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City Lights: Local poet's career goes 'back to sand'

October 09, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Poet Lee Mallory in a 2010 photograph.
Poet Lee Mallory in a 2010 photograph. (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

The journalist in me has tried to write a lede for this column, and the poet has fought him tooth and nail. Just how should I begin a piece about the closing of Lee Mallory's Orange County poetry readings? With wordplay? A personal anecdote? Should I even aim for prose, or, in the spirit of Lee, should I dispense with capitals and syntax and let the words flow as they will?

Yes, I think that's the way to go. And rather than shoot for a feeble imitation, I'll let Lee write the start of this column himself. He's earned it:

I see eons / of geologic time / tight bands of / strata & sand, / above, I think of indians / Gabrielaños, Juaneños / gathering, hunting / hauling kids, / while SUV's whir below / now they rest / old bones / deep in willow roots & time / cradled gently / back to sand

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That's from "Newport Bluffs," one of my favorite poems about the passage of time, which appeared in Lee's collection "Now and Then" from Moon Tide Press. In the poem, the narrator gazes from a laundry over the bluffs across Pacific Coast Highway, not far from where Lee has run the monthly Wednesday reading at Alta Coffee Warehouse & Restaurant since 1991.

Those who know me know that Moon Tide is the book press I helped launch in 2006, and that Lee was one of the co-founders. They may also know that the first poetry reading I ever attended was Lee's show at Alta a decade or so ago. As a poet, as a publisher, as an event host, he's reached a lot of people here.

And now, to borrow a line from him, Lee's Orange County poetry career has gone back to sand. For more than 20 years, he's organized Poetry at Alta as well as the monthly Factory Readings, which launched in Santa Ana in the late 1980s and most recently met every first Tuesday at the Gypsy Den.

Given Lee's flair for showmanship — more on that in a moment — I always imagined that if he ever retired his readings, he'd do it in the most grandiose way possible: with a massive show that lasted for, oh, seven or eight hours, full of poets, musicians, speeches and other assorted zaniness. We'd all pack the Gypsy Den or Alta with our notebooks full of work, form an open-mic queue that stretched far outside the door, then toast the end of an era with coffee, wine or something stronger.

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