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La Loca : Literary Fame Is at Her Door and Valley Girl Pamala Karol Is Still Incredulous

February 03, 1988|ITABARI NJERI | Times Staff Writer

She is "La Loca," a self-described "poetess/philanderer." A Valley girl of another kind and time, she grew up there in the '60s, a rebel who defied her parents and neighbors by hanging out with Chicanos and lauding black men.

A "pretty girl" no one thought lovely, a "brilliant girl" whose work no one respected, she has nevertheless recently joined the rarefied company of men and women of letters with critical acclaim for her just-published epic poem, "The Mayan."

This week the incredulous poet--"I mean, I was born in Hollywood. I live in Los Angeles"--shares the stage with literary luminary Lawrence Ferlinghetti, literary brat-packer Jay McInerney and the lesser-known but critically hailed poet Sam Hamill of Washington state as one of the four official U.S. representatives to the Olympic Arts Festival in Calgary, Canada--being held in conjunction with the Winter Games there.

Recognition at Expo

Festival organizer and poet Trevor Carolan acknowledges that "very few have heard of her in the literary world." But her appearances in Canada, beginning with a reading at the World Exposition in 1986 in Vancouver, generated intense interest.

Later, Carolan said, she read "at this hard-as-nails coffeehouse frequented by leftist, Latin-American exiles in Vancouver called La Quena. She came in with this L.A. hipster, show-biz repartee and had this hard-boiled, left-wing crowd eating out of her hand. It was truly something."

Shortly after her La Quena performance, Carolan was hired to organize the writers segment of the Olympic Arts Festival.

"What we needed were people from the cutting edge of performance art. Everybody thinks of New York, but I had seen her."

(In fact, all but one of the writers--McInerney--representing the U.S. at the festival are from the West Coast; La Loca and Ferlinghetti are both Californians.)

La Loca, Carolan said, follows in the tradition of Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. "These people revolutionized poetry and took literature out of the polite salons. They kicked in the walls."

La Loca, the crazy one, is reading her lyrical, humorous, violence-tinged verse. She is a performance artist with a harsh-hip, Hollywood bravado variously dressed in a black bustier or concealing layers of black cloth against pale white skin. She is a survivor of micro and macro domestic wars, the scars of which are reflected in her extravagantly made-up, hazel eyes, and in her poetry. She is reading from "The Mayan," a song of domestic violence, bigotry, the joys of adolescence and the resilience of youth.

To survive

I had to live on my knees

as an ear.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

and I would snap into microphone....

There is silence in this cool, white space called the Sand and Sea club in Santa Monica as she reads.

One day

into the seraglio

came her new man.

She showed him my bound feet

and I called him


Daddy was

as big as a door.

He wore green slacks and

a yellow shirt

with a plastic pen holder

in the shirt pocket

that said Drone Spark Plugs.

Soon, he had a belt, too, which at

dinner time hung over the back of his


We were

a family.

\f7 La Loca, nee Pamala Karol, was born to the Valley's struggling working class on March 29, 1950. Her mother and father divorced when Karol was very young and she was raised by her mother and stepfather. Her work, she says, "is scrupulously autobiographical."

She is open, vulnerable. Her attentive audience, filled this night with friends celebrating the Bone Scan Press publishing of "The Mayan," applaud her work. They applaud her existence. She was near death less than two years ago, a victim of ovarian cancer. "They cut my guts out," she says.

She tears at the sound of applause, the salty liquid smudging the dark paint decorating her eyes. To watch this kinetic portrait of sass and blood and fire and gentle weeping is to wonder if an eggshell shaved translucent could be more fragile than her soul.

Pamala Karol--child of the '60s, Berkeley graduate, Sorbonne attendee, aspiring screenwriter and winner of two Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film study grants and the 1986 Academy of American Poets College Prize--autographs copies of "The Mayan" for friends after the reading at the Sand and Sea club.

She published "The Mayan"--her name for the movie theater where she and her pre-adolescent friends hung out--as a gift to herself after winning the war against cancer. The several thousand dollars it cost to print came from money saved working as a legal secretary--still her primary source of income.

Scrawls Personal Messages

Garrulous as she scrawls personal messages along with her autograph, she is overheard to say that her last relationship contributed to the cancer she developed.

"I personally do think so, the stress of it, though there's no scientific evidence," she says later. "This guy was like a major, major blackout drinker. It was like being with a wild animal that you would put a leash on."

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