Philadelphia Poetry: This Place, This Time

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written after a reading, August 2010, in Elfreth’s Alle

What is the concern for poetic pedigree but the archaic desire to search out the one train among all those tangled tracks that will take one’s poems into the future, whether in the echoey Grand Central Stations of sainted orthodoxy or the sidings and rickety platforms of the avant? A last gasp of the ancient infatuation with immortality. What could be less fitting for what may be the last few generations of human life on earth? What future? As for the past, if we are at the end of it all, what is there to celebrate in a lineage that’s led us lemming like to the edge of the precipice?

What I love about the interlocking circles of Philadelphia poets is their radical contemporaneity, maybe the only thing they… we… hold in common, a fierce passion for the present that I’ve come to share. A passion that finds no contradiction in flaunting an eclectic diversity of styles, in drawing freely from whatever traditions and trends succeed in exciting new work, whatever has the street smarts to survive, to stay awake, eyes wide open–and all the while, stubbornly refusing to turn off the dreams.

How like in their disregard for imagined futures the poems we read at Elfreth’s Alley–those things selected for the ‘time capsule,’ bits and scraps, memoranda and found things–covered with a layer of dirt unlikely to survive the first rain, sealed in a cookie tin a single winter will likely be enough to turn to rust. It didn’t matter. What a perfect setting for that reading, for the magic ceremony of the opening and closing moments–this colonial street, the facsimile Declaration of Independence. Words released into the summer heat. What endures, I heard—is not a fetish of the past or fancied future, but now–and not an eternal unchanging present, but its constant unfolding into this time, this place, this city of poets and the possibilities of love we can create, here and now.

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