An Irishman in Claremont

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Paul Muldoon, the County Armagh poet, Princeton professor and newly named poetry editor of The New Yorker, came to the Claremont Graduate University Monday night for a reading with fellow poet Molly Peacock.

I’d gotten to know Paul a little bit through his work with the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize at Claremont, the organizing committee of which I sit on, and because we shared the same brilliant poetry teacher — Paul at Queen’s College in Belfast, me at Berkeley.

That, and we both write not only verse but lyrics with rock ‘n’ roll bands.

End of comparisons, ’cause Paul has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War,” and I have . . . not.

It was a fantastic night in the backyard of CGU President Robert Klitgaard’s home as those of us on the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board of the university gear up to create a year-’round poetry presence to complement the annual Tufts hoopla.

Poetry — it’s the best balm in hard times. In good times, too, so stick with us.

I was thinking of this poem by Paul in this 46th October since the Cuban Missile Crisis:


My eldest sister arrived home that morning
In her white muslin evening dress.
‘Who the hell do you think you are
Running out to dances in next to nothing?
As though we hadn’t enough bother
With the world at war, if not at an end.’
My father was pounding the breakfast-table.

‘Those Yankees were touch and go as it was–
If you’d heard Patton in Armagh–
But this Kennedy’s nearly an Irishman
So he’s not much better than ourselves.
And him with only to say the word.
If you’ve got anything on your mind
Maybe you should make your peace with God.’

I could hear May from beyond the curtain.
‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I told a lie once, I was disobedient once.
And, Father, a boy touched me once.’
‘Tell me, child. Was this touch immodest?
Did he touch your breasts, for example?’
‘He brushed against me, Father. Very gently.’

Being Louise Bourgeois


I got out of the office for a little bit Friday morning to head down to the press preview of the new retrospective of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois at MOCA — because getting out into the world is good, and because art is a tonic for the soul.

As you can see from her scary, huge — it’s the first thing the gallery visitor sees, and it must be 15 feet tall — metal spider and assemblage above, the work of Bourgeois is not an ordinary art tonic along the lines of meditating on a Monet water lily, say.

Rather, here’s what’s a tonic about being in the presence of her work: Bourgeois is 96 years old, and she’s still working ever day.

As MOCA Director Jeremy Strick told the assembled crowd of art scribes this morning, that means Bourgeois, who was born in 1911 and came to this country in 1938, has had a longer working career than almost any other artist. MOCA defines “contemporary” art as dating from about 1940 — the earliest piece in its permanent collection is by Piet Mondrian, c. 1939 — so that Bourgeois, already an artist when she came to New York with her art historian husband, was present at the creation of what we see as contemporary, and is the only major artist whose career has spanned its entire history.

In a 2007 etching in the show’s final room, she scrawls in pencil below her drawing, “It is not so much where my motivation comes from but how it manages to survive.”

In the New York Review of Books dated Oct. 23, Sanford Schwartz noted of the show, which most recently was at the Guggenheim in Manhattan, “Perhaps the most amazing of the many remarkable aspects of Louise Bourgeois is that if she had died in her middle seventies we would not have known how daring, strange, ambitious or disturbing an artist she could be.”

I find her longevity, and her ability to work in advanced old age at the weird cutting edge of it all, shying away from nothing, an amazing affirmation of life.

The show — made possible, by the way, by significant grants from Pasadenans Betye Burton and Ann and Olin Barrett — opens to the public Sunday, running through Jan. 25.

The Times’ redesign

They’re called bylines because, see, they tell us who the story is by. (Reported and then written by, that is. The gang of editors who may have rewritten the bejeesus out of it, and yet whose names may never appear in the paper their whole careers — that’s another issue entirely.)

So when I bring the Los Angeles Times A section out to my little table this morning at Bean Town on Baldwin in Sierra Madre to read as I eat my oatmeal and I turn to the lead story and I see beneath its headline the words “Richard Winton,” I internally say to myself, “Yes, Richard Winton — he’s the longtime Times staff writer, now downtown but formerly of the defunct San Gabriel Valley section where he reported on Pasadena City Hall and was thus the rival of Star-News and SGVN reporters, son-in-law of Linda Vistan and former Times staff writer Bryce Nelson, who is now a journalism professor at USC … yes, Richard Winton. But what about him? Oh. This is supposed to be telling me the story’s BY Richard? Well, then why not just say so?”

Don’t know. But the main reason, I suspect, that there also is no reference in a line immediately below his name that Richard is a full-time staff writer at the paper is so the Times can be less embarrassed by the fact that financial realities of newspapering mean that it is using fewer staff writers. It now can announce whether a person is on staff or not in the tagline at the bottom of the story, which no one reads, rather than up top.

So there is my first beef with the Times’ fairly massive redesign, launched today with a spadea — that is, the odd flap that comes a wide column out over the A section, otherwise wrapping around the back of the real section, and which we once tried, to readers’ great dismay, having every day wrapping around our features section — featuring a Wall Street Journal-style engraved mug of the Times’ new editor, Russ Stanton, explaining all the craziness to us.

Because while I will have my beefs, the fact is everyone hates changes in a newspaper’s style on the first day, and may still dislike them on subsequent days — and yet, soon enough, it’s as if it’s always been that way.

It’s still the first day, though, in big changes to a newspaper I’ve been reading for almost half a century, God help me. So, more beefs: Adding white space INSIDE the grand Gothic type in the flag — the place where it says The Los Angeles Times at the top of Page A1? Why? What’s wrong with the boldness of black? Ain’t that what Gothic’s all about? I don’t care for it one little bit.

And then, as the eye moves down to the place below the byline in search of what everyone still calls the dateline, and we find … nothing?

Well, admittedly, here’s where the wheels fall off the internal logic of newspapering. The dateline has not, with the exception of an occasional archaic inclusion in a New York Times story written a day or two earler from the antipodes, included an actual date on which the story was filed for generations. What it does contain is the place from which the story is reported, if, in the case of the L.A. Times, that place is not the city of Los Angeles.

Instead, the Times, which has announced by its abscence its desire to save ink or precious space or whatever it is by the removal of the word “By,” now ADDS the words, still as is traditional in all caps but in much smaller type, “reporting from.” As in, in today’s Column One story on the left shoulder — a place where editors place what they believe to be the best newsy feature of the day — “Scott Kraft, Reporting from Guguletu, South Africa.”

Yesterday, that would have read:
“By Scott Kraft
Guguletu, South Africa — Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died.”

Yes, I prefer the way it used to be. Bring back the “By.” Lose the “Reporting from.” We get it.

Elsewhere: Don’t care for the dark-gray, too-wide rule announcing internal sections of the paper such as Nation or Opinion.

On the Opinion pages, really don’t care for taking the magnificent Times eagle symbol down below the editorials rather than above them, where it used to loom. Love having Berkeley Breathed draw and write a hilarious cartoon supporting Proposition 2 on the California ballot — but that’s a one-off. And a sad reminder that the Times, along with the other newspapers that buy him (we can’t because the Times has locked him up, demanding that no other Southern California papers can have access), will lose Breathed’s brilliant “Opus” next month when he stops drawing it.

If, as announced, the Times will go to drawings rather than mugs for its columnists, why does hockey columnist Helene Elliott on the front of Sports not get a mug? So maybe it’s not going to the line drawings after all.

“Each section has its own color to make finding it a snap,” an explainer says. Maybe so. But words don’t work anymore?

Anyway. The note from Stanton asks, “Please let us know what you think of our new look.” That’s what I think. And unlike the old days of cutthroat competition, I think we’re all in this together now. I used to work for the Times as a copy kid just out of college, and then used to write for it as well, including a cover story for its late, lamented Sunday magazine. I wish the Times, a great American newspaper, nothing but the best. And, yes, in a few months, I won’t even notice these cosmetic changes, which, in the end, are the sizzle, and not the steak.

Greener than thou

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Three moons — well, helium-filled lights — floated above the entryway to the opening of the Greene & Greene show at the Huntington Library, co-curated by Ted Bosley and Anne Mallek of the Gamble House.

Inside, as I noted in my Sunday column, is an exhibit filled not only with grace and beauty, but with the history of an idealist creativity almost impossible to imagine today. Charles, the artist of the pair — brother Henry was more the academic — sketched this plan
for a window of stained glass:

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Pictures from an exhibition … and more

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I shot this at the Castle Green Thursday night as we set up the bar and the food for my dad Milt Wilson’s show of postcard art. It was the last moment of calm — hundreds of people came by that evening to look at the works, beautifully hung by the Lightbringer Project’s Patricia Hurley and Tom Coston and my sister Victoria and major domo-ed by my sister Alicia. It was a wild success.

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Peggy Phelps, Norma Wilson, Milt and the Star-News’ Janette Williams were among the correspondence-art revelers.

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That was the night’s motto.

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These are some of the Russian journalists who visited the Star-News last week and who I columnized about.

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And Friday, host Barry Gordon, Andre Coleman of the Pasadena Weekly and I got to interview Congressman Adam Schiff on 55 KPAS’s “City Beat,” which will be cablecast this week. Schiff was just off the plane from Washington and the government version of the international economic meltdown, but was his usual calm, well-mannered self as he described his part in staving off bread lines …

Postcards on Thursday night

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Here’s the artist, E. Milton Wilson, fresh off the boat from The Islands and …

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here’s some of his art — four postcards from the exhibition. Hundreds more where they came from, on view Thursday night, Castle Green, Green and Raymond, Old Pasadena, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It’s a party, and with the economy bottoming out, who doesn’t need a party? We’ll see you there.

Go Bears!

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I was in Berkeley all weekend for a series of meetings with alumni and the current student journalists of the Daily Californian, my college newspaper, as we launch an endowment campaign to ensure its bright future. So I didn’t get to go to the Bears’ football game in which California beat Arizona State 24-14 up the hill in Memorial Stadium. But I did catch up with the Cal band, pictured here in Sproul Plaza after the game, as all the brass — here, the saxes — broke up into different sections to celebrate yet another Golden Bears victory.