieces they didn't think made the cut for a major gallery show. Or, maybe it's really trash, failed sculpture or collage, studies in color or maybe a notebook full of communist ramblings. Really, it's up to them to decide what the trash in their life is.

Trashed will let people know it isn't all finished product. That work goes into the art. That we're studying, learning, and progressing as artists and people

We will be holding an opening and closing reception and will be scheduling appointments with people interested in the art. The opening will be held on JUNE 12, 2010.

Some ground rules for the art. This is all going to be living in my home, so nothing that will rot, invite insects; strong smelling items would be bad too. Art will be mounted on the walls and items may be placed on the floor as well.

No framing any of the “trash.” In fact, if it feels right we may collage it into one big piece or maybe not. I want this show to feel fresh and well, like trash. But, really to the artist it may be trash, but to art fans it is not and that is my goal, to give them a chance to own art.

Finally let’s introduce you to the artists participating in Trashed. As we receive materials I will post to the blog previews of the flotsam we receive. Trashed is:

Jonathan Allen: (

Leticia Bajuyo (

Jennifer Dalton (

Jennifer Faist (Jennifer Faist on Art Net)

Olympia Lambert (

William Powhida (

Garric Simonsen (

Mark Venema (

Jeff Woodbury (

Please welcome them all to the show. Most importantly the thing you should come away with when you visit Trashed and you see the work on display, is that this is Trashed, we aren’t saying we’re important or that you should stop and take notice of us. But, what we do say is that if you do decide to stop and take notice, well, you will be pleasantly surprised. Art isn’t just for people that own multiple homes, employ hundreds of people and drive European SUVs to polo matches on the weekends during the summer. No, art is for those sweating it out in beer halls and back rooms, believing in singular moments versus bodies of work. TRASHED and the art it contains is for those who find the holy in oily puddles, desperate kisses, blurred red lights in drunken diver bars. TRASHED is for you, the person reading this right now.