Lynne Bronstein's Venice Poems
Poems and Prose by Philomene and John
Last Days of John Thomas
The Beats: An Existential Comedy
Eavesdropping on the Boardwalk
Gas House beat HQ
For another take on Braverman, see this 1985 article by veteran Los Angeles journalist Paul Ciotti
It's a mob scene at the Old Venice Jail. Every chair in the place has been unearthed from the offices and converted cell block, and still people are standing hip to belly in the back of the room, sitting crosslegged on the floor in front, spilling out into the hallway. We've all come to hear Kate Braverman. And, naturally, to see her.
Artists and other newsworthy women are all too often reviewed first in terms of their looks, but when the poet enters wearing a long slinky black dress with a wide silver belt and a black feather boa, her slender frame afflicted with terminal Debutante Slouch - what's to be done? Then she removes the dark glasses to reveal this innocent depraved face: is she some kind of test tube mutant hybrid cross of Shirley Temple at six, and Morticia Addams? Imagine Jackie Kennedy in the Camelot years, overlaid with shadows of debauchery and intimations of knowledge dark and dangerous.
Braverman's subject matter includes a father's cancer death, PMS, sadly misdirected love, a visit to the emergency room for an overdose, some very unflattering comments on an ex-husband, sickness, women who polish their scars, and the sadness of a woman whose biological clock is ticking into overtime:
The city poems capture the feel of Los Angeles all too well, while the more personal works convey a sense of immediacy and identification. I am somehow hypnotized into thinking these are my own remembered experiences, and not the words of a stranger on a page.
In the grand tradition of Zelda Fitzgerald, rock'n'roll groupies, and Warhol hangers-on, Braverman is self-destructive with style and flair. Just as people will stop to view a highway accident, they love to see an artist metaphorically go down in flames. Poets like Braverman stand on ledges so they can hear the crowd yell "Jump! Jump!" The general ambiance of aimless nihilism is reminiscent of the absinthe-swigging, decadent French poetry crowd typified by Verlaine and Rimbaud.
One work is obviously a favorite of Braverman's, since it was repeated at every one of her readings I attended. It details some of the stopovers on the road to obliteration, and ends with a challenge flung to the audience - What would you die for?
This can cause the moderate and prudent to feel something very like shame.
The critical consensus seems to be that like so many other poets, Braverman sounds good and is wrong-headed. Dennis Cooper wrote of her, Kate has this edge-of-danger, Sylvia Plath thing, like she's going to die any minute. It's monotonistic, this 'I am pissed, I am pissed' attitude all the time and no answers.
Another poet described Braverman as habitually doing everything she can to nail herself to the literary cross.
Jim Cushing in 1983 called her the most notoriously immoderate writer this city has produced next to Charles Bukowski.
He had watched her run a panel discussion in which she apparently was sullen and rude and kept going off into personal diatribes that had nothing to do with the subject at hand. He shouldn't have been surprised, as Braverman described herself to an interviewer as deliberately and continuously offending everybody.
Cushing summed it up: Talented enough to deserve notice, Braverman has too adolescent a sensibility to deserve respect.
A reporter from the LA Herald said that when he and a photographer arrived for an interview, Braverman dashed upstairs saying, I have decided to have pictures taken only in costume. Costume, in this case, proved to be skin tight jeans, a black sequin tube top and spike heels. She explained that she saw herself as a shaman, which justified the theatricality. The cultivation of a larger audience requires theatricality. To read poems to the same nine people in the back room of a library who didn't get it the first time 10 years ago is not talking to the people.
Elaine Woo wrote, She works as hard at perfecting a public image as she does crafting personal imagery for her poems. She does it because she harbors a most unethereal, unpoet-like fantasy: to be a star - no, a cult leader. And she is prepared to do whatever that ambition will require.
In 1992, another California poet said of Braverman, She can't pretend to be Hispanic any more - there's a whole new generation of women who won't sit still for it. She'll have to start writing her own material.
That's how poets get, when you ask them about other poets.
Braverman wrote an extremely favorable review of Fay Weldon's Watching You, Watching Me and called her one of the most important writers in the world. In 1980 she interviewed her colleague for an LA Weekly piece called "The Outrage of Wanda Coleman"
Braverman's Whiskey a Go Go performance with Con Safos was introduced by Cheech Marin, and also included the Sheiks of Shake and A Band Called Sam (one of my Venice neighbors was in it.)
When John Belushi died, Braverman wrote a very insightful piece for the LA Times. He hasn't had any valid reference points in so long, he can't remember what they are......the fat cat laughing, consuming pleasure without border....Isn't that what we pay our stars to do?..... She compared Belushi to Billie Holiday, the voice of this century, another star who died of an overdose. Perhaps Belushi was the belly of this century, the limitless appetite for novelty, for now, for more, for the rot that began with Manifest Destiny.
The two poetry volumes I'm familiar with are Lullabies for Sinners and Milk Run (1977). They contain some lines that I would hate never to have heard, words that stay with me as conclusively as my most cherished lines from Yeats or Patchen. As a friend, relative, or neighbor, Kate Braverman would probably drive me nuts; but as a poet, I bend the knee to her. The poems and articles mentioned here represent only a small portion of her total output, but they're the ones I know about.
© Pat Hartman
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman