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Laurel Ann Bogen is the author of 11 books of poetry and short fiction, including Washing a Language; Fission; The Last Girl in the Land of the Butterflies and Rag Tag We Kiss. Her newest book is Psychosis in the Produce Department: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2015 from Red Hen Press. Since 1990 she has been an instructor of poetry and performance for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where she received the Outstanding Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Well known for her lively readings, Bogen has read her work at Cornell University, The Savannah College of Art and Design, The Knitting Factory (NYC), The L.A. Metropolitan Transit Authority, MOCA and LACE. She is a recipient of the Pacificus Foundation’s Curtis Zahn Poetry Prize, two awards from the Academy of American Poets and a 2011 Pushcart Prize nomination. Her work has appeared in over 100 literary magazines and anthologies.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 33)

So much has happened since ‘ere I have blogged. For one, the world lost Gene Wilder. Why does this matter? you ask. Well, it matters a lot to me because he saved my life once when I thought there was no reason to live. That is it in a nutshell. I wrote a prose poem performance piece entitled Gene Wilder Saved My Life (Woman Tells All) that can be found — if you are interested — in my book, Psychosis in the Produce Department: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2015. Of course, he did not literally knock a revolver out of my hand, pull me from a burning building or sacrifice himself on my behalf. But he had this thing, this kindness and wisdom in his eyes, something wild and brilliant and truly, I loved him.

Someone once said that intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac. I would take it further: I would say that creativity is the ultimate aphrodisiac (with an intelligence chaser). So write on, create on, be brave and be wild. Become your own Gene Wilder. Your own Leo Bloom or Willy Wonka. And start that revolution. But not without me.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 31)

Greetings one and all. Yes, the book came out. And I am pleased and gratified. Exhausted, but quite happy. April in addition to being the cruelest month (as T.S. Eliot would say) is also National Poetry Month and so in April every state, municipality, library, foundation, school and what-not fall all over themselves to do something poetic. This, can be a good thing, however, it would be nice if they would spread it out over the rest of the year. This April I have suffered from an embarrassment of riches. The city of West Hollywood decided to promote the poets of Los Angeles by featuring some of them on electronic billboards on two sites: one on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and La Brea and the other on the Sunset Strip near the Roxy. I am honored to say that my profile and a line from one of my poems (Detective Supremo: And suddenly the bougainvillea greet you like a happy extortionist) appears on the same boulevard that I used to cruise in college with my boyfriend. It feels like a “if they could see me now” experience.

The concept of poetry as profession happened by chance I guess. Perhaps I was too stubborn or just outlasted the others. What do I mean by that? Well, I just never stopped doing it. 40+ years on.

I’ve seen young people sprout up with passion and attack the written word. But if it doesn’t come easily or relatively soon, they give up. There is also life that gets in the way. My life is an unusual one, I admit. I like the idea of people but I don’t like people themselves in specific. I am an excellent friend, but I do not let anyone get too close. If I did, it would get in the way of my work — my poetry — and my life. I would rather be a poet than anything. Not a wife, nor a mother, nor president of the United States. That has been my choice, not one that most people — especially women — choose. A solitary life but my life of words.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 30)

OK, I bet you thought you would never hear from me again. SURPRISE!! I have returned from the dead. I’ll be brief. I scared myself as the days ticked by until the new book, Psychosis in the Produce Department, which had been looming in the distant future was suddenly upon me. It had been accepted for publication approximately 6 years ago and, well even the most patient of souls found that the lead time seemed a long long away. Ladies and Gentlemen, the book will be out on April 8th, and the publication party will be a splendid occasion at Beyond Baroque. Come one / Come all. The book has all my favorite poems from 1975-2015. You like Rat City? It’s here. Origami: The Unfolding Heart? Yup. What about Havana? Mom and the Goldfish? Kisses I Remember? Yup yup yup.

As I call it All Bogen All the Time. 181 Pages of Poetry, old favorites and some you have never seen before. And, on top of that, thanks to Harlan Steinberg and Michael C Ford, some of the poems have QR codes and should you place your Smart phone on them you will hear my own voice reading those poems. Cool, eh?

Sometimes even the most seasoned writer is plagued with self-doubt. Count me in. However, as of today, I say begone!! My grandmother used to say when I was a girl “give it a hit and keep on going” and then she would hit her leg. I was never exactly sure what that meant but it seemed to be an affirmation not to give up or give in to weakness or despair. So Grandma, I am hitting my leg and saying I’m ready to go.

You want to go with me??

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 29)

Sooo I was feeling sorry for myself recently. You know the feeling. Things I thought I would accomplish in my life didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I probably would not win the Nobel Prize in Literature — sure I’m being facetious here, but when I was a baby poet as I called myself (and other poets under the age of 30) in my misspent youth, I thought I would set the poetic world on fire.

Why am I writing about this, you ask? I am reminded about something that a very wise poet said some years ago. I used to curate the poetry series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where we featured  Kamau Daaood, a towering figure in Los Angeles poetry and a driving force behind Los Angeles black cultural renaissance. Before he read he spoke about the role of being a local artist “I was taught that the concept of the local artist is a noble one. That to live and work in a community and to be known for that work, brings dignity to ones life.” 

Those words resonated with me. So much so that it brought me some peace of mind — look, I have no immediate family except my family of poets and, by extension, my students and the Right Honorable Sir Chumley of Amherst (the Best Kitty in the World). And I know that poetry has changed some of their lives and for the better. And, in the case of most of my students, had it not be for me they would not have ever delved into this world at all.

So what more do I need? Piles of gems on a gold platter? A face lift? Forgiveness for my shortcomings? The last one, would be nice, but would take forever I fear. And the others, well I’ve gone beyond that.

If you are reading this, this is my hope for you: know that wherever you are you make a difference in someone’s world. You might not know it, but you do. You don’t need to make that Hail-Mary play (as they say in football), you can just sit quietly where you are and listen to someone who needs to talk. Or just be.

Well, that’s it for tonight. Sleep well.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 28)

It’s too damn hot. Too hot to write. Too hot to breathe I think. Maybe I should concentrate on Christmas…This might sound odd, but making or purchasing gifts for my friends and family gives me more pleasure than anything else most of the time.

I come from a line of Professional Shoppers of the First Order. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the tea room at Bullock’s Wilshire to watch the fashion show with my grandmother and mother and aunts. Then my grandmother would try on hats — often buying one — and take me to the fifth floor and buy me a toy, usually a doll by Madame Alexander.

I have graduated to kamakazi shopper status. I know where to go to find what I need, go there, get it and get out before I become distracted, stressed out or overwhelmed by other shoppers.  Still finding the perfect gift for a person — not just any gift but the perfect gift — is a quest I willingly take on because I can imagine how tickled the recipient will be when they receive it. For example, growing up my brother’s favorite baseball player was Willie Mays. Even though I didn’t have much money, I saved up and for Brian’s 40th birthday, I was able to give him a signed baseball by the SF Giant star.

As for myself, I’m weird that way. I have too much stuff, don’t really want anything — perhaps that is why my life is as it is –isolated, in my head: I like the idea of people in general, in specific, not so great. I can be a fantastic Auntie Laurel (the one who takes nieces and nephews to the theater) but the one who takes them to the emergency room, probably not. It’s the old Push Me Pull You syndrome. Don’t Tread On Me.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 27)

Well, I thought I’d never get to this point. All of the Above seemed to be soooooo far in the distance that I had almost given up hope that it would ever arrive. O Ye of Little Faith! Today Red Hen Press informed me that it is time to get on the stick in a manner of speaking. The book will be out in less than a year and I must start working on getting / setting up readings for when it does. I’m kind of a have poem will travel type of gal. Any suggestions?

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I have in my hot little fists the remarkable brand new anthology WIDE AWAKE: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond. Edited by Suzanne Lummis and including 112 poets representing every possible school of poetry, this book should be required reading if you live in Los Angeles, if you want to live in Los Angeles, if you used to live in Los Angeles and want to see what we are still up to, or any and all permutations of those variables. A very few (of the many) poets included are Eloise Klein Healy, Bill Mohr, Kate Gale, Dana Gioia, Luis J. Rodriguez, David St. John, Ron Koertge, B.H. Fairchild, Wanda Coleman and Brendan Constantine. It is available from Amazon.com for $18.00 (cheap at any price). Order it now and you won’t be disappointed.

As an aside, next weekend, April 18-19th at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (taking place at the University of Southern California) many of those poets will be on site and reading from the book (such as myself). I will be at the Poetry Stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday and afterwards I will be found womaning the fort at the Beyond Baroque Booth. Please drop by.

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 25)

Welcome to January 2015. Welcome to a new journal to fill up with scribbles, students to meet, readings to give or listen to. In other words, time to get back on the stick with life.  What have I been doing since October one might ask? Avoiding Avoiding Avoiding.

Avoiding turning older — 65 next birthday, how that happened I do not know. I’m sensitive about it too. On Christmas — while I love my family / they mean very very much to me — it seemed like everyone was giving me beauty presents. It made the weird part in my brain turn on and tell me — wow you must look really bad.

And then I beat myself up for being superficial and not grateful for the family I do have. And  then remind myself of the fact that they want me around should be enough.  Ooohh foo, can I ever get it right? I am my own worst enemy I know: bad Laurel bad!!

This weekend I made 2 necklaces, a 3-strand bracelet (which I had to destroy for parts because the clasp was broken) and 9 pairs of earrings. Oh and I began a new poem too. 2015 Let’s Get the Party Started.

 

Bogen Today and Tomorrow (My World and Welcome to It 24)

Made it to October, whew. It is all downhill now. As long as I have air conditioning and some decent tunes listen to and a pad of paper and pen (more like many pads of paper and pens), I’m good.

Once a month in my master class instead of our usual format, we choose a topic that the group agree they want study or learn more about. Today it was the Elegy.

While I steeled myself for the usual pain and suffering that went beyond understanding, I was startled by some contemporary elegiac poems, such as Sharon Olds’ poem for Ruth Stone  (Suddenly) which crackled with life and humor. Or W.S.Merwin’s Elegy for a Walnut Tree, which unfolded with such  serene intent that I knew could stand anything that the universe hurled at me if need be. And would endure.

Well, just checking in tonight.

Brief, I know. But I’ve got some writing to do.