Beyond Baroque, The Center For LA’s Poetry Scene

Beyond Baroque is a literary center in Los Angeles that’s housed in the old Venice City Hall. Originally a magazine, Beyond Baroque got its start as a storefront phenomenon and hub for Angelino Poetics, and ended up offering one of the longest running poetry workshops in the country. As such, it attracts all types of poets and miscreants, writers and eccentrics, and doesn’t shy away from being a place where the average writing mope can hone their craft of delivery into a trove of wholesale enunciations. It is one of the few spots in the city where writers still come to read their work out loud.

On Saturday, December 2, Annette Cruz, Dennis Cruz, A. Razor, and Iris Berry gathered in Beyond Baroque’s black box theater to induct Danny Baker into the Angelino Poetry Canon. In a way, the reading on Saturday was a celebration of the publication of “Fractured,” a chapbook Danny Baker put together with the help of Rafael Alvarado, co-founder of the Hollywood Institute of Poetics and emcee for Saturday afternoon’s reading. The five poets read their work to a crowd of fans, friends, and family. The mood was so familial that the five poets sat off to the side of the podium, ribbing each other, and bubbling boisterously.

The introduction, by S. A. Griffin, honored poet Scott Wannberg, a long-time liege of the Los Angeles poetry scene that had recently passed; Wannberg was a beat poet with an encyclopedic knowledge of books. The emcee, Rafael Alvarado, kicked off the night by proclaiming that a can of green beans had recently died for Poetry, a quixotic remark that eased the audience into chuckling. He introduced Danny Baker, who hunkered over the podium. Even though it was technically Baker’s first time on stage, he took swimmingly to being there, and seemed to feed off the attention. Baker’s poetry reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s fiction, and Jim Caroll’s poetry.

After Baker, Annette Cruz came on; her performance served to cleanse the palette like a sliver of ginger. She read a minor mythos on the Arroyo Seco that bifurcates Los Angeles. Even though her piece was full of personal lore, Annette’s delivery was like that of a docent of the heart. She’s got an 80’s poem that will make you cringe in your haircut. A. Razor followed Cruz’s reading, and the style of the night veered once more into a new mood. Razor read a series of profane haikus, and a longer piece, “A Good Signal Man Will Get You Through the Pass,” that served as a tribute to his friend, Mike Taylor. Razor’s poetry exudes outlaw pedigree, but it’s also sonorous and ionized with kindnesses.

Iris Berry and Dennis Cruz rounded out the night. Even though their styles are disparate, both poets straddle the spectrum between madness and anonymity. Dennis Cruz’s poems are graphic proclamations of sobriety and redemption vis-à-vis the clamor of death metal and hardcore music styles. Iris Berry read a poem about “silent” types of “violence” that was literally ripped from one of her ventricles. Before reading it, Berry gave the disclaimer that she would never publish the poem because it is too personal for her.

Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help but feel I was privy to poems that were about singularly painful experience, and yet worked to alleviate pain. Sitting there in the back, I was struck with how immediate and personal this reading had been, how nostalgic and yet forward-looking.

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