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L.A. noir in poetry, fiction and film

September 29, 2011 | 11:59 am

There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This will be a month of them.

Starting Oct. 15, the Los Angeles Poetry Festival and Beyond Baroque Literary Center present a month of readings, discussions and presentations about and around Los Angeles noir. The monthlong, citywide series is called Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film.

L.A. noir in fiction is an easy sell: from James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler in the 1930s and '40s up to the noir revival kicked off by James Ellroy, the dark stories have been a match for our sun-drenched city. So, too, for noir film: French film critics gave name to the moral morass in "Double Indemnity," "Gun Crazy," "The Big Sleep" and the other classic noir films shot, and often set in, Los Angeles.

But noir poetry? That's a new one.

The series hopes to make the connection clear, and the kickoff event seems up to the task. Poet and critic Robert Polito will give the keynote speech on Oct. 15 at Beyond Baroque. Polito is the editor of two on-topic Library of America collections -- "Crime Novels of the '30s and '40s" and "Crime Novels of the '50s," and the night will include musical guest Cristy Knowings, described as a "virtuoso noir singer" plus a short film inspired by Polito's poetry collection, "Hollywood & God."

Other notable events in the series include mystery writers Gary Phillips (pictured), Dick Lochte, poet Richard Modiano and writer Judith Freeman, author of "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved," talking about Raymond Chandler and his legacy on Nov. 4. That discussion will be followed by an evening with Ellroy, author of "L.A. Confidential," "The Black Dahlia," and, most recently, "The Hilliker Curse."

On Oct. 29, Edgar Allan Poe Award-winning writer Naomi Hirahara and poet Carol Lem will discuss women in noir before a screening of "The Crimson Kimono," with an introduction by film noir scholar Alan K. Rode, all at the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo. Later that evening, a literary noir bar crawl, organized by PEN, will hit the streets of downtown.

On Nov. 5, the South Pasadena Library will screen the noir film "Union Station," with an introduction by historian Tom Zimmerman. The evening will include a tribute to star William Holden, who also starred in the noir classic "Sunset Boulevard" by actress Stefanie Powers.

Other events include poetry readings, theatrical performances, a continental noir breakfast with a featured noir guest, open mics, film screenings and literary discussions. The events take place across the city; some have free admission, others with ticket prices going up to $15. See the L.A. Poetry Festival site for complete schedule and details.

"They spoke quickly, as if they were saying things that scalded their mouths, and had to be cooled with spit," James M. Cain wrote in "Mildred Pierce." Now that's poetry.


The Reading Life: Revisiting "Mildred Pierce"

Happy birthday, Raymond Chandler!

Playing L.A. Noire: A book nerd detects and tries to drive

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Gary Phillips in 2005. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times