Beyond words*

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's side of the story has yet to be told, but supporters of Beyond Baroque say the future of the literary arts center is in serious doubt, possibly tangled in a political battle between Delgadillo and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

Beyond Baroque has posted the following on its Web site:

After much effort on everyone’s part, our Councilman Bill Rosendahl recommended a 25-year lease extension for Beyond Baroque to the City General Services Department.

Unfortunately, it now appears the City Attorney is recommending against an extension.

We are now in great peril. Our lease is up in a few weeks and uncertainty is threatening grants, programming and our entire future.

An e-mail circulating the LA literary community suggested Beyond Baroque had until Tuesday (Feb. 19) to respond, but no update appeared on the Web site as of this morning (Feb. 20).

Regardless of the reason for the threat, it is ironic that it should come at the same time the LA City Council is set to consider preservation of poet Charles Bukowski's former Hollywood bungalow (a completely different issue, but nonetheless, an expression of respect for LA's literary history). Not that the bungalow in Hollywood doesn't deserve to be preserved, but whereas it's a dilapidated, uninhabited structured, the Venice home of Beyond Baroque continues to inspire and showcase artists of all sorts, and yet, it's supposedly at risk of being booted.

What makes the performance space at 681 Venice Blvd. a vital component of the Los Angeles literary community (even with those horrible metal folding chairs) is that it's been a platform for the famous, the infamous, and those who are neither. As described by the Los Angeles Times, it is "one of the few venues to bring in national spoken word artists regularly," but it also continues to help shape the future of emerging talent.

When I moved to LA more than 10 years ago, I did so to become part of the city's literary community, which, for me, existed in physical centers of creativity like Beyond Baroque and many of the now-defunct independent bookstores that hosted readings, particularly the Midnight Special, where I later ended up as co-host of its weekly readings. These were places that opened their doors to anyone, and, as a result, minds both beautiful and ugly had a chance to showcase their art. Regardless of whether writers came to listen, or to be heard, they were exposed to both brilliance and mind-numbing gibberish. Every night was a new possibility. Sometimes I went home frustrated, sometimes hurt, sometimes inspired, and sometimes over-inflated. But I always came back. No one told me, or anyone else, what we could, or couldn't say, although there was usually an offer of help from someone, a suggestion or, at least, a compliment. Most people treated each other with respect. The only rule (and one most every complained about) was a time limit at the microphone.

But places like these aren't just about the microphone. Beyond Baroque has provided exposure to successful artists and offered workshops to help writers improve their level of craft. Its Web site touts "the longest running free poetry workshop in Los Angeles (on Wednesday nights)."

Sadly, a lot of these places have already closed, including the Midnight Special Bookstore. Chain bookstores have taken their place, if not the blame, and some even host readings. But, signing up to participate in many readings today requires that readers agree not to use "bad" language or to avoid certain subjects, the last thing any artist wants to hear, especially in a bookstore. It's doubtful that many of the more famous people who have performed at Beyond Baroque would have put up with it, certainly not Allen Ginsberg reading HOWL "with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls."

There are some things some people don't want to hear. But when the operators of Beyond Baroque say they're "in great peril," let's hope the city responds.

* UPDATE: The Poetry-Arts Confidential blog posted today that Beyond Baroque may become the first of many occupants of city-owned property to be required to compete for lease renewal. No official word from the city yet.

** MORE from Veronique de Turenne at the LA Times' LA Now blog.

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