Friday, October 19, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33
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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on June 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 14

LA woman: Los Angeles poet Suzanne Lummis will read in Orcutt

By REBECCA ROSE

Suzanne Lummis is deeply flattered when someone is aware of her historic career in poetry.

Deeply humble yet giddily verbal about her work, in a short amount of time she offers great insight into the world of California poetry.

Lummis, along with fellow poet Dan Gerber, is set to appear at CORE Winery’s monthly poetry readings, hosted by author Michael McLaughlin.


GRACEFUL WORDS
Los Angeles-based poet Suzanne Lummis, who recently published Open 24 Hours, is set to appear at CORE Winery on June 9.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUZANNE LUMMIS

Lummis is a storied poet based in Los Angeles, who has published work in The New Ohio Review, Plume, The Hudson Review, Ploughshares, Hotel Amerika, The Antioch Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and The New Yorker. She also went through the UCLA Extension Writers Program. Her most recent poetry collection is Open 24 Hours, published by Lynx House Press. Lummis is also active in the ongoing poetry scene of Southern California; she founded The Los Angeles Poetry Festival with Sherman Pearl, which ran from 1989 to 2011.

The perennial poet has an interesting family background as well. Her grandfather, Charles Fletcher Lummis, served as the very first city editor of the Los Angeles Times in 1885. Lummis said he got the position after walking across the country to California from Ohio.

“He started in 1884 and arrived in 1885,” Lummis said. “What he’d done is accepted a job offer out there. … So, he just decided to walk to work. He did a column along the way.”

Lummis was just shy of her ninth birthday when she wrote her first poem. She was visiting Mexico and was reading a book given to her by her parents called Favorite Poems Old and New.

“It was the anthology of poetry for children in those days,” she said. “Both of my parents were great lovers of art. My father was a great lover of beauty in all of its forms. He loved Oscar Wilde and the 19th century poets.”

While she never met a poet as a young woman, Lummis declared herself a poet and was determined to pursue the art, she explained. Despite her passion for the genre, she said she fell away from it for a long stretch of time.

“Nobody could show me how to transition from writing very childish poetry that rhymed and sounded like children’s poetry of the age,” she said. “I didn’t know how to write poetry that dealt with other kinds of concerns. … I went a long stretch of time with having lost my writing and not even knowing who I was.”

Lummis found herself and her writing again when she spent an allowance to buy a small book of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. But Lummis said it was her time at CSU Fresno, under the tutelage of famed poet Peter Levine, that helped propel her writing to the next level.

Poetry night
Suzanne Lummis and Dan Gerber will read selections from their work at CORE Winery on June 9 at 7:30 p.m. The venue is located at 105 W. Clark Ave., Orcutt. More info: (805) 937-1600.

Levine, an acclaimed poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1994, was an exacting and blunt instructor who never wavered from holding his students to a higher standard.

“It was one of the best English departments in California, if not the U.S.,” Lummis said. “Levine [would go on to be] one of the most important influential teachers of the second half of the 20th century and the U.S. poet laureate for a year or so. That was all in the future at the time. We now know he was one of the most influential poetry writing teachers.”

She said Levine was much tougher than any teacher she had worked with before. He told the truth, bluntly, if a poem didn’t work. Lummis said her fellow students were all beginners and needed the critiques.

“That was his approach,” she said. “With a lot of poetry professors they think, unlike dance or theater or visual arts, they have to treat you with kid gloves. I think that’s actually harmful and not quite honest. With Levine, you just got told why what you were doing was not working.”

Lummis has a strong affinity for American film, specifically the film noir genre. She developed a class for the Writers’ Program at UCLA called Poetry Goes to the Movies: Writing the Poem Noir. She also hosts a web series, They Write by Night, produced by poetry.la, which delves into film noir and crime fiction, and poets influenced by the the genres.

To this day, she is still good natured about the long, arduous process of writing, revision, and rejection. When speaking about her poem, “How I Didn’t Get Myself to a Nunnery,” published in The New Yorker in 2014, Lummis has an unusual perspective about the poem’s journey.

“That had gotten rejected a couple of times,” she said. “Thank God. I am so grateful … because then it went to [Poetry Editor] Paul Muldoon at The New Yorker and they snapped it up. Sometimes it’s a good thing.”

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose embraces rejection. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

 

How I Didn’t Get Myself to a Nunnery

by Suzanne Lummis

That girl they found ensconced in mud and loam,

she wasn’t me. Small wonder, though, they jumped.

To a conclusion. Water puffs you up,

and we pale Slavic girls looked much alike—

back then. Deprivation smooths you out.

Yes, that was the season of self-drowned maids,

heart-to-hearts with skulls, great minds overthrown.

And minds that could be great if they could just

come up for air. Not in that town. Something stank.

 

But me, I drifted on. I like rivers.

And I’m all right with flowers. I floated

on a bed of roses—well, OK, rue

and columbine. It bore me up not down.

That night I made a circle with my thumb

and finger, like a lens, and peered through it

at the moon—mine, all mine. My kissed-white moon.

“Moon River wider than a...” Mancini/

Mercer wrote that, sure, but I wrote it first.

 

You wonder where I’m going with all this?

Where water goes. It empties into sea.

Sold! I’d take it—the sea or a fresh life.

Some other life. A good man—good enough,

fair—fished me out. He’d come to quench his thirst.

No sun-god prince, of course, like him I’d loved,

still loved. (Some loves don’t die; not even murder

kills them.) I married his thatched hut, hatched chicks—

kids running underfoot. Don’t cry for me,

 

Denmark. I’d learned the art of compromise

back there, in the black castle—then came blood,

ghosts. Something in me burst. If not lover,

father, king, then whom can you trust? Alone,

I took up some playing cards. I played them

into skinny air. A voice said, Swim or drown.

It said: Your house caught fire, flood, caught fear—

it’s coming down. No one loves you now, here.

By land or water, girl, get outta town. ∆

 




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