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Poet In the Midst

Poet In the Midst

As longtime emcee/curator of the Hammer Museum’s poetry-reading series, Stephen Yenser has presented many heavyweights and lesser-knowns of modern American verse. Since his pithy, personalized introductions have often resonated as much as the verse that followed, I’ve often wondered: What of Yenser’s own poems? It has been more than a dozen years since the publication of the UCLA English prof’s first — and only — collection, the Walt Whitman Award–winning The Fire in All Things. Finally, we have a chance to read — and hear him read — the original products of his restless imagination. As one might expect, Yenser’s new collection, Blue Guide, inhabits a creative zone where playful formalism coexists comfortably with flights of free association and jazz improvisation, where keenly skewed observations ripple through a steady-flowing current of parental and fraternal love and seriously tweaked humor. In one sense, Yenser is an L.A. poet or, at least, a Southern California poet, as underscored in the longer work, “Los Angeles Fractals.” But a wider sense of place, whether it’s the Westside or the rural Greece illuminated in “Sfakian Variations,” puts him in the camp of les citoyens du monde. He deeply cares about humankind but can’t overcome entropy’s overwhelming yank and pull or capture memory’s elusive clarity for long. Fond of alliteration, pun and cadence, Yenser seeks out syllabic and sonorous synchronicities, such as this couplet celebrating his daughter Helen in “Tidepools: La Jolla”: “Barefoot, braid swinging — from a broken breaker, your shrieks/Bringing a cloud wisp’s blush-brushed color to your cheeks.” Whether perused on the page or heard aloud, Yenser’s poems reveal a contender in our midst. At Dutton’s, 447 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed., April 19, 7 p.m. (310) 281-0997.

—Tom Cheyney