Sunday, February 20, 2005

reflections on reading Gil Ott's interview... 

Recently Kristen Gallagher gave me a copy of the form of our uncertainty: a tribute to Gil Ott. First, I think it's a great book, and I highly recommend everyone checking it out. And when you do, or if you already have, maybe we could discuss it.

But one thing right now that I want to focus on is the interview with Gil, conducted by Kristen Gallagher, Kerry Sherin, and Heather Starr. It's the beginning in particular that I want to focus on, where he's asked about feeling on the outside in Philadelphia. He said that people dismissed his work, and went on from there to talk about the lack of an avant-garde in Philadelphia. My first reaction was to feel annoyed, especially since I had invited Gil to read at the series I hosted in the 90s.

I had NO IDEA until reading this interview that Gil every felt this way. He was always supportive and trying to nurture community, but I guess what I learned in the interview is that, while he was busy being supportive of others, he was not being supported by others. Gil was always around though, even the Etheridge Knight years, and he didn't seem to approve of me hanging out and getting stoned with Etheridge and Carol Ann every chance I could.

But to be perfectly honest though, he was pretty right-on about the scene as it was back then. For starters with my proof to myself, when I was about twenty I stumbled upon the poetry of Gil Orlovitz. Orlovitz is pretty much an unknown at this time, but for a while he was kicking out some amazing books of experimental poetry and prose, as well as editing The Avant-Garde Reader, which included work by Cocteau, William Burroughs, and others.

Gil Ott was the ONLY poet in Philadelphia who not only seemed to know about Orlovitz, but liked his work as well. Everyone else I was showing my new poetry discovery to was frowning, saying he was a Language poet. Of course he wasn't, and wasn't even alive when the Language scene was forming. But anyway, it was exciting to talk to Gil Ott about Orlovitz. And when I held The Gil Orlovitz Symposium a few years later at The North Starr Bar, Gil was one of seven people in the room.

Only seven people in the room, and Gil was the only audience member not participating. Everyone else there was someone who had either known Orlovitz, or liked his work. Besides myself, there were only two other people from Philadelphia participating. One of the people to talk on Orlovitz was Miriam Kessler, from Harrisburg. She had dated Orlovitz back in the 1940s, and read for us her poem "Snowblind." I remember it very well because when I asked her what the Hebrew word was that she kept repeating, she yelled "WHORE!" It was about wanting to be Gil Orlovitz's whore, which was lovely really, hearing this woman in her seventies talk about sex and devotion. She touched herself as she read "Snowblind," which seemed to disturb a couple of people in the room, but I thought it was one of the most beautiful poems I had ever seen read aloud. I wish I had had the sense to record the event, and I mean with video, so we could sit down and SEE Miriam step outside of every acceptable boundary in our culture to read this poem which every word she clearly meant.

But anyway, my point is, only seven people were there, and only one just to watch. And the fact that it was Gil Ott makes me think about all those people who were at all the readings in Philadelphia back in that time. No one wanted to be bothered with the Orlovitz event because he was too weird, or something.

So this and other memories stand as a way to be thankful for the group of poets I know in Philly now! I have never loved (and I don't care how fucking corny I sound) anything like I love poetry, and it's wonderful to be alive, in this city, right now! Maybe it would be a good time for me to consider doing another Gil Orlovitz talk, or reading? Hmmm.


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