The Tip of the Iceberg
Poets are activists. This column is dedicated to literary giants active in the community. Poets, singer-songwriters, extraordinary musicians and other renaissance activists. Here is a collection of greats I've connected with recently. If you are in need of some new inspiration the books and CD's produced by the forthcoming list of artists will not disappoint. If any of the next mentioned artists stimulate you, buy their book or CD... There are also a few great poetry venues listed below. Support the arts!
Lewis MacAdams is the epitome of a poet-activist. Author of over a dozen books, he's been walking the line between poetry and politics for the last 40 years. He is the founder of the FRIENDS OF THE LOS ANGELES RIVER aka FOLAR. MacAdams started FOLAR in 1985 "as a 40-year performance art piece." He explains, "By calling Friends of the Los Angeles River a forty-year artwork I hoped to fortify us all against impatience and frustration and cynicism. It took more than forty years to screw the river up. I'm sure it will take more than forty years to bring it back to life again." Initially it was just him and a few of his friends. Twenty-two years later FOLAR boasts several thousand members. They remove 30 tons of garbage from the River every year. In 2001, FOLAR led a multi-class and multiethnic coalition that defeated developers plans to build industrial warehouses on the Cornfields and Taylor Yards. This is all a part of what MacAdams likes to call the intersection of art and politics. Lewis MacAdams is an urban alchemist.
His latest book of poems The River published by Blue Press has just gone to its 2nd printing. The River has been morphing and growing over the last decade. The brand new edition is truly a masterpiece. The poems are perfect; an amazing mix of poetry and fascinating tidbits. Beat luminary Gary Snyder describes it as, "a book awash with backwaters and broken concrete, bird and fish knowledge, hydrology and community hearings."
The River is a creative book. After reading it you can tell he knew what he was talking about... Check his verse...
The voice of the river
is a red wing blackbird
twittering in the trash bags
festooned across the
branches of a cottonwood
like prayer flags...
Lewis MacAdams is the voice of the river. He is also one of the greatest living poets in Los Angeles. The same can be said about Kamau Daaood.
Kamau Daaood is a giant. Literally and figuratively. He stands close to six feet five inches. The impact of his great words is only multiplied by his size. A major pioneer in the spoken word scene, he's shared the stage with legends like Gil Scott Heron and Amiri Baraka. Co-founder of the World Stage in Leimert Park, Daaood is better known to many as the "Word Musican," A legendary movie was made about him with the title Word Musician in 1985. Back in the late 60s when he was 18, he was asked to move to New York and join the Last Poets. Following in the footsteps of his mentor Horace Tapscott, he chose to stay in Los Angeles and act locally. Daaood performed for over three decades with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Ark and around the community in churches, schools, prisons, wherever duty called him.
After 35 years of bringing the word, he explains why he never pursued the limelight. Daaood told Erin Aubry Kaplan in the L.A. Weekly, “My poetry is more aligned with African tradition, and African tradition has an artist who has a role in the community — a djali — who has a purpose,” he explains. “It’s not to get rich and make records, but to heal situations for some greater purpose. Djalis are kind of like secular priests. When people run to open mikes these days, it’s mostly about ego — getting 15 minutes, and maybe 15 million. I saw it as a jam session, swapping ideas, getting inspiration from other people."
In 2005, Kamau Daaood's book The Language of Saxophones was published by City Lights. The collection contains his greatest poems from four decades. It includes several tribute poems to people like Billy Higgins, Tapscott, Bob Kaufman, Hendrix, Bird Parker, his children. He is a master of imagery and emotion. He's political without being obvious. Skilled with metaphor, rhythm and pure language. His work flows on the page or the stage. His CD is titled Leimert Park. It is a brilliant album. Twelve poems over just the right music. Pieces for Coltrane, Art Blakey, Billie Holiday, and his wife and family. Recorded in 1997 he has legendary Leimert Park musicians like Higgins, Tapscott, pianist Nate Morgan and superstar vocalist Dwight Trible on the recording.
Daaood crushes poetry with precision. His delivery is impeccable. The production on his disc is timeless like the poems. Postmodern Jazz, laid back hard bop. Recently, he has done work with Carlos Nino's project Ammon Contact. Check Daaood on the page or the stage, he's undeniable.
Another old school Los Angeles literary giant is Michael C Ford. He signed his book Emergency Exits for me last year at Skylight Books. Ford performed recently at Conrad Romo's Tongue & Groove Jam at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. Dating back to Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, Wanda Coleman and Exene Cervenka, there has always been a connection between punk rock and poetry. Lewis Macadams was also there. Michael C. Ford wrote a sharp poem about the Minutemen. The man has shared the stage with Bukowski and Jim Morrison, Michael C Ford is old school. He got that Jack Nicholson cool down pat.
We'll give you just one minute
to come out of there
with yr hands up, all you
greeting card rhymers.
We gotcha covered...
The Minutemen used this poem for the liner notes on one of their albums. The last lines say
This is yr last warning! Okay, boys,
let's go in & get 'em!
Michael C Ford is a brilliant poet.
The same night Michael C Ford was rocking, Besskepp also got down. Besskepp is a great poet. At the Hotel Cafe he read a short story and rocked a couple poems off his dome. The man born as Cory Cofer is the award-winning poet known as Besskepp. Besskepp is gifted at uplifting his audience. Over the last decade he's emerged as one of the top poets in the nation. Besskepp is a veteran of HBO's Def Poetry Jam, and countless poetry slams.
Besskepp's short stories hit hard like his poems. Quick thrusts at your heart bone. His manuscript has hilarious tales about apartments, garlic chicken, jerry weaves, flat shags and cornrows. Childhood anecdotes. His slices of life will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Hilarious tales from his childhood. Congratulations to Besskepp also because his venue A Mic & Dim Lights just celebrated its 7th anniversary. Besskepp is a leviathan.
Conrad Romo always hosts a great show at the Hotel Cafe. He calls it Tongue & Groove. He features short story writers, prose practioners, poets & singer-songwriters. One of the most diverse word venues in the city.
The Minutemen are from San Pedro. Their documentary film We Jam Econo will make you want to make your own film. These guys were pure poets. True artists. Their idea of punk rock was Do-It-Yourself. They were one of the only punk rock groups that could truly play. There were only three of them. They each are skilled musicians. Mike Watt the bassist is a punk rock legend. Ask Flea or any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They dedicated their BloodSugarSexMagickto Mike Watt. D Boon was the guitarist and lead singer of the Minutemen. The drummer George Hurley could spank the lids with the best of them.
Here’s one for Megan Jacobs. Singer-songwriter extraordinaire. Her new album of nine songs just dropped. The album is called Prosperity. Songs like “Life is Precious,” “New Orleans" and "Backdrop Downtown L.A.,” are postmodern Joni Mitchell. She writes her own songs and sings with all her heart while playing the keyboard or her Wurlitzer Organ. Megan Jacobs is the intersection of Echo Park and Topanga Canyon. She works below Laurel Canyon on the Sunset Strip. Her album release party at the Roxy back in September was one to remember. Jacobs was accompanied by guitarist Damon Aaron, drummer Dexter Story, vocalist Fanny Franklin. THE WOMAN CAN SING!
Kevin Stricke-9 has just released his book Nine Acts of Cowardice: And Other Urban FolkTales. Twelve urban folktales tackling survival, love, drug abuse, and murder. No one can write better about growing up in Westside Los Angeles. Stricke has a way of capturing moments like Bret Easton Ellis did with Less Than Zero. Compelling stories like "Brentmont," the tale of high school prom queen Teek Dyer in Brentwood in 1988. Stricke can make fun of himself and find the humor and irony. He is literary. Stricke-9 also has well over a decade of experience performing as a poet. He rocked London in the late 90s, and then came home to L.A. in 1999. He writes prose, poetry, and anything else he can while teaching English at a Public High School in Los Angeles.
A.K. Toney is a poet from Leimert Park. He started performing poetry as a 19-year-old in 1990 around Leimert Park and Hollywood. Growing up in Inglewood, he was a poet before he even realized it. One of his first poems was published in high school. By the time he was in his early 20's he was meeting up with poets like Kamau Daaood, Michael Datcher, Peter J. Harris and jazz legends like drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Horace Tapscott. Toney is one of the first poets in the 90s to travel to London and Europe. A.K. is now teaching youth poetry through his program “Reading Is Poetry.” Active in both the literary world and performance world, A.K. recently rocked a set of poems at Beyond Baroque and was photographed performing at the Tarfest in New Angeles Magazine. He'll be at the Stella Adler in Hollywood on December 5th.
One of the best places on the westside for poetry is in Venice called Mosaic.
Mosaic has an “anything goes” vibration that allows for improv and wicked performances. It’s a mind-blowing rotating cast of poets, emcees, singer-songwriters and eclectic performers. The driving force and impresario of Mosaic is Nicholas Walker aka Nicki Black. He grew up in Oakwood east Venice. Influenced by Venice beat poets like John Thomas, Philomene Long, Stuart Perkoff, Lawrence Lipton and the Holy Barbarians, the Mosaic family is carrying the torch for Venice Poetry. There are a lot of great artists in their circle. Bringing you back in the dense mosaic.
Reginald Lockett is a hot poet. Based in the Bay Area, I met him at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I bought his book Random History Lessons. The poems were excellent. Easily read. Bangin on the page or the stage. Turns out Lockett won a PEN OAKLAND/Josephine Mills Literary Award in 1996. One of these days we're gonna have him perform here in Los Angeles.
Tribal Café is on Temple Street riding the cusp between Echo Park and Historic Filipinotown. Live music, poetry, and art gatherings throw down there almost nightly.
Busstop Prophet hosted a classic jam there in early October. Straight up historic. Blackbird, Sarah Cruse, Sandbloom, PhillharmoniC, Busstop Prophet, yours truly, and the Luminaries.
Phil's paintings were on the wall. Phillharmonic is a prolific artist. Poet, painter, soccer coach, and playwright. His spirit is one of the archetypes that define why the mad ones are fearless. He produces more work than just about anybody I know. Phil came to UCLA on a soccer scholarship in 1992. He's always been very disciplined. His poetry and paintings are all a part of what he calls “Blak Pop Theatre.”
Lost Souls Café is poetry central in downtown Los Angeles. Nestled in an alley off 4th Street between Main and Spring in the Historic Core, Lost Souls is a hidden jewel, a spacious coffeehouse with exposed ceilings and a great performance space. Jared Cox aka Black Spinach has been hosting there for just under two years now. Sundays have never been the same. Alfie Numeric also hosts on Sundays as well. They alternate Sundays. Lost Souls Cafe is an amazing venue. Hollywood also seems to know this because they are always filming movies off 4th Street. The Historic Core neighborhood is developing local culture.
Donnell Alexander writes his ass off. He's now the editor of New Angeles Monthly. Donnell has 20 years of journalism experience. His prose can stop on a dime, and then, at the same time, attack with pinpoint accuracy. Over the years he's had a number of cover stories with the L.A. Weekly, L.A. Citybeat, major features with the L.A. Times, ESPN, also reporter gigs in the Bay Area and Boston.
If you ever wanna read some Los Angeles neo-noir, check out the work of John Gilmore. I've read his two books, Severed, and L.A. Despair. He has several others. The man pulls no punches. With anecdotes on James Dean, the Black Dahlia, John Holmes, and many others, he gives the inside scoop on the Los Angeles underworld. The only L.A. stories I've read as wild as Gilmore's is Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.
Lord Zen is from the Visionaries, one of my favorite hip-hop crews.
His solo debut just dropped. His vocabulary is strong. LVX Collective. It is a journey; word mathmatics; esoteric language; versatile styles,singing rhyming scatting yelling. Lord Zen doesn't disappoint.
Build An Ark is the brainchild of Carlos Nino. Based on the Ark's created by Sun Ra and Horace Tapscott, Nino has assembled an orchestra of over a dozen brilliant players. Guitars, horns, violins, citars, keyboards, percussions, and a whole host of other instruments. Nino calls it "the intersection between Laurel Canyon, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the cosmic jazz by John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane.” The album was released on John Coltrane's birthday. Bovard Auditorium on the USC Campus held a free concert by the Ark. It was hot. When Dwight Trible sings with the Ark it goes beyond words. A powerful vibration.
Big congratulations to Lyric Catalyst. He just dropped his debut album. Poet, producer, truth-seeker, Ryan Spence is hard-working. Congratulations is also in order to the up-and-coming poet from Long Beach named Dragonfly. He's just released his first cd recording of his poems. Dragonfly has great energy. Keep up the great work down there in Long Beach!
Speaking of Long Beach, here's one for Bradley Nowell. Lead singer of the band Sublime, Nowell was a lyricist before his time. Range is his middle name. Nowell could do it all. He sung his own language. Tongues. Vernacular local surf punk ska ragga culture. Pure Long Beach. Nowell spoke Spanish. Songs in Spanglish. Backyard parties with No Doubt is how they both became famous. They rocked hundreds of backyard parties, building up the local fan base. Eventually, the record companies caught up. By the time they realized he was a genius, Nowell vanished. He overdosed on heroin in San Francisco in 1996. The music he made is still selling. Sublime has sold over seventeen million albums. They are one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Southern California.
One of the only singer-songwriters alive that can even hold a candle to Bradley Nowell is Kevin Sandbloom. Sandbloom can give a whole room the chills. Sandbloom has close to two decades of musical experience. Growing up in the hills of Altadena he's collaborated with many talented musicians like Luke Cage and Damon Aaron. His last release From A Bird, has picked up fever with a slow, but steadily growing burn. The word about Sandbloom has taken him to Washington D.C., Atlanta, New York City, all over the Midwest and the entire length of the Pacifc Coast Highway. After playing with at least three different bands, and years of hitting the open mics around Southern California, Sandbloom now stands like an acoustic Too Short. A cat that created his own street buzz by playing live and selling his CD's out the trunk.
All of these artists are just the tip of the iceberg. The Los Angeles literary and music movement is flourishing as we speak. Circulate with the spirit. Paint the piece, plant the seed, push for peace! Teach love and work with urgency!
Holla @ me!
Mike the Poet