Tag Archive | art

Poetics of Location

Two Sundays ago, my friend Isabelle and I went on a walking tour of Downtown LA with Mike Sonksen, a.k.a. Mike the Poet, who recently published a chapbook called Poetics of Location. The tour began at the Central Library of Los Angeles, a place both of us had been curious to see but had yet to visit. We arrived a bit early and went inside to see the mosaics and (very colonialist) murals in the soaring rotunda. Then we joined a handful of other tour participants outside the library’s north entrance. Mike greeted us and presented us with our signed copies of his new book.

The first stop on the tour was in fact the library, but this time we used the grand entrance on the west side of the building. My favorite part of the library was the steps outside this entrance, which were inscribed with phrases in various languages (English at various stages of its development, French, Korean, Chinese, and Esperanto, among many others), as well as the digits of pi, an integral, a passage of music, and much more.

Once we left the library, Mike the Poet proceeded to regale us with tidbits about the various buildings in the neighborhood. These included the Library Tower, once the tallest skyscraper in LA; the Biltmore Hotel; and the Gas Company Tower. He made scads of movie references that I didn’t get. He also told us about the literary history of LA, reading to us from John Fante in John Fante Square (just an intersection next to the Gas Company Tower) and telling us about Carey McWilliams in Pershing Square.

The tour was punctuated by Mike’s performances of some of his own poems, as well as performances and readings by his poet friends who also came on the tour. There was F. Douglas Brown, whom I’d heard at the Mixed Remixed Festival earlier this year; the brother and sister pair Dante and Monique Mitchell; and one of Mike’s students, a high school senior.

The tour took us through part of the Jewelry District, past movie palaces and a vaudeville hall, and into the charming St. Vincent’s Court. It ended at the Last Bookstore, a famous independent bookstore I’d wanted to visit for ages, mostly to see its iconic book arches (they’re like flying buttresses!). It did not disappoint. The place was a warren of books. In the center of the ground floor, there was a low stage surrounded by leather furniture oozing stuffing. We gathered here for a last reading. Mike, Dante, Monique, and F. Douglas Brown all performed more poems. Monique’s was inspired by the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel.

After the reading, Isabelle and I wandered the bookstore for a good while. I began in the music section, where I found one of Cecil Sharp’s collections of English folk songs and the complete scores of Handel’s concerti grossi (I did not buy either). In the children’s section, I found Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, which I’d heard a lot of great things about. So of course I picked it up. (But I’m still reading Dream of Red Mansions! Will it never end!) Upstairs, there was science fiction, fantasy, foreign languages, and much more, as well as the famous book arches! There are also galleries, studios, and shops on the second floor, including a yarn shop that was, alas, closed. Several artists’ work was exhibited in the narrow corridors. There were a bunch of painted wooden whales hanging on one wall. I particularly liked the illustrations by kAt Philbin. The artist bio said her work was reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s. I’m a Gorey fan, and I could see the resemblance in some of the pieces.

When I got home, I looked up the Last Bookstore and noticed that there was going to be a cello concert there the next day. Steuart Pincombe, a cellist with whom I wasn’t familiar, was going to be playing three of the Bach cello suites. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the concert, but I learned that Steuart Pincombe once had a project called What Wondrous Love Is This? in which he and other musicians played and sang early American music, including the shape note tunes Wondrous Love, Restoration, Ecstasy, and Russia, in a hollow square (the way shape note singers sit)! For that I would’ve gone all the way back to the Last Bookstore for the second time in as many days.

Yosemite and Beyond

Next up in my Northern California trip: Yosemite! My mother and I drove there from San Francisco, stopping for lunch in Tracy. Quite by accident, we stumbled upon an Indian grocery store/restaurant called Apna Bazaar, where we ate a delicious meal. Plus there was a case full of different flavors of barfi, labeled in English and (what I think was) Hindi, and the aisles of the grocery store were full of millet flour and pickled mangoes and rusks!

The last time I was in Yosemite, I was not yet born, so this was my first real visit. We stayed in a tent cabin in Half Dome Village in the valley, and we had two full days in the park. On the first day, we walked past/through the prescribed burn in the Ahwahnee Meadow. The smoke billowing under the pines and the flames licking the earth were a rather eerie sight. Naturally, when I noticed the sign for the Yosemite Cemetery, I had to go check out every gravestone and marker. Then we went up to Glacier Point to take in the views and hiked to McGurk Meadow, where we ate wild blueberries.

sam_9176

Me and Half Dome

img_4052

“Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

On the second day, we hiked along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake (where there were still patches of snow!). Then we went to Tuolomne Meadows and climbed Pothole Dome.

img_4091

Tenaya Lake

The following morning, we returned to San Francisco. My mother flew back to Minnesota, while I headed to San Francisco Chinatown. It was in fact the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) that day, and I was determined to buy moon cakes. I just walked up Grant Ave., impatiently overtaking tourists and keeping my eyes peeled for a bakery amidst all the kitsch. (I must have looked like a tourist myself, pulling my little suitcase and wearing a stuffed backpack.) On one street corner, a man sat on an overturned bucket playing the erhu. I finally found Eastern Bakery and proceeded to buy three moon cakes, a 粽子, and an egg tart, which I promptly ate on the street (just the egg tart).

From Chinatown I went to Berkeley, where I was staying for the night. My friend Isabelle had told me about an exhibit by Alina Chau at a Berkeley gallery called Tr!ckster, so I decided to go see it. I hadn’t realized Tr!ckster was both a gallery and a charming comic book store. Alina Chau’s paintings were gorgeous, and there were so many intriguing and beautiful graphic novels to page through. Best of all, I was invited to an impromptu tea party with the owner, a volunteer, a young customer, and his guardian. It was a magical afternoon. Before I left, I bought Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

img_4156

One of the paintings in the exhibit