Millennial Issue 

Spring 2000



photo by Virginia Lee Hunter


Leslie Monsour





        by Alex Pepple






The Burrowing Bees

Desert Prayer


A Feminine Riposte to X. J. Kennedy

Deconstructing "Showboat"

Mary Cassatt: Two Studies

That's Why there Are so Many

Fifties Music

Acquainted with Film Noir

Thoughts while Reading Robert Frost on New Year's Day in Idaho


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Leslie Monsour was born in Hollywood, California, but grew up in Mexico City, Chicago, and Panama.  She was educated at Scripps College in Claremont, California, Canal Zone College in Panama, and the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she received her degree in English Literature. She has been a reference librarian at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, a news reporter for Pacifica Radio, and a research consultant for documentary film production companies.  She has also taught Spanish poetry at Florence Avenue Middle School, and has been an instructor for the U.C.L.A. Extension Writers' Program, and at special workshops for the alumnae of Scripps College. Her work has appeared in the Story Line Press anthology, A Formal Feeling Comes, Poems in Forms by Contemporary Women, and numerous journals, including The Birmingham Poetry Review, Hellas, The Lyric, The Plum Review, Fourteen Hills,  and the July, 1999, issue of Poetry. In 1998 Robert Barth published her collection, Earth's Beauty, Desire, & Loss, and, in 1999, Michael Peich of the Aralia Press at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania, published a letterpress edition of her poems, entitled, Indelibility. Publications scheduled for this year include an anthology from The University of Iowa Press, entitled Visiting Emily: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson, as well as the journals, The Dark Horse, The Formalist, and The Edge City Review. Between poems, Leslie continues to work on her first novel, which she has completed several times.  She resides in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and two sons.


Alex: First, thank you, Leslie, for being Able Muse Y2K featured poet and for giving us this interview to reveal a little more of yourself and your thoughts, beside the poetry, to our readers.

Leslie: It's very good of you to have me. I'm delighted and astonished to find myself e-blazing a poetry e-trail. I can't think of a better way to start the year 2000.

Alex: Have you been a long-time Angeleno?

Leslie: I was born in Los Angeles.  My family has been in Southern California since the end of the First World War. When I was four years old, we moved to Mexico City, where I grew up. That was in the Fifties and Sixties. Subsequently, I've lived in Chicago, Boulder, Colorado, and Panama City, Panama. I came back to settle in Los Angeles in 1969, and I've lived here ever since.

Alex: How is the LA poetry scene?

Leslie: Well...American poetry in general has, in my opinion, gone a bit limp, diluting its potency with over proliferation. With so much poetry everywhere, one would suppose the best might rise to the surface to be savored and appreciated, but I don't believe that's been the case at all. There's too much poetry, and a lot of the worthiest work is buried under the heap. It's risky, as a poet, to take an openly critical view of the current state of affairs. I mean, it sort of leaves you open for attack, a la , "Who does she think she is, complaining about poetry when her own is so dreadful...etc, etc." It's an invitation for rotten eggs and hate mail. So it's a tricky position to put yourself in. Still, I can't help but regard the "L.A. poetry scene," if such a thing exists, as an ill-defined, complacent, self-perpetuating mediocrity. With a few maverick exceptions, there isn't much here that has enough fuel of craft and artistry to propel it into orbit.

Alex: What’s the extent of your involvement with it, for instance, interaction with other poets, attending and staging poetic events?

Leslie: I was moderately active in it from 1984, when my first poems were published in a local journal called Electrum, until around 1987 or so. I read my free verse compositions in bookstores, museums and bohemian coffee parlors. There was local interest in my work then. A woman named Joyce Schwartz ran a reading series in Venice, and I was a regular there. She published a journal, too, The Sculpture Gardens Review, and I was in it several times. We also had Poetry LA, which Helen Friedland published, and you had to be residing in Los Angeles to be in it. A lot of the poets who started out in those journals have become the established poets and workshop teachers in Southern California today. But since 1987, when I began to write all my poems in metrical verse, and more often than not, rhyme, though my national exposure has increased, I'm pretty much ignored here in my hometown. I may be wrong, but I think there's a kind of Berlin Wall of poetry in Los Angeles (maybe in other cities, too,) whose purpose is to keep traditional verse out, and keep anyone from escaping over to it. The established poets of this area, who edit each other's anthologies and congregate at each other's readings, want little to do with metrical poetry, or anyone who writes it. Why that is, I'm not sure. I recognize that it's altogether conceivable my work may genuinely be disliked, but I hate to think it's solely because I write in traditional measures. I don't understand why meter should be so universally rejected. I'm afraid the situation won't improve, because prosody is not being taught anywhere. Poetry writing is taught by poets who don't write in meter themselves; many of them know little about formal verse, because their own education was lacking. Poets who receive their MFA's and land teaching positions have in every probability never been encouraged to study or practice meter and rhyme, and the last thing they're able to do is teach it. I can't tell you the number of times a workshop teacher has told me my poems would improve if I abandoned meter. Creative writing departments don't generally hire poets who write formal verse, so I've kind of made myself unemployable. Something else that troubles me is how rarely poets are able to recite poems from memory...even their own poems! They'll say, "Sorry, I don't have any with me." Memorization strikes me as a very important aspect of the poetic process. I taught a workshop out at Scripps College one summer, and the class rebelled against writing in meter. They started calling me "the meter maid." Finally I gave them an assignment to write 22 lines of any length, any old way they pleased, but I wanted the lines to be memorized. In other words, write something memorable. Meter is a way to keep yourself conscious of every word you write. It's also very liberating to allow language to flow across its natural units of measure and determine line endings according to a consistent count, rather than struggle with the arbitrary whims of free verse. I gave a reading at the Sierra Madre Public Library last July, and many members of the audience, who weren't poets, told me afterwards how grateful they were to hear poems that used rhyme and meter. I had a similar reaction, to my surprise, when I read for literature students at UCSB. Many of the nationally "famous" poets who come to Los Angeles to read, read at places like the Getty or the Hammer museums, or at UCLA or USC. They're usually the current Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, a group I don't find very inspiring.  Some are excellent thinkers, profoundly erudite and witty, so it's worth hearing what they have to say. I just don't consider them great poets.

Alex: Why do you choose to write in forms? Have you always been a formalist?





Interview - page 2


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