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Santa Monica's Beach=Culture Launches a Summer of Fine Arts  

By Melonie Magruder
Lookout Staff

May 5, 2011 -- In an appropriate setting – facing the beach below swaying palm trees and a crystal-clear sunset – the Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division's Beach=Culture program presented "Writers Read LA" Monday night.

The event was conceived in tandem with Lisa Bloomfield's visual art exhibit "Considering Eden" at the Annenberg Community Beach House and featured local writers reading their ruminations on nature and the fragility of life.

Reflecting Marcel Proust's wry observation that "the only paradise is the paradise lost," curator Bloomfield said that the evening’s thematic narrative is that perfection - whether in art or in life - is illusory. And that when you reach for the perfect is usually when you see that "something should have been more right.

"Tonight's event is intimately connected with the art exhibit here," Bloomfield said. "It's about loss. Loss of memory or love and passage of time. About how we look at a lost fantasy of Eden here in our Edenic scene outside."

With that, Bloomfield introduced her first writer, Katharine Haake, as a writer of fiction, memoir, California history and "eco-fabulous stories of millennial change."

Haake, a tiny blonde woman with quiet, intense energy and librarian spectacles, is author of several short story collections, a "hybrid" novel, and short fiction that has appeared in multiple magazines, earning her Editor's Choice Awards and recognition from Los Angeles' cultural affairs department.

She read from her first selection, "What I know About Aliens," which might be a reference to secrets found in Roswell, New Mexico or the strangers within her own family.

Family memoirs can bring out the funny and the desolate, like Haake's description of "the God Helmet," a footballer's skullcap that rearranges the synaptic firings of the brain to bring forth false memories, like alien probe sessions or parental distance.

"They'll bring you back," Haake read. "But not the same."

Her story "Why I Love the Stone," is as much about communion with stones while working in her garden as man's insignificance in the infinity of ages. Haake's last parable, "Assumptions We Might Make in a Post World" wonders how animals that survive the apocalypse will look and feel.

The next reader, Dorothy Barresi, is a poetess and recipient of several writing awards, as well as a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Bloomfield introduced Barresi as a writer who combines pop culture with personal concerns like motherhood, grief and aging, wrapped with a ribbon of surrealism.

Her first poem, "Security" was written a couple of months after the events of 9/11 - made more poignant with Osama Bin Laden’s recent endgame writ large. Humorous in a creepy way, Barresi's visual imagery describing airport security check points underscored the otherworldliness of the tangled American psyche following the attacks on the World Trade Center.

"Backyard" described the moral dilemma faced when she found the torn and bloody remains of a grieving neighbor's little dog, obviously snatched by a coyote and partially consumed before leaving the relative order of her backyard for the untamed wilderness just the other side of the fence.

"Arriving Late at the Birthplace of Pentecostalism" spoke of the first Pentecostal church in L.A., where she asked herself, "Why, if I'm sure of nothing, I'm sure I sinned?" In "Litany with the Garbage Keeper and Bones," Barresi's 50-year-old character talks about how she's tired of tiptoeing around God.

Rod Val Moore, also a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, has published fiction in a variety of magazines and in a short story collection. He also is Bloomfield’s husband.

He joked about the genre title of a book he is writing.

“Micro-fiction,” he said. “A micro-novel with micro-chapters. Hey – it adds up. In the future, all novels will be 15 minutes long.”

Moore’s micro-novel was a whimsical tale of broken teeth, ladders to the moon, and population thereof by barrels of rabbits till, when humanity is wiped off the earth, only the rabbits on the moon remain as testament to our legacy. His stories are rich, but not heavy, with death, fragility, earth and owl pellets.

Moore pointed out the added advantage of his micro-books: “They’re illustrated. It’s amazing how much you can find on the Internet these days.”

Karen Kevorkian has published poetry and short fiction in a number of national journals. She is a newcomer to the area, but promised that, in writing about Southern California, she would be sure to include “mention of palm trees,” as de rigueur symbols of L.A.

Her poetry was framed with references to California light and California history, evoking Maxfield Parrish vistas when California “abounded with possibility.”

In all the evening's stories, there was a wistful sense of doom, whether in love, or family, or expectation. Time is immutable, but change is the only thing you can take to the bank.

The Beach=Culture program is designed to nudge Santa Monicans to seeing and hearing public art in new contexts that are fun, challenging and provocative. Monday night’s performance was just a harbinger of things to come this summer.

For more information on future events, visit the Annenberg Beach House Beach=Culture website.


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