MOMENTUM PRESS (Bill Mohr, editor; publisher) (1974-1988)
“There’s no short supply of presses producing work of high quality….
Black Sparrow in Santa Barbara, The Figures in Berkeley, Momentum in Los Angeles.” – Peter Clothier, , “In Verse” column, October 18, 1981
Momentum Press was a publishing project founded by Bill Mohr in 1974 that began as a magazine, Momentum, but shifted by the late 1970s to being exclusively a book publisher. Among its best known books are a pair of anthologies of Los Angeles poets, The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (1978) and “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985).
TWO ANTHOLOGIES OF LOS ANGELES POETS – edited by Bill Mohr
THE STREETS INSIDE: TEN LOS ANGELES POETS
(including poems and prose poems by James Krusoe, Holly Prado, Peter Levitt, Deena Metzler, Eloise Klein Healy, and Bill Mohr; and poems by Leland Hickman, Harry Northup, and Dennis Ellman)
Reviewed by Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1979.
“If Los Angeles were San Francisco, where these things are more readily recognized, what is happening in poetry here would long since have been hailed as a golden age. But so much is going on and the area is so spread out…. Yet poetry is being written, read, recited, published: there is a sense of happening and contact. The spirit is exemplified in The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets, edited by William Mohr.
“This handsome and exciting anthology shouldn’t be taken as the emergence of a new school or movement. There are echoes of everything from Walt Whitman to the Imagists but there is also a freshness and vigor, a variation of voices which I found compelling: Venice poets, older poets and younger ones, nomadic writers, creative-writing teachers and playwrights, editors and novelists. Those who like neat academic tags won’t find anything better than Los Angeles; these poets are not fish. Call them no-school….
“Mohr and Holly Prado (also represented with work celebratory and wide-rambling, bring fat women to poetry, poetry to baseball) found the title for this collection in a conversation which triggered a memory of Henry Miller’s statement that “Whatever is not of the streets is Literature.”
“Mohr rightly says the subtitle should be ‘Ten of the Many Poets of Los Angeles.” There are many, many good poets who are not in these pages. The choice was limited because Mohr decided to give a substantial number of pages to each of the poets who appear: Leland Hickman, James Krusoe, Holly Prado, Deena Metzger, Peter Levitt, William Mohr, Kate Ellen Braverman, Eloise Klein Healy, Harry Northup, and Dennis Ellman. On the whole, I think it a wise decision. Anthologies which give each poet a page or two are useful for recognition or encouragement. Here you can see the range of each poet….
Most of the chosen poets know each other from dedications and internal evidence. I don’t mention this as a criticism; rather, it is a small miracle. No one, as far as I can see, got in here on the basis of who they knew alone. There are several other unities, the most important being a debt for linguistic emancipation to Henry Miller. The best poetry here, as always, goes beyond the use of words merely for shock and outrage. Love is once again celebrated and the religious experience courageously and disrespectfully addressed. Memories of drugs and peace protests, of the hip hopes and the corrosive war, of the quiet ‘70s are identifiable. Exploration of self and gender are in these pages, lyrics and prose proems.
“And Los Angeles appears undistorted by boosterism and romance – the hustlers on Selman, birds in Ocean Park, Eloise Klein Healy’s line hangs in the air: ‘Some morning we’re going to wake up and find Western Avenue has run away.’ Of course, captured in such lines, it never can. This is a book worth pursuing, even if difficult to find in your bookshop. If necessary, just send for it.” -- Robert Kirsch
Reviewed by Laurel Ann Bogen, LOS ANGELES HERALD-EXAMINER (Sunday, February 18, 1979, Section E)
“The Streets Inside is as fine an anthology as one is likely to find, whether the poetry is from Los Angeles or Timbuktu. These poets are from Los Angeles, however, and as such, perform a valuable service: they prove there is a vital, flourishing community where poetry is cultivated and, indeed, nourished.”
Reviewed by Robert Peters, Bachy magazine
“This is a most readable anthology, of that rare kind you can begin at the front and read through. … I welcome The Streets Inside as an impressive effort towards defining a hive-geography for Los Angeles. A hive-map. What is this new swarming like? Has it swarmed well? Will its honey sustain us? Yes. Yes. Yes.”
POETRY LOVES POETRY: An Anthology of Los Angeles Poets
Edited by Bill Mohr (1985)
featuring James Krusoe, Amy Gerstler, Wanda Coleman, Paul Vangelisti, Dennis Phillips, Aleida Rodriguez, Dennis Cooper, Michael Lally, Ron Koertge, Laurel Ann Bogen, Doren Robbins, Brooks Roddan, Exene Cervenka, Eloise Klein Healy, Leland Hickman, Jack Skelly, Bob Flanagan, Holly Prado, Dave Alvin, Michelle T. Clinton, Jack Grapes, Peter Levitt, Harry E. Northup, Suzanne Lummis, Paul Trachtenberg, David Trinidad, Charles Harper Webb, Murray Mednick, Jed Rasula, Max Benavidez, Ian Krieger, Peter Schneider, Michael C. Ford, John Harris, Charles Bukowski, Gerald Locklin, John Doe, Robert Sullivan, Marine Robert Warden, Peter Schjeldahl, Ed Smith.
“What to call this poetic? Bill Mohr’s ‘The Self-Portrait School of Existential Romanticism” says it wonderfully. … Mohr’s introduction is a good beginning effort to define an LA poetic.” – Sharon Doubiago, ELECTRUM magazine
“A valuable primer to a hardy band of individualists” – LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Work that’s worthy of serious attention” – Joe Safdie, POETRY FLASH
TIRESIAS I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite – Leland Hickman
(Momentum Press, Bill Mohr, editor and publisher)
Nominated by the Los Angeles Times as one of the five best books of poetry published in the United States in 1980.
Great Slave Lake Suite is a book-length section of a longer poem, TIRESIAS, which Leland Hickman began writing in the mid-1960s. Parts of TIRESIAS first appeared in New American Writing, edited by Richard Howard; Beyond Baroque magazine (edited by George Drury Smith and Jim Krusoe), and Bachy and Momentum magazines, both edited by Bill Mohr. Leland Hickman’s poems had also appeared in Hudson Review and Trace magazine.
Great Slave Lake Suite combines, in a symphonic structure, narrative and meditations revolving around the author’s homosexuality from his childhood and his adult life, centering on a jonrey to the Great Slave Lake region of the Northwest Territories. Hickman’s ability to interweave a staggering variety of rhythms is hypnotically alluring.
Leland Hickman (1934-1991) was an editor as well as a poet. In addition to working on Bachy for its final nine issues, he also was the editor and publisher of Temblor magazine from 1985-1990. Temblor, which featured many poets aligned or associated with the “Language” movement” as well as maverick figures in the avant-garde, was “one of the most important magazines of its day,” according to Douglas Messerli. With the editorial assistance of Bill Mohr, Stephen Motika’s Nightboat Books published TIRESIAS: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman in 2009.
For an article in French on Hickman’s poetry, see:
REVIEWED IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES by Peter Clothier (October 5, 1980)
“(T)he “principle of identity” asserting the essential continuity between man and world, self and other…. is the deep romanticism of much poetry today – the search for the recovery of this principle. Thus, the continuity between self and world emerges as a major theme in L.A> poet Leland Hickman’s GSLA, a song of the self alternately confessional and prophetic, lyrical and bardic. The books guided by the loose, a-chronological thread of a personal history – childhood joys and trauma, boyhood games and adolescent awakening to homosexuality, brutal transition into young manhood and final growth to maturity. The intense, pain-and-love-ridden relationships with father, mother, friends and lovers form the core of work whose larger perspective is the endless variety of the California landscape and cityscape.
Hickman’s long poem moves readily from easy-going, sometimes painfully realistic narrative into passages of ecstatic, even hallucinatory incantation, and still others into quiet lyricism, through a remarkable range of emotional intensities. In an established American tradition, he works additively with language, image and rhythms, allowing them to build into a broad, coordinated tapestry, well-woven to the fullness of his vison. The potential for movement from “re” into “love,” from separation to identity is not only the theme but also the process of the book.”
“(Hickman) immerses his psyche in the melodic, the rhythmic and harmonic densities latent in his own natural language and mercilessly pursues them to reveal ‘the hidden’ in himself … The achievement I sense in it so far is that of a stylistically sure and emotionally complex poem whose tone and entire sonic movement feel totally natural and authentic, wiry but not strained, an exhilaratingly disciplined ‘open’ improvisation with scarcely a wasted move.” – Stephen Kessler, Bachy magazine
“The craft and intelligence which Hickman wields in forming this vivid work makes the publication of this book a vital event for poetry in America.” – Martin Nakell, SULFUR
“I bow to Hickman’s grueling and powerful honesty and ability to sustain an affirmation …. His monolithic drive is really quiet something to pull off today … the power of the kicking Coltrane-like stanza heaves… Hickman’s work on the father is undoubtedly the most thorough since Olson, less mythic, and much more open to background, especially child sexuality.” – Clayton Eshleman, POETRY NEWS
“He’s the real thing …. It’s a work of such vivid beauty, of such obsessive honesty that it srartles, illuniates another part of that shadowy scroll, Truth …. A stunning work.” – Laurel Delp, LA WEEKLY.
“I know of nothing else written today quite like Great Slave Lake Suite. It reminds m=one of Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins, sometimes, in the sound play of its diction. It is a “word-rain” that draws its own parallels to Beckett and Faulkner and that asks (but not in so many words) to be compared to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the ambitiousness of which it mateches – in the breakthrough of its lines and eroticism of its mysticism.” – Rudy Kikel, GAY SUNSHINE
“One of the most ambitious poems of growth and sexual history ever attempted by an American poet … passages of overwhelming energy and beauty.” – Robert Peters, SMALL PRESS REVIEW
“(His) art requires considerable attention – both for its intense linguistic brilliance and for its moving courage. With relentless yet shifting rhythmic intensity, the Suite is sustained for 100 pages and leaves the reader exhausted, stunned and inspired… The voice in the poem is distinct, utterly personal in the best sense of the word…. The poet has put himself at the service of the poem, not the other way around, and as a consequence we (as readers) find ourselves inside a psyche which is taking us places we’ve never been before.” – Stephen Kessler, CONTACT II
“A first-rate work of poetry, real quality, and an attention to structure and resonance.” – John Rechy
SMALL PIANOS -- JAMES KRUOSE
Before James Krusoe began writing a series of critically acclaimed novels and short stories, he had a considerable amount of poetry published in many magazines, including the American Poetry Review, Invisible City, Bachy, and Momentum.
Momentum Press published his first chapbook, Notes on Suicide, in 1975, and brought out his second full-length collection, Small Pianos, in December, 1978.
SMALL PIANOS: Poems and Short Prose – James Krusoe (Momentum Press, 1978)
“The poems in Mr. Krusoe’s second book are written with a compassionate and unique intelligence in a language compact and ‘simple’ enough to appeal to a wide audience, both poetry enthusiasts and their more timid cousins – ordinary readers usually alienated by modern poetry.
Clear and controlled, the poems seem to spring from a rather modest stance which the poet is constantly, quietly trying to maintain: the world is huge, strange, and beautiful in its streness…. It’s important not to disturb what exists or grow desolate just because you can’t perceive an order in it.” – Amy Gerstler, POETRY NEWS
“James Krusoe puts a surrealist sensibility to work at finding the things that can be minimally affirmed. His poetry maintains a calm and truthful poetic voice of remarkable integrity.”
– Michael Silverblatt, LITTLE CAESAR
“I believe all the pieces in the book are unique instruments and each one plays differently – a tune for each, a tone for each – yet reading and re-reading them I can say, yes, they are all pianos, though, and they all make music that is wonderfully simple, slightly wistful and very, very fine.” – Eloise Klein Healy, Bachy.
THE MOTHER/CHILD PAPERS -- Alicia Ostriker (Momentum Press, 1980)
This volume of poems established Alicia Ostriker as one of the rising figures in American feminist poetry. The Mother/Child Papers would subsequently be republished by Beacon Press in Boston and by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
“Alicia Ostiker’s The Mother/Child Papers describes, first, the birth and nuture of the author’s third child. Secondly, the book fall under the demonic shdow of the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh. But on the third and most telling view, Otriker’s work details the achievement of a connection between personal history and public fact as both present themselves to a very intelligent and interesting writer … I would, in short, like to see more book-length journal work from Alicia Ostriker, who has important judgments and saving observations to draw from the richness of her life and mind.” -- Mary Kinzie, AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW (July-August, 1981)
“Defense of motherhood is a plucky undertaking for a poet these days, perhaps; Ostriker’s joy in it, not as an institution, but as a generous human experience, provides a warm emotional center to the work.” – Peter Clothier, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Feb. 1, 1981)
MILK RUN – Kate Braverman
After Momentum Press published her first book of poetry, Milk Run, in 1977, Kate Braverman went on to write a dozen books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Her writing has been acknowledged for its intense lyricism and palpitating incandescent imagery. After her poems appeared for the first time anywhere in Momentum magazine, her writing was featured in journals such as the Paris Review. Joan Didion described Braverman’s first novel, Lithium for Medea (Harper & Row) as “very powerful, a deeply felt piece of work by a very gifted young writer.”
“This is, perhaps, the finest book of poems by a young poet writing in L.A. in the last five years. I doubt very much whether Kate Braverman is a feminist, but I am certain she is a woman with deep fears and longings and emotions. The fears are of cruelty and loneliness. The longings are sensual and sexual. The emotions span an entire spectrum from the joys of a lovely evening in Majorca, to beatings, being thrown down the stairs by a lover.
“But what makes these poems special are their concrete images: words that floor the reader with their power, their drive. They contain the kind of energy one finds in Rimbaud and van Gogh’s pictures and in the writings of Charles Bukowski. An example: “I know you want / your fingerprints back, / the drops of water from the shower. / I have encased them in glass / our lives preserved, dusted / by eras and nuances of mood. / We orbit each other / finding a formality. / Not even our shadows collide.”
“This is a poetry of craft from a young fresh voice.”
Ben Pleasants, May 12, 1978
“Braverman’s poems in Milk Run seem directly based on the life of the author …. The strength of this writing is that the events have keenly affected the writer, and that she is direct and almost obsessive in her perceptions about her own pain and fragmentation, the loss of love, her transformations into strange creatures … Braverman avoids, though without much leeway, the poet’s need to romanticize madness, drugs, and the bruises of life …. She does this by means of style, writing simple, pared down sentences…. (Her) strength as a poet lies in the unblinking stare and in the subject matter and perceptions that reach for the daring.” – Martha (Lifson) Ronk, Bachy
FEASTS -- Holly Prado (1976)
Feasts is an experimental novella that ranks as one of the classic underground pieces of feminist writing to emerge in the 1970s. Combining “autobiographical fiction” that draws on journal entries, Feasts tells the story of Clare, a writer in Los Angeles who becomes involves with the emergence of a community of artists centered around the Woman’s Building. “Where has this book been all my life?” is the frequent comment of those who finally have a chance to read this neglected masterpiece.
“An experimental novel about a twice-divorced, 36 year old writere named Clare and her lovers and friends. What’ sinteresting here is that Prado is truly experimenting …. She splices together a life from fragments of scenes, sentences, dreams, memories …. A vivid sense of Clare’s life.
“Prado arranges words in breath patterns rather than in sentences … She uses the period, the comma, the strophe and the antistrophe with a musical exactitude that we’ve not heard for a long time.” -- Roger Dione, LOS ANGELES TIMES
ENOUGH THE GREAT RUNNING CHAPEL -- Harry E. Northrup
Harry E. Northup is “the poet laureate of East Hollywood,” according to Lewis MacAdams. He most certainly is the primary working actor of the past half-century who has most thoroughly served as a cartographer of the intersection between cinema and poetry. Having made his living as an actor for over 30 years, he now lives in retirement at the industry’s residence for career personnel. Among many memorable films, his acting in Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Over the Edge, and The Silence of the Lambs stands out for its lapidary precision. Momentum Press published two collections of his poetry, Eros Ash in 1976 and Enough the Great Running Chapel in 1982. He also recorded two spoken word projects with New Alliance Records. Along with Holly Prado, Ceclia Woloch, Bill Mohr, Phobe MacAdams, and Jim Cushing, he was one of the founders of the poets’ publishing cooperative, Cahuenga Press. Prado, Northup, MacAdams, and Cushing sustained this project for over 20 years, and have published several of Northup’s most recent volumes, including The Ragged Vertical and Reunions.
“It is doubtful whether 1982 will see the publication of any book of poems by a Los Angeles-based writer as substantial, original, and difficult as Enough the Great Running Chapel …. The book marks Northup’s full emergence as a poet equal to any in America.” – James Cushing, L.A. READER
“This is difficult poetry, and for good reason. It’s as if words are being put before a tribunal and stripped of their ambiguity …. I don’t know what’s necessary in poetry to make words shine again in original meaning. But I wouldn’t pass over Harry Northup’s passionate and inclusive verse, work that circles outward from an intensely felt personal morality to encompass the complexity of a world.” – Joe Safdie, POETRY FLASH
“Harry Northup is a language explosioneer …. The words seem more important for their syllables than as single constructs – a storm of neurons and protons spinning madly around. The result? A flamboyant psyche in flames … and poetry – always poetry …. An awesome energy.” -- Robert Peters, BACHY
ONE FOOT IN THE BOAT – Joseph Hansen (Momentum Press)
One Foot in the Boat contains 32 poems by Joseph Hansen, who was also a significant novelist and short story writer. This book includes his masterful “The Smoke of the Country.” His poems appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Bachy magazine.
“Awareness of an interfering darkness is what most of these poems take as their subjects –poems about the shadow self and other worlds …. Where the two are present together – where the beast is in the body (“Cargo”) or in the world (“The Shark in the Inlet”) or where the landscape contains and does not only have a loss imposed upon it. Hansen writes a terrifically poignant poem.” – Rudy Kikel, CONTACT II
COHOES THEATER – Len Roberts (Momentum Press, 1980)
HONORABLE MENTION – Eliiston Awards, 1981 (University of Cincinnati)
“Cohoes Theater proves Len Roberts to be a skilled crafman. Each poem is a hard honed unit like the house the poet built near the Delaware River. It is rare to find lines worked so tight and taut which do not betray the labor and time put in them …. Whether floating through the air or skinny-dipping in the quarry, or lost in the memories of Boney’s Grill, this poet has things to share. But, of couse, we all have stories; the few who tell them so well should be welcomed company.” – Louis McKee, Small Press Review
“What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” – Gerald Stern
“I read (Cohoes Theater) at one sitting, tranquil and interested in your own calm humanity…. Curiously tender and intelligent writing.” – Allen Ginsberg
After Momentum Press published Cohoes Theater, Len Roberts (1947-2007) went on to have another half-dozen full-length books published, including From the Dark; Black Wings; and Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2001).
WHAT THE BIRD SEES – James Moore (Momentum Press, 1978)
“James Moore’s second book is about traveling, and as such is variously romantic, pastoral, and richly imagistic. There is an attention to detail here – the small, precise and telling image that anchors the poem in the real. As a whole, the book is a fine production. One sense the care that went into not only the writing, but the connection of the individual pieces.” – Barry Silesky, Abraxas
ONE RIVER – James Grabill (Momentum Press, 1975)
“James Grabill, in his fine first book of poems, One River, lifts us out of thinking brain into that deeper brain through which we understand that ‘one river’ out of which ‘the universe was pulled’ …. Grabill, along with (Robert) Bly and Conrad Hilbury, offers us a way back into the world.” – James Tipton, EAST WEST JOURNAL
THE WORLD IS A SUBURB OF LOS ANGELES – Michael C. Ford
(Momentum Press, 1981)
“Los Angeles is Michael C. Ford’s viewpoint and he is at this best beating out the pulse of our throat burning smog, tin can beaches, our billboards and car lots, though some startling figures emerge from his country ventures, i.e., ‘listening to the potatoes / grow (actually hearing them grow / the sky has broken out / in a cold seat of stars’.
“Many of these poems are reflections on Los Angeles from the ‘suburbs’ (places like Utah, where Ford spent some time as poet-in-residence). ‘Upon Becoming a Respected poet in Ogden, Utah an Coming Back to Los Angeles for a Minute’ is a highly successful rendering of the tension between the inner life of the poet and the daily life he contends with.” – Nancy Shiffrin, Poetry News
“Fresh, often dazzling bolts of imagery, but it’s the wit that lurks beneath the surface and shows through.” – Ann Stanford
“Something strangle, interesting, sleek and smooth that is crossed with an elusive music in Ford’s poems…. They create a mysterious suburb of verse.” – Michael McClure
“…. Burning with the fires of a respect for language as it is connected to the rhythms of poetry and music …. Recording both a passionate and compassionate understanding of American landscapes.” – Miriam Patchen
BEYOND THE STRAITS – Marine Robert Warden (Momentum Press, 1980)
“Warden took the time and effort to master literary craftsmanship before attempting this opus. His care results in poetry that can stand beside Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and the work of Jakov Lind…. emerging as Mary Shelley wrote of her Frankenstein, “from that twilight zone between sleep and waking.” A section of erotic love-poems following the war-poems offers an appropriate counter-point.” – Robin Michelle Clifton, SAMISDAT
WAKING THE WATERS – Jack W. Thomas
“Thomas’s subjects are love, sex, politics, and in particular, Nature, with which like Mycue he would be one. “I want to know what stones know, / the meaning of a leaf.” The whole second part of Waking the Waters consists of an attempt to find a “lost path / returning to earth” Because he resists easy transcendence, however, poems seem immersed in images of a ruined paradise. Then, in the title poem he returns to Venice, California … This poem … eventuates in as lovely and as perfect a fusion of the vatic and the mundane as I have encountered in my recent reading:
All men are islands in their minds
We have assigned ourselves the role
Of ships that link
That lonely archipelago, waking the waters
That support us as we said.”
-- Rudy Kikel, Contact II
Until the Hawk Gets Off My Head – Sophia Castro-Leon
(Momentum Press, 1978) (Edited by Bill Mohr)
“This posthumous collection of Castro-Leon’s finest poetry reaches out with the touch of a gentle rebel. She writes rich, colorful, haiku-like imagery as oblique, surrealistic shields trying to keep the hawks of war, repression and other suffereings from raking her inner, Zen-made garden.” -- Blair H. Allen, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Dark Milk – Deena Metzger (Momentum Press, 1979)
Deena Metzger selected twenty poems for her debut collection. Along with Suzanne Lacy, Arlene Raven, and Judy Chicago, she was part of the core faculty for the Feminist Studio Workshop at the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Her fellow faculty member Sheila Levrant de Bretteville designed the book. Metzger’s second book was published by Jazz Press; and The Book of Hags was published in cassette form by Black Box. Her first novel, Skin: Shadows/Silence was published by West Coast Poetry Review; her second, The Woman who Slept with Men to Take the War out of Them, was published in 1982 by Peace Press. Ruin and Beauty: New & Selected Poems was published by Red Hen Press in 2009.
Other Titles from Momentum Press
Against the Day of the Dead -- John Harris
The Dog and Other Stories – Joseph Hansen
EROS ASH – Harry Northup
NOTES ON SUICIDE – James Krusoe
Two Bodies Dark/Velvet -- Peter Levitt
Inclemency’s Tribe -- Michael Kincaid
The Second Dream -- Brooks Roddan
The Stopping of Sorrow -- Max Benavidez
A LAKE ON THE EARTH – Dick Barnes