The story of Poetry Incarnation '05, the Philly Free School event held at the Khyber in Olde City Philadelphia on July 5, 2005, is a wry one. The primordial fact of the event was not evident to me and Mike Land until the event was underway: because the Khyber was on ground-level; anyone walking by on 2nd Street could look in and see what was going on; the chaotic, ecstatic frenzy of the Highwire P.F.S. shows couldn't happen. The labyrinth entrance to the Highwire, and its placement several floors up from street-level in the Gilbert Building, made it ideal for loosening up the inhibitions of a willing audience. So that, we got hype for Poetry Incarnation '05 (I had done an interview with Deesha Dyer of Philly City Paper from the Boston 'burbs about ten days before the event), lots of paying customers showed up, but beneath the surface, Mike and I knew that the basic premise of the Philly Free School (we offer you new kinds, forms, manners of freedom, so that you see what you can handle) was not able to be fulfilled. Mary & Abby couldn't make it; Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum was conspicuously absent, too. The most memorable performance, for me, was Hannah Miller's drunken screed about what Philadelphia meant to her. There was also some unpleasantness from the PhillySound poets; they expected to be a headlining act, and wound up reading without any particular fanfare, just like everyone else. They later claimed, falsely, that I "stole their money." All in all, Poetry Incarnation '05 was worth doing; it established us, P.F.S., as a public commodity in Philly; but was nonetheless not as much fun as the Highwire shows. Many years later, it is also noticeable that there was no one highlight to the entire Philly Free School experience of the mid-Aughts. The highlight was the sustained 2004/2005 peak of what the Highwire Gallery bothered to be in Center City Philadelphia; and how Mike and I managed to ride these waves towards a series of events that made the pursuit of real freedom the issue it should be among the human race.
I’ve never listened to the Devil… he’s whispering in my ear now, telling me about chance— play the cards, don’t pretend you can deal the hand… I never tried to deal the hand, I tell him, because the deck has no card with a poet’s face. The Devil laughs at me, dumps a load of press clippings in a bag I marked Don’t touch— …………………………………………. now, it’s so cloudy we can only perch on rigid, bare ruined branches. We cannot fathom what the surface should be, why the inelegant is preponderant. Red flags whip our livers. Red hot prods in crowded rings circle us. There can be no twittering hope without notions of liberty, as means of using flies, flying, flown over the protests on Market Street. ………………………………………………… When you lift a Coca-Cola, you are pulling a lever for entropy. The cloying tickle of high fructose corn syrup— all dreams dried into anodyne. Goods may be America’s heart, en masse; what in them beats? Sounds of horses hooves, trampling down corporate dirt, all in a bone-piled graveyard. Sounds of whinnies, conflagrations, blinker-viewed social situational Waterloos, & you don’t know (they won’t let you) who’s standing behind who, or you. ………………………………………….. An old, mad, blind, despised, dying king, says the country. We protect imagery, say others. Belief is testament to goodness, rigidity means faithfulness to a spiel we all know like simple algebra, and that can be equated to squares. We are bellwethers of chicken egg home fries, I am a clucking and a shucking and jiving, you’re alive to little red roosters too lazy to crow for day. No facile Geist for this Zeit. It’s a time for knickknacks picked up like cordite. Shoot. …………………………………………… No Blogosphere back-draft, only post ahead, into cacophony: wire, networks, new wild west; ropes, holsters. Age-old books; angst, anemic. It’s sexily red, moral/ethical oblivion, hemmed in, quick as spurt, across oceans: thermo-genic press coverage, safe, free; corpses, numbers, brain lotions. ………………………………………….. That notion, “that I’m suffering well,” must be in Plato somewhere, or Nietzsche— now, it’s in you too. You don’t succeed in laughing at the shard-sharp world; it’s jammed too deep in your throat, with suffocated senators, black-robed judges, tentative press secretaries. You only cough up butt-ends based on others’ words. Laughter is solely for surprise autopsies— of an atrophied surface, what’s under incomprehensible to most, who know, very precisely, just how most they are. …………………………………………. A gift everyone gets is a Pat Boon(e). Death & taxes are both Pat Boon(e)s. Truth, as always, is less pat. Truth has more to do with what I really glean from you, which is not a political (exactly), is (rakishly, richly) anti-politics, & is conveyed by swift skin-kicks. There is no place for this in the full frontal assault land we’ve been Shanghai’d into, & the dissemination of which is America’s ultimate Pat Boon(e). ……………………………………….. a soul's incision into your cerebellum which i can fill gingerly, not spill onto a nail-bed you carefully made to ensure maximum viscosity crank & creak the senator speaks …………………………………………….
For the duration of the mid-Aughts, Mike Land lived at the Adelphia House at 13th and Chestnut, here shown. The point of interest: what Mike was exposed to was a neighborhood which had no specific name; was, in fact, the absolute center of Center City Philadelphia. The center-of-the-center vibe was interesting: Mike's window looked down, from the seventh floor, at Chestnut Street; and what he would see, even at one, two, or three in the morning, was a constant fracas. Directly across the street was the liquor store from 1488; a few blocks away was Woody's, Philly's el primo gay bar, where the Free School pack would sometimes hang out. Yet Mike's window square was about a neighborhood and an intersection that never slept. Logan Square was relatively quiet at night, as was West Philadelphia. It is from the Adelphia House that we planned Free School moves like Poetry Incarnation '05, and the various shows we did at the Highwire Gallery. Incidentally, the Highwire Gallery, on Cherry Street between Broad and 13th Street, a few blocks from Mike (and in a neighborhood which, as of '19, has been partially re-zoned), was another center-of-the-center edifice, even as the vibe was slightly less of a fracas than the Adelphia House. By Cherry Street, Broad is turning into North Broad; yet from the Gilbert Building steps, the view of Philadelphia City Hall was stunning. From the Adelphia House windows, which faced south, no dice. What Mike had going, at the center-of-the-center, which Mary & I did not, is the sense of Philadelphia as a great raging beast, constantly churning, constantly in motion; and Mike's life at the time was a ricochet of the same energies.
The Four Quarters Magazine began in the early Teens and, as is intriguing, published out of India. I managed to place several Great Recession poems there in 2013. As of 2016, they were off the air, and a little later offline completely. A shame: I liked the template/formatting aspect of the site, and the idea that post-avant had expanded to a locale outside the usual loops.
The new Adam Fieled Argotist Online e-book is The Great Recession. Many thanks to Jeffrey Side.
"“The Great Recession” focuses on several specific issues in poetry: the first, and most salient, is an attempt to rid the text of first person singular influences, and deliver a series of vignettes or miniaturized dramatic monologues, narrated by characters attempting to cope with the harsh, desolate landscape, the abrasions and depreciations, of the last decade to pass in the United States. This era the U. S. press often calls The Great Recession. The text should thus demonstrate a kind of cleanliness, apart from the ego concerns and obsessions of the poet at hand. The second issue is ancillary to the first: once characters are established within poems, how to make them interesting, and how to make the incidents and situations they are forced to confront emotionally and intellectually resonant on a wide basis. The third is what kind of language specifically this textual ambition calls for."
Of the approximately eight months I spent in West Philly in the Aughts, approximately four of them were spent here, in a flat at 42nd and Baltimore which Mary and Abby moved into in January 2003. Which means, in the economy of things, that I did spend four months living with Abby in the Aughts. Chez Mary & Abs was not maintained chaotically; it was kept relatively tidy; but Abby liked to throw parties, and Mary & I would have to help her clean up. Mary's windows faced 42nd Street, and she would sketch in her room, but serious painting had to be done elsewhere. Abs more or less had the same situation. Mary's room was also the big hang-out space for the three of us in the flat, where we could lounge, get high, watch movies, or do other meanwhiles.
Over the course of the Aughts, especially in the concentrated periods of 2002-2003 and 2007, and through my relationship with Mary Harju, I probably spent about eight months living in West Philadelphia. Mary probably spent about a year living in Logan Square right back. I have a sense of pride about this now: more territory for both of us to take, and conquer. Logan Square and West Philly are also an interesting contrast: the rustic (West Philly) against the newfangled, ruggedness versus sleekness, weathered wood & green yards balanced by a perfect view of an exquisite skyline. Even as our dramas unfolded both within and between the two neighborhoods, too.
P.S. Also worth noting: I spent the fall 2012 semester teaching two sections of first-year writing at the University of the Sciences in West Philly. I made the Green Line Cafe at 43rd and Baltimore my office!
I sat in a Greyhound bus terminal in
Harrisburg, & Stephanie Holt stood
twenty paces to my left; had, suddenly,
materialized there; skin glazed, forehead
protruding, as though she had philosophical
issues with reality... that night back in
Cheltenham, I'd sat in a car outside her
mansion, waiting for the deal to happen
inside I barely knew was there- now,
the mansion reduced to this redneck terminal,
& rednecks too- "It's always the same in
the end, Stephanie; I give you & your friends
a chance, & you blow it." She needs a new host,
I thought, like I need some new luggage-
"as if, Adam; as if I had any idea how to handle you, or us, or what Cheltenham had turned into by then. You: always special, always different, always such a fierce disruption against our lives. Remember- I never liked you much anyway. There's no room for special people where I come from. What's special is the order of who gets placed where when, & why. So, as I followed you out that stupid door, it's with no special anything. Philosophy? Where I come from, its this: where you come from is who you are, whether you like it or not. You were lower than us, lower, & still are, you little shit- & that luggage you had was pretty cheap, wasn't it?"
Recessional times, such as are currently being endured in the United States;
times of financial, cultural, and general societal instability; are inherently
dark. Dark times call for dark art; when it’s literature, dark writing.
Sometime mid-century XX, the appellation “noir” was affixed to all forms of
creativity heavily tinted with darkness, brooding self-consciousness, and
chiaroscuro perceptions of the world. What "noir" signifies, in
popular culture, is an aesthetic condition of extreme stylization. Look at the
elements which configure, say, the average Raymond Chandler novel, and which do
not change from book to book; stylized elements— a hard-bitten detective
(Marlowe) pursuing a treacherous villain, encountering a standard,
cemented-into-place cast of characters. There's the coy femme fatale, attached
somehow to a criminal underworld or with underworld connections, seductive
nonetheless; dirty and double-dealing cops (police officers), who may or may
not be trustworthy, and in on certain hits, games, “rackets”; and innocent
bystanders drawn into matrixes of crime and hustle against their will. What
stylization implies, as a kind of mold for artistic forms to fit into, is
homogeneity, and the solidity of homogeneity— we, as readers, need never wonder
what to expect from Raymond Chandler. To the extent that more serious artists
develop individual and individualized aesthetic concerns and formal-thematic,
consistent topoi, stylization in their work becomes inevitable— this is how we
know Picasso from Manet, Manet from David; or, in literature, Byron from
Browning, Amis from Updike; etc.
If I am interested in "noir," and in poaching
"noir" from American popular culture and granting it another context,
it is because the stylistic elements of my literary interestsshare, in the kinds of moods, impressions, and ambience generated,
something with noir, and noir stylistic conventions. The entire edifice of twenty-first
century cultural Philadelphia
coheres around a set of imperatives, which lean towards the revelation of
shadows rather than light, dark tones and hues rather than bright ones, and
labyrinthine complexities rather than scintillating clarities. Levels of
cognitive awareness, represented in books and paintings which seek to boast
some philosophical import, particularly in regards to ontological awareness in
the midst of extreme (even pornographic) vulgarity, separate our Philly
drastically from the rote, pop culture consonant facility of Chandler's books.
Indeed, the chiasmus between noir and serious, sustained intellection is, as
far as I know, a novel mode of stylistic inquiry and exploration. One
equivalent of Chandler's
shocking plot-twists and peripeteias are linguistic innovations which multiply
meanings and make key words and phrases serve dual, or triple, ends; so that
these words and phrases are set in place, figuratively, to split the heads of
their audience, towards recognitions of hidden semantic-thematic depth, and
against surface ("surface-y") orientations and sensibilities. That is
why I call this version of noir "deep noir"— PhillyFreeSchool art is crafted, on
some semantic levels, from similar molds— towards chiaroscuro and the enchantment
of multiple meanings. It is also easy to notice that the work being referred to
is, in fact, haunted by coy femme fatales, dirty-dealers, and an interrogating,
interrogative protagonist ("I"), who attempts to sift his way through
mazes of psycho-cognitive, and psycho-affective, complications. The pieces
shudder towards satori-like head-split semantic inversions; and whether any
give satori ends its poem or not, the
ultimate stylistic effect is to startle, unsettle, and re-wire the minds of the
audience who reads them. Chandler,
in a pop culture context sans intellectual heft, is far less unsettling.
Century XXI Philly creates mysteries and remains centered in them, in a
negatively capable fashion, while Chandler's
level of stylization insures easy, unchallenging comprehension. Still, I like
"noir" as a stylistic formulation here nonetheless, because this
imagined landscape creates and maintains a shaded ambience, which is
recognizably itself from artwork to artwork. I have spoken of the "body
heat" passed from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, in spite of
the new century's reservations— and, as one level of inheritance which takes
what I have envisioned to a secure hermeneutic locale, "noir" and
"deep noir" both work surprisingly well.
As to the issue of why, in 2019, a "noir" aesthetic,
inclusive of formal-thematic depth, would be of wide interest once placed into
circulation— the reason is fairly simple. On many levels and in many variegated
contexts, few sensibilities other than "noir" could be generally and
widely representative in America,
against the facile breeziness of post-modernity. The Great Recession has
created a climate, both within and without aesthetics, of entrenched
circumstantial darkness and shadowy languor. Inspired or not by political
developments (which seem to evince not only corruption but flatulence, at
regular intervals), untold, unreported catastrophes may have wiped out entire
sectors of the population— yet the media chirps away as though nothing has
changed. American pop culture is in an advanced state of erosion and
deterioration— there are no new rock stars anymore, and new American cinema not
only isn't selling but is divested, for the populace, of the perceived glamour
which used to enable it to sell. The secret passageways which used to make America
interconnect have largely been severed; even as the Internet has created new
labyrinths and passageways which often amount to a subversive conspiracy
against the normative.
The truly noir facet of the Internet is that it allows the
American public to understand how and why it has been duped; and what is left
of a thinking American populace is cognizant of these things. What I call the
Philly Free School (P.F.S. Post is Philly Free School Post) was created to hold
down a cultural fort radically on the side of serious culture and thoughtful
inquiry, scribed by individuals from within the bounds of the United States and
elsewhere. For those watching closely, and who know how the American literary
landscape has largely been configured over long and short periods of time, this
congeries of circumstances is a rebellion and an innovation. That the Philly
Free School is not only indigenously American (if standing, aesthetically, on
the shoulders of historical Europe) but indigenously Philadelphian is another
innovation— the creation of literary Philadelphia, in the twenty-first century,
has to do with the noir elements already built into Philly as a mythological
Philadelphia, much more so than New York (which offers, to experienced eyes,
nothing labyrinthine beneath a bold, brusque surface) is perpetually ravaged by
contradictions and conflicting internal imperatives— the Main Line
surface/patina is all about the prestige of old money, while Conshohocken and
King of Prussia boast world-class architecture; South Philly prizes
blue-collar, ethnic simplicity, but falsely and disingenuously (against the
complex and baroque machinations of an active South Philly underworld);
underworlds also appear at least partly in other suburbs supposed to be
middle-class, and standardized to American suburban norms, which they are only
intermittently; and the architecture in Center City Philadelphia is also
world-class. The "noir" sense, at the end of things, is that Philadelphia is a shadow-plagued
city, and what you see is certainly not what you get here. The representatively
Philadelphian surface/depth tensions are what make the city fertile ground for
serious art, rooted in formidably intellectual narratives, slanted towards the
stylized chiaroscuro of noir symbolization and signification.
Make no mistake— Philadelphia makes
a more than reasonable microcosm of the United
States, because Philadelphia
has many things to hide. Every thoughtful Philadelphian has their own Philadelphia narrative.
is often misrepresented on the surface is one of its noir allure-features. Philadelphia, in fact, may be taken as the secret capitol
of America, and much of America's internal
darkness is exteriorized and embodied with precision in our labyrinths here.
From a certain angle, for Philadelphia to produce representative American art
is no stretch at all— higher art requires higher faithfulness to complex human
truth. Because complexities are difficult, both to perceive and to assimilate,
they are, or can be, dark. If my version of noir borrows stylistically from the
likes of Raymond Chandler, the substance of the art is uniquely set within its
own thematic manner/mode of confused, perplexing darkness. Yet attempts to
unearth deep truth, when performed skillfully, are always cathartic, as pitiful
and terrible as the deep ("noir") truth can be, and in this, this newfangled
art finds its strength and metier.
As of early January '06, doing a residency in Henniker NH, I sent Lars Palm in Malmo some poems for an e-zine he was putting together, called Luzmag. On the night of the 9th, I got the e-mail and saw that the page was up. I walked out of the NEC library carrying an intense sense of euphoria; the Aughts Revolution was on. And it was one of my best nights in Henniker.
The Universe is a jell-o mold-
set, yet possible to pierce through
in novel ways, once you understand
the script- once every possible
change in every possible atomized
bit of matter has set in with the peach,
apple, pear pieces, improvise a symphony
against the surface, just firm enough
to liberate sense- rivers, trees, sky,
grass, all have a way of getting there
you will never know- the brain casts
itself into space, as, somewhere
beyond the Universe, something
eats us for dessert- tasty?