Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"Franklinstein" by Sue Landers

The March, 2017 Poetry Is Not a Luxury Book Club selection is Franklinstein by Susan Landers

A place of good blocks and bad blocks and brick roads
and boxwoods. The site
of America’s first gingko tree.
The birthplace of pushpins and Louisa May Alcott.
A place of sparrows and spires and schist

Franklinstein is both poetry and literary nonfiction. Its hybrid poetry/prose genre tells the story of one Philadelphia neighborhood, Germantown—a historic, beloved place, wrestling with legacies of colonialism, racism, and capitalism. Drawing from interviews, historical research, and two divergent but quintessential American texts (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans), Landers' Franklinstein is a monster readers have not encountered before.

"FRANKLINSTEIN is a church of stained glass truth- telling."—Yolanda Wisher

"In her study of Germantown, Landers derives a poetics of urban history, of being from, really from, a place—Philadelphia—that cuts itself into your skin."—Simone White


Susan Landers on how this collection came to be

At the beginning of this writing I was reading. Reading two books I had never read before: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and The Making of Americans. And as I was reading, I thought: I should make a new book. A new book from pieces. A new book using only Ben’s words and Gertrude’s. And so I did that. For months. Cutting and pasting little pieces. To make a monster. And it was so boring.

It was so boring, my dead thing of parts.

Then the church I grew up in closed. The church where my mother and father were married. The church where they baptized their babies. A church in Philadelphia in the neighborhood where I grew up. A kind of rundown place. A place of row homes and vacants and schist.

And when I went there to see that place—the place that was with me from my very beginning—I thought, this will breathe life into my pieces. This will be the soul of my parents. I thought: if I could write the story of this place and its beginnings, this writing would be the right thing, a kind of living.

This is where my writing began. 

from An interview with Susan Landers in Tinge magazine:  My project started when I could no longer stand the fact that I hadn’t yet read Making of Americans (as a Stein fan) or The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (as a Philadelphian). So, I decided to spend 40 days of my 40th year reading them both and writing down lines that stood out to me — either musically or semantically.

from A review in FemLit Magazine:  In Franklinstein, Susan Landers tells the story of Germantown, a Philadelphia neighborhood. The mixed-genre volume starts as an elegy for a closing church in Germantown. It is at once an ode to this place and a critical scouring of how the history of such places are made.

PhillyVoice explores Germantown with Susan Landers:  It was right around this time, this church [St. Francis of Assisi] I had grown up in, in Germantown, was closing. And I remember appreciating it as a child and said ‘I want to see it before it becomes’ — what I said at the time —  ‘another abandoned building in a neighborhood of abandoned buildings.’ So I wanted to see it before it became this lost space. And when I went down to see it, I realized that interpretation of Germantown was totally wrong. It’s not a place of abandoned buildings, even though there are some, and I realized that Germantown, this place, was really complex. It wears all of its history on its sleeve. You hear the language of the Lenape in the Wissahickon and the street names are all [named after] these Revolutionary War generals. And there’s like an — it’ll be an 18th-century mansion next to a steak and cheese [shop] next to a factory from the industrial revolution. It’s just all [these sights] combined. All these layers. 




of incense and boxwood and brick

pride and bullets and prayer

wisteria and helicopters and figs

turtles and burkas and hacks.

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