As/Is







2.21.2014


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 as a literary artist at the time, what I was producing was better than bits and pieces. One of my tangents at the time, following finishing my degree at U of Penn and doing readings at the Kelly Writers House on the Penn campus, was beginning a low residency MFA at New England College, in Henniker, New Hampshire, where I met Chris GoodrichMary Walker Graham, Melissa Severin, Becky Hilliker, 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 was a patience-trying one for everyone around them, including me.

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 ('04-'06) working on. Not having gained real, 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 (and 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, and Molly herself was upstairs putting her kids to bed. 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 and general sense of textuality. Myself, Mary and Abs were adults in our work, always; in our lives, sometimes. 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.