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ArtDate #8: Micah

Philadelphia Fringe Festival marks a particular point in many transplant artists' stories of moving to Philly. My first Fringe (2016) included an artistic baptism of sorts, dancing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art fountain in Boris Charmatz's community workshop.

The 2018 Fringe Festival was Micah Greenleaf's first as a Philadelphia resident. We met at a show (I was volunteering, Micah working box office), got to talking, and found out that we were both writers without a Philadelphia community. We started Left to Write, a get-what-you-need, meet-when-we-can writer's group. We've sat across from each others' laptops for a year, but never collaborated until this ArtDate.


The Other City

(A Poem in Seven Halves)

The other city calls me

I feel her breeze around my neck

But I feel your ground beneath me

I can’t take root in air

Maybe I’m there now

In a crush of people


Waiting for a train

The me who figured out how to hack it

Who lost weight and shaved her legs

And learned to live with my mother a little longer

Maybe in that other city

When a heart lies in two places

In two people

In two states:

Independent and broke

It lingers in both

But lives in one

And beats itself for loving none



We started with these common themes we were feeling:

The other city


Forking paths

We went off to write on our own for ~15 minutes. That's when Micah came up with the last stanza (which I think also stands on its own as a small poem). Here's his original with the first two stanzas that he wrote:

When my eyes fall

On this city I’ve found

When it’s autumn

But concrete blocks

leaves from the ground

When I go back to one home

And I miss the other

When I bake pumpkin pie

I think of apron strings

Tied to my mother

When the heart lies in three places

With three people

In three states:

Independence, ocean, and broken

It answers calls from two

And waits for replies in one

And beats itself when there is none

I wrote a long free-write that you can read at the end of this blog post, from which we pulled the first two stanzas of our collaborative poem (the stanzas that we pulled are in bold).

We wanted to create something out of our two ideas, but when we placed the stanzas next to each other, something was missing. Micah's referenced three places, where my poem only talked about two. It flowed from first person "I" to third person "she" to a removed narrator talking about "the heart." We decided to try adding a second person "you" stanza.

Micah got the idea to write collaboratively by passing the computer back and forth and trading single lines or couplets, writing to each other as our respective "you"s. This became its own half-finished poem, which we tried to edit to coherency and crumbled when we messed with it:

You came here

To find the home you left

The one that flows with the tides

But you stuck like a buoy

Afloat, going nowhere

A guiding point for travelers


Sunk but not stuck

Dug your heels in

A solid foundation

For a sail to catch wind

It's pretty language, we said, but not where we're really going, though it was a very cool process and one that I'm definitely going to steal. Reminded me of David Bowie and Laurie Anderson's telephone drawing experiment.

When we went back to the original poem after that exercise, we decided to slim down what we had instead of adding a stanza. We edited; Micah changed that last stanza quite a bit. For the record, both of us love Philadelphia, we just felt that last line fit the poem. During editing, one writer would read what we had out loud while the other listened. We continued this practice by recording the final poem, which you can listen to back at the top of this post.

My free-write is below. Thanks to Micah for writing with me!

View more ArtDates HERE.


When I got fed up with New York

I stopped wanting to be underground for

hours every day

I stopped smelling piss in the subway and thinking

I'm home

I never understood when people said

my city was just so big

too much


Until I spent a few years our in Ohio

in between soyfields in a small college town

I came back to the subway and the crush of people standing shoulder to shoulder on the F and its not even rush hour and I understood what my friends from Kentucky meant

my city's too bit too much

she sucks you in with promises and the grayed-out times are a necessity

because where else could you _______, or _________, or ____________,

except here?

I've taken a lot of buses

30th St

South Station

Penn Station

Hudson Yards

and getting off that bus in Philadelphia

seeing the skyline, the skyscrapers few enough that I can name most of them

William Penn greets me personally every time I come back

My sister's friends ask me

how many years until they qualify as New Yorkers

(no dice, she says, you have to be born here),

but I wonder meanwhile how long

till I can say jawn in my everyday speech

without feeling like an imposter

(forever maybe)

The city of hard-won opportunities

of building slowly

I don't want to disappear into you, Philadelphia

Because you know me

I don't want to be anonymous

Could be anybody, could become anybody

The people at the tea shop know me

my teachers, my friends

Yet traveling around Manhattan

I see potential

Maybe even the glory of what I used to posses

(or so I think)

Skylines and starlight

and music meant for me to feel

like I can conquer the world

Planes flying overhead and people

endless people

I could see anyone, meet anyone, be anyone

The other city call me

I feel her breeze around my neck

But I feel your ground beneath me

I can't take root in air

Maybe she lives there now

The me who figured out how to hack it

Who lost weight and shaved her legs

Who learned to live with my mother just a little longer

Hardened to the cycle of rejections

Maybe she's really an artist in New York

Or maybe she's as miserable as I was


And on that note, wow! Thanks for reading this far! Go see more ArtDates HERE.

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