Prisms, Palms, Projects, and Plans: Celebrating the Hardworking Womxn in LA Poetry
The Los Angeles poetry community, the ever-exchanging creative force that it is, is truly something special. From Amanda Gorman to Lynn Thompson the LA poetry community is thriving like never before and it is many womxn that are churning the wheels. And though I find every gender vital to this existence, I am beyond happy to cast a little spotlight on womxn, who are all too often ignored in the greater historical accounting.
As many of us know Amanda Gorman’s poetry was fostered first here in LA, and is a perfect example of what this gorgeous scene has to offer. She studied with Los Angeles Poet Society’s own Jessica M. Wilson and on the national stage she demonstrated to everyone why the non-denominational, spiritual, and philosophical nature of poetry is so crucial to a community ethic, understanding, and drive.
Lynne Thompson, author of multiple books including the 2019 title, Fretwork, is our new Los Angeles Poet Laureate and she is a perfect choice. With the breadth of her poetry and her continued involvement in community efforts she will be an energizing force for so many of us in a year that needs something new and brilliant, honest and well thought out. Her words are the embrace we have all been longing for.
I am in awe too, of the womxn who have kept small LA County based presses up and running in all this chaos. I speak of Camari Carter Hawkins, author of Death by Comb, who is an advisor for World Stage Press, and who just hosted a showcase of all their womxn authors, a beautifully honest reading that included, Sabreen Adeeba, Jessica YELLAWOMAN Gallion, and October BLU.
I also speak of Shannon Phillips, author of Bedroom Poems, and head honcho of Picture Show Press. A sensual word nerd I celebrate her and her recent publication of The Undulating Line: Writing Poetry through Belly Dance, a title that tantalizes. This book, composed in essays, prompts, and poetry, is written by Shannon and the gorgeous authors Aruni Wijesinghe, and Suzanne Allen.
Nancy Lynée Woo, author of Bearing the Juice of it All, has kept workshops going through her organization Surprise the Line, which offers a series of weekly workshops, including guest instructors. She has also helped other poets, like, Arminé Iknadossian author of, All that Wasted Fruit, organize their own workshop offering through her brilliant organization. Nancy shows us that by leaning into each other’s talents our poetry, and our world at large, flourishes.
Danielle Mitchell author of, Makes the Daughter-In-Law Cry, founded The Poetry Lab, an organization that started as a donation based group that met in downtown Long Beach. A place where cookies, juice, and new lines were shared. The Poetry Lab has evolved in its continued fostering of poets and now leads a workshop series that will have the astounding Mindy Nettifee, and the phenomenal Shira Ehrlichman as guest workshop leaders, though Danielle also, lovingly, continues to offer free courses.
Tresha Faye Haefner, founder of The Poetry Salon, an LA based space that offers a host of workshops, is one of 2021’s Write Bloody Publishing manuscript finalists. In addition to her workshop offerings Tresha co-hosts a podcast with Kelly Grace Thomas where award winning poets are interviewed about their most difficultly wrought poems, as a means of sharing the tools and tricks that brought them to their success. Kelly also hosts a monthly Instagram live series called, Body of Art, where she discusses with authors about how the physical manifestation of their bodies impacts their life and work.
torrin a. greathouse has won the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and has her book, Wound from the Mouth of a Wound, now available through Milkweed Editions. I first met torrin in Long Beach at a Clamshell party, which is the best place one can meet a fellow, “cripple-punk.” I was even lucky enough to share a stage at Viento y Agua Coffeeshop before her move from California. Seeing another disabled poet is always heartening for me and to have her met with praise and accolades gives me more and more hope for the future.
Another pain warrior I greatly admire is Jennifer Bradpiece, whose first full-length book of poetry, Ophelia on Acid, is available now through Blue Horse Press. And because my signed copy just arrived via snail mail, I will offer you her seductive hook, “We are all underwater. Gracefully jelly-fishing. Pummeled against riverbeds. All, occasionally, drowning.” Her words both satiate and thirst, an elixir beyond life that leaves us craving more.
To address our national pain, that is the terror of everyday racism in which we exist, femmes Karo Ska and Jessica M. Wilson, have collaborated to edit and publish their first anthology, Los Angeles Poets for Justice: A Document for the People. These personal almost journal like responses interwoven with gorgeous in-color art, reveal the internal fear everyday people are forced to live with. This document meets hate and injustice with dialogue, with discourse, with hope for a better future.
Dania Ayah Alkhouli, Victoria Lynne McCoy and HanaLena Fennel have come together to edit the anthology, Sh!t Men Say to Me, a response in poetry to toxic masculinity and the ills it creates. All poems selected for this anthology were read blind, and the book features 70 poets from across the country, and even includes some international voices. This is another skin we need to shed. Pre-orders are going on now, so secure a copy, support these poets, and share in this truth.
As LA is about fostering connections, I’d like to give a shoutout to Theresa Davis all the way over there on the East Coast. A Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion, she is an incredible talent with a book through Sibling Rivalry Press, Drowned: A Mermaid’s Manifesto. Theresa co-hosts a weekly Sunday night workshop/open mic. Her energy is amazing, gregarious, giggle worthy, and grievous when called for, she will move and shake you if she hasn’t already. Follow her @shepirtatepoet.
I like to end the way it’s done in theater, by turning around to the back of the stage and applauding all the technicians that bring the show together. That is turn my spotlight to the womxn behind the scene. When I pull back the curtain of the metaphorical poetry stage (oh good grief when will this pandemic end?) I often find the strong working ethic that glues all our pages together. Womxn like Ellen Webre, Alexandra Umlas, and Alyssa Matuchniak, who patiently coordinate the emails, set the type face, google the images…okay I don’t know exactly how they do what they do, but I know it is a crucial part of the magic.
To all these womxn and to the others quietly turning the wheel forward, I offer thanks. I offer awe, amazement, and admiration. And I encourage everyone to help keep it all going. Buy these books. Share these poems. Support small presses and independent bookstores. Take a workshop. Take two. Tune in to a podcast. Volunteer to help and learn. Just please keep turning the page, we have a future to create, a present to enjoy, a past to respect.
With peace, love, and unity,
Kelsey Bryan-Zwick, author of, Here Go the Knives, forthcoming from Moon Tide Press in January 2022.