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Holly Prado Northup—In Memoriam: California Poets Part 4, Four Poems

Holly Prado Northup (photo by Harry Northup)

December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Holly Prado Northup

Four Poems

Remembrance of Holly Prado Northup (1938-2019)

"Go Live Somewhere Perfect" / "Okay here I am" —Holly Prado (her writing name)

Holly Prado Northup died on June 14, 2019, at the West Hills Hospital. A beloved creative writing teacher and deeply respected and admired poet, I loved Holly with all of my heart. We met in 1977 through poetry, began going together, married in 1990. Holly loved to write. I picture her sitting down, holding her journal, writing in it. She loved the journal form, loved American poetry, loved those writers who worked with her, loved Cahuenga Press, loved living at MPTF. She was a wonderful poet, a beautiful radiant woman. She has a book coming out this fall, "Weather," from Cahuenga Press. Holly loved my son Dylan and his daughter Oceanna. She was 81.

"When I first started writing full time in 1973, I told my self I am not going to get rich doing this; I am doing this because I love writing," Holly said.

Holly Kay Johnson was born on May 2, 1938, to Philip and Gladys Johnson, in Lincoln, Nebraska, where her father was the Circulation Manager for the Lincoln Star. When Holly was 10-years old, she saw the moon in the daytime sky and was so captivated she wrote a poem. She showed it to her mother, who praised it.

In her mid-teens, her family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduating from high school, Holly attended Albion College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In 1960, she moved to L.A., where she worked in a lawyer's office downtown. She attended Cal. State, L.A. and got her teaching credential. She taught English at Marshall High School for seven years. In 1973, with a desire to write, she left the LAUSD and began to teach privately in her home, which gave her an income and time to write.

Holly studied poetry with Alvaro Cardona-Hine. In the class was Ameen Alwan, who introduced Holly to the prose poem, which she excelled in. In 1973, she became the Master Poet Teacher in Poets in the School, working under a one-year grant from the federal Department of Labor.

Three books followed in a few years: Nothing Breaks Off at the Edge (New Rivers Press, which is still going); Losses, a book on the death of her father, (Laurel Press); Feasts, published by Bill Mohr's Momentum Press. Holly calls Feasts "poetic-autobiographical fiction." What I saw in it was intricacy, a sensuousness use of language that showed affection for women, a sense of community. The entire chapter VIII: "to turn our gold into ordinary ground, the best possible solution." This is an experimental book: poetry and prose alternate, double columns at times. Holly said, "Bill Mohr took a chance on Feasts." Feasts exemplifies the reawakening of the inner spirit in women's lives in the early-mid 1970s. Prado's writing has a stateliness in ordinariness. Along with the aforementioned themes in Holly's work, I would also add love and loss, all written in asymmetrical rhythms and if you read Holly's poetry clearly and deeply enough, you will see that the death of Holly's mother, when Holly was 16, is the source of her creativity and sorrow. You will also see that Holly's poems start with an image.

In the mid-1970s, Holly taught in the Feminist Writing Studio at the Woman's Building. Starting in the late 1980s, she taught poetry in the Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC for 20 years.

She taught writing in her home for 44 years. A stellar group of writers studied with her. In "The Tall, Upheaving One," from Esperanza: Poems For Orpheus, she writes "Orpheus can make us anything, // can make us god's own door..." The last line reads, "I'm calling and I'm calling and I'm called." She had a reservoir inside of herself that allowed her to write poetry, fiction—the novel: Gardens, pub. by Harcourt Brace Javanovich—personal essays, literary criticism. In 1977, Art Siedenbaum, the L.A. Times Book Editor, asked Holly to review books for The Times, which she did for 6 1/2 years. In that time period, she also wrote the column, "In Verse," for the Book Review for 3 1/2 years, focusing on reviews of small literary presses both local and national.

1989 saw the creation of Cahuenga Press. Holly is one of the founding members, along with its present members: James Cushing, Phoebe MacAdams and me. The first book published by Cahuenga Press was her Specific Mysteries. In "Poets in Autumn," she lists "carriers of seed": "lorca neruda akhmatova" and ends "why go on except for such a family." Her poem "Bread Worth Eating" from Specific Mysteries, reads in its entirety: "when I came alive today / there was no one to forgive / not even my own courage // ten years to learn a craft and then // perhaps one useful bowl." This is a poem from Holly's latest poetry book, Oh, Salt / O Desiring Hand (Cahuenga Press, 2013), also in its entirety: "Go Live Somewhere Perfect" / "Okay here I am."

In 2006, Holly Prado Northup received a "Certificate of Recognition" for her poetry and teaching from the City of Los Angeles.

She has always loved the Los Angeles poetry community and was proud to be included in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, published in 2015.

Holly Prado has upheld and enlarged the possibilities of language. The excellence of her poetry, her vision, her use of the personal in poetry has elevated the discourse of poetry.

Holly Prado Northup was living in The Villa, at the Motion Picture and Television Fund, Woodland Hills, Ca., with her husband actor-poet Harry Northup, at the time of her death. She leaves behind her husband Harry Northup, his son Dylan Northup and grand-daughter Oceanna Northup.

Harry Northup

Interlude (INTERLUDE: I'd left the family dinner to go outside. I loved my mother and father, the aunt, uncle and cousins gathered the dinner table, but suddenly I had to get away, shivering in the early spring Nebraska weather where patches of snow still lay on the ground, tryng to melt but having a hard time of it. I headed for the alley that separated our house and yard from the Saunders', directly across from us. I walked looking down, watching my step, not sure where I was headed. Then, in the middle of the alley, lifting from a muddy pile of snow, I spotted a cluster of Bachelor Buttons. Their blue was a vivid purple-blue, surprising and beautiful in the steadily darker evening. I knelt in the snow to look at the flowers, their ruffled petals like fragile wings. Even at age ten, I understood the moment: nature's ascendence out of winter's dormancy. This was proof of God, no doubt about it. I told no one. My family and I shared a mild verson of Protestant Christianity, benign enough, but our Congregational Church never satisfied me. Divine revelation in a common flower would have made no sense in a religion of memorized prayer, solid good works. In college, I lost my religious faith completely. Our snowy alley had nothing to do with passing Latin Literature in Translation. On my small college campus, there was art, though: theater, painting, music, poetry. The arts seemed to me a world of Soul. How to join that world? I couldn't, I thought. I had no gifts large enough to offer Soul. Ten years later, I fell from my Phi Beta Kappa rationality into emotional exhaustion. What gathered as despair became my gift to the Bachelor Buttons. To find my own religion, I had to live within my dream life, within my true love of writing, my pull toward myth, symbology, archetypes, alchemy, pre-historic origins. I didn't find the Answer but The Mystery, the Sustaining Mystery. Bachelor Buttons are re-seeding annuals, returning every spring. Once, a long time after my vision in the alley, I wrote in a poem of mine, "I am returned to what I never left.") From Weather, (Cahuenga Press, 2019)

The Tall, Upheaving One the cypress that I pray to: it can fly. nothing is a single species. we're made of bark, then avalanche. Orpheus can make us anything. can make us god's open door. cypress or oak or black: to be accepted there, across the boundary, as when I leave the house this morning, walking -- nothing painful in my legs. I tell misunderstanding, "this is our last year together," then, I see, just up the street, that planets are our bodies; their mouths slam through my wrists. I was a child who practiced jumping from the top of anything right into the air. music was a swirl of vines and vines that left my throat. I'm calling. and I'm waiting. and I'm called to. this black, the pure unknown which finds its way exactly like the song you can't get rid of, the one I start with now and won't give up. the god, obsessed with worship that is memorized, abiding, until the prayer itself moves inside one, converts these worlds of sliding rock to fragrance. I'm calling and I'm calling and I'm called. from Esperanza: Poems For Orpheus (Cahuenga Press, 1998)

My Career Who would think to make a purple, green and yellow cat of tin? Somebody who sees the possibilities. Winter, celebration of the light, the nothing-palpable. Stars. Solstice. Myth. But this is a neighborhood where used cars wait on the street to be sold. Somebody needs cash, not decoration. The sign in one car window reads, "Drives doog." Somebody's English shifted "g" and "d" around, but spelling is the least of this guy's worries. He needs the rent, the food, presents for the holidays. Cat, clipped tin, appealing in that way the Japanese call "wabi sabi," imperfection as potential beauty. I look where I can for teachers. Imperfection is the best one I can find these days. "Doog" and pounded tin and my old body falling through the seasons -- willing to get even older than it is: tinnier, cheaper, less and less. How can anyone avoid this lesson? Or the peacefulness of looking to the street where all the cars are getting older, too. Nobody's asking much, only enough to get along. But three weeks after winter solstice, 6 AM, I get myself outside to say good morning to the birds, the newspaper, to winter dark -- firm indigo. The fullest moon we've seen this year stands treasure-gold above the street. Its light illuminates the cats, their weaknesses -- the not-great-paint-jobs and the cracked upholstery -- changes them to art. The line of cars a landscape worthy of Cezanne. I'm rescued once agin by possibilities, the world's great natural surprise. Why ask to live forever when tin and moon, my ruined back and hip, a bunch of junky cars can offer everything I need to learn? I'm happy. I'm working at my given job: making a language from our misspelled world. from Oh, Salt/ Oh, Desiring Hand (Cahuenga Press, 2013)

Bread Worth Eating when I came alive today there was no one to forgive not even my own courage ten years to learn a craft and then perhaps one useful bowl from Specific Mysteries (Cahuenga Press, 1990)

Author Bio:

Holly Prado was a member of the LA literary community since the early 1970s. Prado's work, which combines the personal and the mythic with evocative intensity, has appeared in more than a hundred publications and a dozen anthologies, both nationally and internationally. Her thirteenth book, Weather, a Cahuenga Press book, was published in 2019. Her book, Esperanza: Poems for Orpheus (Cahuenga Press, 1998), has been highly praised, particularly in The Women's Review of Books (Wellesley College)—"Prado has, more than any other poet I know, the ability to capture and describe the relationship between interior and exterior worlds in a manner that is simultaneously grounded and filled with mystery," wrote Alison Townsend—, and The Chicago Review. Her previous books include poetry, prose-poetry, a novel, two novellas. She taught creative writing, privately, for forty-two years; she, also, taught poetry in the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC, for twenty years. She was awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles, in 2006, for her work in the literary community. Also, Prado was the recipient of the 2016 George Drury Smith Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry, presented annually by Beyond Baroque Literary Foundation in honor of its founder, George Drury Smith. The critic Robert Peters wrote, "Her writing is done, metaphorically speaking, with a unique, knife-sharp edge. Prado is both passionate and visionary." Holly Prado was living in the Motion Picture and Television Fund, Woodland Hills, Ca., with her husband, Harry E. Northup, a film actor and poet, at the time of her death. They were both founding members of Cahuenga Press, which has been publishing books of poetry since 1989.


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