Any Style


Exhibiting an almost insolent courage, Peter Schjeldahl gave a talk in Chicago in which he categorized that city as a “receptor city,” while ranking Los Angeles as a “transmission city” alongside London, Paris, and New York, and if that is the case, than one of its most accomplished poets must certainly be Jack Grapes, who made himself one of the founding members of a Los Angeles-based school often referred to as Stand Up Poetry. In this process, Grapes has attained the virtues associated with transmission – authenticity, reinvention, and variety – through his stalwart commitment to a mordantly comic legibility within the larger cultural discourse. This includes a career as actor & playwright, tweaking that portion of his life with half-serious affection in the title of one of his earlier collections, Breaking on Camera, and the long run of his hit comedy Circle of Will (in which he starred as Will Shakespeare). His poetry makes it demonstrably clear what those of us who had the good fortune to hear him read his poetry in the 1970s in Los Angeles knew all those many years ago: he has an almost instinctual ability – akin to that of a master actor – to shape dramatic metaphors into the enduring substance of a “local habitation and a name.” But if Grapes is to be considered primarily within the context of Stand Up Poetry, one immediately runs into numerous obstacles, not the least of which is that – like Language writing – Stand Up Poetry is easier to cite than to delimit. Grapes’s poems are far more willing to engage with themes that are imbued with morbidity and desolation than most other Stand Up poets. The complexity of his poetry is perhaps too easily overlooked. He is one of the genuine progeny of Baudelaire. Eliot said of Shakespeare that he had a “terrifying clairvoyance.” There are touches of that quality in Grapes’s poetry, too. He fulfills the role of masterful mentorship through a body of work that would serve to inspire anyone on the West Coast who might take up the challenge of writing poetry in the coming decades. His staggering panoply of accomplishments has an integrity that younger poets have yet to understand as one of his crucial virtues. The scope of his work, however, will prove to be the most daunting aspect of anyone who decides to make a foray into his extraordinary assemblage of poems. He has not made it easy for anyone to grasp the full meaning of his artistic journey. In one of my favorite aphorisms by Paul Valery, he comments, “The best work is the one that keeps its secret longest. For a long while no one even suspects it has a secret.” There are secrets in Jack’s poems that even I have yet to suspect as to the nature of their presence. I entrust them to you for their safekeeping in remaining so. – Bill Mohr (Hold Outs, University of Iowa Press), from his “Afterword” to The Naked Eye

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