DOWNEY - His rough exterior and burly size can be somewhat intimidating to a new acquaintance, but within minutes the congenial and generous nature of poet/publisher RD Armstrong (aka Raindog) is clearly apparent. He has been a fixture and major contributor to the LA poetry scene for several decades, and he is widely known for the assistance and encouragement he has given to so many poets as the publisher of Lummox Press. Next Thursday, Dec. 20, the monthly poetry reading at Mari's Wine Bar will host a celebration for the publication of his new anthology "Lummox Number One." It is a happy circumstance that the launch of this publication by a small press coincides with the recent naming of the first poet laureate by the city of Los Angeles. Both events attest to the recognition that poetry is a prominent art form at the grassroots level in the United States.
Lorine Parks, curator of the monthly Downey event, announced readings/signings by eight of the published poets, as well as an open mic. A musical performance by Gerretson & Gorodetsky is also scheduled.
Armstrong's lifelong commitment to poetry conforms to the image of the quintessential artist. Once described as "poet, publisher, and pauper," he has often set aside his own need to earn a living in order to practice his art and support the work of other artists.
In his living room-cum-office he graciously moves aside books and shipping boxes before offering his visitor the best chair in his abode. His one-bedroom apartment with south-facing windows sits above a garage in a section of Long Beach known for its bohemian ambiance. A stuffed deer head with glass eyes is mounted on one wall overlooking a collection of vinyl records and plants.
A devotee of Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits, Armstrong is a self-taught poet. Working as a musician many years ago, he took the pseudonym Raindog from a Tom Waits song of isolation and alienation, but the name is definitely at odds with his sociable nature. RD Armstrong evolved as a pen name when he started writing.
Starting in 1995, Armstrong edited and published the Lummox Journal for eleven years. The issues came out monthly for eight years, and then bimonthly for three years. The journal had subscribers around the world, but it was a prodigious effort that he says eventually wore him down, and the last issue was in 2006.
Armstrong continued publishing books by serious poets, and the 30 titles of Lummox Press include seven volumes of his own poetry. Books by Lummox Press are available on Amazon and include a cookbook with much poetry amid the recipes, Ginger, Lily & Sweet Fire: A Romance with Food by H. Lamar Thomas. Lummox Press was also the publisher for Catalina by Laurie Soriano, one of the featured readers at an earlier event at Mari's Wine Bar.
Over time, Armstrong acknowledges, he missed the variety that came with putting out a magazine so he settled on the idea of reviving the journal on a yearly basis. Lummox Number One is actually a magazine of gargantuan proportions. It is a huge compendium (234 pages) with essays, interviews, and editors' notes as well as poems.
Armstrong's overarching vision is that the volume represent a cross-section of what is appearing in the small press around the country. To accomplish this, he invited "Guest Editors" connected with certain regions or schools of poetry to invite some of their favorite poets to submit several of their own favorite works. The positive response, he says, was overwhelming.
The inclusion of essays about the current state of the poetry scene in the United States is both helpful and eye-opening for the novice. The various commentary about historical trends in published work since the 1960's is provocative, to say the least.
Jared Smith argues that the current writing lacks "vital new imagery" despite the expanded number of literary publications and graduates from Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) programs.
Steve Goldman laments what he labels as unbridled careerism and self-promotion among the increasing number of published poets; and he points to the computerized submissions as a kind of industrialization of the poet's work. The commercialization of this art form, Goldman argues, undermines "poetry's implicit ethical responsibility." Poetry "is about spiritual transcendence," he says, "not stardom."
Curator Lorine Parks invites the public to come and hear readings from this new publication, meet the poets, and even discuss some of these issues.
Featured readers include Armstrong, G. Murray Thomas, Lorine & Jeff Parks, Rick Smith, Frank Kearns, Jackie Joice, and Raundi K. Moore-Kondo. Music, a raffle, and "vittles" will also be part of this celebration on Thursday, Dec. 20, open mic sign-ups at 7:15 pm, at Mari's Wine, 8222 Firestone Blvd. in Downey. Parking is in the rear.
More information is available at the website for the Downey Arts Coalition, downeyarts.org.
********** Published: December 13, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 35