The vividness of the work of Laurel Ann Bogen creates a sense of loss that is almost tactile; the reader is fully absorbed in her expression of pain or longing. The depth of her passion is awe-inspiring, and her craftmanship has to be read to be believed.
Laurel Ann Bogen is a poet and teacher and performance artist living in Los Angeles. She is literary curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she coordinates the Writers In Focus poetry series. She's a founding member of the critically acclaimed poetry-performance ensemble, Nearly Fatal Women, which has performed in venues as diverse as the Knitting Factory in New York, Cornell University, Beyond Baroque/Literary Arts Center and the Cast Theater in Hollywood. As a solo artist, the L.A. Weekly named Bogen as "Best Female Poet/Performer" in their Best of L.A. issue and she has won awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Pacificus Foundation as well.
In addition to her printed work appearing in such magazines and periodicals as Los Angeles Times, Pearl, Yellow Silk, Second Coming, L.A. Weekly, Chiron Review, The Jacaranda Review, Rohwedder, Bakunin and Insomnia, Bogen's poetry can be found in many anthologies including The Maverick Poets, Second Coming Anthology, Poetry Loves Poetry, Stand-Up Poetry: The Anthology, Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, and Between the Cracks: An Anthology of Kinky Verse. Her work can also be found at Zuzu's Petals, Zero City, Spoken War, and The Open Ended It.
Ten collections of her poetry and short fiction have been published. Check out the scoop on her excellent books at the Unlikely Stories bookstore.
Recently, after a career of more than 25 years as a "working poet", Bogen graduated from Grad school and is now teaching poetry, literature and composition at Whittier College. Her upcoming book is Washing a Language from Red Hen Press. Watch this space for more information on Washing a Language when it becomes available. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurel's works here at Unlikely Stories are:
Imprint, May 1970
The Witness Tree
Washing a Language
Closing the Door on the Icebox of Zero Possibilities
The Silk Road
The Door for Love and Death
July 1998 - July 1999:
Still Listening to Suite Judy Blues
Slow Questions Nudge Like a Gentle Intruder
Dodging My Past Like a Gumshoe
The Nameless Poem
Bones Dig this Dream
Orgami: The Unfolding Heart
Building on Sand
Spankings I've Known
Harvest Come Home
Gene Wilder Saved My Life (Woman Tells All)
What follows is an interview with Laurel Ann Bogen that was conducted by Meryl Ginsberg for the Winter 1996 issue of UCLA Extension Writers' Program Quarterly. Reproduced with permission of UCLA Extension Writers' Program.
UCLA: Talk a little about the poetry scene in Los Angeles. What's happening?
LAB: The poetry scene in L.A. is very vital. It's divided, really, into two kinds of poetry: performance poetry and literary poetry. The performance poets tend to congregate in coffee houses and clubs. You find the literary poets in the universities and bookstores. They attract different audiences, not that they don't overlap.
I thik perhaps one of the reasons that performance poetry is so big in Los Angeles is because of Hollywood. A lot of people here want to get up, do something "cool," be in the limelight.
UCLA: Where do you fit in?
LAB: I kind of straddle both camps. I was born here in Los Angeles, and I've lived here my whole life. I started out thinking I'd be more of a literary poet.
When I first started giving poetry readings, I had to resort to a persona I called 'Russian Sonya.' She was a figment of my imagination -- a white Russian countess with many lovers and two greyhounds. She was the "confident me" that I didn't feel I could be at the time. For example, when I was asked to do a reading, I'd end up in my car smoking a cigarette and Sonya'd be performing. People knew I was being Russian Sonya if they saw me wearing a hat.
UCLA: But now you don't need Sonya?
LAB: As I grew older and got a sense of myself, I began to relinquish her gradually. I decided to take myself as seriously as I wanted everyone else to.
It didn't happen overnight. People used to say I gave great readings, but they didn't say I wrote great poetry. It wasn't until I started being published outside of California that I began to feel some confidence about my work and came to believe that it stood on its own. No matter how good a performance may be, the work must stand on its own. The poem lives on after you're not there anymore. It lives on the page. It has to stand on its own, not on your attachment to it.
Also, there's something to be said for sheer persistence and being in it for the long haul. If you start a project --being a poet, a wife, a chef, having a career-- and continue it with concentrated effort, deliberation, seriousness of intent, eventually you're going to be able to accomplish a great deal. At least, that's how it worked for me.
UCLA: You're describing quite a personal transformation. What is it like now that you're also teaching, assisting other people on similar journeys?
LAB: To do anything creative --whether it be poetry or cooking or brain surgery-- is a very heroic effort, and one that should be supported by the universe. Anything I can do to help someone else on their journey is an honor for me. In the case of my students, I feel I've been let in on their personal and quite often secret dreams.
The people I work with, I expect them to respect their art and themselves and me. I do anything I can to help them. I try to create a place where it's safe to be your most creative self.
UCLA: Your classes must be highly personal experiences. Do people get very close?
LAB: A lot of them do. Some have made firendships that have gone on for years. I see them at poetry readings, in the audience, showing a real interest in what's happening.