One Last Lee Mallory Alert!

The 'Love Poet' retires, and OC will never be the same

We won't have Lee Mallory to kick around anymore.

To be fair, Mallory—a veteran professor of English as a second language at Santa Ana College and a mainstay on the Orange County poetry scene since the '80s—never made a very plausible villain. Sure, he came up for some good-natured ribbing in the pages of OC Weekly: Jim Washburn deemed him one of OC's scariest people; I dubbed him "The Poet Laureate of OC's Middle Class"; Commie Girl columnist Rebecca Schoenkopf recounted his weird, faux-gestapo behavior one night at Club Mesa; former editor Will Swaim (allegedly) hid under his desk to avoid taking a call from him.

Now, Mallory is retired—his classes have ended, his readings shuttered. Some of his papers, including work by nearly every OC-based poet, have been boxed and sent to his alma mater UC Santa Barbara for a special "Lee Mallory Collection," which is part of that school's study of the legendary poet Charles Bukowski, of whom Mallory was an acquaintance. Other work by Mallory is being preserved at the Santa Ana College Nealley Library.

Leaving for Las Vegas
John Gilhooley
Leaving for Las Vegas

Meanwhile, as with Bukowski, the man himself is gone—not dead, though, just moved to Las Vegas, although he will be back for a "retirement reading" on May 7 at the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana, to be hosted by fellow poet Jaimes Palacio.

But underneath the jibes and the annoyance with his, ahem, insistent promotion efforts were three steadfast beliefs. First, he could take the heat, whereas a lot of other poets couldn't. Second, you could razz him, but his work was too important to ignore. Third, Mallory, whatever his faults, has been a force for good in OC. No, really.

While OC was at its most soulless in the late '80s, as the corporate Reagan Youth movement all but obliterated the county's counterculture, Mallory—the author of eight poetry collections—helped to found the Factory Readings in Santa Ana and, later, Poetry At Alta in Newport Beach, readings that long remained part of the county's intellectual fabric.

Mallory teamed up with poet Jana McCarthy, who had been one of his creative writing students, in September 1988 to start the Factory Readings. "Prior to that," recounts Mallory, poets Marcia and Pat Cohee were running a reading in Santa Ana, which stopped when they took the helm of the venerable Laguna Poets reading, which then met at the Laguna Beach Library. "Jana and I filled in by starting a reading of our own. It got named the Factory Readings because we started it at what was called the Chicago Pizza Factory—now it's the Olde Ship or something, after many incarnations."

Between then and the reading's recent closure (Palacio took the reins under his own brand, but alas, that series will also be ending with Mallory's May 7 feature), the reading bounced among several ill-fated venues, including Hennessey's Tavern in Santa Ana, Cook Book Restaurant in Tustin, Casa Palma Rest & Bar in Santa Ana, and oft-controversial Koo's Arts Café, before landing at the Gypsy Den (first in Costa Mesa, and then in Santa Ana).

As others came and went, Mallory remained undeterred, outlasting all of the readings that emerged during the poetry boom of the '90s, save the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry at the Ugly Mug in Orange. This sometimes bewildered younger poets who, on occasion, found his performance style melodramatic, thought his reputation as "The Love Poet" out-of-step with grunge-era cynicism, or bristled at his constant promotion—although, in retrospect, the fabled "Mallory Alerts" that flooded newspaper offices countywide were usually on behalf of some poet Mallory was promoting, rarely the promoter himself.

"Arrogance is how revolutions, even literary ones, succeed," reflects Mallory. "What's worse, or better, a few of us became tireless—even shameless—poetry promoters, myself included, with a fervor akin to zealotry, I admit. But remember—stupid or overdone or arrogant as it may have seemed—I had a mission. Probably still do and will no doubt die that way—not, I hope, fade away like some around us have done, though each has done his part, and some have left us wonderful legacies in print."

Indeed, in addition to his own numerous books and chapbooks, Mallory has served as an editor for the OC-based Moon Tide Press, which published first books by many OC poets, including Two Idiots co-producer Ben Trigg and Mindy Nettifee, who's quickly becoming a national poetry sensation.

Mallory says he wrote his first poem in '68 and studied with acclaimed poet Kenneth Rexroth at UCSB. "In the beginning," he says, "my 'juvenalia' was probably sentimental, drippy and overly romantic, being also influenced as I was by the 19th-century French poets. You see, I longed to travel to France, study Baudelaire and write lyrics in misty Pont Neuf parks like Verlaine."

By Mallory's own account, his trajectory changed when he met Bukowski through his brother-in-law, the poet Thomas Kerrigan.

"I was 25, Kerrigan a little older," recounts Mallory. "Buk was about 51. He'd go to his house on DeLongpre, and he woudn't let you in unless you brought beer. He would feign acting bothered, at first—even suspicious—and termed the young poets who called on him 'sharks.' He put me in a poem with that name, I think, in 'Mockingbird Wish Me Luck' [circa 1972]. A guy in the poem is named Lee, but I'm not 100 percent sure it's me. After a while, we could see that his reticence to welcome us was a pose, the gruff, ol' reprobate, 'king of LA poets,' for, unlike many others, he always let us in. His place was shabby—one bedroom, I think, the kitchen usually a mess, beer cans everywhere. He was, after all, a bachelor."

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Hello Lee,  I have been trying to contact you. 

Just hoping you can help me with something.  

:) M.    the grocery clerk at the peninsula. NPB.


I sure wish that Ken Mallory could have met Lee Mallory, Jr.  Ken's grandpa was Lee W. Mallory, Sr everyone called him Cap. and he was married to May Cherry Mallory, Ken's grandma.  Ken passed away at the age of 33 from alcoholism, and a world of knowledge went with him.  Ken's command of the English language was stunning and unforgettable.  Ken and I married in 1974, had a nice home near Ken's Uncle, Lee Mallory and wife Muriel Mallory of Yorba Linda.  Ken served 2 tours in Viet Nam as an MP for the Army and worked at Disneyland as a Ride Operator for 11 years.  Ken had many friends at Disneyland and after he quit the Park, went to work on Balboa Island at Bisbee's.  He always was a John D. McDonald fan, Travis McGee series specifically.  He lived out his days in that role.  Again, I wish that Ken had met Lee Mallory, Jr., he would have respected his poetry and electrifying personality.  Thank you for your wonderful passion and poetry, I am buying one of your books tomorrow. 

MatthewTCoker topcommenter

My favorite Lee Mallory moment may have been the first time I met him in person. He'd come to drop something off to me at the long gone Daily Pilot office on Bay Street in Costa Mesa. We wound up in the break room where, in front of the Coke machine, he was in the middle of reciting his love poetry to me with deep passion and fire in his eyes when a sportswriter walked in. Lee never broke character, kept right on expressing his undying love to me. Back atcha, big guy!


Great article on Lee. As much as I loved making fun of him, I also really respected Lee and his passion for poetry. 

While the "Lee Mallory Alert" may have morphed into meaning a missive from Lee, originally it was an inter-office term I came up with at the LA Times in the early '90s, to warn other writers not to answer their phones if they were on deadline, because if Lee called one of us and didn't get satisfaction, he was sure to call everyone else until he did.

Here's a link to a piece I did on him in the LA Times back in '94:

-- Jim Washburn