Meet the Writers: Four poets share a book launch, some pie and meditations on L.A.
This story is part of Lit City, our comprehensive guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles.
“I don’t ever think about L.A. when I’m writing. It just happens to seep in because this is where I’m from,” Jeremy Radin told a group of three dozen people at Skylight Books on a Thursday evening. Los Angeles, he said, is “the American city of longing.”
Radin was in conversation with his friend Rhiannon McGavin to celebrate the release of the updated edition of his collection “Dear Sal.” Reading from it, Radin transported his audience from Los Feliz to another fantastical dimension, capturing L.A.’s transient, diasporic spirit.
McGavin and Radin are Jewish Angeleno poets, born and raised, both familiar with the densely woven fabric of immigrant neighborhoods that make up their home city. McGavin may joke that she’s a “rootless cosmopolitan” (riffing on an old antisemitic euphemism), but this place has rooted itself in her poetry as well. The two were joined by poets Aman K. Batra and Keayva Mitchell for post-event dessert at the nearby House of Pies, where they meditated on the city, from its trees to its traffic, even as its wailing sirens forced weary pauses in the conversation.
“Los Angeles is the frayed edge of the American consciousness, and I think that it’s very useful as a cipher,” McGavin said. “Technology industries, media industries, a lot of things either started here or were catalyzed here.”
Radin said the pandemic had forced him to slow down and look around at the city — to contemplate, for example, its vegetation. “I think we have the widest variety of trees anywhere in the country,” he said. “Our climate can support it. So this city is like a huge arboretum.”
As for the trees, so for the poets, some native and some uprooted from other climes, each with their own relationship to Los Angeles. Batra’s immigrant background has left her feeling unrooted, she said: “I feel so displaced — in L.A. and in Long Beach and in Artesia where I am from and in Punjab when I went to go visit my mom’s family.”
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Instead, she’s found comfort in writing about the fixtures around her home. “It’s just the kitchen. It’s the refrigerator’s heavy breathing and the apple fritter and the microwave and the orange peel and the trash can.”
The poets found one another over years of attending the same readings and parties, steadily forging a tightknit circle in a sprawling metropolis. Mitchell, who lives in Long Beach, said she isn’t done growing roots. “There are so many poets,” she said, “and I want to know them all.”
As if to drive the point home, friends strolling along North Vermont after the reading waved to Radin, the honored guest, and he regularly interrupted himself to greet them and recommend places to eat nearby. Talk turned to the traumas of traffic and other aspects of a city coming back to clattering life post-pandemic — including, once again, the possibility of pulling up stakes.
McGavin will be moving to Ireland to study poetry in the fall; Mitchell will spend the summer in Spain. And Radin was thinking of how we find home wherever we go.
“[I am] very wary of an adherence to a place,” said Radin. “It seems really strange to me, the idea of no matter what this place, what the people of this place decide to do, I go along with it.”
McGavin’s love for the city has made her fiercely protective. On the cusp of a new mayoral election season, she’s vocal against the elected officials who have made living here difficult.
“My least favorite part [of L.A. is] the city government,” said McGavin. “[And] the mayor’s real estate billionaires that we have to deal with.”
“When I’m dictator,” Batra added with a laugh, “everyone gets a parking spot.”
Deng is a queer Taiwanese/Hong Konger American poet and journalist born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley.
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