Apparition Poems : 1342/Jenny Kanzler

I met the painter Jenny Kanzler in 2008. I was sitting in the Last Drop one weekend afternoon in April or May, working, and she approached me and introduced herself. She was very pretty in a cherubic way, not unlike Abby Heller-Burnham. Over the course of 2008, we had coffee many times. I wouldn’t call these tete-a-tetes dates— Jenny was otherwise engaged— but we got to know each other with some thoroughness. Jenny, both in her paintings and in her life, had a fascination with “the stunted,” in general terms— stunted people, stunted situations, even stunted animals (she found tarantulas "exquisite.") She also had a fetish for violence and gore— the films she liked were violent, and the art. Jenny had been at PAFA along with Abby and Mary, but she usually declined to discuss them. I got the distinct impression that they were not among her favorite artists there. Mary’s The Fall was showing at PAFA precisely when I met Jenny Kanzler, in fact. She gave it a mixed review. There was some sexual tension in the air between myself and Ms. Kanzler, but she made clear that she was mostly a Platonic soul. Abby and Mary were floridly liberated, eroticized, and romantic in comparison, despite Jenny’s attractiveness. Yet, Jenny did have a singular mind and a singular vision. She made a strong impression on me. It seemed to me that the substitution, in Jenny’s art, of violence for love and sex was a deliberate one, but (this was my own prejudice) not necessarily a healthy one. Jenny’s penchant for violent, rather than sexual, smut, was what inspired Apparition Poem 1342, along with the sense, mistaken or not, that Jenny was sublimating so that the part of her psyche which wanted her to remain a stunted little girl would stay untouched, unchallenged, and inviolable:

What’s in what eyes?
What I see in hers is
mixed greenish silence,
somewhat garish, it’s
past girlish (not much),
but I can’t touch her
flesh (set to self-destruct),
anymore than she can
understand the book
her cunt is, that no one
reads directly, or speaks
of, there’s no love other
than “could be,” but I
think of her throat cut—
that’s her slice of smut.

The phenomenological import of the poem is a torque of Elegy 414— I privilege myself to do a break-in into Jenny’s brain, and have a look around. The problem with phenomenological break-ins is that it is difficult to ascertain whether what you are seeing is real, is really someone else’s brain, or if what you find is just a projection of your own fantasies. It could be that Jenny’s “slice of smut” is more involved in real emotion and intellection, not just a product of stunted adolescence, but there was no way for me to tell, as I was writing, whether this was the case or not. In fact, I believe the break-in in 1342 is brash enough, pompous enough, even, as a male narrator violating a woman, that this Apps Protagonist seems like a half-pig. If he is correct in his assumptions, however, his piggishness has still won him intercourse with a woman who has denied him conventional entrance. It is worth noting that I didn’t fight Jenny this way— no passes were made, nor did I have the experience of falling in love with her— but the bullying energy to understand her made for some strange, loopy mind games between us, and our gaming against each other on cognitive levels lasted a few years. 

To broaden the context— by 2008, the Recession era was starting to sink in, and much of the grandeur of Aughts Philly, the romance and the sense of freedom, were beginning to fade. For Jenny Kanzler to enter my life at the time she did, and for us to become sparring partners rather than lovers, was a sign of the times for me, an inversion of the odal early Aughts, and some of the hard-won victories of the mid-Aughts, its sense of carnal mayhem, too. A beacon also, perhaps, inverse-shining towards a realization of the Great Recession, and what it was to become. It’s also germane for me that by 2008, an emergent, notable Philadelphia painter's generalized equation involved violence, gore, and the stunted to sexualized expressiveness; where all of America was headed was into a meat-grinder of violence, moral/ethical bankruptcy, and generally entropic conditions, and those of us who wanted the Aughts, which facilitated art around sex and romance, to go on forever, were to be bitterly disappointed.