Visiting My Papers at Yale
Two summers ago I was in New England again, attending a literary conference at The University of Rhode Island, and then doing readings up and down the East Coast for my newest book. Since my rented car would take me right past New Haven, I decided to stop into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University to look at my papers.
At my age, one begins thinking about collecting what one has carelessly left lying around for decades: at summer cottages, in notebooks, presented to old boyfriends, in hard drives all over the world. I know there are stories, reviews, essays, and poems, out there somewhere. I thought maybe someday someone would say, Hey Felice, what about a Collected Poetry? I’d only published two books of poems, The Deformity Lover, and Window Elegies, a chapbook. Another hundred had appeared in print since then, the last being “His Diagnosis” about my friend, Robert Ferro. After that, poetry was no longer possible for me. But there were earlier poems, many I’d left unfinished, hanging. They were inside spiral metal notebooks with chartreuse covers, and those notebooks were at Yale.
Just to clarify, I didn’t go to Yale; my papers went there. I was barely sixteen when I graduated high school. My folks made it clear I wasn’t going away anywhere and in fact that I was staying home and working for my father. Unknown to them, my college counselor had applied me to The City University of New York, and I’d gotten past the rigorous requirements and into Queens College, a free school; I’d even gotten a small scholarship. So that’s where I went. I moved to Alphabet City among immigrants and cockroaches, junkies and thieves, and I went to college taking two trains and a bus each way.
However thanks to scholars George Stambolian, Jonathan Katz and John Boswell, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which collects American Writing Groups like the Transcendentalists and Gertrude Stein’s Paris circle, collected the works of the Violet Quill Club, the writing group being honored tonight.
Introduction to the photo-collection, Night Visions, published by Bruno Gmuender Press.
Like the poet Robert Frost, I am one who has been acquainted with the night. Acquainted only, because who can understand never mind thoroughly catalogue the many moods and atmospheres, delusions and chilled delights, imprecisions and peculiar visions unique to those hours when most folk are safely abed and it becomes greatly unclear who’s haunting who, the quick or the dead.
For many years, I would polish off most of my prose late at night, after tea, certainly, and when possessed and unable to tear myself from my notebook or computer screen, long, long hours after dinner. In the unceasing noise of cities especially, a sort of surcease from incessant sound would descend with the persistent softness of those halos of humidity around streetlights, once midnight had imperceptibly passed. At times it might even approach the effervescence of a sigh. I would rise and throw on outerwear, my mind now pleasantly vacated, and I would seek the loneliness of soaked sidewalks, the interminable tarmac of avenues, the fleetingness of glimpsed bridges: looped lines of steel filigreed frosting upon the never quite ebony, electrically illuminated, shadows high in the sky.
Other people arrived within that encrusted private-life I conspired to make alongside night with the suddenness of strayed asteroids. A limousine might speed to a curb and stop to disgorge revelers, masqued, in tuxedos and brilliants, the laughter even more hollow for the echoes of iron side-walls. Or, a doorway would smash open upon stucco and a couple tumble out onto a lintel, limp with used gaiety, Courvoisier, cheap “blow,” and sidle slowly into a hiccoughing heap of torn clothing. Once a cobalt sedan shuddered to a halt at the cruisiest pier on the Hudson near dawn, myself hidden from the driver’s view; he sat, nothing but silhouette, erratically reddened by the tip of a sucked-in cigarette. Ten minutes later, his back door creaked ajar, then quietly shut, and the Ciera crept off, leaving behind the gift of a silver clad corpse. One rhinestone shined pump, spot-lit upon the embankment, slowly spun on a toe.
Other Recent Essays by Felice Picano
Available for publication upon request
Another Berlin Story
Similar to autobiographical essays in True Stories
appx 3300 words
History is Memoir/Memoir is History
For the 2011 Saints & Sinners Festival
appx 3800 words
Introduction to Looking Glass Lives
Inadvertently left out of the 2010 Bold Stroke Press reprint
appx 2800 words
Out Magazine, 2010
In the 1970’s, Delacorte Books put out best selling authors like James Clavell, Stephen King, Howard Fast, and Irwin Shaw, and literary authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Yates, Tim O Brien, and Jayne Ann Phillips. In 1979, many of us at Delacorte had new books and our publisher threw a party to celebrate and so we might meet the press.
Of them all I most wanted to meet James Baldwin, and read his new novel Just Above My Head. But even for another author, getting near Baldwin wasn’t easy. He seemed circled, virtually protected from outsiders.
I pushed through, introduced myself (drawing the expected blank) and said, “In college, we all talked about Another Country. Howit depicted relationships between blacks and whites, gays and straights was totally real: As were those moments of unbridgeable gaps.”
“Not unbridgeable,” Baldwin insisted, and drew me aside to sit, pleased his book had reached this readership. We talked ten minutes of SNCC, the bus rides down south, the integration movement and its leaders. We had to part to meet interviewers.
By 1987, I’d made a literary impression myself. Even so, I was surprised to be invited to speak at The Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It was the midst of the Reagan Era; in an essay I’d decried a Media distracted by Reagan’s empty sound bytes and his wife’s fashions into ignoring unsolved national problems. I claimed all the social advances we’d made were being rolled back to the 1950’s. This was the theme of my speech to be given and broadcast at U. Mass.