“We / take the form / of our uncertainty,” Gil Ott wrote in a 1984 poem. I take that as a motto of a poetics we shared, Gil and me, born the same year smack in the middle of the last century. Uncertainty remains now, as it was thirty years ago, as it was in 1950, a poetic vice for many. Gil expressed his searching uncertainty with an unflappable and genial defiance, living his fifty-four years with grace, courage, outrage, and élan.
Jenn McCreary, Frank Sherlock, and Pattie McCarthy joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House to discuss a poem by Gil Ott. The poem is called “The Forgotten” and it was published in Public Domain of 1989. PennSound’s recording of the poem comes from a performance at the Ear Inn in New York City on February 19, 1989. In No Restraints (an anthology of writings about disability culture), Gil Ott’s contribution is about invisible disability. Pattie notes that “The Forgotten” enacts this notion, especially at the beginning when it “points so much to the interior” of sourceless hurt, of forgotten wound.
On October 27, 2001, admirers of Gil Ott gathered at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia to celebrate his work. Several of them — Charles Alexander, Ammiel Alcalay, Linh Dinh, Kristen Gallagher (one of the organizers of the event, and editor of The Form of Our Uncertainty: A Tribute to Gil Ott, published by Chax), Craig Czury, Eli Goldblatt, and Chris McCreary — read from Gil’s work and their own. The program was recorded and is available on PennSound. Later, a 20-minute excerpt of the whole program was made available as a podcast.
When it was Charles Alexander’s turn at the podium that evening, he gave a 2.5-minute introduction and then read excerpts from his own then-new work, Near or Random Acts, a reinscription of N-O-R-A, his daughter's name. Some of the most recent sections of the poem are responses to the 9/11 attacks which had occured just six weeks before this event — thoughts of Nora, in part, and of her age and future. The mostly implicit connection between and among love/writing/existential threat/family gets made astonishly well in the randomness of the near acts of the poem. I was moved then — and am still — by Alexander’s understanding of the convergence of two major occasions: celebrate Gil Ott and his family; do so six weeks after 9/11. The event, which had been previously scheduled, was much more than poetry’s “show must go on.” The meanings unintentionally made (by the event, the communal reading) were of course not so random after all. Kristen Gallagher, editor of the celebratory volume, wrote: “One thing has concerned him consistently: ‘the struggle to articulate.’ His acceptance of uncertainty and his history of stirring things up in status-quo-ville are the defining qualities of Gil Ott’s poetics. One thing Gil says he has often reacted against is the assumption that ‘people seek out order.’” This disorder-seeking impulse toward social uncertainty Alexander blessed that day with a work Anne Waldman later called “an investigative blessing.”
Gil Ott died in 2004 and is sorely missed in Philly poetry scenes, and (to be specific about one of many such sites where we miss Gil) at the Writers House where Gil was fairly regularly a member of audiences for PhillyTalks, poetry readings, book celebrations for poetry-world colleagues (especially Philly poets). Kristen Gallagher edited a book of commentary and critical response to Gil's work (published by Chax Press) and in the fall of '01 we hosted a Gil Ott celebration, co-organized by then-director of KWH Kerry Sherin and also Kristen Gallagher.
For about a year PennSound's Gil Ott page featured the whole recording of the 1.5-hour event and also segmented single mp3s of each reader. But later we released the 17th PennSound podcast - a 23-minute excerpt of the whole event, expertly edited by Steve McLaughlin. Here's a link to the PennSound podcast page. (More: When Gil interviewed Jackson Mac Low.)