Beyond Baroque, Venice’s Unique Poetry Center

By Harry E. Northup

In 1968, an article appeared in the Santa Monica Outlook about the opening of Beyond Baroque, a literary center on West Washington in Venice. It announced that there would be poetry readings on Friday nights. I began attending the readings. On Feb. 26, 1969, the free Wednesday night poetry workshop began; I was one of the original members. The workshop was coordinated by Joseph Hansen and John Harris.

Why did the founder George Drury Smith name the literary center Beyond Baroque? The two answers he gave were, “It came to me in a dream” and “I wanted a name to take literature into the future.” He created a central gathering place for poetry in Los Angeles.

I attended the Wednesday night poetry workshop for six yers, where I met Luis Campos, Francis Dean Smith, Dennis Holt, Bill Mohr, Michael C Ford, Wanda Coleman, Paul Brooks, Paul Vangelisti, Tony Russo, Mark Rhodes, Jay Jenkins, Jack Grapes, Kate Braverman. Leland Hickman, who had turned me onto poetry in 1966 in Manhattan, was living in Los Angeles & he saw my name on an ad for a reading at Beyond Baroque, which he came to. He began attending the workshop. At times, there were thirty to fifty people in the class. Emersonian self-experience was a foundation for one’s poetry. Physical reality, conciseness, devotion to language, study, hard work, precision & transcending reality through the imagination, were stressed. Politics, ranting, fuzziness & e.e. cummings were laughed at.

One thing I liked about the workshop was that a person would read a poem & people in the circle would respond to the poem. The reader would listen & not respond, would not argue — listen & move on to the next poet. I liked that — reading a poem, listening to others’ responses, taking it all in & moving on.

One of the great things, outside of reading your poems & getting responses, in the workshop was the presence of literary magaine editors: Bill Mohr/Momentum; Michael C Ford/Sunset Palms Hotel; the editors of the many Beyond Baroque lit. mag. manifestations; Bill & then Hickman/Bachy. You would read a poem & an editor would say, “I’d like to publish that in my magazine.” It was wonderful to get your poems published that way.

“cowboy angel,” was the first long poem I wrote. I took the ms. to George Drury Smith in his apartment above the literary center. He published the first fifteen pages, along with colored illustrations, in Beyond Baroque 711, in 1971. I was thrilled.

Jim Krusoe, Associate Editor of Newletters, Vice President of Beyond Baroque, published two of my poems in Newletters, in 1974. Newletters was “distributed free.” It had “a printing of 6,000.” The “Readings”included the Beyond Baroque Center listings. In the “Books” section, Alexandra Garrett wrote, “from Mt. Alverno Press, The Jon Voight Poems, by Harry E. Northup, $4… Square back, well printed. Expensive but worth it. A new and excellent poet, sharp and true with an uncommon voice. Those familiar with Santa Monica will get an extra charge of recognition. Those expecting conventional writing will be disappointed.” Alexandra Garrett was the number one volunteer in Beyond Baroque’s history. We all owe her a debt of gratitude.

There was a time in the early 1970s when so many people were coming to the workshop that Joe & John & others didn’t think the most talented regular poets were getting enough attention, so they began a Monday night class that included Joe, John. Lee, Wanda, Francis, myself & a few others. I was honored to be in it.

My son Dylan, who was born in early 1969, went with me to many Wednesday night workshops & Friday night readings. By the time he was sixteen, he had been to as many or more poetry events as anyone his age. Many times, Francis would bring her daughter. I remember Luis Campos bringing his son.

The first weekend Holly Prado & I were together, in 1977, we went to see John Logan read at Beyond Baroque. After the reading, we went to Peter Levitt’s house to hang out with John Logan & our Beyond Baroque poet friends. The afternoon before the reading, we went to the Glendale library, got a book of John Logan’s poems, went to Holly’s home & read them.

Poets, shoulder to shoulder, creating Los Angeles poetry’s second generation legacy.

Looking back at Beyond Baroque after many years of writing poetry, it is the place itself that stands out — a place of poetry readings, new poets & old ones, lyric poets, epic poets, protest poets, experimental poets; a place where the free Wednesday night poetry workshop still continues forty-one years after it began; a place where the authentic act of composing poetry binds us together — a mostly non-commercial act in Los Angeles, the most commercial city in America.

I cherish & will always cherish the poets I met in the early years at Beyond Baroque.

I have sat many times during a poetry reading intermission on the ledge west of the steps outside Beyond Baroque & looked up past a palm tree to the moon, felt the Pacific Ocean breeze.

Beyond Baroque is located in the old Venice City Hall, 685 Venice Blvd. Check the Beachhead Calendar for upcoming events.


Categories: Culture, Poetry