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Jet Wimp reads The Drowning Place

During January I was taking care of my father who is 91 and ailing, and about mid-month I wanted a little change, got up before dawn and drove Dad’s car through the still dark countryside hardly anyone yet around to Elizabethtown where they have free parking all day at the Amtrak station and took the train to Philadelphia planning to record my old friend Jet Wimp reading from his chapbook, The Drowning Place, which was published by Moore College of Art in 1977, shortly after I returned to Philadelphia because I’d heard there was a poetry scene there, where I met Jet who coordinated readings and gave me my first reading at the Painted Bride with another Philadelphia poet, Maralyn Polak, who wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Sunday interview with celebrities who were passing through. As I walked west from 30th Street Station I looked east where in the 1970s I would have seen City Hall with William Penn on top; all I could see now were tall glassy skyscrapers reflecting the blue sky and clouds, but turning west my leisurely forty minute walk took me past familiar spots, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania down to Locust Street where seeing a deli truck I got some chopped herring on a pumpernickel bagel, Ymmmm—I was starving, then I saw a little library, a cabinet attached to a fence where you could take a book out or put a book in—I found a battered Robert Frost with pages turned up because it was moist with an introduction by Robert Graves that I put in my coat as I ascended Jet’s porch and knocked. The first floor of Jet’s house leads back to a huge functional furnished kitchen set up to feed an army, which Jet and his husband Richard did for many years helping to feed those sick with AIDS. I hadn’t seen Jet in decades but I would have known him anywhere—in Philadelphia I am pleased to report that he looked well leading me down in his cellar to a small room full of books where it was quiet as we settled in so I could record Jet, who like the pro he is, did it all in one take. Walking back to 30th Street just catching the train I read Robert Frost all the way to Elizabethtown where Dad’s car sat waiting for me to drive back through the countryside dark with evening now making my way up into the mountain pulling into Dad’s drive and finding him sitting alive sleeping in front of the television. “What do you want for dinner?” I asked him a little later. “Whatever you make will be good,” he advised.

Jet writes about the art in The Drowning Place: “In the late 1970’s the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia decided to publish a series of chapbooks by Philadelphia poets, illustrated by some of their students. Jack DeWitt, who was editor of the series, knew my work and asked me for a manuscript. Two artists, Ann McAfee and Eileen Rudisill, were assigned to me and I was shown some of their art. One had a light almost cartoony style; the other specialized in abstract urban landscapes—obviously, two very disparate sensibilities. Their procedure for developing the illustrations was as follows. They both read the manuscript several times. One would begin with a sketch to reflect some aspect of the poem, then show it to the other. The second artist would do a sketch based on that sketch. They would continue to sketch back and forth, as it were, until they converged on a single drawing. The illustrations form a very coherent whole, and show a style completely different from that of either artist. I found the result remarkable, and eerily unsettling which is exactly what the manuscript calls for.”













the sanity of our spirit never changes the sanity of our spirit never changes

The Drowning Place is an account of the time Jet spent in an insane asylum many years ago when he was addicted to alcohol and drugs and afraid of who he was. I have a friend Tom who has also done time in mental institutions, and he will tell you with a smile, “I’m certifiable.” Jet is certifiable too, a certifiable poet who brought himself to sanity through sobriety and poetry, and teaching too—he is a mathematician who taught at Drexel University for many years. I have taken the liberty to type out the poems in The Drowning Place, brief poignant observations and encounters with other patients abstracted into short lines—one word even gets chopped in two, poems where there is pain, but laughter as well, surreal and real, language that is a port in the storm, and when push comes to shove comforting and even fun. I always finish reading it with a smile. Down the line I want to record Jet reading more poems.


the nurse and I have
argued: I won’t take
my pills
the pills are brutal—
how would you like every
morning at 10
to drown?

they bend my head into my lap: they
make me stare for

she sulks and
sulks until I take them
then she hugs me:
her arms and breasts swell
out around me
but she is so short: so
old: her hair is far
too black
“you are still my little
boy she says

feel despair and there’s room
for nothing else:
it is the obliterating
center: no
coffee no morning paper
no red no
nothing’s new:
very old
the day walks by so far
outside the window
you can’t see it

when there is despair
no touch
there are no beds
no mirrors no
genitals no

the man in line
ahead of me
is an ox

after he disappears
behind the door
there is a buzzing: I imagine
the air within
crackling: swelling
with a haze
as over a factory at noon
then: an animal roar:
one thud: another

the nurse opens the door: crooks
a finger at me:

I awaken cleansed
of thought

for the first time
in six months I am taken
to see the doctor:
I am amazed: the richness
of his study: the oak
desk: books the color
of strawberry
syrup traced with gold
“you must not act out
your homosexuality”
he says to me
“you must
be chaste
you feel too much

I want to say to him
may I live
among your books?”


I spent last summer in the
backseat of a car: drinking
rye and going God
crazy: but how did you
get so screwed up? you: a country

at a Naval Reserve meeting you
fell to your knees:
shouting: weeping

now you face me across
a corroded backgammon
board: still crying: wondering
what the doctor will
do to you

you grab one hand with another: your
hands are pale as though dusted
with lime
has anyone here ever played

to myself I am
nothing: but you:
for the sake of your fear: of your
solid as bread
I will befriend you

your parents are so polite
they speak to you in Polish
but when they think I listen
they switch to English
can we get a weekend pass
so I can come to dinner?

never could I have imagined
the house of yours: with all
its clear bare wood: with its
cabbage breath

Kenny jammed a 10 guage shotgun
against his father’s sleeping
and pulled the trigger
sat there on the bed 10
years ago
and the insects and the police
finally came

a year later the surgeons drew maps
on his skull: they slipped
beneath to make one thin
dismantling slit

Kenny ambles up to me
sometimes: always grin-
ning he calls “HEY

is a joy

we walk the halls
we play pool: we eat
we shudder like beached fish
in insulin shock together
suffer television take
our pills together
at night our chests rise and
fall in sleep
together we feel safe as sparrows
beneath a rainslick eave
new patients come:
old patients leave:
but our spirit is
the sanity of our spirit
never changes

One Comment

  1. John DeWitt

    What a treat to hear Jet’s voice again and to hear the details of the creation of the book I had largely forgotten.

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