This poem is probably the most overtly autobiographical poem I’ve ever written, so it feels odd to write about its context, as the poem seems already transparently full of the context that created it. But I want to try to do so all the same if only because today the ceiling of my apartment has collapsed for the second time, (but with more fanfare—it’s raining inside my kitchen right now) and I believe in connecting coincidences. What I’m writing now I guess is both a coda and a prelude.
There are certainly a lot of things I could say about this poem and obviously even more that I could say about my life. Now as I am writing this new paragraph however, I want to say something about autobiography itself. Many people might argue with me, but I find that, whether overtly pursued or blatantly avoided, and in my own poetry I have run the gamut between the two, autobiography is an inescapable result of art-making. I have been thinking a lot about how and why this is, and what it means for me and whomever my reader might be.
Over the last few years, I have slowly withdrawn from the typical public life of a poet. In other words I’m not really going to readings, not blogging, not submitting work to various magazines, not pursuing poetry alliances, not trying to teach in a program, not out there trying to “make it”. Instead I have been living a very full, very private life. What I’m saying is that I know that there is a relationship between this retreat from the poetry world on the one hand and the arrival of these openly autobiographical poems on the other. But rather than simply being a compensating exhibitionism, although I’m sure it is in part, “Philadelphia” I think is primarily an ode to this privacy and to the exponential meaning to be found within not just mine but all individual existence, exponential due to the impossibility of parts existing outside of a whole.
For example, it would be just as untrue to say that I am locked within myself, and thus alone, as it would be to say that I am part of the table I am writing on, or, rather, just as true since when viewed on an atomic level the line between me and this table is barely perceivable. What separates me from it is form and energy, yet there is nothing in the universe that is not form and energy.
I don’t know if that makes anything clearer other than the confusion itself, but here is a part of a letter to Tina Brown Celona dated 5/16/07:
“Things here, as you might imagine, are very messy. Nicola came in February and will be here through August 2. Our intentions were that we would find someone to sponsor him a work visa, and that he would move here indefinitely until we were ready to move somewhere else. Nothing has been that simple however. A friend of mine here in town, a wine dealer, wanted to, still wants to, hire him as a wine rep. And Nicola’s been helping him sort of, but the guy (his name is Paul) has just started this business and doesn’t have the money to hire him full time (ergo money troubles for us) and the visa, for which Paul even hired a lawyer, will take 18 months to process and would then be valid for only 18 months. Still we were thinking we might make this work, and that Nicola could just leave and re-enter.
However it gets more complicated. Nicola’s mom’s cancer has come back yet again and it’s clear that he needs to be in Verona with her. Also, last week he made his first quickie voyage to Italy and back and was held by security for over two hours of questioning. They seriously almost sent him back, and would have if I hadn’t been there, even though he did nothing technically wrong, only that he had “the intention to immigrate.” So…
Now we’ve been trying to find a way for me to go to Italy. But that’s not easy either of course. The work route for Americans looks pretty closed so far. Another possibility for obtaining a visa is me going to school, which I’m looking into. But ultimately, it seems as though we are going to have to decide to either marry or leave each other forever, stark alternatives that neither of us are happy about.
Anyway, drama drama. Everyday. And hard to ever feel secure, though I know now more than ever that Nicola loves me. But all this really has taken a toll on us psychologically.
As for other matters, the book is coming out in the next few weeks, a pre-release anyway, and then the bulk of the copies will be here in August. I’m not sure where I’ll be then, but probably here unless a miracle appears, since even if I do move I will need to save and may need more time.
What else? I have not spoken with Justine but do need to email her. Basically I’ve been sort of shut-down and focused on survival and trying to find a way to be with Nicola. I’ve hardly spoken with anyone outside Dottie, Eric B., and a few others. But the situation’s so consuming and the details are so many, that I find it difficult to talk to people right now. Still, that has to change. I’m writing a big poem called Philadelphia though, so I’m talking to it a good bit.”