Monday, May 15, 2017

Aughts Philadelphia: The Missing Year (2008)



I watched President Obama’s victory speech from Dirty Frank’s at 13th and Pine with a few friends. It was quiet in the bar; you could’ve heard a pin drop; and I was anticipating something, and someone, extraordinary. We all were; and when all we got was a bunch of tired, crass, generalized clich├ęs, we made (I noticed then) a silent collective decision not to notice it. Broad Street was crazy that night— everyone was out celebrating. Aughts Philly had its levels of oddity and irony, one of which was that, for all our joie de vivre, the Republican regime in control of Washington and its attendant media juggernaut was a continual, joy-inhibiting bummer for us. Obama was supposed to deliver us into a new, politically liberated era; yet, that November night in ’08, I feared the worst— that we were looking at a different version of the same corruption and complacency, and that the change which had come to America was none at all. Obama, indeed, was perfunctory that night; and Dirty Frank’s and Broad Street were perfunctory for me, too. It was the culminating moment of my, and our, strangest Aughts year (2008); one which passed without a sense of distinction, and with a sense of Aughts Philly in general drifting out of focus and towards the sense of stalemate which ushered in the Teens. If I linger on 2008 now, it is because I am fascinated by my own inability to pin it down, define it, give it a determinate shape, the way I can all the other Aughts years, including the 2009 which followed from it.

Among other things, it is the year I came closest to actual alcoholism (thus catching up, finally, to Mike, Nick, and Jeremy); my life at Temple was so full of drudgery and thankless compromises that just to get through the nights which followed long days, I’d have to knock back several Jack and Cokes. Some of the pictures taken of me at the time show me looking uncharacteristically soggy and fish-faced.When I moved, that summer, from 21st and Race to 23rd and Arch, it was a down-sized and down-sizing move; the new flat had low ceilings, a rancid view of parking lots, and I felt claustrophobic in it. Mary and I had broken up again in late ’07; yet we couldn’t get out of each other’s pockets, and when she showed her Eden portrait of us, The Fall, at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) that spring, I was very proud. I was also amused that the portrait seemed to suggest me on solid, balanced ground and Mary falling all over herself— that’s not how I felt. Abs was still showing on First Fridays and elsewhere, but she was off my radar at the time— I hadn’t yet noticed that she’d transformed herself into a first-rate artistic genius. She was also, I later discovered, flailing on other levels. Jeremy had disowned me completely— and when he began a reading series in ’08 called “Toiling in Obscurity” with some U of Arts foundlings, and affixed the tag-line “even our minor accomplishments are overshadowed by our utter anonymity,” I could sense there was a strange and ghastly crescendo issuing from all Philly Free School sides. Jenny Kanzler consolidated all these snafus in my conversations with her then.

When I think of my own 2008 as a complete gestalt entity, including risky affairs I had going at the time, I think of Aughts Philly starting to go cock-eyed— yet, everyone was still in the bars and in the streets, and a sense of isolation did not seem to be a problem yet. 2008 was my first adult “bridge year,” with, in it, a sense of the liminal, and of blinkered confusion. I wrote "Chimes" as I was moving that summer, in a great deal of emotional pain from the necessity of reliving my childhood, and with a sense of foreboding about what awaited me at Temple that fall; by which time, Otoliths was putting out "When You Bit..." and, as usual for that era, the reaction online was intense, while the crooked, vituperative Philly poetry scene continued to cold-shoulder me. That Philadelphia poetry world— of clowns, impostors, and henchmen— was not intriguing to me on any level. I was, as of '08, still having better poetry luck with Chicago, both online and in the flesh. One night, on returning to Logan Square from a reading in South Philly, I was mugged at gunpoint, and had my wallet stolen. My assailant actually stuck the pistol into my ribcage— yet, I had an intuition he wouldn’t shoot me. The whole year was jagged— I even (if you can believe this) saw an identifiable angel on 21st Street one July afternoon. If ’08 needs to be remembered distinctly for how non-distinct it was in the run of major Aughts Philly years, it is because the weird evanescent character it has will remain frozen forever in what we created and disseminated that year. The most important facet of ’08 for me personally is that it is the last of my Mary years— one in which we were together, at least in spirit (sometimes in flesh.) After ’08, we kept in touch, but things could never be the same again between us. To see that cycle of death and rebirth turning, with some hindsight, is as terrible and beautiful as it was to live the agonies, ecstasies, and convulsions of the first time through.

Let Us Compare Mythologies


As of the present moment (2017), and the new pages in Otoliths and The Argotist, I've begun a new writing process/gambit: to compose poems with an acknowledged, conscious sense of mythology and mythologies, and of the mythologizing process; and to do so to facilitate awareness of what happened in Philadelphia (and a few other places) in the Aughts. Ten to fifteen years hindsight had better be enough, folks; and why wait for myths to be generated around you... why not put your nose to the old grindstone and do it yourself? Candor is important here, because the Aughts had an unblemished feeling about them of cohesiveness and integrity, and I do not want that to be lost. It's also revolutionary about the ascension of Aughts Philly and its cultural scene that, on a socio-cultural and socio-historic level, the good guys in American art, those who dared to put the art first and all the subterranean attendant crap second, found a way to win against the stooges, parasites, and floozies. The Philly Free School story, it turns out, is inherently a juicy one. Mythologies spun out from the Free School do not have to deal with the egg-headed professor syndrome, the spoiled rich brat syndrome, the mafia cartel consonant syndrome, or the hands-off puritanical syndrome. The rest of the sonnets from the first round of writing Something Solid are shot through with an awareness of/ fascination with dynamic individuals who dared to live a life with hands in many games, and tactile ones.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gratis (for Mike Land)



I swung a loop from the warehouse
space back into the Highwire itself-
throngs of hipsters milling around,
whiskey, wine disappearing from
the little island space situated near
windows picking up western sun-
light, as night descended on Cherry
Street, with an ambiance of anticipation.
When anything can happen in human
life, nothing usually does- spectacles
like this were exceptions. Avalon established
eye-contact; off we pranced to the stairwell-
Mike Land grinned lasciviously, as usual,
& polished off a beer he'd received gratis.

Shenanigans '08


Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum, ensconced
with a U of Arts semi-disciple, sees me
bust in with a brazen brunette, who
resembles me so closely she might
be my niece; we sit, begin to fight;
she decides she wants red wine;
Mary H is standing across Pine
Street, spying on us; we leave; Mary
follows us; Jeremy, as is his wont, can
only pine for the poems he wrote in
the 90s at Villanova, that he meant
something then; we get the red wine;
Mary positions herself caddy-corner
the liquor store window; we walk past-