The Bay Area poetry scene seems to be getting some national attention, what with the preponderance of award-winning slam/spoken-word performers, and there's no doubt that rhyme and meter have new and excitingly young fans these days. But local versifiers have long been in the national eye. In the days after World War II, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's fledgling City Lights imprint published Allen Ginsberg's incendiary Howl, and the ensuing obscenity trial put poets way out in front of the public consciousness.
The California Historical Society and SFSU's Poetry Center take a fresh look at that rich literary moment -- and the ensuing productive years -- with "Poetry and Its Arts: Bay Area Interactions 1954-2004." The encyclopedic exhibit concentrates on the conjunction between writers and visual artists: Art by poets and poetry by artists dominates, in such media as collage, sculpture, photography, music, and more. Some individual contributions are well known, like Ferlinghetti's longtime side project, figurative painting, and some are obscure works from private collections. Curator Steve Dickison has made Norma Cole's site-specific installation Collective Memory more or less the centerpiece of the show, but the hundred-odd pieces together present a picture of a group impulse to create and share.
Several companion events are scattered throughout the exhibition's run, among them talks by Carlos Villa and David Levi Strauss, but the don't-miss one is on March 19 -- a group reading whose exact participants are still in flux, but that should include a high-quality roster. "Poetry" continues through April 16 at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is free-$3; call 338-0966 or visit www.californiahistoricalsociety.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
"Saturday, January 22, 7:01 a.m. A confederacy of dunces, earsplitting version, held an all-night wingding on Beverly Drive, with the speed-metal shredfest giving way to a street littered with glass shrapnel the following morn. Police told the hung-over host that Public Works would ... be glad to clean up the mess and send him a bill. This magic incantation led to a sullen, solo streetsweeping." Kevin Hoover, editor of The Arcata Eye, is famed in certain circles for his police blotter, which dryly chronicles petty transgressions in Humboldt County. Now out-of-towners can enjoy a collection of columns, The Police Log II: The Nimrod Imbroglios. Hoover reads at 7 p.m. at Cover to Cover, 1307 Castro (at 24th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 282-8080 or visit www.covertocoversf.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Misty watercolored memories
Out on Valencia Street, right where the New College's aqua building stands today, there used to be a funky little neighborhood playhouse that for a while in the 1980s became a national launching pad for queer comedy. Some of the wits who took its stage went on to widespread fame (Whoopi Goldberg, Marga Gomez, Lea DeLario); others are known more prominently in the Bay Area, such as Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who pioneered a long-running gay open mike night.
Hear tales from the era from Ammiano, comic Doug Holsclaw, and other insiders at "Valencia Rose Revisited -- Early Queer Theater," a group reminisce with screenings of rare footage of live Rose performances that begins at 6 p.m. in the Main Library's Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room, 100 Larkin (at Grove), S.F. Admission is free; call 557-4400 or visit www.sfpl.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Vallance's trickster art
A Darwinian study chronicling man's descent from Bigfoot, four clown faces revealed in the Shroud of Turin, and an uncensored version of the Nixon museum replete with presidential hash pipes -- such twisted strokes of brilliance could only come from the warped mind of Jeffrey Vallance.
Though the provocative artist is notorious for these prophetic visions, he is most famous for Blinky the Friendly Hen, a frozen Foster Farms chicken he buried and exhumed -- in the style of Christ's resurrection -- in a Southern California pet cemetery. The proto-culture jammer fuses highbrow with lowbrow; he's exhibited his work at such disparate venues as the Tijuana Wax Museum and the Sydney Biennale. Tonight, scholars of the subversive can hear the irrepressible prankster hold forth at 5 p.m. in the San Francisco Art Institute Lecture Hall, 800 Chestnut (at Jones), S.F. Admission is free; call 771-7020 or visit www.sfai.edu.
-- Jane Tunks
Crash the Party
For some writers, science fiction is an easy out. Time travel gets pressed into plot-device service, and fantasy backdrops receive the same worn story of boy-gets-girl. Not so for British author J.G. Ballard: In his work, the only warping is of the human psyche. He's most famous for the novel-turned-David-Cronenberg-movie Crash, but Re/Search editor V. Vale is interested in the more obscure aspects of the writer's output. Two new publications, J.G. Ballard: Quotes and J.G. Ballard: Interviews, are packed with rare material culled by Vale. Tonight Vale and guests celebrate the books' release at 7 at City Lights, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-8193 or visit www.citylights.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser