The Silver Lake district of Los Angeles has it's own facility of the DWP. Only rather than the Department of Water and Power, it's the Department of Water and Poetry. The ringleader of Poetic License is Larry Jaffe. Up until 9/11, Poetic License hadn't missed a Tuesday in 5 years. Recently, Larry relocated his readings to the Rainbow Room in Hollywood & the Autry Museum. PL holds these readings twice a month, once at the Rainbow Room & once at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. Larry sees it as his service to the community.
What would it take to get 150 cities around the world to each hold a poetry reading on the same evening? It took Larry Jaffe. This cat Larry managed to organize a bunch of noncommittal poets from around the world into a coordinated event sponsored by the United Nations. Along with Ram Devinini he started the United Nations Dialogue of Poetry.
Larry's efforts have also started a host network that extends to over 300 poetryhosts around the world from London, Jacksonville, Florida, Southern California, all over North America and beyond. This important medium has helped poets find readings in new cities, schedule European tours and after the recent World Trade Center tragedy the group was used to find missing friends.
The group is used to disseminate information. One recent message from an Afghani writer told an important truth about the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.
"I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing. I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters. But the Taliban and Ben Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats' nest of international thugs holed up in their country.Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering."
It is these sorts of truths that stirred Larry to start the network. The exchange of information battles ignorance and misinformed opinion. Through the sharing of ideas and knowledge important realizations are made. Popular misconceptions are exposed and the truth is illuminated. I recently spoke to Larry about his work and motivations. Larry's answers are in italics.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was about 8 years old... I used to dress up at Halloween as a beatnik complete with mascara'd goatee and bongo drums. And do poetry for treats. Later I worked on camp and school newspapers then underground/alternative media. I have always wanted to be a poet. Always...
What started you writing poetry?
Well like I said.. I grew up wanting to be a beatnik. I never been a great one for introspective poems. I mean once in a while they pop out. But for the most part my poetry is .. jeez is me to some extent .. it is my understanding of the world around me.. its reflections its nooks and crannies.. perhaps because of my journalistic background I see poetry as my art that reports things that folks don't often see.. a different take a different angle, rather than look in the mirror look behind it. So what started me is life. Life is the poem I continue to write..
Has the poetry scene changed?
It constantly changes.. each reading changes week to week.. truth be told each night changes .. we have a unique medium..the poet, the performer.. the audience are part of an ever-shifting landscape that moves through the night. The audience becomes the artist becomes the audience constantly changing. It is this dynamic that creates the live poetry reading into an art form like no other. So has the scene changed it always changes it is alive as the poets and poetry being performed. I would like to see some place where poets and other artists can hang out and communicate about their work, now that would be a real scene and I don't think we have achieved that yet.. like an Algonquin round table or something like this, because L.A. is so spread out.. it is very difficult me thinks. So many disparate parts and ideals. I have tried to bring them together you know.. with the host group etc. and that to me is very important.. that hosts can work together to improve the lot of poets. Hosts are the leaders of the poet community and by them working together we can really do effective and aesthetic things.
Who are your favorites?
By this, I believe you mean my fave poets. However, am not sure if you mean local or just of all time. Let's start with the statement that I do tend to love all poets. Anyone willing to risk their virginity for their words moves up notches for me. We have many talented poets in this area despite what some assholes may think. I don't know that folks in the "literary criticism" field or whatever it is they do understand the true purpose of poetry. I wonder if they understand the joy and inspiration that poetry brings to others. I truly wonder this.
But that is not answering your question. I like Leonard Cohen.. sorry folks I always have and always will. Langston Hughes is one of my favoritist as is Ferlinghetti and O'Hara. I dig Diane Diprima and have great affection for Kim Adononizzio.. I like Joseph Brodsky there is a Russian poet who wrote around the time of the revolution by the name of Mayakovsyky. I like Shelly and Blake.. so many ..
What gave you the idea to start the Dialogue of Poetry?
Well I did not start it. That was the providence of Ram Devineni a New York publisher of Rattapalatax. He is a man with a tremendous heart and tremendous drive. We connected last year somehow and like magic we had over 200 readings. It has been and will be an incredible event. Lord knows after this week we need that poetic healing.
Man's inhumanity to man is just inconceivable. The worst thing about evil is that it is inconceivable. Not many people can confront it. Evil is very very hard to face. How can you conceive in your wildest imagination what took place this week. Yes in a movie, it is fine but here we have real life, it is horrible. Perhaps our art needs to be refine and rather than just always going for the horrific as Hollywood does, it goes for the aesthetic and beautiful. I do believe that an artist imbues society with life, that life eventually imitates art, and we have been creating some very horrid art. Artists must take responsibility for their work. That is what dialogue is all about. To create a peaceful society through poetry. Sometimes I actually think we can. The outpouring of poets into a society can heal it. We need more poets not less. We need more readings! This is the flaw in what I call the academic way of thinking that has controlled poetry. Poetry should be the voice of a people not in an ivory tower sequestered and hidden. Counting syllables or commas or whatever they do.
How does music influence your work?
For me music has always been a very inspiration source. I seem to latch on to the rhythms and transform them into my poetry. I have always been a lover of blues. When I first moved to la. Oh so long ago. I lived in this place called garden court apartments. Right in the middle of Hollywood on the blvd. the room I rented had this huge closet that I set my typewriter up in and I would listen to music and type day and night. There is something about Robert Johnson's guitar and throaty voice that just got to me someplace so deep.. poetry was the only release. Lightning Hopkins guitar drove me crazy.. and then when I would hear Bessie Smith wail I was on my knees.
So how does it influence it.. I feel it in every letter. I have always felt poetry.. has its own music.. I guess I still feel that way.. I tend to listen to the sound of words together sometimes more than the meaning. The cadence and rhythm of a poem are all important to me.
How long have you lived in LA?
A long time. Both my daughters were born here at St. Johns hosp in Santa Monica. A long time.
the poet walks the streets...
Does LA influence your work?
Yeah I think so cuz one of my big influences writing wise is Raymond Chandler.. and I love L.A. through his eyes.. these mean streets of poetry. I love the kitchiness and I love I can kinda hide in the corners get lost at the beach.. walk Melrose and have my Los Feliz oasis.
How many hosts are on the group?
Currently we have some 300 or so hosts. Not earthshaking, I know. But when you consider that these folks have never talked to each other before or has there been anything like this, it is not too bad. It truly has been a work of love. Organizing poetry hosts is not the easiest thing in the world.
How long has it been running?
I started PoHo on July 18, 2000. That was the date of the first message. But the thought has been in mind for about 3 years now. I started the ill fated RoadPoets web site 2 years ago and abandoned that after a few months due to lack of interest. The list serve technology was not as simple as it is now and the web site took a lot of work and to get folks to send stuff in took miracles and frankly I got pretty disgusted with the whole thing.
I had been trying to round hosts up for the past year before that. But just no interest. A few of the guys like Eric Von Misener especially encouraged me to continue the pursuit. Finally after touring the east coast and talking it up with hosts back there.. I came back and started PoHo. And we had our first conclave with some 20 hosts and another 20 poets last April at Beyond Baroque. Amelie Frank was very instrumental in making that happen and Fred Dewey was very supportive in creating this first convention of poetry hosts. Next year we plan on making it more inclusive. But we had a great turnout of hosts and poets from the area this year which makes this so very worthwhile to get folks communicating.
We are working on creating a worldwide network of poetry hosts. By doing so we make it easier for touring poets. We make it easier on ourselves by sharing problems or opportunities. You can think of PoHo as a guild or trade organization for poetry hosts. It is very much about helping each other. Hosts are the leaders of the poetry community and by giving hosts and opportunity to work together we can work wonders in the world of poetry and spoken word. When we stay fractionalized and distant, it is much more difficult for even individual poets to survive.
Larry Jaffe is an important mediator. It's not only in the poetry community, but internationally. In these days of misconception it is important to have people that facilitate the exchange of knowledge. East Coast poet Georgia Popoff says,
"I want to express deep appreciation for Larry and his tireless efforts on behalf of all of us and the world at large in this. He has been criticized by some for his choice to personally moderate this forum. He has risked friendships in requesting that people reconsider the tones and tenets of their statements. He has created a safe haven for all of us to share our strange roles as poetry hosts and gives much of himself, no matter what his personal life may be demanding from him. This week he has been put to the test in a way that is extraordinary and he has selflessly served all of us and all we then serve. Please take a moment to thank Larry for his efforts and do him a big favor...take a moment from the pain to feel joy and the soul of creation within yourself."
The more the joy of creation is shared, the more we are prepared to battle ignorance. Larry's work with the Dialogue of Poetry and Poetryhosts group has assisted in opening up the gates and filters that attempt to keep the truth hidden. As more people come together with these intentions we can begin the long road to eradicate ignorance. The mission is: Dialogue through poetry -- building a culture of peace and non-violence in the world through poetry.
Larry's latest mission has been organizing benefit readings for victims of the recent terrorist attacks. Larry is not only an organizer but an alchemist. With more people focusing their energy like Larry, we will create beauty from the world's ugliness. His words below say it all...
"I have always felt that as artists we have a responsibility to society to inject spirit and care into it. In times like this poets should be working to heal society after all we are the doctors to the soul. This means more than simply pointing out truths but also creating beauty out of this ugliness. It is time for a new renaissance."