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?

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