This essay is adapted from the introduction to the new Soft Skull Press edition of No Stopping Train.
Has there ever been a writer so committed to the page and what went on it as Les Plesko? He believed in Art, in all its honesty and beauty. The only thing he loathed was that which affronted the Real — anything false, slick, self-serving. He was in rebellion from all that. You saw it in his unregenerate smoking; the mismatched socks; the wild head of straggly hair; his carlessness in vast, far-flung Los Angeles. From time to time, his students said, people dropped money into his coffee cup outside a favorite Venice Beach coffee house, thinking him homeless. It was all part of his High Beat Aesthetic, which was both a conscious embrace of his romantic ideal and an increasingly involuntary corner he’d lived himself into.
But now he’s gone. Dead, by suicide, on a September morning in Venice Beach, at the age of 59. He had become a cult-figure in Los Angeles literary circles, a writer’s writer — as Mayakovsky called Khlebnikov, “Not a poet for the consumer. A poet for the producer.” A brilliant teacher, he taught over 1,000 creative writing students across a 20-year career at UCLA extension. Yet at the time of his death, he was virtually unknown outside California.
I met him in the early 1990s, in the days of the legendary Kate Braverman writing workshop held every other Saturday in her apartment on Palm Drive. There, I saw him finish his first novel, The Last Bongo Sunset, and start the book that would become No Stopping Train. Even in those early days, his views on fiction became our mantras. “Don’t have ideas,” he’d say, which always made me laugh. What that could possibly mean? How could you write and not have ideas? It was only as I struggled with my own writing that the meaning — and the wisdom — became clear. It meant: Don’t force the work into a shape. It meant: Don’t lead with your head. Don’t know so much. Leave room to discover something.
The tragedy of Les, as well as his greatest virtue, lay in his absolutely uncompromising stance on art and life: the world of commerce and the world of Absolute Art is a Venn diagram with a very small overlap.
Full essay by Janet Fitch over at The Millions
Janet Fitch is the author of the novels Paint it Black and White Oleander. Her short stories and essays have appeared in anthologies and journals such as Black Clock, Room of One’s Own, and Los Angeles Noir, and she is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. A film version of her novel Paint It Black will be going into production later this year. She is currently finishing a novel set during the Russian Revolution. Fitch regularly blogs at www.janetfitchwrites.wordpress.com.