I made my way back in to Los Angeles tonight to hear Suzanne Lummis and Lynn Emanuel read at The Ruskin Art Club. Suzanne is always endearingly self-effacing and charming. She also really knows how to engage with an audience. Strangely, many have labeled her a performance poet for this reason when, in fact, I think she simply embodies all the right elements of an outstanding straight-up reading. She connects with each line of the poem, brings life to it without seeming artificial — all through her voice, each word clearly expressed but not curt or strained. She simply reads poems very well.
And what poems — an abundance of new work in her signature noir yet self-aware style. She seduces an audience into thinking they are getting entertainment — often with moments of humor, irony, and wit — but in the end her work always delivers art. She also read some timeless mainstays from her book In Danger. I am glad Val, who came with me, got to finally hear them. And I’m glad, of course, she came with me and made the ninety minute drive each way a stimulating delight.
Lynn Emanuel also read some of her most well-known works, including “White Dress” and “Blonde Bombshell”, which apparently Garrison Keillor has read in honor of Marilyn Monroe’s birthday. Her other work, from her newest book, is a significant departure from these more accessible poems with broad appeal. She attempts to investigate the relationship between reader and writer, between aspects of the mind and emotions, in dark, spare, strange, metapoetic works.
I finally got to learn about and experience a bit of the venerable Ruskin Art Club, which is reviving itself as a champion of the arts in Los Angeles. After the reading, I met up with two of my former classmates from Suzanne’s master class. It’s been about four years. Kathleen Tyler has just published his first book of poems, The Secret Box, and Jawanza Dumisani is circulating his second book to a select few publishers. He introduced me to a young poet who won a scholarship from The World Stage to study with Suzanne. It was heartening to hear that Jawanza is still hosting the writers workshop there each week, in the heart of the city, working to support the community and to provide opportunities for promising young poets.
We made our way home through considerable fog. It seems autumn has arrived in Southern California.