"I suppose he told you that I landed
between his legs like a roguish girl...
well, you could say it happened that
way. You could also say he sold me
on the idea of veined trade, or that his
musky Scotch breath excreted wafts of
blue-bloodiness into me. You are perverse
to ask me these things, moon peering over
your shoulder like another rogue. For now,
he lays upon an altar you don't know is
there: drunk, blue." The director called
cut; stagehands shuffled towards cigarettes.
I wandered down the aisle towards the stage,
about to land, looking for your money-shot-
found a ticket to Boston, first-class, reservations
for a four-star Boston hotel, invitation for an
audience with a Brahmin princess. The dream,
I thought, continues, as I saw you sit on the stage,
begin to peruse a style magazine which has now
been discontinued, & I laughed, as there is no
fashion in a freezing New England winter, but
your breasts, which are considerable, do get extra-
perky, & when you try to sit on my face, I just
might let you. As for your old rival, she's got
wings to star in a musical over in Cambridge,
a version of Guys & Dolls they've got going.
It's a sparkling scene in every direction; an epoch-
making time. The cage has sixty-nine layers of gild.
This guy sticks to sports because the world
makes a sport of kicking his ass, he said.
It's not like I didn't believe- but he only
sticks to sports (I thought) in the end because
the rules are right there in his head. And the
guy who lives out of his car and has the radio
set to "Sports-talk" all the time deserves to be
hung. So: there was more than one game we
were watching that night. This guy came in twice.
But if he won't play by league rules, he's out.
What A Poet In Center City focuses on most intensely is the complex interrelationship between the four founding fathers of the Philly Free School- myself, Mike Land (John Rind), Nick Gruberg (Ricky Flint), and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum (Christopher Severin). It was easily the most explosive group context I've ever been part of- everywhere we went, we attracted attention. Part of the explosive energy was generated by our physical appearance together- I was the shortest, at 5'9/5'10, and we were all good looking, with dark hair and eyes. We looked like brothers. None of us particularly lacked education; Nick and I were already in graduate school; but we all drank, drugged, smoked, and shagged nonetheless. When we hit the streets, the Philly Free School guys did massive divide and conquer routines just by ambling into rooms (particularly bars, music venues, and art galleries). The streets of Center City Philadelphia had clearly never seen anything quite like us. Because the four-person square was split down the middle between bisexuals and hard-line heteros, we could as easily end up at Woody's as at Dirty Frank's.
But four abrasive, explosive personalities thrown into a cage together (no matter how glamorous the cage looks from the outside) is not easy to sustain; and, for us, the fractiousness was right there on the surface with the passionate elan. The "classic" period of the Philly Free School, with all four of us more or less completely engaged, lasted roughly a year, from mid 2004 to mid 2005; it wasn't exactly a Rimbaudian season in hell, nor was it an effortless joyride. It was a tumultuous congeries of both; was, in fact, the single most tumultuous year of my life. One of the big, cocaine-level highs for me was that I had (as I thought might be possible when I arrived in Philly in '99) created and let loose a wild beast into the Philly arts scene. There was something about the shows we put on at the Highwire Gallery that was feral- because we went out of our way to get everyone stoned and drunk, the nights there became bacchanals, with nothing timid, precious, or academic about them. The vibe was near-complete Dionysian abandon- well past the arid frigidity of Warhol's Factory, or the rich-kid pomposity of the Cedar Bar.
There is, to my knowledge, no real parallel to the Philly Free School shows anywhere in the history of American art- not just for the bacchanalian frenzy, but for our wild, egalitarian sense of multi-media. The Philly Free School shows at the Highwire Gallery featured poetry (bare or with accompanying videos/images), paintings, bands, films, and even DJs. The shows were successful; people came. Even as the lurching four-headed beast ripped holes, willy-nilly, in everyone and everything it touched. There was always a violent undercurrent following us around. What we were together wore us down individually, as well. The lurching beast was not especially discriminating- it would not stick at tearing into its own flesh. We all wound up with blood on our hands- through sexual conquests and competitiveness, unrequited love, deep-in-our-cups harangues in many directions, and especially gossip, gossip, and more gossip. America stood on the edge of a major recession- the times were not particularly generous. Yet I still believe that the spirit of those Free School shows at the Highwire Gallery is worth preserving- rare visions of reckless American freedom, but executed with thoughtful taste. That's another reason why this book is worth reading, and why I wrote it.
One of the exciting things about the Aughts Revolution was the growth of internet literary publishing as an enterprise, hand-over-fist and in all directions. You could publish poems in multiple editions over comparatively short increments of time, either online-to-print (as happened to me, from Jacket to the & Now Awards/Best Innovative Writing anthology) or online-to-online anthology, and what have you. From '06 to '07, my poem Twisted Limbs migrated from Andrew Lundwall's Melancholias Tremulous Dreadlocks to Halvard Johnson's Big Bridge "Death" anthology, and was none the worse for it.
Whether off the bathroom counter
or the back of your hand, darling,
your unusual vehemence that
winter night, cob-webbed by
half-real figures, was animated by an
unfair advantage, which stooges threw
at you to keep you loopy as you
died piece-meal. All I had
was incomprehensible fury and a
broken heart- when I hit the floor
at four, you were getting ready
to play fire-starter, opened
the little snifter, curled your finger
twice in the right direction; darkness-
The UK blog Eyewear has adopted a rather tumultuous approach to what stays and what goes, conservation/preservation, over a long period of time. Most of what I had on Eyewear as of '13/'14 (mostly miscellany) has now been erased. Yet, Eyewear is being archived by both the British Library and the Internet Archive Wayback Machine; and this page, from 2008, which contains my poetic apostrophe to Dawn Ananda Hulton, is here completely intact. An apostrophe written at the Bean Cafe on South Street in '05, btw. And published first on Eyewear in December '05, when Eyewear had its original, black-out template.
Way up in the mountains, the air itself
is a drug, & hippies stand in a driveway,
smoking pipes. An inquisitive thirteen-
year-old boy tours a long, winding, high-
ceiling'd bungalow, property of two
antique dealers, stuffed full of junky
trinkets. Their redheaded daughter is
his age, and invites him into her room.
Within a few hours, he remembers nothing.
Thirty years later, a woman stands in
a driveway in Woodstock, New York,
wondering who her parents are, surprised
at what must be the altitude, skewering
her thoughts, cutting into her at strange angles.