PFS Literary Diary ('04-'06)


As I have now written, Abby achieved her artistic apotheosis during the "el primo" Philadelphia Renaissance years ('04-'06). If I didn't come into my own completely as a literary artist at that time, what I was producing was better than bits and pieces. Doing readings at the Kelly Writers House on the Penn campus, including, most notably, the This Charming Lab Stoning the Devil reading on March 27, 2004, I found a way of mixing prose and poetry together in a live context that was the beginning of Philly Free School, and our multi-media presentations at the Highwire Gallery later in '04 and '05. I was also beginning a low residency MFA at New England College, in Henniker, New Hampshire, where I met Chris Goodrich, Mary Walker Graham, Melissa Severin, Becky Hilliker, Steve Halle, and others. One poem I was chipping away at was what was later to become the Apparition Poem about myself and Mary Harju in Montreal in '03. Mary, it might as well be said, was prone to tantrums (even more so than Abs), and the one she threw in Montreal was particularly horrifying— we were two artists alone in a foreign country, and the logistics of trying to get Mary to a hospital were daunting for me. Luckily, I managed to soothe her out of it. Abs and Mary were both volatile— one reason that the year they spent living together at 42nd and Baltimore (2003) after Mary moved out of 4325 (which earned its own odal apostrophe in '04) was a patience-trying one.

If I have to offer, in retrospect, some proof that I knew there was a grandiosity and an epic quality to Aughts Philly, even as it was happening, it would probably be Feel, the Howl pastiche I spent two years ('05-'06) working on. Not having gained reliable, steady competence in inventing literary forms yet, I liked the Ginsberg form (post-Whitmanic) to plug into to tell the story of our lives. If the poem ends in despair and negation, rather than Ginsberg's radical (if shallow) affirmations, it is important to remember that the current ('14) recession was already very much a looming presence in the mid-Aughts; and, as high as we were, the darkness of the American economy's collapse and the Bush/Cheney regime did impinge on our fun sometimes. I debuted the first draft of Feel at Molly Russakoff's bookstore in the Italian Market in South Philly not long before I wrote Wittgenstein's Song, probably March or April '05, with all the main Philly Free School figures in attendance except Mary and Abs. If I recall correctly, that particular reading was rather informal, and hastily thrown together. It was a rainy, chilly night. I also don't mind saying that, again for my money and despite a borrowed literary form, I do think that Feel beats the living hell out of Howl for human depth, thematic reach, formal gravitas, honesty consonance, and narrative interest. Too much of Howl is candy-corn and baby-mush— and the adolescent sense of mythology built into Ginsberg, Corso, and Kerouac grant an infantilizing blemish to their texts. Myself, Mary and Abs were adults in our work, always. It's another thing linking Abs to John Keats— she did her best, most visionary work while still in her twenties. And, no matter what you might hear, she was not an enfant terrible; she was half of one.

Also of interest as of the mid-Aughts; the rise of poetry online as a major enterprise in the world was heady, both to watch and to participate in. Establishing P.F.S. Post (Philly Free School Post) in late 2005 as a web-zine to publish poets from around the world, and Stoning the Devil in early 2006 as a personal blog to collect both poems and lit-crit musings, were essential endeavors for me. I was also gorging myself on literary theory texts, including post-Structuralist texts, at the the time, so producing criticism was a natural extension of my reading. That internet publishing enabled me to perform feats of mobility like my appearance on Lars Palm's luzmag in January 2006, in which the poems were sent to Lars in Malmo, Sweden from the Boston 'burbs, where I was doing an M.F.A. residency, and the page went up while I was still in Henniker NH, were intensely about both intoxication and inspiration the right way for me and my compadres. Lars and I also collaborated at that time, and were not shy about adopting a straightforwardly po-mo approach. Through meeting Chicago poet Steve Halle at NEC in the Boston 'burbs, I was both able to visit and read in Chicago several times in the Aughts, and to publish Chicago-style intensively; and my first visit to Chicago, along with the publication from Chicago of the Ode On Jazz from the early Aughts, found me still in mid-Aughts '06. As did the fact that I conceived what became the '07 Blazevox e-book Beams in the mid-Aughts, and was already publishing from Beams in the mid-Aughts too, including the original, imagistic Apparition Poems series in Jacket Magazine. Among mid-Aughts publications, the poem Twisted Limbs, in Big Bridge, distinguished itself as a crash course in understanding that the Aughts could not only be a joy-ride. It was an established fact, as of the mid-Aughts, that the United States was on the brink of a major recession and the fall-out period which would inevitably follow from it; and the intoxication of doing the things many of us wanted to do in the world was tinged and impinged upon by shadows of what our future might hold.