A Review Of City Terrace Field Manual

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A Review Of City Terrace Field Manual By Sesshu Foster Essay, Research Paper By Stephen Kessler From Poetry Flash (February/March 1997) and Kaya: a publisher of asian/diasporic literature and culture On Native Grounds City Terrace Field Manual by Sesshu Foster (Kaya) Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir by D.J. Waldie (Norton) From Nathaniel West and Raymond Chandler through Charles Bukowski and Joan Didion to Wanda Coleman and Mike Davis, among various lesser knowns, Los Angeles over the last six decades has bred an increasingly diverse and distinctive range of literary expression. It also seems only poetically just that Henry Miller and Anais Nin. those consummate egomythomaniacs, both found their way to L.A. in their later years just as Bukowski’s star was rising as the new

low-budget bard of the self-made self. Historian Carey McWilliams, in his classic study Southern California: An Island on the Land, observes that the L.A. region is a cultural exception within the larger exception of California as a whole, a geographically and psychologically isolated realm–and thus a microcosm of America–where escapist and adventurous individuals have traditionally migrated for the sake of reinventing themselves. Idiosyncratic Los Angeles artists such as Sam Rodia and Ed Kienholtz, musicians like Charles Mingus and Joni Mitchell, and authors like some of the above have engaged that tradition in their own ways by reinventing their respective forms. While the spectacles of the entertainment industry, celebrity scandals and natural disasters all lend a mythic

or legendary air to mass-mediated versions of the Southland, equally vital in a wide-angle view of the city and its multiple cultures are narratives of the urban and suburban enclaves housing the people who work in the factories or wash the dishes in the region’s restaurants. In recent years, the voices of these less visible communities have been rising to take a significant place in the L.A. literary landscape. Anthologies have proliferated, and books by uncelebrated local writers have found their way to the margins of the marketplace. In a barrio called City Terrace in East L.A., Sesshu Foster was writing and assembling pieces of his recently issued City Terrace Field Manual, a book which in its recombination of literary traditions begs the question of genre and extends the

boundaries of existing poetic frontiers. In an intensely personal form of documentary prose poetry Foster offers a vivid picture–or collage, or kaleidoscope slide show, or smashed-glass mosaic–of the territory where he spent most of his boyhood and to which he’s remained connected both physically and emotionally ever since. In their mixture of imaginative and nonfiction techniques. their blend of narrative and lyric elements, their musical forms and unconventional structures, even their almost identical lengths, Waldie’s and Foster’s books have much in common. Both are extraordinarily effective in conveying the texture and atmosphere of a very particular geographic setting; both narrator-protagonists are unheroic self-effacing recorders of local day-to-day life, even as

they reveal their most intimate responses to what they’ve grown to know as normal; both exercise a crafty formal control, an economical compression which gives their writing tremendous resonance. In the days while reading and after finishing both these books, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. And yet in other ways Waldie’s and Foster’s books could hardly be more different from each other. While both writers have remained close to home (Waldie in the very house where he’s lived since he was born) and made their living as public servants (Foster as a teacher in the public school system), their respective experiences and attitudes and systems of belief are worlds apart. Waldie is a practicing Catholic whose religious faith suffuses and informs an otherwise dispassionate