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Grande Dame

March 21, 1993|Lee Rossi

I first met Helen Friedland, editor of Poetry/LA, in 1981 at a gathering of poets in Westwood. It was deliberate cunning on my part. I'd read the magazine, then in its second issue, and envied the writers included in its pages. I wanted to be one of them.

It worked, sort of. After introducing myself and chatting briefly with the diminutive, white-haired editor, I rushed home and sent her all three poems I'd written during the past year. After several revisions, she finally published one.

Raised in New York City, trained as an economist at NYU, Friedland had lived several lives (wife and mother, editor and technical writer) before beginning her career in poetry. In 1978, after working for and serving others all her life, she realized that she wanted something totally her own. She was tired of hearing her fellow poets complain about the lack of attention given West Coast writers by the Eastern press. She decided to do something about it.

That something was Poetry/LA. Over the years, many of the most important Southern California poets have appeared in its pages: Charles Bukowski, Kate Braverman, Ron Koertge, Eloise Klein Healy, to name just a few. In addition, Friedland opened her pages to many younger, less well-known writers, such as Amy Uyematsu, Mark Henke and Tom Lichas. Eclectic was her watchword. All of L.A. poetry's schools, cliques, workshops and factions were represented in her pages.

But for me, Poetry/LA was more than a magazine. It was a meeting place. Every six months there was another issue of Poetry/LA, hence another publication party; it was at these events, part prayer meeting, part circus, that I began to appreciate the distinctive energy and appeal of L.A. poets.

After 21 issues, Friedland is ready to call it quits. Before she does, however, she's putting together one final poetry blowout: a retrospective volume entitled "Poetry/LA: A Celebration," which will include the best poems from the magazine's 13-year run. The collection will document a period (1980-1992) when L.A. poetry was moving out of the shadows and becoming a cultural force, not only in this city but throughout the world.

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