By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It's true that billboard silhouettes and power Lines rebuke dusk's fair and fragile fire, As those who go on living have to prowl And watch for someone leaving down each aisle. While this takes place, a tender moon dips toward The peach and blood horizon, pale, ignored. I try to memorize impermanence: The strange, alarming beauty of the sky, The white moon's path, the twilight's deep, blue eye. I want to stay till everything makes sense. But oily-footed pigeons flap and chase -- A red Camaro flushes them apart, Pulling up and waiting for my space; It glistens, mean and earthly, like a heart.
"Now that," said Gioia after he had read the poem out, "strikes me as a pretty good poem about a parking lot."
It struck me the same way. I'd been reading a fair amount of L.A. poetry -- in fact, for a few weeks I was probably reading more poetry written by Angelenos than anyone else in the city, though I was constantly berating myself for not reading more, because it wasn't even a fraction of what was out there -- and this particular poem was the first I'd come across that struck me as a truly memorable expression of the city. Not that it was perfect. It got off to a decidedly shaky start, with half rhymes that should really have been full rhymes and a slight obscurity of meaning, but when the moon appeared on that "peach and blood" horizon, the poem took off.
We ask both very little and a great deal of poets. All we ask of them, really, is that, once in a while, they string together a few good lines -- but they do have to be good. And if they manage to produce a handful of great poems, even good ones, we can forgive them their less successful efforts. In the last nine and a half lines of her poem, Monsour had won me over. "I try to memorize impermanence" -- how many times had I tried to do that? Staring at the beauty of the city, trying to imprint it on my mind like a photograph? With its oily-footed pigeons, glistening red Camaro and insistent sense of pressure -- someone always behind you, cursing you, waiting for you to move -- "Parking Lot" struck me as a topnotch bit of contemporary urban poetry encased in that mustiest of forms: a sonnet. It was nowhere to be found, however, in what was effectively the city's telephone directory for poets: Grand Passion: The Poetry of Los Angeles and Beyond, an anthology with more than its share of mediocre doodling. Monsour, I later learned, had submitted some of her poems, including "Parking Lot," to the editors, but had been turned down.
"It was the parking lot at the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Canyon in Studio City," Monsour told me when I met her over lunch at Farmers Market. "It's a heavily used parking lot, because there's a Vons there, a Sav-On, a video-rental place, a Gap, 31 Flavors, Kinko's -- there's just about everything there, and people are crawling all over each other so they can park and do their errands."
"So your epiphany was rudely interrupted."
"Well, if someone's waiting for you to clear out of your parking spot because they need the space and you just sit there, they do start to wonder what the hell you're doing. So even if you're noticing the sunset and going into a reverie about an aspect of Earth's beauty, you can't be oblivious, because parking spots are in demand."
"Perhaps you should have called the poem 'In Demand.'"
"Actually, I chose 'Parking Lot' because 'lot' has other meanings. 'Lot' can mean your lot in life, or your lot in the cemetery, and it's kind of like the whole system of population control, you have to get out sometimes to make room for others. The engine in the car is the heart beating, a new life waiting to take another heart's place."
"Was it really a Camaro?"
"No. I chose a Camaro because it fit the meter and the mood, and because someone in a Camaro strikes me as a person who might be impatient for you to get out of your parking space. At least you'd be aware of this big engine rumbling, waiting for you to leave. I was thinking of it as a muscle car with hotheaded youth at the wheel."
Monsour is in her 40s, a smallish woman with pale skin, thick reddish-brown hair, and sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes. She has published two chapbooks, and was recently selected by the venerable Poetry magazine as a featured poet, an honor Monsour characterized as the poetry world's equivalent of playmate of the month. Partly because she married and had children, Monsour got off to a relatively slow start as a poet. She spent a lot of time in poetry workshops -- as most aspiring poets do -- where free verse was king, and rhyme and meter long-vanquished enemies, and the technical side of the art was discussed only in the vaguest terms. What is a poem? "Well," a poet-teacher might answer if given a truth serum, "it's whatever makes you, the customer, feel good." (Poets have to look after the bottom line, too.) The workshops she attended, Monsour has said, "were like music classes where no one knew how to read music; we listened as we hummed our tunes, and we talked about the way they sounded, and the way they made us feel. But we skipped the basic, important questions of key signature and beats per measure."