Thursday, June 4, 2015

From A Poet In Center City ('12)


Bill Rosenblum and I are still working together intermittently. Bill lives in a studio apartment on Twenty-First Street between Chestnut and Market. It’s filthy— Bill lives like a pig. But Bill already has a primitive Pro Tools set-up, which means he can record me cheaply and (somewhat) efficiently. I have a cache of songs I wrote in the spring of ’96— folk songs, in the manner of Nick Drake, for us to record. One thing I have now also is an album on, which I can add to. Bill and I maintain our own routine— record, smoke a little pot, repeat. Bill’s infinitely distractible, and I try not to be impatient. He even gets me to watch “Adult Swim” and “Space Ghost,” as I did as a teenager. The album doesn’t do much— I have a difficult time promoting it (having “offed” myself from doing live gigs in Philly). Everything feels liminal to me except Penn— it’s the new centerpiece of my life. College Hall, Van Pelt, Bennett Hall are golden for me; and I covet the armature of an Ivy League education. As I expected, Penn only transferred two years worth of credits from Penn State. Now, in my mid-twenties, I prioritize getting my degree. Christopher, Elizabeth, Bill, and the rest know this is happening— but my life is becoming strictly compartmentalized into bits which don’t always cohere. 


There’s a poetry reading circuit in Center City which I’m now heavily involved in. Other than the old guard and Christopher, some contenders subsist who are nearly my age. D.P. Plunkett is a rising star on this circuit. He happens to be ten years older than me. D.P. is bisexual, obese, and his poetry is all rough edges and dirty jokes. He, like most of the old guard, is a historical naïf where poetry is concerned— he’s read very little pre-1960. He also, as a high-school dropout raised out in the sticks, loathes U of Penn. It seems natural that we take an instant, intense dislike to each other. His sordid history with Elizabeth and Joe ended in rancor on all sides. I spot D.P.’s big weakness— he needs to be buffeted by people (preferably poets) on all sides. D.P. has one major henchman; a bouncer/poet from Southwest Philly named Doug Winter. Whatever social games come to fruition around them are planned by Doug and D.P. together. They run a reading series out of La Tazza 108. I go sometimes with Christopher. Christopher detests them, but there aren’t many reading series in Center City which deliver the “action-quotient” we want, and this is one. We learn fast; there’s no use trying to talk with D.P. or Doug unless you’re part of their in-crowd. Neither of us is prepared to make much of an effort. Through the whole liminal period of the early Aughts, we work around scenes like this and try and establish something worthwhile, both in and out of the accepted Center City circuit. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

From "Trish" ('11)

The story starts here: PAFA
has its yearly opening, and I
explore it with Lisa. I am
looking for Trish’s paintings:
she has invited me. She is no
where in sight. There: it’s her
self-portrait on the wall, called
The Vessel. Sepia, brown, colors
that have Spanish resonance.
Trish’s in blue, half-profiled,
wearing an expression of pensive
angst. She looks at me from
the painting. She is my soul
sister. She’s under my skin.

Our first date: Lisa still
in the dark. An operation I
enact covertly. We are going
to see a movie: Amelie. She is
merely cute. I sit through this
for you, Trish. I dialogue with
Bukowski while I sit there: I
deserve a blowjob for this
. Hank
is amused but reticent. Trish
wears a green winter hat which
now sits on her lap. Her hair
is pony-tailed. She has had a
salad at Cosi. I am hungry, I
enjoy my hunger: mind-fucked.

Back at my place: 21st and Race.
I play Trish “Sweet and Dandy”
from The Harder They Come. She
dances without restraint on the
tan carpeted floor. Something is
becoming loose in us. Then she
lays down on my floor, in blue as
in The Vessel, and lets me paw at
her. Skyrocketing giddiness over
takes us. We are drinking grog
(rum and water) from capacious
blue mugs, each other’s new toy.
Look: I have, in my pocket, a
copy of Aleister Crowley. It’s red.

I am in an artist’s studio: winter,
long broad windows, sunset, it’s
going down. I am in a wife-beater
with braces, mustachioed, jack-in-
the-box. There is a portrait of
Apollo on the wall: nude, in a
field of purples and blues. He
carries a fiddle. Trish and I are
drinking cheap red wine. There
is no one else (it seems) in the
building. Pipes drone steadily.
Warmed by the wine, we sneak
into a dark bathroom. I crash
through several floors of myself.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

From A Poet In Center City ('12)


Through dealing with Elizabeth Yankel, I’m introduced to the Center City literary old guard. Many of the men are gay; if they scope me out, it’s to determine if I mean “action.” Joe Miller fits this profile; an old friend of Elizabeth’s who lives in a duplex apartment at Seventh and Bainbridge. His most prized possession is a photo of himself and a bearded, bespectacled Allen Ginsberg, taken backstage at the Painted Bride in the Seventies. It’s on the wall of his study; the other wall is covered by long bookshelves filled with recent poetry books. Joe seems to have read everything; to know what he’s talking about. His real penchant is for Philly literary gossip (particularly among the gay poets), and he considers himself the raconteur of the tribe. His heyday, he always says, was the Eighties; that was the peak, the time Philly poetry really swung. There were readings every night and everyone slept with everyone. It’s all (I later find out) blarney. The hitch with me is that I’m straight. Nevertheless, I arrange a bunch of readings for us to do together— at bookstores, music venues, even at the Kelly Writers House on the Penn campus (I’m finishing my degree at Penn.) The readings are half-festive, half-strained; but because I happen to be sleeping with girls, I deny him the gossip-angles he wants. Elizabeth, I’m later to learn, has the same reservations about me that Joe does. For the gays in this tribe, art and gossip seem inseparable; are, in fact, flip sides of the same coin.


The old guard is reserved about me; they refuse to deal with Christopher at all. Christopher is pompous about being young and fresh; he’ll do anything not to be a bore. The sensibility finger points from Christopher to Morrissey and straight back to Oscar Wilde. As might be expected, Christopher is sexually ambiguous; he frequently makes flirtatious remarks in my direction. But, I notice over the first few years I know him, he only seems to sleep with girls. Bisexuality is one of his adopted poses. Joe Miller and Christopher, when they run into each other, have nothing to say. Christopher, at this time, has several poems out in the Columbia Poetry Review. Christopher’s writing is more avant-garde than Joe’s or Elizabeth’s; bits of Pound, Cummings, and “Pop” kitsch. I never lose the sense that Chris is based in Manayunk, which is its own place (at a tangent to Center City) and with its own ethos. Main Street, Manayunk, is posh like Walnut Street, but smaller, more sedate, and cozier. Drinking in Manayunk (as Christopher and I are wont to do) is peaceful and, especially in spring and summer, decidedly a glamorous experience. Some of the glamour Christopher has for me is Manayunk glamour, and he does come off sometimes as a Manayunk transplant in Center City. The first important reading I do with Christopher is at Villanova University (he’s an alumnus) on a cool spring night in ’01. We read to about fifteen female undergrads, and they treated us like big-shots. Who could ask for more?