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ARTS : Photography Is Her Own Poetic Justice


Inside Linda Macaluso's West Los Angeles apartment, two spotlights shine on three large Plexiglass-covered posters on her wall.

In one, Silver Lake author Malcolm Boyd stares thoughtfully toward the camera; in another, Washington state poet Tess Gallagher wears a soft, expectant look; in the third, Downtown Los Angeles writer "Dr. Mongo" (Mongo Taribubu) stares seriously off-camera into darkness.

On each image, a poem by the pictured poet is printed in English and Spanish.

Probably the most prolific photographic chronicler of Southern California poetry readings--and a published poet herself--Macaluso, 46, began taking such photographs on impulse in 1982, when she barely knew the difference between telephoto and wide-angle lenses.

Macaluso learned as she went, taking photography classes at Santa Monica College for four years as she continued documenting poetry readings. Over the years, she has accumulated thousands of images.

Her goal, she said, is to improve the visibility of poets, whom she considers social catalysts.

"If I didn't believe in the power of poetry to change the world, I wouldn't write poetry and I wouldn't go to poetry readings and I certainly wouldn't photograph poets," Macaluso said. "These photos are really just giving body to what poets are doing."

Her photographs have been exhibited several times and have appeared in magazines and on the jackets of books and compact discs by Los Angeles area writers, including Holly Prado, Henry Morro and Lee Rossi.

In 1991, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, multiple copies of Macaluso's three posters were placed in bus shelters in 15 Los Angeles council districts in time for the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. They were on display for about three months.

Macaluso said she viewed the posters "as ads for poetry." She added: "I find it tickling that they appeared next to Gap, Tom Cruise, Bugle Boy. It seems almost postmodern."


Boyd said Macaluso has photographed him "dozens of times," often when he was unaware of it. That's good news to Macaluso, who makes a point not to disrupt readings.

Macaluso occasionally strays from photographing poets. Her non-literary pictures have appeared in Southern California Home and Garden, Skateboard Industry News and other publications. "I have more portfolios than God," she said.

Lately she has not been able to photograph more than three poetry readings or so each month. She was laid off in June from her job as a legal secretary and has found only temporary positions since then.

"Being out of work and just having to scrounge for the money for film is hard for me," she said. Her photography also has been sidetracked by illnesses to her parents and to her sister. Macaluso also has had surgery to remove a non-malignant growth from her breast.

"I do everything myself. If I don't have the energy or if my personal life intrudes, nothing happens," Macaluso said. These days she's occasionally paid to photograph Lannan Foundation poetry readings at the Pacific Design Center, but most of her work is done free.

She's trying to find another full-time secretarial position. She'd also like to find grant support to allow her to make more poetry posters and put them on public display in several cities; someday she'd like to publish a book of her photos.

What keeps her going, she said, is a deep faith in poetry's importance. She has written many poems herself, publishing them in L.A. Weekly and elsewhere, including the now-defunct literary journals Tsunami and Poetry/LA.

"Poetry has saved a lot of people's lives. It's saved my life more than once," she said.

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