We had the good fortune of connecting with Hilda Weiss and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hilda, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I didn’t start with an artistic or creative career. Poetry.LA fell into my lap as a project. It snuck up on me. I was writing poetry, going to poetry readings, and performing my pieces. At one event, a poet friend handed her still camera to my partner/boyfriend, Wayne Lindberg, and asked him to take some photos. That got Wayne thinking! And I want to give a huge shout out to Wayne because he came up with the project which became www.Poetry.LA. That was 2007. YouTube was only about a year old and Facebook didn’t host videos yet. But Wayne thought videos of poets in performance posted to YouTube could be exciting. With his video experience and my poetry connections, we got started. Redondo Poets at Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach welcomed us with some trepidation at first (which has turned into enthusiasm over the years—shout out to Jim Doane, host of the series) to videotape poets at their open mic series. We moved on to videotaping feature poets at places like World Stage in Leimert Park, Beyond Baroque in Venice, Stories Books and Skylight Books both in LA and Two Poets Peddling Poetry at the Ugly Mug Cafe in Orange. We’ve videotaped at events: Yusef Komunyakaa at Boston Court in Pasadena; Rattle Magazine’s Cowboy Poets celebration; Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts; and Ink Slam at Da Poetry Lounge in the Greenway Court Theater in West Hollywood. We’ve been north to Ventura, east to Pomona and Riverside and South to San Clemente. So far, we’ve been to more than 60 venues and poetry reading series, we’ve videotaped more than 500 poets and have over 600 videos posted including 4 U.S. Poet Laureates (Juan Felipe Herrera, Natasha Trethewey, Kay Ryan and Rita Dove) and 3 LA Poet Laureates (Eloise Klein Healy, Luis Rodriguez and Robin Coste Lewis). More recently we’ve moved on to doing interviews and have several series hosted by poets such as Mariano Zaro and Lisa Grove. We also have a dramatic film/poetry noir series called They Write by Night, hosted by the well-known poet and educator, Suzanne Lummis. Poetry.LA is a very satisfying creative project because we get to present poets performing in Southern California and to give them a wide internet audience. We’re essentially archiving the poetry scene in SoCal. We’re interested in both established poets and emerging poets so our selection process includes looking at a poet’s work and publication credits, and, since our end product is video, we are very interested in artists who have engaging performance styles. For that reason, we keep our camera handy for strong open mic performances. Of course, now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to limit our contact, so we focus more on using Zoom and other remote recording methods. Poetry.LA has always been a part-time activity. We’re not doing it to “make money.” However, in 2019 we qualified as a 501c3 non-profit video production group so tax deductible donations are flowing into the organization which allows us to help support the poets and poetry community that we have been recording and archiving for over a decade.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child, have a chapbook called Optimism About Trees, and have been published in various journals. As I continue to develop my own poetry, one aspect that is most exciting to me about Poetry.LA is how much I learn from all the poets that we videotape, especially from their interviews. I’m thrilled to be able to offer poets an opportunity to talk about their craft and share their experience with the world. And I’m equally thrilled to be able to offer poets and poetry lovers easy access to these on-line videos of the poets in interviews and at cafes, galleries and other popular Southern California venues. With Poetry.LA we have created a unique resource for Southern California poets and for poetry enthusiasts everywhere.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If had visitors coming to LA, first I would check for poetry readings, especially Da Poetry Lounge . . . of course, until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed that is a challenge. But still, the bookstores that sponsor many of the live readings are some of the most charming in the world and can introduce you to their fabulous neighborhoods, including Skylight Books in LA, Stories Books and Café in Echo Park neighborhood of LA, Eso Won Books in Leimert Park neighborhood of LA, Diesel, a Book Store in Brentwood, and Half Off Books in Fullerton. To balance the urban with the natural I would take my LA visitors on a day hike to Topanga State Park and hike the Musch Trail, my favorite, though all the trails in the park are wonderful. Bring your binoculars if you have them—deer, rabbits, birds, and occasional coyotes are often there.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Wayne Lindberg has encouraged my poetry from the beginning. He suggested I go to the Wednesday night poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque (which is the West Coast’s longest running free poetry workshop & deserves a shout out of its own) and he is the one who urged me to read at the Beyond Baroque open mic. It was also at Beyond Baroque that I met Sarah Maclay, poet and professor at Loyola Marymount University, who has been a long time mentor and creative guide for me.
Facebook: go to Facebook and search for Poetry.LA