I happened to be in the Los Angeles area this weekend, so I made my way over to Tarzana to hear Jamie O?Halloran, Richard Modiano, Rick Lupert, Elizabeth Iannaci, Amélie Frank and Brendan Constantine — all former directors of the Valley Contemporary Poets — read a few poems each.
The afternoon opened up with two songs from the Gospel and close-harmony Soul duet Sandbloom. Normally I’m fairly averse to musical acts at a reading since I feel they sort of unfairly alter the attenuation of the audience’s ear with the inherently more aurally rich experience of music. Sort of a similar reason for not opening a classical music concert with a heavy metal act. That said, this band actually seemed to warm the audience up in an effective way with their gentle, compelling and sonorous songs.
Jamie O?Halloran read lyrical verse that seemed to have been carefully attended-to and crafted. Richard Modiano read more politically charged work that seemed a kind of observational humor, with the humor knob turned down. Rick Lupert, by contrast, is widely known as a funny poet, dry as a Santa Ana wind. But his is a talent equally suited to any subject in poetry — unique observation born of an unusual turn of mind.
After the break, and another song, Elizabeth Iannaci read poem after poem that can only be described as solid. Her work draws strength from compelling imagery and compression, the real fundamentals of most poetry that one can never learn too well. Amélie Frank arrived late after what she called “an industrial cat hair disaster” and read a variety of somewhat conversational, confessional poems. Brendan Constantine rounded the afternoon out with a few history lessons about the “good old days” of the VCP (as it’s known) and a blend of poetics positioned somewhere between Lupert’s leaps of wit, Iannaci’s strong spare imagery and O’Halloran’s careful craft. Unfortunately, he kept wringing his hands and twisting his fingers whenever he read a poem (though he appeared remarkably more composed while simply talking between poems) — giving a certain kind of energy to the reading itself but also, unfortunately, making him look a bit like a conniving mad scientist.
It is great to see the VCP alive and well, with a lovely home base in the Tarzana Cultural Center, a long line of supportive past directors, and a crew of new directors who seem eager to carry the torch. Poetry happens in the darndest of places — and “the valley” of all valleys (as it’s known to popular culture) — is clearly no exception.