Scott Wannberg; was prolific figure of Los Angeles poetry scene; at 58

By John Rogers
Associated Press / August 27, 2011

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LOS ANGELES - Scott Wannberg’s poems were wildly colorful, sometimes off the wall, frequently in your face, and just as often very funny.

In other words, they were like the author.

Mr. Wannberg, whose garrulous personality and bearish build cast a huge shadow over the Los Angeles poetry scene for decades, died Aug. 19 at his home in Florence, Ore., his longtime friend and fellow poet, S.A. Griffin, told the Associated Press. He was 58.

The cause of death was not immediately known, but Mr. Wannberg had been in declining health and had moved to Oregon two years ago to be closer to family.

Prolific to the end of his life, Mr. Wannberg gave hundreds of readings, published 10 volumes of poetry, and was often included in anthologies, among them “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.’’

His stream-of-consciousness, beat-influenced style, noted for its colorful, often humorous language, touched on seemingly every subject that came to the author’s mind: from the death of a beloved cat to the war in Iraq, politics to movies, the wealthy of Los Angeles’ West Side to the destitute of its Skid Row.

“His poetry was Scott,’’ Griffin said Wednesday.

“He was a unique, one-of-a-kind human being who, as they say, they broke the mold when they made such a character as him.’’

As two of the founding members of the experimental poetry group the Carma Bums, Mr. Wannberg and Griffin made nearly a dozen tours of North America over 20 years, giving readings in cities from the Southwest to Canada.

Their last trip was made in 2009.

For most of those journeys, the group piled into a vintage 1959 Cadillac they named Farther, a nod to author Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster bus, Further.

As the years and the tours rolled by, Mr. Wannberg picked up an eclectic variety of admirers, including not only fellow poets but prominent novelists and actors.

The author T.C. Boyle, in a 2008 essay in the Los Angeles Times, called him “one of the true literary zealots of our time.’’

Boyle, recalling their first meeting in a Los Angeles bookstore in 1985, said that within minutes of that introduction, “Scott was piling my arms high with books I absolutely just had to read. He had a sixth sense, knowing exactly what I wanted and needed.’’

Mr. Wannberg’s own books included “Mr. Mumps,’’ “The Electric Yes Indeed,’’ “Amnesia Motel,’’ “Strange Movie Full of Death,’’ and “Nomads of Oblivion.’’

His latest work, “Tomorrow is Another Song,’’ is being published next month by actor Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press.

“His poetry can be political, polemical, personal, provocative, and it shies away from cheap alliteration,’’ actor Ed Harris is quoted on Perceval’s website. “His work is contemporary and timeless, brave and honest, and fun as hell to read.’’

Mr. Wannberg grew up in Los Angeles’ beachfront bohemian section of Venice, where he was the film critic for the Venice High School newspaper.

He studied creative writing at San Francisco State University, and among his influences were the members of that city’s 1950s beat scene, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso.

“Had he come along in the ’50’s, with Kerouac and Corso and all those guys, he would be a legend today,’’ said writer Rip Rense, a friend since high school. “Maybe he still will be.’’

Mr. Wannberg leaves his brothers, Bob and Paul.

A memorial is scheduled to take place Sept. 17 at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice.