On a weeknight a few months ago along Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park at the Sancho Art Gallery a group of mostly women poets fronted by musician and poet Dylan Doren performed in celebration of art, words and beats. It marked a beginning for these artists who gathered together for the first time as WOMEN. A month later in the neighborhood of Mt. Washington, Dylan arrived at a party with poetry and music, performing in his wake an eclectic mix of male and female poets exploring sound and meaning. Interestingly this event showcased an entirely different set of poets. One month later off a section of Hollywood Boulevard in the downtown club district, Dylan with a computer hooked up to a speaker gathered yet another group of WOMEN in the courtyard of an apartment building. Again the night vibrated with music and the exploration of life through stanzas, tropes and rhymes.
Before each event Dylan takes the time to find the right spot to hang a banner with a simple statement written on the front; a banner that these musicians and artist flock too wherever it goes up; a slightly esoteric but highly enigmatic statement defining a movement by these artists to produce, perform and distribute literary work; a banner hung always in full view of the performing artists for the audience to see, giving a name to the wealth of work coming from contributors. It simply reads the WOMEN group.
So who is the WOMEN group, and what exactly is the WOMEN group? In its beginning stages the question of who might be harder to describe than the what. The group is a “collective of poets and writers” in Dylan’s own words that currently publish chapbooks and host poetry readings around Los Angeles. If you want the “what” of it then there you go.
Describing the WOMEN group while sitting down to dinner at a local Hollywood Thai restaurant (one of this writer’s personally favorite spots, insert add here for Hoy-Ka Thai Noodle), Dylan in personal terms added his reasons for starting the group.
“[To] Collect poetry really,” Dylan said in between bites of noodles in solemn tones. “I think a lot of people write and don’t get their shit out there, and right now I just try to collect poems. I try to motivate people to submit so I can do the footwork and get their shit out there. It’s basically my love for poetry, but also fear of good poetry not getting out.”
When L.A. the Blog caught up with them in Hollywood to experience and share some of our own poetry, the night unfolded with a variety of styles about a myriad of subjects. The poets with a microphone and speaker often fighting the helicopter and traffic sounds coming off the Hollywood streets read four to six poems covering topics from friendship and family to sex, drugs and relationships; backlit by the overhead incandescent and integrated compact fluorescent lights of the apartments entryway with a small crowd of 10 or 12 people mostly artists and writers themselves; in a loose open-mic format that encouraged battle-hardened open-mic veterans, and gave overwhelming support to newer voices who recently joined the group or stepped forward from the audience. After the WOMEN read, one audience member stepped up and called his mom in an inspired happening leaving a message on her voicemail about standing up to participate at a poetry reading, and another joined in with a reading of his favorite William Carlos Williams’ poems. To end the night an acoustic guitar came out.
Each event they hold allows for this open-mic format, but just showing up and performing doesn’t make you part of the group, nor do members of the group strictly write poetry. “I’ve been writing for years and fell into music,” said Dylan explaining his own interest and inspiration in forming the group. “Recently I’ve stopped playing and making music to make the main focus [about] the words.” Many members of the group have played in bands or currently play in bands, or they paint visual art along with writing, or a like this author who recently joined the group they blog random and insightful things about Los Angeles.
The diversity of the members along with such a burgeoning art and music scene in the Silver Lake / Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, and Dylan’s own use of the word “collective” it seems possible the group might bring together all the various types of art – music, painting, sculpture, performance, film, theater, fashion, dance – especially since each poetry event seems to incorporate other art.
According to Dylan though this ain’t the case and the WOMEN group is not to be confused. “That’s another collective,” he said facetious and playful. “We’re a poetry collective.”
“I’m calling from two years ago in a lawn chair, / Sunrise, and sleeping dragon flies / In a wooded clearing, sonorous with incessant / Buzz of cricket and swallows tweeting— / Tents lined up in tribal tee-pee circles. / We were the last alive on earth. – excerpt from a long distance phone call by Tom Kelly, the Women group, Issue 1
As for the actual “who” of the WOMEN group – it currently lists in their first publication and online at their blog eight poets as members, all mostly unknown writers including Dylan himself: Tom Kelly, The Little Red Writer (obviously a pseudonym or penname), Jessica Bloom, Michael Nhat, Honey Gal Nobuddy (another penname we guess), Lina Carol and Nicole Baudouin.
Since the publication’s inception over the summer of 2012 with the WOMEN group, Issue 1, just describing them as eight poets is somewhat erroneous as some recent buzz from the publication and the successive poetry readings swelled the ranks of contributors.
“You know we started off as eight, and now we’re maybe double or more than that,” Dylan said while discussing membership and joining the group. “I have a lot of friends that do music that do poetry that do art so I have been asking them to contribute, or at the poetry readings people that attend they’ve never heard of the collective [but] now because of the event they’ve heard of it, and you know it goes to print. I go to a lot of open mics to talk about it. Now that the WOMEN group, Issue 1, is at three different bookstores people that pick up a copy or just look at it and read it have all the info on how to contact us, and hopefully if they contact us there’s a meeting date or I tell them meet us at a coffee shop, a bookstore or an open mic, or one of the WOMEN group readings.”
For membership in the group this idea of “meeting” holds a great importance. At the moment members are people who have met one another at some point or have met Dylan, and in fact to join the group you must know or have met someone from the group.
“I met every single member in different areas of life, or different parts of L.A,” said Dylan. “Some I’ve known for a long time, for years even, and some I’ve just met. One of the poets I met once before adding her into the WOMEN group. She was just a waitress at a diner and saw that I was writing and we spoke about writing, and we both found out we’re both poets, and exchanged information about open mics around town, and she sent me an email with her poem and it was in.”
So unlike most poetry publications where anyone submits and if the editor enjoys the poem they publish it, the WOMEN group requires the added step of taking the time to meet another member, or Dylan at a coffee shop, bookstore or poetry reading. A writer still needs to submit and the current editor Dylan must choose the work for publication, but for Dylan it’s essential that members meet.
“It’s just a set rule to make it more intimate, the group,” Dylan said after a moment of thought.” We do support writers, and writers from all different areas but our collective is meeting on a personal basis, we don’t have to hang out all the time, we don’t have to hang out ever, but we have to meet another member at least once, and since the group is growing in numbers it will be a lot easier.”
“the anarchic decision one makes / to valiantly jettison sagacity / to venture over the edge / how it must feel to really let go / to severe the tether of consequence / leap into the euphoric unknown with an eagles wingspan / trusting that which might annihilate you / like a blindfolded high diver / without any confirmation the pool is filled with water” – excerpt from the difference between “master bating” and “masturbating” by The Little Red Writer, the Women group, Issue 1
It is obvious at this point that the collective is a mix of males and females. With the name such a misnomer for describing the poets, and with the poems in the first collection focused on everything and anything including women, men and everything else, it would be a mistake to attribute the name to a topic the group writes about. The group isn’t GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) either as far as this writer can tell though I am sure some members are, nor does the group promote women’s issues, and the group isn’t interested in your dad.
Like so many young people these days growing up in a single-family home with their mom, or the women who daily struggle for equal rights around the world, the name is a tribute to these women.
“Yeah, I look up to a lot of women most of all my mother, single mother, hard worker, seven days a week for many years,” said Dylan. “She’s just an inspiration. A lot of my closest friends – women. It’s just a statement that we’re making. At first I was even thinking of making the group anonymous, like maybe only using last names or covering our faces, but I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Anonymous in the hope of creating gender blindness when reading the chapbook, or when they perform at readings. Anonymous so when experiencing the poem you don’t immediately assume that a female or male wrote the piece. In that way your mind doesn’t automatically fall into stereotypes and assumptions that change the words on the page. A somewhat pointed reminder that sexism and gender inequality still exist.
“Hopefully having males take the name WOMEN in time will give a bit to women’s lib,” said Dylan. “Or at least erase that line drawn in the sand.”
Still the WOMEN group is best described in terms of poetry, and to get a sense of the poems you need to read them (we won’t waste our time with scansion and interpretation). They are poets who come together under the banner as writers. “Yes, I already know of two of us that are writing novels and one a short story,” Dylan said when asked about other forms of literature the group might explore. “I look forward to publishing their works. But right now the main focus is to gather the poets for these chapbooks.”
“Like poker I lost every hand / Trying to make apples into oranges / They say we weren’t alone / They gave me a chip it was black / They said welcome back / In the rooms I spoke of my last relapse” – excerpt from Dylan Doren reading live at the WOMEN group, Hollywood, CA (see video below).
It seems that literary groups rarely pick their own name, and more often get prescribed to a style of writing prevalent at the time, or like the Beat Generation their sobriquet comes from one person, in the above case Jack Kerouac, in an interview or perhaps in a letter to a friend, the name used with no intention of it defining a generation, but nonetheless becoming the historical moniker of their literary movement. New Journalism is another example of this happenstance naming of a literary movement, this time taken from the title of a publication that Tom Wolfe curated and disseminated. The Fireside Poets another example who gained their name from the popularity of their poems, or the Black Mountain Poets who mostly attended a college of the same name, and lets not forget the humorous Martian Poets (who? Wikipedia swears they exist?).
For the WOMEN poets living and traveling the streets of Los Angeles in the second decade of the 21st century, the choosing of a name harks back to an earlier time when modernism raged in the streets of Paris, and Virginia Wolf played pranks on the British government with her own group of writers. When writing and bookstores created a community of publishing uncontrolled by the juggernaut of corporate capitalism. Where places like San Francisco, and Oxford birthed new movements and classic epics.
“I began reading more and more, finding poets from past generations, reading their works and researching to find out all I could about them and their journeys,” said Dylan in an email, one of our first communications back and forth discussing this article. More specifically when asked his influences he said, “Just history, the past, all poets that came before us, mostly dead now but, well, that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to gather all the living poets right now, get them down on paper, put them all together.”
Every writer in some form or another is influenced by past generations, and Dylan’s ideas are no different steeped in the tradition of independent expression and the romanticism of the written word. For this reason the publication remains strictly in print, you can’t find any of the poetry online and each poet must submit an original work. In no form can the poetry be published before. Add to this every writer’s instinct is to compare the new generation with past generations to fit the new into categorical reference so they can more easily make sense of the plethoric past so to dismiss or elevate certain writers above others, the need to define this L.A. movement exists.
“It doesn’t really matter the genre,” said Dylan when pressed about the significance of the WOMEN group when compared to other literary movements like the Beats. “Hopefully the time period, the era, the collective is remembered. I don’t care what it ends up being called because that’s just a name.”
“I like using a word, it’s called ‘sonic,’” Dylan said when asked what he would like his own poetry called. “I got it from Sonic Youth my favorite band, but it’s a different word to describe beauty. Some people say cool, some people use a whole bunch of words, I use sonic. That’s when you know I really like something. Sonic as fuck.”
So maybe Dylan and the rest of the poets won’t be remembered at all as the WOMEN group, but instead in Dylan’s own words as “sonic” due partly to this article being published, at least my ego hopes (who wouldn’t want to be the naming catalyst of a literary movement?).
Just recently in late November like clockwork, one month later, the poets gathered again for another reading. This time at the house of a new member who will be featured in the second issue. At the reading early January was announced as the date for the next publication, the WOMEN group, Issue 2. There will be a reading and release party at Alais Books East in the heart of Atwater Village. Please check the WOMEN group website for further information.
UPDATE 04/12/13: Find below some video of poets performing in Hollywood. Also the WOMEN group issue 2 is out!
UPDATE 5/09/13: We removed the video, also the WOMEN group is releasing their third issue this weekend May 11, 2013, at Alias Books East in Atwater Village, 3163 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039, 7 p.m.