San Marcos & La Jolla Readings: Feb 21 and 22, 2019

Feb 21, 2018

I love this little house in San Diego.  A long living room/kitchen, the size of my studio, then along side it another strip of two bedrooms with a bath in between.   High ceilings.  That is the house.  A small house but big enough for someone like me to live in.  And the neighborhood is mellow.  Small southwestern houses with California pastel shades.  (BH)


I called my mom to wish her happy birthday.  She’s 96 today! Back in Denver my son and my brother are planning a birthday party. My brother is baking the cake. (MO)



It was cold in San Diego today and it seemed to never stop raining.  We took out our winter coats and put the address of Pizza Nova, San Marcos into our GPS. The gps voice directed us from one freeway to another.  It was hailing, then pouring rain, then a freeway with nine lanes, three HOV and six right beside it, all the cars going 80 mi per hour with a 65 max.  The gps instructions were not that clear and a bit delayed with three lane ramps, each lane heading somewhere else.  Out of fear, we got off the freeway and disobeyed our instructions taking regular streets until we were near the campus and at the restaurant where we were to meet Mark Wallace and his student poet-writers, Beth Phung, Lineth Velasco, Laura Jefchak, Nicole Barnes and Mike Thomas. We chatted for an hour or so and then followed the students, driving to the campus. On campus, we were greeted by a big lecture hall full of students for the first reading this year of “The Community and World Series.”  Over the years Mark has brought many poets to San Marcos.  He introduced both of us, talking about the commonalities in our writing: (BH)

It’s not often that I introduce two people with one introduction, but I’m going to try, so that my own comments don’t take much time away from these two writers who I am very pleased to be able to welcome to Cal State San Marcos. When I think about what their work has in common, I find a lot. Maybe foremost is openness to experience, the idea that to be a writer is to engage oneself in the whole range of experiences that are involved in being human. Both Barbara Henning and Maureen Owen write work that is very attuned to actual moments of living, that shows readers the value of noticing, of responding, of interacting. Both of them do those things through writing that is also clear about what it means to struggle, to not be able to take safety or possibility or love or trust or anything for granted, to know that a person has to always be working towardsa thing to make it so. They are both brave writers, willing to tell the truth about people and experience and the worlds of politics and culture on a planet that is now itself at risk from what people, all of us, are doing with it and to it. To me personally, what’s perhaps most important when I read their work is that the world seems a bigger place, both in its wonders and in its dangers, and I feel drawn outside of the small, well-defended boundaries of myself and into a recognition that living is a kind of grand strangeness. Please welcome Barbara Henning and Maureen Owen. (Mark Wallace)


After our reading, students gathered around us asking questions.  I had read some passages from Just Like That, as well as poetry.   In the beginning of the novel, the narrator tells a story about her Italian boyfriend when she was eighteen years old; his name is Vinny.  A student asked me afterwards if I was Italian.  “No, but I grew up in an Italian-American community and I did have an Italian boyfriend when I was young.”  Smile.  He then announced that he could relate to the story and his name was Vinny.  We both laughed.

I first came to know Mark when he was a grad student in the Buffalo Poetics Program.  He and Kristen Prevellet were editing Leave Books and they published a sequence of my poems, The Passion of Signs.Then as years passed, we criss-crossed the country, meeting at readings in NYC, Tucson and Washington DC  (he taught at George Washington University before moving to California). I remember a memorable visit to Tucson in 2009 when I took Mark and K Lorraine Graham to the Desert Museum (see photo below).   Besides having written many books of poetry and fiction, Mark also reviews and writes about poetics.  Check out a description of his work on The Pip Project.

Mark as a cactus in 2009 in Tucson (BH)

Mark gave us each a copy of The End of America: Book Three.   Across the Margin,  published an an excerpt from Book 11 . The editor writes;

Mark Wallace’s revelatory poetry trenchantly captures what it feels like to be an awake self dealing with the crumbling infrastructure of country and culture. The often mind-numbing contradictions of our current American moment disjunctively flow into the soaring half-truths of how we attempt to make sense of them, the poet knowing full well that “A word does not/ create freedom.

When we left San Marcos, the freeways were even more challenging in the dark, with the rain, and so many cars, going so fast on all those lanes.  Up ahead we could see them snaking toward us and then away.  (BH)


Here in SD we drove on a six-lane freeway in mega traffic through heavy rain and then small iced water hail to San Marcos.  We met Professor Mark Wallace and 5 of his students at Pizza Nova before our reading. It was fun and inspiring to hear what the students are doing and thinking here.  One of Mark’s students, Beth Phung, gave me some new pointers on how to navigate Instagram.  The students formed a caravan out of the parking lot at Pizza Nova to lead us to a hard to find lot on the campus for the reading.  The chilling rain continued.  Cold does seem to be our sidekick as we travel.

We read to a full gathering of students both from Mark’s class and from a number of the creative writing classes at California State U., San Marcos.  Mark gave an interesting intro that talked about the similarities of our writing content.  We had to nod our heads re his thoughts on that. Afterward we had an informal Q&A with students just coming up to each of us directly with queries on our works and our writing processes.  They were all such earnest people and a joy to discuss poetics with. Laura Jefchak was there, a student and reporter for the university newspaper, doing an article on us for the Cougar Chronicle. (MO)

Photo by Lineth Velasco

February 22, 2019.    

We drove to La Jolla to read at D.G. Wills Bookstore.  Tucked in on an active street amid restaurants and shops, Dennis Wills’ bookstore is a one of a kind treasure house of a multitude of volumes.  I immediately wanted to be living down the block so I could come there everyday and linger over the titles and various art objects placed about.  From books on magic to a poetry section that makes ones heart flutter, the shelves go at every angle to profit every bit of space in what is not that many square feet. Dennis had our books ordered and out for sale and talked about the microphone that had been used by a host of poets and writers over the many years of readings at the store.  When I read I thought of that sacredness as my words flowed out into it.  We read to an intimate gathering that included two young women students who had driven all the way from San Marcos State U. as they had not been able to come to our reading there last night.  My dear friends Rayna Bailey and Mike Leboffe came, and Jerome Rothenberg and his wife, Diane, and Diane’s sister, who is visiting from New Jersey. We met Steve Simpson, who has been deep in the poetry community over many years and had great stories of time spent with folks we both knew. Steve is a collector of printed broadsides and broadsides of poems written out by the poet’s own hand (often only 1 or 2 copies of these made).  Definitely contact him if you’d be interested in a broadside from now to dating back to the early Beats.  Dennis told me that the parents of Colorado’s new governor, Jared Polis, live in La Jolla and he has been long time, good friends with them.  They come to the bookstore often.  Another small world moment, since I live in Denver now where Jared Polis has just been elected our governor.  After we read, we took some Q&A and signed books and pamphlets. Then we joined the Rothenbergs at an elaborate fish restaurant, El Pescador, over a block and up the street a couple more.  I mention that one of the best things about our road tour is visiting and connecting up with the folks in the various poetry communities we read at.  Jerome elaborates wisely that, yes, there is an extended poetry network that exists and that we are all members. Like being members of an invisible organization, we can all find each other wherever we go. (MO)

Dennis Wills

Photos by BH

At 5:00 we packed up our books and set the GPS for DG Wills Bookstore in La Jolla.  Only 15 miles but again swerving around on the free-wide-lane freeways. I always thought of California as more laid back than NYC, but to tell you the truth, NYC seems like old world and California, well, she is flying off the globe. The bookstore was packed with old and new books in the windows and angling here and there nooks and crannies with shelves of books.  The books are side-by-side to all kinds of heavy antique tools and old manual typewriters. I told the owner Dennis Wills a story about how my children’s father collected similar things; once when the city was rebuilding the Brooklyn Bridge, he scarfed up several giant and bolts pieces from the old bridge. They are now sitting in my son’s apartment. Dennis has been hosting writers in his bookstore for years; he has a very warm and welcoming, laid back presence. He explained to us that we were speaking into the same mike as Maureen Dowd, Michael McClure, Francoise Gilot,Gore Vidal, Gary Snyder, andAllen Ginsberg.   See some of the past readers at  Then home on the highway of highways ripping over the hills back to North Park where we looked over photos, put together some text, packed up to head to LA in the morning, and put our bodies to rest. (BH)

2 Photos by Steve Simpson