Archive for Les Plesko

Publication Day, No Stopping Train

Posted in Moments of Clarity, Upcoming Events with tags , , , , , on 10/14/2014 by Janet Fitch

It’s been a full year since my friend, the writer Les Plesko died. That night, I watched his YouTube station, over and over again, and wrote the poem On Watching Your YouTube Channel Late at Night.

At the time, I wrote that his magnum opus, the brilliant No Stopping Train, “set in the Hungary of his birth and circulated privately among his friends” had never been published. Now, a year later, that book is entering the world. Prospects look good. So many emotions crowd in on me tonight.  I did a long email interview yesterday with David Ulin, the book critic from the L.A. Times, which ran in short form on the Times literary blog Jacket Copy, and at full length on the Les Plesko website Pleskoism.  But the thinking, and remembering, has brought me to the place of–as a student of his posted, “very glass half full.”  I don’t know if the glass is half full or empty or completely overflowing or downright broken.  All of the above. He wanted that book to be published so much, published well, appreciated.  And here it is. And he is not.  I want to celebrate, and I know I will, but tonight I just feel bereft.

Your book born today

Into the arms of old friends

How like you it looks.

Tomorrow, an interview on KCRW, our local NPR station, with Lisa Napoli, on its ‘journey to publication.’  That torturous path. Can I get my chin off my knees? It is such a beautiful book, a rigorous book, a real barn-burner. If I think about the book and not the ‘journey to publication’, I feel so incredibly happy.  So glad such a thing has come into the world, and is being greeted properly. One of the questions Ulin asked me was whether there was a hierarchy between his books, did he value some over others.  I said that he’d worked so very hard on this novel, there was such beauty, such labor, such rigor, he really wanted to see it — as an old friend put it— “walk down the aisle in a white dress.”

Now here it is, and he’s not there.  And it’s so beautiful in that dress, its shining veil.

An excerpt was from No Stopping Train was published in The Nervous Breakdown this week.  Read it–it’s everything I teach, everything I value in prose–the lyricism, the word choice, the rhythms, the tightness of the dialogue, the moodiness and texture of the landscape, the poetic devices–assonance and alliteration and rhyme. Such music.  The bigger issues interlocked with the human ones, love and betrayal, honor and affinity.  All honed to a glinting edge.

On Sunday, October 19, 6 p.m. in the Charles Young Salon at UCLA, where he taught so many students, for so many years, we, his old friends and students, will walk his book down the aisle. If you’re in town, please come.  For more information, click here.

Les Plesko, 1954-2013: Late Night Youtube

Posted in Poems with tags , , , , , , , , on 09/23/2013 by Janet Fitch

Friend and colleague, the writer Les Plesko, killed himself on Monday morning, September 16, 2013. He was the author of three novels, including The Last Bongo Sunset, Slow Lie Detector, and most recently, Who I Was. His magnum opus–the brilliant No Stopping Train, set in the Hungary of his birth and circulated privately among his friends–has never been published.

As the many writers and students who knew and loved him began to share their memories of Les, one former student in the UCLA Extension Writers Program posted a clip of Joni Mitchell singing ‘For Free.’ That clarinet player on that streetcorner ‘playing real good for free…’, that was Les. A man less interested in self-aggrandizement, slickness and commerciality could hardly have been found.

A website has been built for him at —, where friends and collegues are posting their thoughts and remembrances.

That clip was from Les’s YouTube channel—his student told me that he’d loved YouTube… another thing I didn’t know about him.

I spent that night watching film after film, his music, his obsessions. Themes emerged.  The young lovers, the flooding daylight, a grainy rawness, a certain hand-made quality, poignancy, romanticism, mystery. Then a wacky humor, and gentle pessimism. At one point, the stream kept reverting to the ending of Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, with its sweet, gently cynical conclusions about love.

If you ever want to look inside someone’s head, look no further than his YouTube channel.


On Watching Your YouTube Channel Late at Night

For Les


You won’t be there at my bedside.

When it’s my turn,

You won’t come by

Quiet, that smile on your face

In your old scuffed shoes, some goodwill coat

To sit on my bed,

Tell me about the great book you’d just read

Your latest muse in the form of a girl.

You would have been such perfect company.

But you won’t be there for the reunions

The birth of grandchildren

All our hair gone white

Reading glasses on a chain.

We carve ourselves in light, Les.

There I sat in the quiet house watching

Your video clips

Romantic, whimsical, heartbreaking,

Each in its own way.

Washed out scratchy films

The mystery of dust and overexposure

That Seventies gritty romance

A code without a key.

You, hidden in snips and slips

And cockeyed snapshots

You reveled in all that beached, bleached light.

You slipped away into

Badlands, sand, chance encounters,

Always youth and its perplexity.

Romance, poignant and wrongheaded.

Christ, Christ.

Young lovers

Top down

Hair streaming into desert light.

No one is ever old there.

Desperate perhaps, but ever young.

I wish I could wear

A black sheath dress for you.

Like a black and white French movie.

My hair worn up.

But I was never like that

And now–Christ, I’ve gone past

Even regretting it.

I watched your films through half the night

Like living through your dreams.

They are not long

The days of wine and roses.

As the empty pint sinks.

When did you add that one

To your repertoire?

Your YouTube keeps wanting to return

To Smiles of A Summer Night.

That gentle coming back to earth.

Not the brutal truth of a high-speed sidewalk

At the foot of a brick house in Venice Beach.

I wish I could gather you in my wings

Take you back up there.

I wish I could.

No one knew me

Looked right through me…

Was that true?

Was it?

We’re all so damned opaque

But especially you.

You were inscrutable

Positively feline.

And then comes the wackiness again.

Like you on your bicycle

A Charlie Chaplin silent.

A bicycle, an umbrella

Laurel and Hardy moving a piano.

Why’d you let it go that far?

Drunken Angel.

You’re on the other side,


There’s the man who dies

And the man who’s left

To carry on his memory.

That’s you

That’s me.