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