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Philadelphia Freedom: Ryan Eckes reads from Valu-Plus

Ryan Eckes

I love to listen to Ryan Eckes read because there is the sound of Philadelphia in him, a sound that has to do with music, and dancing, and walking (it’s a beautiful city to walk in), and liberty, and that’s just for starters. Folks in Philly know their food, steak sandwiches and my favorite, turtle soup, at the Reading Terminal. They love their music and they know how to dance to it. I think that’s why they know how to write poetry too.

I was introduced to Ryan Eckes by my nephew Daniel; they had collaborated on a CD, Ryan reading his poetry and Daniel accompanying him on a variety of musical instruments, a very engaging performance I remembered when I saw Ryan read at Saint Mark’s Church in NYC last Wednesday night.

He was taking part in the re-launching of the west coast magazine, Tripwire. He read a poem from Tripwire, and then three others, as well, all from his last book, Valu-Plus. One of the poems he read, chase scene, takes place in a bar called McGlinchey’s. I lived in Philadelphia for much of the 70s, and often read and attended readings at McGlinchey’s. To think of McGlinchey’s alive and well and still a venue for local performances made me feel connected through a long and comfortable umbilical cord to the most pivotal and seminal city I have ever known.

I knew that Ryan was an adjunct professor at Temple University, but I didn’t know that he was helping to organize a union of adjunct professors there. Before the reading, he told me about it. I know for a fact that here in New York a lot of the adjunct CUNY faculty work without pensions or health plans; and often have to, incredible as it might sound, live on food stamps. The same is true in Philly. Here is what Ryan said:

“Adjuncts are organizing across the Philly area with United Academics of Philadelphia, a new local for contingent faculty. The long-term goal is to make a career in higher education sustainable and to build community among adjuncts. Right now we’re focusing on Temple, where the majority of adjuncts filed for an election to have a union at the end of last semester. Temple’s administration is delaying the election by raising technical objections with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. We had a big rally last Monday to put pressure on the provost to let us vote (yes or no to have a union) and to express solidarity with adjuncts around the country, who do most of the teaching in our colleges.”

My grandfather Lester Yorty was from Philadelphia. He organized the local union at the Cornwall Ore Mines ninety miles west of there in Lebanon County during the 1930s and 40s. I asked him what was the hardest thing he had to do. He answered, “Getting people off their asses.” Here is wishing Ryan Eckes all the help he can get getting people off their asses. Everyone, and that means all of us, need to get off ours and lend a hand wherever and whenever we can.

chase scene

we’re in the steamfitters hall peeling walmart stickers off hundreds
of copies of the mark of athena. athena will be free, and kids will love
her, and kids will leave her for the sea of monsters, and the sea of
monsters 2. you can’t get away from blue, a little girl tells me. then
here we are—blue—blue rolls the street thru as each april will. to
mess you up a little. a little april pointed at the wrong people. over
production. over the rainbow, the luxury of committing to nothing.
blue peels off. liberty motel, liberty gas. liberty thru and thru.

chase scene

we’re in mcglinchey’s dancing to the juke box, iggy pop. no dancing,
says bartender, but we keep dancing, the waitress comes over, for
real stop dancing or you gotta leave. it’s the law somehow, but we’re
drunk and we want you, come dance w/ us, please—please be the girl
we used to love way way back, she won’t crack the slightest smile. i
don’t know who i’m even talking to. is this a poem? a poetry reading?
she drags my dead horse across the bar and says look, who wants this
joke. you think it’s my job to listen to you, it’s not—it’s to serve you
hot dogs while you drink yourself back to the womb—which is what—
you don’t know, and that’s your job—to find out. i’m not the passenger.
i do not ride and ride and ride.

the bhagavad-cvs

chris, to protect men of virtue and destroy men who do evil,
to set the standard of sacred duty,

crush boxes in back room.
this is the ancient discipline i have taught you today.

bring down more bounty and stack in aisle 15.
you are my devotee and my friend, and this is the deepest mystery.

take down risers and posts in aisle 16.
your birth followed the birth of the sun.

move all extra care price cut signs to front half of store.
many forms of sacrifice expand toward the infinite spirit.

chris, let me know if you can come in sunday.
actions do not bind a man in possession of himself.


what heals the damage
done to language ain’t
the question—leave
your poem on a bus
& get off
to talk at all, or
to crib our students,
i got options
i’m sick
throw up an estate
it’s real
it won’t cheat on
you or anyone, still
you worry you won’t get
the loan, take it personally. well,
the women i got over
i lived with, says a friend,
says to start over
to destroy desire
you have to fight over
daily physical space for
a time, house of mind 
only a limb from that—the mouth,
telling you off. speechless,
but w/ pride in the shame,
shared, each of you splits
into strips, a fiction rusting off
the end of a branch
nice to meet you. my decrepit
father attacks me in a dream
foaming at the mouth. this
is real—signs held up repeat
it: this is real, this is real as
city hall’s first day of school:

wake up, wake up from
the cars you are—cars
are people, their attitudes
curl the spine, turn the eyes’
corners flat over the nerves.
optimus prime is not your
friend—go ahead & cross
the fucking street
it’s not on the test
it’s yours—
if they ask you for credit
give them a branch
when they want you to get it
chew on some grass
i know
i know
city hall is the brain
of a shark, it fits 
in a jar: real estate—
you could smash it
against a wall
or bury it
as a teacher
as a teacher, i say we’re all
teachers & are afraid to learn
we look at tusks
in a cabinet
for digging up roots
buffalo come back
on the nickels
like a told-you-so
i thought their bones
were from giant people
in a blue book. in a blue book,
be a native speaker for
once, have a face
& a body of nickels
your path to a bachelor’s
degree starts here
says an asshole
on a train about 
to explode
the neighborhood is turning
the corner
says an asshole
made of drywall
in a casino of pennies
at the feet of the poets—
it’s years to do another life
calmer than newsweek
in a blue book. in a blue book,
say why this train you catch
is years to hum
piano up to door
this train you catch
its ears
for 700 pages
of fairy tales
all one horse
700 pages
all one horse
one steed
of shakespeare water
teacher says please
stand up
like a state
please discuss inner
please discuss baby
corn tonsils
for 700 pages
in a blue book
calmer than newsweek
it’s multiple choice:
who are bill & melinda
who are the rolling
of wall stree
who are you to fill out
their bubbles
what smalltimer keeps
spraypainting RAT
in all the crosswalks
along 10th street
from cvs six block
to my corner—twice
at fernon RAT
spraypainted over
in black
by a vigilant neighbor
to no avail—RAT is re-applied
good as new
each block
the sure refrain
as you walk to cvs
& back
for toothpaste or toilet paper
less & less able
to distinguish between
the images in mind
of whoever RAT might refer to
& the author of RAT
& yourself:

“Ryan Eckes’ VALU-PLUS continues his incisive, wry, sincere, & gorgeous examination of the city- landscape. In Eckes’ work, the city—Philadelphia, specifically—cannot be contained, but is well lived in & observed & explored. There is ‘a box to be gutted / between dollar tree and footlocker’ & ‘a worry of rowhomes the body / aches out of.’ Place in Eckes’ poems can shift its shape between the gutted box & the infinitely expansive—’a box / spraypainted / on the wall / in red / for stickball.’ A box of air—it both is & is not there. & the city is something we are in & we carry with us in these wonderful poems. Their stubborn, brilliant sound will return to you as you walk down the street. VALU-PLUS is an archive, a love-letter, a political sharp edge, a report from the adjunct-field, a wondering over ‘how we / live this country’ & ‘how to live in a fucked / world.'”—Pattie McCarthy

A flyer for a McGlinchey’s poetry reading, late 70s


  1. Peter Bushyeager
    Posted 1 Mar ’15 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Great to hear McGlinchey’s is still around. And great to read Ryan Eckes’ work. Philly remains a hotbed of excellent poetry!

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