Have you heard of The L.A. Poetry Beach Festival!? Me neither.
an INTERVIEW with Erik van Loon, by Greg Bell for The LAPress
About mid-November 2021, I got an email from a friend about a guy from the Netherlands announcing he was “still” receiving poetry submissions for the L. A. Poetry Beach Festival, to be held in December.
My creative home is Beyond Baroque, and I hadn’t heard of this event. Dubious but intrigued, I sent a poem, which was quickly accepted. It seemed the founder of the festival was on his way across the Atlantic, soon to hop on a ‘Poetry Train from NY – LA.’
His name is Erik van Loon. The reading was slated for 8:00 PM at the Venice Poet’s Monument. After a rainy day, it was a chilly night, and the Boardwalk was mostly deserted. Eventually, I found Erik and a woman hanging out at the unlit monument and asked if this was ‘the festival.’ To his credit, he laughed in response. He’d secured a space for the reading at Hotel Erwin and was waiting to guide late-comers. He gave me directions and remained a few more minutes to pick up stragglers.
I made my way and found the room with about a dozen poets getting acquainted. In a few minutes, Mr. van Loon brought in more poets, went to the bar for bottles of wine, and the poetic convocation of 2 dozen people achieved lift-off. It was a wonderful event. The host was gracious and unflappable.
That’s not the end of it. In celebration of National Poetry Month this year, Erik returned to the U.S. in April, rented a car, and drove across country, visiting bookstores, train stops & libraries, leaving posters along the way, to announce the 2022 Poetry Train, LAPD (L. A. Poetry Downtown,) and the L. A. Poetry Beach Festival.
Here is our interview with Erik.
Erik, this is a wildly ambitious idea of yours. What moved you to take it on?
Erik van Loon:
The answer is simple. Nothing ‘wildly’ at all. It’s just a series of coincidences leading to this poetry festival that I basically organised to celebrate my 50th birthday. After reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days when I was 12, I wanted to travel by train from the East to West coast. He actually traveled from San Francisco to New York. A trip people still can make because the California Zephyr is making this unbelievably beautiful trip every day. I decided to go to Los Angeles instead of San Francisco as I had been in San Francisco already in 2005, and Los Angeles was totally new for me! As I didn’t want to spend my birthday alone, I decided to throw a party in LA, and due to the Venice Beach Poets Monument in front of the hostel, I decided to throw a poetry party on the beach. I claimed the website, started to contact poets, and I asked them to go with me on the ‘Poetry Train’ to Los Angeles. (The Poetry Train is just an ordinary Amtrak Train that I mentally converted into the Poetry Train.) In every city/town where the train stopped, I contacted local poets to invite them on the train—or, second best, to submit a ‘Get Ready To Die’ poem for my LA Poetry Beach Festival birthday party.
I’m happy to have been a part, but I didn’t know it was a birthday party. ‘Get Ready to Die’ is a theme rife with irony, as you celebrate your 50th, isn’t it?
‘Get Ready To Die’ is actually a Kenneth Patchen poem. I chose this theme because the first edition of the L A Poetry Beach reading was December 13, the birthday of Kenneth Patchen 110 years ago. Get Ready To Die is for me more a bucket list thing.
Good call. Why poetry? I’ve heard you say you don’t consider yourself a poet.
That’s true. I consider myself an artist, and some people in America know that I made the ten big 33 x 20 ft I Will Win paintings for the NYC Marathon. But, like many other artists, I earn my money with other things. The last few years, for example, I ran the international bookstore House Of Craziness in Rotterdam and organized 20 poetry festivals. I am also the founder of a new poetry movement called New Paradox. You can find more information about it at our website.
Would you describe the sequence of events as you envision them happening this year?
I am happy you use the word envision because it’s exactly like that, but let’s first cut our five days poetry festival in 3 parts. First, we have the coast-to-coast Poetry Train connecting two big cities of the US. The train will depart September 21 at sunrise (6.45 am) from Penn Station and in just 76 hours it will arrive at Union Station, Los Angeles. It’s just a great way to travel, to meet and learn about other poets, to enjoy beautiful America, and last but not least to have fun. Like last year the Poetry Train will stop in 64 big urban cities and small rural towns to pick up as many poets as possible in 20 different states. I am confident it will be just a matter of time until we can lease our own train. Then we will add a library car, disco & cocktail car, writers’ car. Basically, whatever you can imagine to make the Poetry Train unforgettable. I will do everything in my power to keep the quality high and to find the right sponsors and partners to bring more and more poets to Los Angeles. This April, for example, I visited 274 independent bookstores, 52 public libraries, and 60 train stations along the route of the Poetry Train to find local poets willing to submit a poem and/or willing to get on the 2nd Poetry Train to poetry paradise LA.
For local poets I’m organizing September 24 L.A.P.D. an acronym for Los Angeles Poetry Downtown. At ten tiny L.A.P.D. poetry readings local poets will read with Poetry Train poets and selected LA Poetry Beach Festival poets. It’s a great way to meet poets from all over America, and it’s a perfect way to invite people to the L.A. Poetry Beach Festival on September 25th. The festival is free, but to be invited on stage, poets must submit a ‘Some People Never Go Crazy’ poem before September 1st. We chose this famous Bukowski line to commemorate the 100th year of Bukowski in America.
This is quite an expansion of your idea of last year, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s just the second edition, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard about it before. Last year we had 25 people in the audience, and hopefully we will have this year 25 people at each L.A.P.D. reading and 250 people at the final L.A. Poetry Beach Festival. I am confident, as we do this together, this five-day coast-to-coast poetry festival will flourish year by year.
What venues do you have in mind for L.A.P.D.? Anything lined up?
On the 2nd of September I will be in LA again, and it will be my main objective to get venues involved. Meanwhile, we have some places confirmed: Union Station, Chevalier’s Books, Hotel Erwin, of course the Venice Beach Poets Monument.
Tell us a little about the workshops you plan in addition to the reading on the beach.
On Sunday I will give two workshops. I try to develop new poetry styles with the Poetry Lab. One workshop called New Paradox and another called American Shorts, four-line poems. You can see some on our website.
Erik, I want to note that submissions for LAPD are $10. Would you take a moment to tell poets why they should throw their hat in the ring?
I love it. For us, asking a small fee, is very important. Let me explain why: I organized many poetry events already and at the beginning we didn’t ask for money. The downside of it is that you will get a lot of off-topic poems and poems that maybe should ripen a bit longer, like a good whiskey. When we introduced a small contribution, we learned that the level went up immediately. Besides that, we print each year an anthology and the selected poets will get one by mail, so as you can imagine the $10 doesn’t cover all our costs!
You’ve taken on an immense project — can you pull it off?
Yes, of course, we can pull it off!
Erik van Loon website https://www.lapoetrybeach.com/
Greg Bell is the 2019 recipient of The Kowit Poetry Prize. He is the author of the hybrid poetry collection Looking for Will: My Bardic Quest with Shakespeare (Ion Drive, 2015).