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L.A.: Salon Central

January 23, 1994|Suzanne Lummis

Here in Los Angeles talented resident poets are usually found presenting their work in quite modest circumstances, whereas poets who fly into LAX and rent a car may be seen at high-profile series in venues that feature comfortable chairs. Interestingly, the poetry series just begun at Arundal Antiquarian Books is committed to poets of both national and local reputation. Poet and series director Laurel Ann Bogen inaugurated the reading with familiar Los Angeles names and then, in a turn that has dazzled some, lined up Mark Strand, William Dickey and Philip Levine for February, March and April. "I want to present the most important voices in America," states Bogen emphatically, "whether they're from New York, L.A. or Fresno."

Phillip Bevis, owner of Arundal Antiquarian Books (8380 Beverly Blvd.), acknowledges that this combining of the famed with the under-recognized springs from a "utopian view" and adds, "I want to help develop a serious audience for poetry and in order to do that the focus of attention must be the poets, not the espresso machine sputtering in the background."

It's Jan. 13. All seats are claimed in this small-to-medium-size space where the shelves rise from floor to ceiling. The occasion is a rare L.A. visit from Diane DiPrima, the doyenne of the Beat generation and author of the collection "Revolutionary Letters." Curiosity about her is running high. Many know only bits and pieces: She wrote an extremely ribald autobiography. She wrote a one-line poem: "Get your cut neck off my knife."

Tonight DiPrima does not deliver any such disarming lines but instead gives a pleasant, composed reading of poems that reflect her interest in Tibetan Buddhism and the ideas and imaginings of older cultures. Of a goddess called Innana she writes, "From the steppes she came/From the place of tall grass she came/From the island desert she came/She rode a lion."

After the reading many linger on to have their books signed, to talk. There is something of a salon atmosphere here; moreover, it is Thursday, the exact day of the week the Bloomsbury Group gathered. Someone asks Bogen to reveal how she manages to secure commitments from such luminaries. "I write a good letter," she replies mysteriously. Pressed further she admits laughingly: "I prostrate myself before them."

The Arundal Antiquarian Books readings are held on the second Thursday of each month at 8 p.m. Seating is limited, so come early. Admission is $5. For more information, call 213-852-9852.

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