Towards the end of the composition of Apparition Poems, there was a serious fire three doors down from me (I lived in apartment 408) in Westminster Arch. It happened in the early morning hours, when (it so happens) I liked to write. I heard the alarm, and wandered into my hallway- it was filled with smoke. I was in a numbed-out enough writing-trance not to notice too much, and calmly found my way down the stairwell four floors to the lobby. Shortly, the whole building was in the lobby in their pajamas, as a squad of firemen entered Westminster Arch with their axes. It turns out that the guy, my neighbor, had left a candle burning overnight, and somehow the flame had latched onto something else. The apartment in question was absolutely gutted; nothing left standing, everything charred. The firemen were compelled to force my door open and open my windows to fumigate the fourth floor. There is a punchline to this story- the firemen wedged my door open with a copy of Coleridge's Biographia.
By the day of the fire, I was using some pretty arcane methods to loosen myself up creatively. One of my tricks that January and February was what I called the "pile of books" trick. Because my bookshelves were directly to the left of my desk and desktop, I thought it would be interesting to attempt this kind of serendipitous composition- pick books semi-randomly, speed-read a page of them, then write Apparition Poem. This was especially helpful when I made the decision to do a run of Apps which directly addressed philosophy and philosophical issues:
Follow Abraham up the hill:
to the extent that the hill is
constituted already by kinds
of knives, to what extent can
a man go up a hill, shepherd
a son to be sacrificed, to be
worthy before an almighty
power that may or may not
have had conscious intentions
where hills, knives, sons were
concerned, but how, as I watch
this, can I not feel that Abraham,
by braving knives, does not need
the one he holds in his rapt hands?
On the other side of things, I dared descend to the homely Amer-Lit of Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace to retrieve this nugget:
Here’s where shifts (red shifts)
happen in perspective, I thought,
slopping dark meat onto my plate,
here’s where angles converge to
put me past the nest. General
laughter over pictures, womb-
like spaces, but I was in hers as
I was in with them. It hurts, but
he’s dead, I never met him. It’s
a shame, I never met him. Blood
moves through air: between her,
me, them— leaves on concrete.
This brain-shattering compositional technique is one I haven't dared to employ since Apparition Poems- books like Cheltenham and The Posit Trilogy are too specific, too goal-directed, even in the tiniest of their specific parts, to allow anything this loose or free-ranging to enter. It's also the case that Apparition Poems' method of being "tight but loose" is closer to the expansiveness of the epic form, initiated in Greece, to anything else I have written; which is why I like to call the book an epic of fragments: a representatively American epic.
It was also in February '10 that I arranged with Matt Stevenson to do an Apparition Poems video, and record some Apparition Poems to send as mp3s to PennSound, at the Eris Temple in West Philly. The Eris Temple is so located (52nd and Cedar) that it hinges, from West Philly, on North Philly, and the neighborhood is a dangerous one. We shot the video in the Temple's front room, with its east-facing facade, high white coffered ceiling, and derelict/ghetto ambiance. I was still into wearing the flannel I'd picked up in New Hampshire in '05 (thanks Jon Anderson for the ride to the Concord Wal-Mart) with the little scarf I'd found at Barnes and Noble in the early Aughts. This was still a remnant of Aughts Philadelphia- no make-up was applied, and the video was a first-take, as were (mostly) the mp3s. Matt and I were still on friendly terms- but there already wasn't much from my Aughts Philadelphia life left standing.