Last night, I went to this month’s After the Carnival reading in Long Beach. It was the book launch for Michael Buckley’s new short story collection, Miniature Men, from World Parade Books. Tonight, I’ll be heading down that way again to see Fred Voss and Clint Margrave at Cheapshots in Long Beach.
I always enjoy the readings in Long Beach for a number of reasons. The first is completely personal. I went to Long Beach State for my MFA. I was a young man in the city and had a great time. Driving through those tightly packed streets brings me back to all the fun I had at that time with some of the most welcoming and open people I’ve ever known.
But the second reason I love those series is tied to the first. So many of the poets and writers are welcoming and open in that part of the town, and I’m not just talking about the way they treat each other and the people who show up to their readings. I’m talking about their writing.
I like a poem that’s accessible. I like a poet whose work makes clear sense. Too much poetry makes reference to ideas, people, and places that are so personal to the poets or their philosophies that when we read them, we are made to feel like outsiders. They are the cool kids, and we are the slightly awkward, acne-faced kids smelling vaguely like paste and sweat and wishing to be included.
Not so with the Long Beach movement. It all started with Charles Bukowski. If you know his work, you know how direct his language is and how clearly he transmits his ideas. You also know, and might be turned off by, how bawdy he can be. The legacy he left in Long Beach, through poets like Gerald Locklin, Donna Hilbert, Ray Zepeda, and their protégées is that of clear writing more than anything else.
When you read one of these poems, they draw you in and you feel that you are part of the literary world. They are real people writing about real events and real emotions. I can’t get enough of that. I like to know when I’m reading a poem that the poet understands what it’s like to have trouble paying bills or raising kids or driving on the Ten freeway. In short, I like to know that I’m not completely alone in this world, that I’m not going through this by myself. These poets do that.