Beams Preface ('13)

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, 2005 was a hectic, tumultuous time for me. On a bunch of different circuits (including the Philly bar scene and the art scene, which in the Aughts were first cousins), the Philly Free School was a fire set loose. My writing life wasn’t (couldn’t be) terribly disciplined at the time— though I had written “Wittgenstein’s Song” in April at the Last Drop, and debuted it in New England. My spring M.F.A. semester was nonetheless a personal milestone; through Anne Waldman, I became steeped in nouveau poetry and the avant-garde; and my piece (written for Anne) “Wordsworth @ McDonald’s” came out in Jacket #28 in April, too. Being younger than thirty and in Jacket was part of my wild ride then. I was feeling cocky, and puckish.

It was in character for me in 2005 to believe I could create a valuable poetic form out of thin air. In truth, the eponymous section of “Beams” I wrote at that time is not a substantial formal breakthrough; what I call the “Beam” form isn’t that unique or striking. The poems have more strength in their thematic gist than in their formal inventiveness— lots of twisted, warped sexuality, precursor to the “When You Bit…” sonnets and the “Madame Psychosis” poems, written a year later. It wasn’t a stretch for me to be warped about sexuality in mid-Aughts Philadelphia. Or New York, where Mike Land’s sister Anna lived in the East Village. The “Madame Psychosis” poems of ’06 were formally and thematically more self-conscious; partly because I was trying to be painterly (in the manner of de Kooning and his “Women”), partly because the formal imperative was to compress (in the manner of Keats), partly because I’d been perverted by a period of promiscuity, and knew it. Many of the best “Madame Psychosis” poems were written in New England; “debbie jaffe” was written in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. I lifted the title of the series from Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” which I read at that time.

One of my odd discoveries then was that a huge puritanical streak ran through avant-garde poetry in America. One female editor, in particular, castigated my pervishness in a memorable way, by laying down a gauntlet—if she was going to publish me, it had to be something more abstract or impressionistic, and not so sexualized. I wrote the original “Apparition Poems” (which later mutated in a more expansive direction) for her—some of them wound up coming out, also, in Jacket #31, and in a Lake Forest College Press anthology. As “Beams” was being written, my life tightened and became more focused- I finished my M.F.A., started as a University Fellow at Temple, and the Free School ceased to function as a cohesive entity. The “Virtual Pinball” poems, co-written with Swedish poet Lars Palm, were a kind of last hurrah for the profligate Free School period—written in an arbitrary, haphazard manner, often from whatever I happened to be listening to on the radio. By October ’06, I had compiled the “Beams” manuscript of the four series and sent it to Blazevox. It came out as a Blazevox e-book a year later.

“Beams” is as close as I’ve come to publishing something representatively post-modern- a book which prizes quirk, anomaly, and disjuncture over depth and intellect. If I had to move past it instantly, it is because I found the strictures of post-modern verse too limiting. There’s too much human reality which can’t be expressed with quirk and anomaly; and too much ephemerality in the post-modern approach for a disciple of British Romanticism to accept or embrace (even if UK poet Jeffrey Side connected “Beams” with Blake in an ’08 review of the book). If “Beams” has a claim to some enduring importance, it is because I dared to tackle a serious theme (human sexuality) in a few novel ways, and without unduly obfuscating what the theme was.