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BOOKS AND AUTHORS / ORANGE COUNTY : Poets Paint Different Portraits of Human Connectedness

November 01, 1994|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Veteran Orange County poets Lee Mallory and Julian Palley are making the rounds of poetry readings and bookstores to promote their recently published new collections, in which they both return to familiar themes.

Ask Mallory what the title of his new book, "Full Moon, Empty Hands," means, and the poet in Mallory kicks in.

"You walk out on a beautiful night," he says, "and there's a full moon, and there's a warm wind stirring on your flanks, and the sound of soft music is rippling on the air, and you have no one . . ."

His evocative word picture lingers only as long as a stolen kiss. Then the teacher in Mallory takes over.

"In other words," he says, "the idyllic scene is set for romance, but the real world intrudes. It's what I've said for years and years: We're coming up empty-handed because we're losing our connectedness as human beings, and that's also true between the sexes."

Mallory says none of the 51 poems in "Full Moon, Empty Hands" (Lightning Publications, Fullerton; $12.95) embodies the title, "but there are plenty of poems of sorrow and losses, which are the 'empty hands,' and there are plenty of poems that equate to the 'full moon,' the positive side" of relationships.

Mallory, who teaches poetry at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, says his book is roughly divided into thirds: new poems, poems that have been previously published but never gathered into a collection, and reader-favorites from his 1990 book, now out of print, "I Write Your Name."

But more than half of the poems in "Full Moon, Empty Hands," his fifth book of poetry, deal with love. Indeed, Mallory isn't called "the Love Poet" for nothing.

"I think that's kind of schlocky," he says of the "Love Poet" designation. "It sounds like the name of a disk jockey on one of those call-in radio shows. But in a way, as I look at my work, it's probably pretty factual, because I'm fascinated with the interplay between the sexes more than just in a visceral, sensual way."

As a poet, Mallory is known for not only understanding "the depth of the feminine mystery"--as poet Lisa Rafel has put it--but for understanding both sides of the male/female equation.

"The strongest people in my life have always been female, so it's not accidental that my writing seeks to bring them onto my plane or that I use writing to reach out to that other side," Mallory says. "I agonize over the fact that as a writer and as a poet I can never fully understand the female side, her reality. Man, for example, will never understand the mystery of childbirth, and the male writer who tries to be the master of all experience feels that gap."

Mallory, a 30-year resident of Newport Beach, will be the featured reader at the Factory Readings gathering at 8 p.m. Monday in a new venue, Koo's Arts Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana. He'll also sign copies of his book, which is available at Barnes & Noble in Costa Mesa, Brentano's in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, and Barnes & Noble in MainPlace/Santa Ana.

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Palley says "Family Portraits" (The Inevitable Press, Laguna Beach; $10) is more introspective than his three previous collections.

His 1987 book, "Bestiary," for example, "is largely visual," he says. "Here, I think there's a different tone, perhaps you could call it more mature or reflective."

The poems in the new book mirror how he was feeling during the time he wrote them--1989 to 1993--but, he says, "it also is a product of experience, of writing and living."

Palley, who recently retired from the Spanish department at UC Irvine, where he taught Spanish literature and comparative literature for 27 years, says the family portrait on the book's cover shows his mother in 1909 at the age of 13 with her two younger sisters, and his poem "Anne Palley, with Sisters, 1909" is "kind of a meditation on that photo and my mother."

Only a couple of the poems in the book, however, deal directly with his family. The title poem is his reflection on family portraits, those graying pictures of bygone relatives who, as he writes, whisper from walls and mantels to their progeny that "we also loved & suffered as you do now. . ."

Palley, in fact, views the title "Family Portraits" in a much broader sense. As the book's dedication indicates, he says, "I consider all animals and people to be part of one family, one human and animal family."

Indeed, the book includes poems about vultures, suburban coyotes, a red-tail hawk. Animals are a recurring subject in his poems.

"I think living in Orange County since 1966 has really influenced my poetry, and much of it is inspired by the nature of this area," he says, noting that his book, "Bestiary," is mostly about birds found in Irvine and along the coast. And, he says, "in my third book, 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' there are a great many poems that relate to the bird life and animal life of Orange County, so I sort of discovered nature here in a meaningful way."

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