02 February 2014


It’s been a 19th century kind of year…

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853): it took me a year to finish. Because I had to keep putting it down in order to teach contemporary American poetry, at a certain point I found myself watching the PBS version in order to keep the characters straight. In consequence, “Shake me up Judy” and “he was wery good to me” are said far too often in my household.

The Quaker City by George Lippard (1845): a completely sensationalist fiction about the corrupt upper classes in 19th century Philadelphia. Lippard was good friends with E.A. Poe, but his writing hasn’t received nearly the same attention. This book is messy (in good and bad ways), wacky, and completely over the top. It features a lot of heaving bosoms, a secret clubhouse for the elite called Monk Hall, a paranormal cult leader named Ravoni and much much more!

The Diary of Sidney George Fisher Covering the Years of 1834-1871: I kept ordering this book through inter-library loan the last year or so; I wish I owned it. Fisher was trained as a lawyer, but ultimately his main activity seems to have been writing in his diary. The diary presents an extremely detailed account of everyday life in Philadelphia for a member of a particular class. The epigraph Fisher uses to precede the entries for 1864:

     If a man keeps no diary, the path crumbles away behind him as his feet leave it; and days gone by 
     are little more than a blank broken by a few distorted shadows. His life is all confined with the 
     limits of today.

 He described his diaries as his “artificial memory,” and kept writing in them until 1871…the very last entries remind me a lot of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape:

      April 3, 1871   The doctor here. Better. Yesterday and Saturday very sick in bed. Constant nausea 
     & vomiting.
     April 27, 1871  Read diary of 1837. Have been rereading those of 1836 etc with extreme interest.
     April 29, 1871  Read diary of 1839. It brings back those days of youth very vividly. Strange that I 
     could not then see all that I might have done & been, almost without effort.

I don’t keep a diary, although I have a number of computer files titled “Records” where I have tried to record what happens in my life with not much constancy. At the beginning of 2012, my friend Stacy Doris died. I’ve been thinking about her poetry a lot this year, and was glad there was a tribute to her work at the Poetry Project at the beginning of 2013. After she died, I found myself scanning all of my "Records," looking for some mention of her—the things we did together, the things we spoke about. I was so relieved to find her there. I pledged to be a better record keeper in 2013. I failed.

Other significant things 2013:
Visiting Jennifer Moxley and Steve Evans and sitting on their sun porch in Maine. (I know from Moxley’s The Middle Room that Steve is also a diarist extraordinaire) I also really enjoyed reading Moxley’s There Are Things We Live Among.
Finally reading all of Thalia Field’s Ululu.

Discovering the music of Ted Hearne

Seeing Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson at the Philadelphia Live Arts festival

Jena Osman's recent books include Public Figures (Wesleyan 2012), The Network (selected for the 2009 National Poetry Series by Prageeta Sharma and published by Fence Books in 2010), and Corporate Relations (Burning Deck Press, 2014). For 12 years she co-edited the magazine Chain with Juliana Spahr, and now they co-edit the ChainLinks book series together. Jena teaches in the MFA writing program at Temple University in Philadelphia. More of her work can be found at jenaosman.com.

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