Siren's Silence

When I think about the poetry journal Siren’s Silence, and what it meant for Philadelphia in the Nineties, the first thing that occurs to me, and it is salient, is that most of the dramas that lit up Siren’s Silence, both as a literary entity and as a scene, were invisible to me as a second-tier player in them. Vlad Pogorelov, Dawn Morpurgo, Lora Bloom, Christian Hand and the rest were all dramtic personalities; moreover, the social world they inhabited was a dramatic one. I was only able to see what I saw on semester breaks and visits home from State College. Here is the narrative of what I did see: I discovered, on a semester break, an open mike night happening at Philly Java Company on 4th Street between South and Lombard in (I think it was) spring ’97. I began attending the open mike night as regularly as I could. It became clear to me that the open mikes in the back room of Philly Java were there to represent the interests of a print journal called Siren’s Silence, which I became a regular contributor to. It took some time going to these open mikes to begin to differentiate personalities. The first Siren’s Silence character I noticed who made a substantial impression on me was Vladlen (“Vlad”) Pogorelov.

Vlad was different. Average height, very thin, prematurely balding, very dapper, and he talked with a thick Russian accent. The material Vlad was writing, which was published in ’98 as “Derelict,” had much in common with the urban, gritty realism of Charles Bukowski, and I told Vlad as much. His signature poems were about whores, drugs, poverty, and drunkenness, and (oddly enough) they demonstrated an impressive formalist streak which (one would think) Bukowski would have hated. To hear Vlad recite, “The dirty whore/ takin a bath/ smokin crack/ singing songs from time to time” in his thick Russian brogue was a distinctly otherworldly experience. Vlad was the poetry editor of Siren’s Silence at the time. Other poems he had around, like “At the Train Station,” detailed a sensibility which, if a little long on adolescent romanticism, still had a flavor of imaginative decay, artful deterioration, which made them memorable to me. Oddly, Vlad sometimes appeared at Philly Java with his mother. There was talk that he had a trust fund, or was from a rich Russian family; I was never able to find out. In the intervening years, I have found ways to tip the hat to Mr. Pogorelov; in the Virtual Pinball section of Beams (“Nicanor Parra/Jimmy Page/Yossarian…”), and in Apparition Poem 509 (“on greasy days in Philadelphia…).

Lora Bloom I came to know later as the vocalist of Radio Eris, her collaboration with my own friend and future producer Matt Stevenson. Jeannine Campbell was around the Philadelphia arts scene also for many years, but we didn’t make much contact; Dawn Morpurgo same. When the final issue of Siren’s Silence was released in late ’98, which featured "Clean," I happened to be home from State College, about to shift over to Manhattan, so I went. It was at Robin’s Books, on 13th Street off of Walnut, upstairs. I had seen Vlad read that spring behind “Derelict” on South Street, but Vlad wasn’t there. If my disappointment was overcome, it’s because I found a group of pick-up friends who set me up with some free Valiums. Even more serendipitous was my encounter with Matt Stevenson, who would play such a pivotal role for all of us in the Aughts. This is the truth….you must believe me. Matt needed (for some reason) a copy of the Doors first album, and I happened to have the cassette in my pocket. I handed it over to him, and thus sealed the deal that when I returned to Philadelphia a year later, pieces would fall into place which could start a revolution. Siren’s Silence advertised itself as a literary explosion; if so, the explosion cleared some crucial space for everything which followed the one century ending and the next jumping into being.