When Bebop Records closed its doors for the last time this summer, poets throughout the San Fernando Valley lamented. For seven years, the small Reseda shop had served as a vital meeting ground, and without Bebop, many poets feared the poetry scene would suffer.
But although the record store has been greatly missed, support for local poets has actually increased. Determined to survive, poets rallied together and established four new venues to feature their work: Alley in the Valley, Big Valley Music Store, El Bracero and Vortex.
These new locations, in addition to the eight existing Valley spots offering poetry readings, make for “a kind of a Renaissance,” said Uncle Don--a.k.a. Don Fanning--who is highly regarded in Valley poetry circles.
Michelle Hass, another poet, agreed. “The San Fernando Valley is poetry city. The scene has gotten bigger, more robust, more confident.”
What follows is an overview of the various poetry happenings.
Alley in the Valley, 18839 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 343-5532. In late September, David Dale held his first poetry event on the loading dock behind Dale’s Jr. Stores. The next such program is scheduled for Feb. 2, with subsequent poetry readings held every other month.
Since his brother owns the grocery chain, Dale said he doesn’t have to worry about overhead expenses, thus guaranteeing a stable forum for what he calls “free-form radicalism for the arts.” Beginning at 8 p.m., poets, musicians and other artists will have the opportunity to express themselves for two to three hours. Dale said he puts no restrictions or time restraints on the performers. “I don’t care what happens. As long as it’s all good.”
Big Valley Coffeehouse at Big Valley Music Store, 8541 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 894-0226. Michelle Hass, in cooperation with music store owner Carole Ozanian, presents open poetry readings the last Friday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Hass describes the readings as “very freewheeling.” Poets, as well as musicians, are encouraged to come as early as possible beforehand to sign up. Each reader gets five minutes, except for the featured reader who performs mid-set for 15 minutes. There is a $3 donation, although no one will be turned away if he or she does not have the fee.
Bread and Roses Bookstore, 13812 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 986-5376. This specialty shop, which features a variety of books of particular interest to women, offers poetry readings for women the third Sunday of every month from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Kris McHaddad, who coordinates the event, says any woman who expresses an interest in reading is welcome to participate. McHaddad asks that poets send samples of their work in advance to the bookstore. Three women are scheduled to read each month for about 25 minutes each. Although the performers are all women, a typical audience includes husbands and children, McHaddad said. Free.
El Bracero, 7228 Canby St., Reseda; (818) 346-5431. The poets who meet on the third Wednesday of every month from 8 to 10 p.m. at this family owned Mexican restaurant call themselves the “Son of Bebop.” In fact, you’ll find many of the same faces that used to frequent Bebop Records, including coordinator Lyford Rome. The open-mike policy allows for about 15 performance slots, each lasting five to seven minutes. To perform, one must sign up beforehand.
Most participants are poets, although a few singers and songwriters also present their work. Rome said, “Anybody can do what they want. There is very little editorializing. I’m trying to structure it so there’s a welcome, conducive feeling. We’re really open to all styles.” Since the readings began this summer, Rome said, they are generally packed, with anywhere from 30 to 40 attending. There’s a $2 cover.
Gym for the Mind, 4907 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 346-9575. For the past year, real estate broker Chuck Wadell has been organizing poetry readings at this club, which moved from Topanga to the Valley last summer. The group of about a dozen poets meets on the second Monday of every month from 7 to 8 p.m.
Wadell said, “One of the joys of being involved is you have such a cross-section of people. There are people from the art community as well as middle-class housewives from the West Valley.” The reading is structured in a round-robin fashion. The first time around, each person reads a poem they admire, written by another person. Each subsequent time around, participants read their own works. There is a $1 donation.
Iguana Cafe, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; (818) 763-7735. On Sundays, from 3 to 6 p.m., Uncle Don leads the Poet Circle, a poetry workshop of peers. After each poet reads his or her work, there is a period of open discussion. Topics of interest to poets, including how to get published, are also discussed.
An open mike is also held Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m., when poets and musicians are invited to perform. On the second Saturday of each month, from 9 p.m. until midnight, there are open poetry readings. Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 to 11:30 p.m., featured poets provide the evening’s entertainment. During the week, spoken-word shows are also booked from time to time. Sundays are free; other nights, the cover varies.
The Iliad Bookshop, 4820 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood; (818) 509-BOOK. Dan Weinstein, owner of this arts and literature bookstore, coordinates open-mike poetry readings the first Sunday of every month beginning at 6:30 p.m. The program lasts an hour or two.
To read, poets must sign up, starting at 6 p.m. Many of the poets who attend Weinstein’s readings bring along their chapbooks--self-published collections of their poems. After the readings, poets can leave their chapbooks to be sold in the store. From 10 to 45 people show up on any given Sunday. Free.
Purple Cat Productions, 6716 Simpson Ave., North Hollywood; (818) 982-9116. This fine-arts center has discontinued its poetry readings until February, when weekly readings will once again be staged. Usually, there is a featured poet, followed by open mike. Admission charge varies.
Toltec Productions, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 845-7768. Leo Guerra leads free poetry workshops every Tuesday from 8 to 10 p.m. Participants are required to bring 12 copies of their poems to distribute to others in the group. Only positive, constructive criticism is tolerated, Guerra said. “We’re trying to encourage poets to explore their own style. The idea is to help poets.”
Readings by featured poets and open readings are conducted every Friday from 8 to 11 p.m. Featured poets have about 20 minutes to perform; poets in open reading are limited to five minutes. Donations accepted.
Unitarian Universalist Society, 9550 Haskell Ave., Sepulveda; (818) 894-9251. Poetry readings are in hiatus, but there is a poetry workshop from 7:30 to 9 p.m. every Friday, according to Michael Marth, coordinator. Marth explained that one of the tenets of the Unitarian Church is, “We take risks.” Likewise, he said, the poets do the same.
Valley Contemporary Poets, Glendale Federal Savings Community Room, 7199 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 506-5998. In December, the group celebrated its 10th anniversary, making it by far the most established organization of poets in the Valley.
It meets the third Sunday of every month; sign-ups start at 6:15 p.m. Open readings are held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and are followed by two featured readers, who each perform about half an hour. Sylvia Rosen, one of the group’s co-directors, said the featured poets are “not traditional, maybe higher quality. They are name poets who are very respected and accepted internationally.”
Since its inception the group has received funding from Valley Cultural Center, and so featured poets have always been paid. Typically, about 20 to 50 people attend the event, and some nights there is standing room only. Suggested donation is $3.
Vortex, 18433 Sherman Way, Reseda; (818) 881-1654. Owner Melody Cooper opened her multipurpose art space this summer at Bebop Records’ former location. In September, she started holding open poetry readings the last Wednesday of each month from 7:30 to 10 p.m. To read, one needs to arrive at 7:30 and sign up. Each poet can expect to get approximately 10 minutes, although it depends on the number of people interested in performing.
The venue attracts a cross-section of poets, often including those who are performing for the first time. Free. For additional information, you may request a copy of Uncle Don’s calendar of poetry events by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Valley Poets Co-Op, P.O. Box 7667, Van Nuys, CA 91409. There is also a poetry hot line: (818) 992-POEM.