Saturday, January 2, 2010


This new book—subtitled SELECTED PHOTOGRAPHS BY KEVIN MCCOLLISTER—is one of my favorite works of art from the year just past, or the entire decade for that matter.

Kevin is a friend, I admit, but he is also a wonderful poet I discovered back in L.A. in the 1980s and spent the next two decades trying to get someone to publish his work. His poems come from the walks he's been taking since he moved to L.A. but around parts of L.A. rarely seen in the media—making them basically unknown to the general public. He describes things he sees on his walks or people he encounters and sometimes the thoughts and feelings he has while on these walks.

The clear language and direct honesty of his observations gives his poetry an immediacy and intimacy, as well as what the critics sometimes used to cite my poetry for—""rawness"—but coupled with a self-awareness and intellect that made me often describe him as a more insightful and intellectually curious Bukowski.

After years of having his poems rejected plus the general decline in the publishing of anything not connected to the academy and/or mass culture—despite the growing number of fans his readings, and my and other poets' enthusiasm for his work, inspired—he decided to buy a camera and take that on his walks around the unheralded neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

And then, he started a blog, first called JIMSONWEED and later changed to EAST OF WEST LA, the subtitle of which is "I'm photographing L.A.—all of it"—which consists of photos he takes that are as singular, and as much a combination of that "rawness" plus sensitivity, as his poetry is and with the same kind of power. Now and then he writes something about the people and objects and places he photographs, but most of the time the photos just stand for themselves.

One of the poets who became interested in Kevin's poetry is Brooks Roddan, who considered doing a book of Kevin's poems. But when he discovered the blog he changed his mind and talked Kevin into this book of selected photos.

It's a relatively small book—only 60 pages and the page size is surprisingly small for an art book, a little under 6x8. But it has that unique-art-object feeling that so many of my favorite books have. I can't recommend it highly enough.

To see Kevin's artistry when it comes to his photos just go to the link to his blog on the right, EAST OF WEST LA, and check out anything. Then order the book where it says at the top of his blog. To see the artistry of his poetry you'll have to wait a little longer I guess.

[PS: I think this is the first book I've posted on since the brain surgery. Not surprising it's an art book of photographs since I haven't gotten back into books of only prose yet. I've always dug art books, photographs and reproductions of paintings or photos of sculptures etc. but I've also recently been contemplating buying a few books that would be called "graphic" non-fiction, i.e. drawings or cartoons telling with not too many words real stories, a post-op change in taste.]

[PPS: Here's a link to an article from yesterday's L. A. Times about EAST OF WEST LA]


-K- said...

"...a poet I discovered..."

Totally, totally true.

Without your perceptions and generosity, none of this would be happening.

Elisabeth said...

I've read about this poet, Kevin McCollister, and East of West LA, elsewhere in the blogosphere.

It's wonderful to sense the community feel on line and to see great work recommended that might otherwise fail to see the light of day, which it deserves.

And it's also wonderful to see how much you've recovered, Michael. Now you're reviewing books. That takes brain power, more than I have.

Lally said...

K, whatever success you're having came from your talent and your commitment.
Elisabeth, thanks for the kind words, but we'll say how long it takes before I can review a book full of prose. I'd guess an art book or poetry book will come before a biography etc.