3 Feb 2010, Institute of Contemporary Art, introduction to Frank Sherlock, CAConrad, Zoe Strauss book party

by Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Here's a Rachel-Rap for this occasion
here's a little rhymed oration;
Here's an appreciative calibration
to help kick off this celebration,
of a fraternal collaboration
producing The City, Real and Imagined.

Something with intelligence and compassion
made by wandering the "chartered streets"
that some might call a "derive"
to achieve
a double
of urban planning or maybe plane-ing or playing or plaiting
in the sense of braiding voices together,
urban but not urbane, not elite,
but rather political, critical,
intelligent, and sometimes mad,
the active activity of activist
thinking, and writing
produced together by Frank and Conrad.

There's a Philly sound and a Philly look;
we're going to find it in this book,
there's Philly attitude we've got,
and even if you've not,
there are three folks here
who want to share this particular
kind of "where,"
the frequencies and qualities
of Philly love;
some people here who will declare
the city as our city,
You know the inevitable next stop
is gritty,
and that's one kind of op,
but no one ever has known pretty
who hasn't seen
Conrad's nails and sparkles gleam,


So there's Zoe and her
original exhibit space;
to say in your face
is to be ridiculously
the photos' clarity
sweeps clean
into the ground
the underside of 95
with the crushed glass and passing car sound.
Her meticulous
her confrontation
with citizens of the Philly nation,
being alive no matter what the cost,
her photos and folks have the spirit of suspicion
as a particular intransigent exposition
of those not lost but found somehow

and of watching what happens
right here and right now.

Her accountability—like Frank's and Conrad's--
to, within and of the collective fate:
this here and now that's on our plate.
Ya got a problem with that?

This is it, this is what I see:
second-hand mattresses, maybe
and glad to have them airing out
in the sun with the balloons
strung up, un-strung
but hanging together
with their different patterning
down and around
together. I said together.

There it is, the city, holding its own,
as in a clutch embrace,
place and displace,
with a queered love that is the love
of liberty and justice for all,
of libraries (maybe open)
and enthusiasm
(not closed down),
when you see what
you see (which is what you got) and hear in the poems
that every single person
standing, facing you maybe alone
is really some mother-father's son, some
queer renamed daughter, bought or
almost belly up, or
taxed, but no matter that,
holding their own.

These poems
like yard sticks measuring
the locales; the spaces;
zoning in on marks on peoples' faces,
the poems as places where you hold them
when you see and hear them,
hold them as they hold themselves and us,
hold them with an intelligent love,
unmannered, unsentimental but true
since all are part of all that is, the we and they
as part of us and you.

With shit detector on overdrive
because there's so much
ever over-much
to detect.
And these guys
will not deflect
our glance with making nice, although
they're nice enough, in the sense of refining
elegant distinctions without pretence.
They all three make a lot of sense.
Like Conrad’s pointing out how much we
"feed the rich."
Take in their vision of articulate city-love, no flack,
hey—we want to love them back!
No pretence, I mean no "above" or fake;
it's precisely what they make,
as in Frank's work—which is not "where you're from"
but "where ya at"—

It's art to forget that art
exists as a career or fancy zone.
It's where we are at, at the bone.

People pout, they say pout;
people screw, they say screw,
or screwed or screwed up,
people hit up, hit on, hit down, hit
until they hurt, that's what they say.

City, city, "marks of weakness, marks of woe"
said William Blake, a compatriot
of looking hard at these calibrations of
triage, with all the exactitude of the griot.
Like Conrad, like Frank, like Zoe.

Or a Williams-y gesture all crosslit vectors
of veracity. No hectors,
no whining, no pity.
Compassion, yes, but no condescension
is what I mean.
Contention with power, yes,
but no resentful glower;
judgment, yes, but just of those who make
it on the backs of others and their otherness.
And doing this realist real seeing-thing without the need for
obfuscation or opacity
but rather only confrontational clarity.

Their works, their lines are made as if
written and photographed
by the street itself
as if the street had eyes (which would be Zoe's lens)
and tongues to speak in honest spurts,
which would be Conrad's contrarian joy bursts
and which would be Frank's calibrated quirks,
the lurks and twists of his combinations:
the pretzel vendor, the 10 dollar T-shirts,
the project roof,
the guy who pushes
that metal-filled shopping cart--
their writing, their art
intertwining, to manifest the frankest proof
of the real, to state and articulate un-conned truth.

This is class-smart mojo
this is lowdown smart ass sense of woe
and weakness, in Blake's sense, and of
exhilaration at seeing, at putting out
statement, no clout
but the art of telling what needs to be told,
no fake, all bold
that we are lucky
to have:
a saturating articulation of
critique, and resistant, searing
seeing and hearing,
their understanding--without alloy.
And so we're here hereby to celebrate, with some
museum-quality Philly-style joy,
this newest book
to celebrate, to leap with them, to thank:
Zoe, Conrad, and Frank.