THE MALIBU TIMES -- October 9, 2008

"The Poetry in 'Found Objects'"

By Melonie Magruder
Photo by Pablo Capra



How little can you say and still call it a poem? Or, more existentially, "When is a poem not a poem?"

Such questions are explored by Malibu resident, surfer, non-drinking wine aficionado and neo-beat poet Alden Marin in his collection "Little Nuts," published by local publisher Brass Tacks Press.

"The title refers to the little kernels of poetry we see all around us in daily life," Marin said. "But it's also a little about how living in this modern world renders us."

The format of the poems in "Little Nuts" has distinctly Haiku-like brevity and alludes, Marin said, to the serendipity of "found objects," which lend lyrical inspiration to the ordinary.

Accordingly, small moments are captured in free form verse, such as in "Vacuuming the Lawn:"

Just past Topanga, on
Sunday, I saw a woman
in pink vacuuming the
lawn in front of her house.

"You see poetry in weird moments," Marin said. "But when you add them all up, there is beauty to the picture. You start seeking out those small, poetic moments around you, whether it's on top of your roof or at PC Greens."

Marin grew up in Malibu before heading to Stanford University, then spent a year abroad at Sorbonne University in Paris. While in San Francisco, he came heavily under the influence of cutting-edge literature of the '70s, hanging out at the fabled City Lights Bookstore, where '60s beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti congregated.

"I heard Allen Ginsberg read 'Howl' and discovered Richard Brautigan," Marin said. "When I got out of school and came back home, all I wanted to do was write like them, surf, wear my hair long and play music. Everyone wanted to be Robert Plant or Mick Jagger."

His parents, however, had different ideas, insisting he cut his hair and get a job. "It was the end of an era," Marin said with a sigh.

Marin's father, John Marin, was a publisher of Sports Illustrated and People magazines and recently retired as a top executive from media and entertainment company Time Warner.

The elder Marin helped his son find a position as a copywriter for the global ad network McCann-Erickson.

"It didn't last," Marin said. "I could write a terrific essay on James Joyce, but I couldn't write a 30-second ad. So I was 23 years old, asking myself what I wanted to do with my life. I always loved writing and painting. I also always liked wine and, after my time in France, I knew a lot about it."

Marin went into the wine business as a broker and label designer. But a drinking habit led to DUIs, the breakup of his marriage and the dissolution of a partnership.

"When I was drinking, even my writing wasn't clear," Marin said. "I had good intentions, but the execution was poor."

He has been sober for 11 years now, but still loves wine. "I sip and spit," he acknowledged.

His poetry has matured, yet he is still enthralled with the writings of outside-the-box 20th century authors like Vonnegut or Ezra Pound.

"Guys like Pound and William Carlos Williams had to go to Paris to find that liberal and libertine milieu in which to write new stuff," Marin said. "This is what we want to do with Brass Tacks here, to find those transformative moments that are visual and raw, and risqué. Art should get under people's skin and cause them to question their existence. It should mess up your comfort zones."

Messing up comfort zones sits well with Brass Tacks Press cofounders Pablo Capra and Richard McDowell, who was recently named the 2009 "Downtown LA Life" Poet Laureate.

"I grew up in this artist's community behind The Feed Bin in Topanga with all these people who had cool projects and distinct Southern California voices," Capra said. "So I became the publisher."

He graduated from Malibu High School before attending UCLA and traveling in Europe. His father, Bernt Capra, is a filmmaker and Emmy award-winning production designer who worked on such films as "Bagdad Café" (aka "Out of Rosenheim") and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"

"My dad's Austrian," Capra said. "Spending a lot of time in Europe lets you appreciate American culture and guys like Alden have a very American voice, like Steinbeck."

Capra and McDowell launched Brass Tacks Press six years ago with the idea of documenting the "hippie, beachy, art culture you find around here," Capra said. They have produced about 50 titles, handmade, hand-folded books with original cover art that Capra usually prints at a local copy shop.

"I want to get them out to the independent bookstores, like Diesel," Capra said. "There's a real West Coast aesthetic to our books that seems effortless and relaxed, but is very strong. Like good Haiku. Poetry should not be inscrutable."

He is also not averse to ruffling the feathers of the contemporary poetry world by publishing titles with markedly scatological titles such as "The Crapture."

"Modern poetry has lost its power," Capra said. "So our 'crap' poetry sort of makes fun of today's poetry world by holding up a mirror to its absurdity. By parodying it, we highlight the problems I see with gutless poetry."

As part of his "crap poetry" philosophy, he actually published one book printed on toilet paper.

"It was a financial loss," Capra conceded. "And it's a source of stress because now I have this gigantic box of unsold toilet paper in the house that we have to be careful not to crush. It was an art thing."

All of this fits right in with Marin's edgy style. "Publishing is too cash-driven now," he said. "I'd rather be part of this kind of press."

"Little Nuts" may be found at Diesel, A Bookstore in Malibu and at Village Books in Pacific Palisades. It can also be found online at www.lifeasapoet.com.

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