Notes: Le Chat Noir from Posit

Anyone in America, stationed along the Eastern seaboard, who remains past thirty-five, will probably notice that, despite a tremendous press build-up to reinforce the “mega” quality of New York City, New York has no more material power in America than several other commensurate, or more than commensurate, cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, and, of course, Philadelphia. Philadelphians over thirty-five may have discovered the labyrinthine dimensions and depths of Philly, reaching out in myriad directions (including our sublime architecture here and what it signifies in the world), and touching Philly’s tremendous material and spiritual power in the United States. There are few American power-structures without Philly roots somewhere; yet, this structuring is often “operative,” and not directly verbalized. So, older Philadelphians must live with what we can and cannot express on the surface. C'est la vie. And, to the extent that I am winding this around to note something about the poem “Le Chat Noir” from the Posit chapbook (also included in '17's Posit Trilogy), it stands to reason that I should express where I feel New York School poetry needs to go: into the garbage. What I’ve discovered is that “Le Chat Noir” can be parsed as a heave-ho to the New York School, if we take the protagonist of the poem to be spry, pop-culture consonant, semi-hysterical Frank O’ Hara:

I pressed a frozen face
forward into an alley off
of Cedar St., herb blowing
bubbles (am I too high?) in

melting head I walked &
it was freezing & I walked
freezing into pitch (where’s
the) blackness around a

cat leapt out & I almost
collapsed a black cat I
was panting & I almost
collapsed I swear from

the cold but look a cat
a black cat le chat noir oh no

The poem is a sonnet, but the form doesn’t seem to be as important here as the thematic gist and the spin I want to put on that particular ball. If this is Frank O’ Hara, stuck in the bowels of North-West Philadelphia (the Eris Temple was located at 52nd and Cedar in the Aughts), and he imitates a Lana Turner-ish (for those who know his poems) collapse, it may be because the real decadent glamour on the East Coast is in Philadelphia, with the buildings. I would like to argue that the realest glamour has always been in Philadelphia,  for the hip and worldly-wise, and O’Hara’s New York is a non-existent joke in comparison. People forget what Le Chat Noir was in Paris in the 1890s— a Bohemian haunt where artists used to hang out, in absinthe-laden, concupiscent decadence. So that, if the real Le Chat Noir vibe on the East Coast is here, in Philadelphia, then all the paroxysms in the world cannot redeem O’Hara from knowing that his aesthetic number is up, and we’ve got it.

***this picture of me was taken by Abby Heller-Burnham in Center City Philadelphia in 2002***