Backyard Poetry

By Brandon SwardSeptember 29, 2023

Backyard Poetry

When I arrive at this roving alt-lit reading, at a small, tastefully decorated house in Atwater Village, a sign on the door instructs, “Casual Encountersz: Enter through side gate.” First thing’s first: the bathroom. Turning left after the kitchen, I find it nestled between two bedrooms. On one door, another handwritten sign warns, “Keep closed! Cats inside.” Behind the other door, I would learn, a 4-month-old infant slumbers peacefully (mom is in the audience carrying a baby walkie-talkie). The invite had stated “BYOB — we're chic, but beatnikz,” and yet a plastic bucket overflows with ice and flavored vodka sodas (mine was grapefruit guava). Host Sammy Loren may or may not assure me he has some tequila, should I require it. The crowd is sparse when I enter a little after 7:00 p.m. but grows exponentially. By the time the everything is underway, an hour later, dozens of attendees are crowded into the narrow backyard. Loren kicks it off himself, with an excerpt from a larger work about, aptly, alt-lit readings in L.A.

After Loren, first up is Ruby Zukerman, who manages production at design company Judaica Standard Time and calls reading at Casual Encountersz “a dream come true.” Poet and cellist Marcel Monroy takes the stage before excusing himself to answer his phone with a quick, “Sorry, my homegirl is calling me.” His poems themselves confess to his desire to be fucked by a straight man (in a gender-affirming way) and by a lesbian (also in a gender-affirming way). Jasmine Johnson reads an unfinished, rapid-fire poem about inter alia Estonian models who will “probably end up back in Estonia.” Guerilla poetry veteran Marcel Alcalá is the most performative of the bunch, beginning with a request for a “man” to lie at their feet as a dead body and at one point delivering the memorable line, “His bare minimum: my whole fucking life.” Last is controversy queen Elizabeth Ellen of Hobart, who tells us about locking herself in the bathroom with wine and cigarettes.

The event itself is over quickly, but no one seems to leave right away, choosing instead to mill about in an amorphous blob of blazers, baseball caps, transparent tops, chunky shoes, and strappy heels. As I head out, I feel the sting of preemptive FOMO as I spy a hangout percolating in the living room through a window.

On Instagram later, my worst fears are confirmed: a lo-fi multi-lingual karaoke party came together in the space, facilitated by a projector and blank wall. Yes, this series has indeed been written up in the LA Times, but the whole evening felt… well, casual (the name “Casual Encountersz” comes from Craigslist’s now-banned personals section). I noticed myself scouting out cuties and had to shake my head to remind myself I was on Official Journalistic Business. If the work of the critic is, as some believe, to differentiate “good” from “bad,” then I should report that my favorite poem of all was the one where one of the readers and an audience member furiously made out onstage afterwards, as oblivious to their surroundings as these surroundings were to them.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brandon Sward is an artist, writer, and organizer in Los Angeles. He used to edit the LARB Short Takes section, and is currently at work on a book about growing up queer and biracial in Colorado Springs, the “Evangelical Vatican.”


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