By Roger Linnett
On July 17, a dinner at the Church in Ocean Park was the setting for the presentation of the inaugural George Drury Smith Award, named for the founder of Beyond Baroque. Smith presented the award to long-time Venice resident and distinguished poet David St. John in recognition of his prodigious body of work over the last 40 years.
The event was attended by many of the illustrious writers and poets who have been nurtured and supported by and in turn helped others at Beyond Baroque since its founding, and who cherish this unique institution that is the literary heart of Venice. For more than four decades it has been the only literary arts center of its kind in Los Angeles.
Beyond Baroque’s Executive Director, David Modiano, who welcomed the attendees and acknowledged those who had been responsible for organizing the evening, kicked off the purpose for the evening’s gathering. He then turned the program over to the M.C., the very entertaining, and distinguished poet in his own right, Brendan Constantine. Constantine spoke about the sense of community shared by all those who present and attend workshops, readings and performances of various kinds that continue to make Beyond Baroque a Mecca for both accomplished and aspiring auteurs. He also acknowledged, as did several other speakers, the efforts of Fred Dewey, who was instrumental in the recent renewal of Beyond Baroque’s $1-a-year lease, which will ensure it will continue to serve our literary community for the next 25 years.
The Board’s Distinguished Service Award was presented to poet S.A. Griffin for his contributions to Beyond Baroque over the years. This widely published LA-based poet has also written for the LA Weekly and is a contributing writer for The Underground Guide To Los Angeles.
Following Griffin’s humorous acknowledgements and self-deprecating remarks, Constantine introduced George Drury Smith to a standing ovation. Smith began by acknowledging the people who helped establish Beyond Baroque some forty-three years ago, especially Jim Krusoe, who was in attendance, a wonderful writer and still today mentor to many aspiring writers, and the late Alexandra Garret.
In the gala’s program Smith modestly declared, “What happened at Beyond Baroque and what Beyond Baroque became were not part of my vision; rather they were the result of the coming together of a lot of creative people who needed an outlet for their work — publication and a space in which they could perform, learn and share.”
Beyond Baroque, originally the title of the literary magazine he started back in the 1960s, was conceived as “not a return to traditional forms but rather a return to writing with more attention to sound, rhythm, alliteration, internal and near rhyme, even anagrams.” However, he confessed while recounting the story of the name’s origin that it was equal parts inspiration and the fact that he just liked the sound of it. Smith then called St. John to the stage to another standing ovation to present the eponymous award.
St. John is an internationally recognized and respected poet who has authored nine volumes of poetry. He has won many prestigious awards, and has also been the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. St. John currently serves as Director of the Ph. D. Program in Literature and Creative Writing at USC.
St. John spoke of how he had been drawn to Venice early in a career already gaining recognition in the poetry world; how Beyond Baroque gave him a platform to share his work and to teach and learn from others, and finally, of his deep admiration for George Drury Smith and appreciation for having established such an oasis where all could come and find support and sustenance.