Of the series of poems that is excerpted below, James Meetze has stated: "The poem is made by magic." This is the perfect phrase to initiate this week's portfolio of work by three Southern California poets, writers creating in the shadow (and sometimes crevices) around the film industry. To write in this space is, as Meetze's work is titled, a truly dark art: "I can say dark because I know / how light happens." Writers are, of course, valuable assets in Hollywood. But the ultimate goal of a movie is for the script to disappear, the writer to be forgotten, the written word to become invisible, lost, immaterial. Meetze counters that the written word itself when deployed in the form of a poem is sufficient as an object in itself: "I wanted to say without distortion: / language is just a tool. / Warped, it becomes a poem." And the language in these poems proceed to create "[s]tars pulled from the collapsible hat / they become a bunny / everyone oohs and ahhhs." Though these poems are filled with the language of magic, the purpose isn't to pull the wool over the eyes or create a brief moment of pure escapism. Rather, Meetze's magical feats allows us to see and confront our own situation in its actuality: "We are always in the process of / not knowing, I don’t know, reading the book of." The magic of this language conjures a new reality rather than a new fantasy.
Marci Vogel writes poems that explore space. They explore the space of the page, expanding out to the far reaches of the (here, digital) page. And they explore the space that Vogel herself inhabits: Los Angeles. In the first poem, Vogel places us with a mapmaker "navigating the sad," whose maps turn out to look remarkably like poems: "She had a way of moving across the page." The poem becomes map becomes poem, and in that traversing of forms "whole constellations" can be drawn "out of voice & air." In "Ladder of Angels Descends North of LAX," Vogel takes us to a favorite lookout point from where an overwhelming swath of Los Angeles can be witnessed "stretched out like a bowling alley in some summer blockbuster movie." Though surrounded entirely by the city's cement sprawl, in turning her place into the form of a poem, Vogel finds a transcendent space "[h]alfway between urban and heaven" that is more commonly expected in nature poetry. But these poems show that the process of making the poem creates this, not the location chosen. Or, as Vogel stated about these poems: "Close eyes, pick a spot––any spot––start here."
Southern California is beautiful: the beaches, the canyons, the weather. Southern California is ugly: the smog, the overbuilt sprawl, the vapid. Miguel Murphy's poetry navigates this dialectic space where one can witness simultaneously the "glamorous blackening of a winter sunset" and also the "[u]nseen bitch, pissing on the grass," and where a garden becomes a Bloomingdale's filled with "blossoms by Klein, Hermés, Versace, Gucci, / Boss & Burberry." In this space, Murphy finds the full range of the human: "Human is this heated / breath rising, breath rising in the late / immortal air." We are beautiful and the land we inhabit is beautiful. We are ugly and we make the land we inhabit ugly. We are mortal and we feel pain. We can sense a potential immortality and we feel hope. We are consumers and we are voracious in our desires. We are self-aware and we are thoughtful. We are "[s]o much opening brightly // the absolute puzzle of a personal emptiness. // Flowers. Arms. / When you hold me we visit the shadow."