On the river's bank, boat-legions rolled
in search of commerce, bridges to build;
souls, cargo (heavy, light), bought & sold,
coffers waiting in Philly to be filled.
Ladies stepped gingerly onto green banks,
white satin, black lace, versed in politesse or no-
patterns walked, insignias inscribed into air-
young ones, underlings already in their ranks,
sought to make the landing show-offy, slow,
down a hundred yards from a drunken fair.
Add a century, an Expressway looms over
the murk- wave-sounds, squeals, & metal-
which the Schuylkill cannot answer, hovering
under- slow-moving, patient, & settled.
The river's mind is settled- the human race
churns around it restlessly, adding bodies
shorn of dignity, bloated, pulp-bloody, blue,
having carried burdens the river never dreams
of, emptiness so incorrigible the Schuylkill's face
registers nothing but limp waves- tender, true.
The Keats-brain, peering in, questioning, elevates
the Schuylkill's mystery into frozen heat-
truth & beauty all in the browning, decay, fate
of all water-bodies subject to our meat-
I sit on the edge, watching overhanging leaves,
frozen myself by the gross negligence
of what lies beneath the river's surface,
& my own, as the summer sun inverts, grieves
for the masses, exploring no penitence
as I am, grounded, here, diving for purpose-
Anyone who's lived in Philadelphia for more than a few years knows the Smitten European Syndrome. On one's travels in Philly, periodically one will run into European folk, who passionately vow for Philadelphia against all the other American cities: for class, style, distinction, and dignity. It's just something that happens. Much of the European hoopla around Philadelphia has to do with architecture: after all, what a city essentially amounts to is a collection of buildings. As a collection of buildings in the continental United States, Philadelphia is peerless. What the Philly Free School amounts to, is an extended attempt to transmute the grandiosity, stateliness, and gravitas of Philadelphia's architecture into a body of higher artistic work; why I called one of our key pdfs Our Architecture Did This To Us. All these facets of Philly, as a construct, point to one essential reality: Philadelphia is an adult city; a city about solidity, on and beneath the surface. For the continental United States to grow into an appropriate awareness of PFS, all the sectors of America which remain Babyland sectors (the press corps are the worst, and NYC, with its bold-facade-with-nothing-behind-it emptiness, runs a close second) will have to grow up. What I'm doing here now amounts to planting seeds, because wheels this extensive and ponderous can only turn slowly.
As per other Happenings Ten Years Time Ago: on July 6, 2007, I read with a bunch of Chicago poets at Kate the Great's bookstore in Andersonville, Chi-Town. We wound up doing three Philly Free School readings at Kate the Great's; the final one, in the summer of '08, capped off a trip on which I lectured at Loyola behind Opera Bufa. Illustrated here is a Loyola syllabus featuring the book. But, back to the main: I forgot to mention: Philadelphia and Chicago do share many key issues. Chicago's image problem is a hinge to Philadelphia's: that to make Chi-Town simple is a fool's game. Down to rich Chicago suburbs appearing in 80s movies with which we learned our moves as kids (Bueller? Bueller?).
P.S. The class I lectured to at Loyola included poetess Stacy Blair.
Philadelphia is a city with an image problem. To make a long story short: Philly is impossible to nutshell. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if Philly has a sun sign, it is certainly Gemini. Geminis do, often, have image problems: they tend to be too complex, too all over the place, to make easy summary possible. The press are wankers and adolescents and need their soundbites, and other cities come through just fine (at least on the surface): DC is the government, LA is Hollywood, Vegas is casinos, Frisco is queers and queerness, Nawlins is alcohol, the Florida cities are the Florida Lifestyle, the Texas cities are the Texas Lifestyle, Seattle went from Nothing to Grunge to Nothing Again, Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Detroit are junk/trash, and the funniest, for those who observe the tactile realities of the United States beneath the surface, is NYC as the power center of everything. Philadelphia is just too complicated, too ornate, as its architecture is, to do the sound bite routine. So you will encounter anomalies: Garrison Keillor, avant-garde hipster extraordinaire, on the Prairie Home Companion, confidently summarizes Philadelphia as a "working class city." On the other hand, a movie like 2009's Dare, which amounts to a staging of Less Than Zero in the rich Philadelphia 'burbs, emphasizes all the Easton-Ellis paradigm insignias of too much too soon, from queerness to sex/drugs/alcohol/money.
Indeed, what Dare actually is, is a meta-movie, staging something daring: accurate reportage of what the Philly 'burbs really add up to, beneath the surface. And, as the movie unfolds, the sturm und drang around putting the pedal to the proverbial metal towards an apotheosis of affluent, wasted youth, brings to the surface yet another Philly complexity; the kinds of kids and families who might hire Rocky Balboa as a plumber or maintenance man. They were there in 1976, too. You just didn't see them then.
Ten years ago today, on June 9, 2007, I stepped into the post office, on Chestnut Street between 20th and 21st Streets in Center City Philadelphia, to mail out the first copies of my Dusie chap Posit. A decade and many books and e-books later, it is interesting to reflect, on June 9, 2017, what it means to spend ten years publishing at or on high levels. What it brings to the surface, for me, is an awareness and an acknowledgment that we are living through a transitional time, where publishing is concerned. The splintered or splintering effect in publishing, created by the competing, not always commensurate demands of online life against print life, has created a sense of the whole enterprise as a whirling dervish highwire act. Posit, in 2007, was released as a print chapbook and an e-book simultaneously; Mark Young's journal Otoliths had that double-pronged effect going then, and still does. Beams came out as an e-book later in '07, and pirated print editions soon appeared on the market; while later books like Apparition Poems and Cheltenham were released in print without precise online counterparts. To make up that difference, I placed the pdfs on sites like Scribd and Internet Archive, where they have enjoyed some success. But the point, that the publishing imperative should, of necessity, become a double imperative by '17, is one which adds gravitas to a semi-Sisyphean conception or paradigm model of publishing, in which only the super-diligent and highly motivated might survive, and the idea of standing, confidently and suavely, behind print alone, is an antiquated one.
In fact, from '17 on out, it looks like in many ways online is winning, which I did not expect. The reason is simple: online offers a more pure, less riddled-with-corruption reading experience than print does. The paradigm which held sway in my mind for many years, of print and online holding commensurate weight and finding ways and means of balancing each other out, now in and of itself seems antiquated. Online, of course, cannot be completely utopic; the human race en masse are not capable of producing utopic contexts; but many of us at least do not feel, by '17, that we've stepped into a Rosemary's Baby-level Satanic orgy when we read online. Amazon is just that, an obvious, obviously corrupt jungle; as is the University library system in the United States. It is the province of rackets and racketeers; if you didn't think print books could kill, think again. The problem, for myself as a literary individual, is that I love print books. I adore them. Yet, if the integrity and the purity is online, that's where I'll be. When I stepped into the post office on Chestnut Street ten years ago today, many poetry voices were still dismissive of online as a viable context for poetry; I had no idea then, that so many of these were racketeer voices. So, unbelievably, if you want to ride the publishing cutting edge in '17, you may have to admit that print can be expendable now. Preservation techniques have made online a suitable venue for Eternity, and the Eternity Sweepstakes; and print has become a fool's paradise's, at least part of the time, for clods and literary clod-ism.
High or serious art is usually considered the province of the big cities, here in the States. That's generally where the schools, the money, and the prestige are. Yet, as I get older, I can't not be curious as to how the Philly Free School will fare in other parts of the country, like the Bread Basket, or Dust Bowl, or Great Plains, or what have you. One of the most salient mysteries built into America, as a construct, is this large chunk of the country, comprised of small and mid-level towns and cities. What would a rural community see or not see in PFS? The way I imagine it, a small town hidden in the Bread Basket somewhere might have an intrigued response. In small towns and rural communities in general, the populace lead slower lives, and live to more advanced ages. Philly Free School art is meant to encourage contemplative duration; that is, is meant to be consumed, assimilated, and interpreted over long expanses of time. And slowly, piece by piece- not like the McDonald's, disposable version of haute culture espoused by New York. The idea is that if this particular population were to be drawn to, and drawn in by, the Philly Free School, it would be because our oeuvre radiates a certain kind of depth, of dimensions and mysteries which in and of themselves require slow, patient study, to yield the greatest receptive reward. I am attracted to the Bread Basket as an idea and an ideal in relation to us; the kind of audience who would be willing to dig beneath the surface of the paintings and books and stay there. Yet, I am no expert where Heartland mores and tastes are concerned. Who knows?