Wednesday, June 8: Peter Carr (1925-1981) “Aliso Creek”


This week on Bibliocracy Radio, a special episode of the program remembering, celebrating a writer long gone but whose work speaks for him, and to, I hope, listeners. The teacher, artist, poet and activist Harry “Peter” Carr, died more than 35 years ago but your host has lived with him since, in vivid memory of course but also most especially as the default curator of the impressive collection of work Peter Carr left behind:  his journals, books, chapbooks, unpublished manuscripts, posters, scraps, drawings and paintings and more paintings, art and writing, a lifetime of work characterized by documenting his own life and of his embrace of scholarship, storytelling, art-making, political engagement and a commitment to celebrating our Southern California ecosystem and beyond.  Peter Carr was born in 1925 and died, suddenly, as he had also lived — suddenly, urgently, productively — in 1981. Carr was born in and grew up in Pasadena, receiving his Ph.D. at USC. He was a professor at California State University Long Beach, and helped establish its Comparative Literature department. Poet, painter, teacher and activist, Carr lived with fellow activist Jeannie Bernstein in the hills just above Aliso Creek in Laguna Beach. Co-founder of the grassroots anti-nuclear Alliance for Survival, he died after completing a cross-country research project collecting oral histories of American peace and disarmament movement activists.  Aliso Creek, which I will read in its entirety, was written in 1974 and is a self-published narrative prose poem “anthem” of love and despair for the Orange County region and its diminished ecology, and an homage to its indigenous pre-Columbian residents written from alternating perspectives, including contemporary viewer, teenage lovers, and a sailor voyaging with explorer Juan Cabrillo. The original chapbook features Carr’s pen and ink drawings, the book stylistically and politically suggestive of the tradition of poet-illustrators Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, part of a series of books which Peter Carr called “The Discovery of California.” Thanks for listening, live on the radio or internet, or whenever you like as a free download from the KPFK Audio Archives.