In 2013 and 2014 Michelle Greenblatt and I collaborated on a handful of poems – volleying lines back and forth via email – editing and re-editing as we went along, until we were both satisfied. Largely in part to Michelle's talents and indefatigable efforts, all of our collaborations were picked up for publication by various literary venues. During these exchanges, Michelle and I also shared personal anecdotes, many of which included talk of "brutal pain", "sleepless nights", and, "severe depression". It never ceased to amaze me, that in light of all these adversities Michelle was able to maintain a cheerful countenance, and accomplish more than most folks sans physical and emotional maladies.
Suffice it to say, I was frequently in awe of Michelle's wellspring of literary prowess and not-so-secretly fan-girled her for a number of years. What I did not fully realize, was that the knowledge of her inherent loveliness, the recognition of her beautiful spirit, was universal. Those that knew her (or knew of her) did not just like her – they loved her. This adoration became inarguably apparent, as the Michelle-inspired plethora of eulogies and elegies came pouring in.
Co-editing the "Devorah" issue of Unlikely Stories has been more than an honor. Paying tribute to my dear friend; poet/editor, Michelle Greenblatt, has been a heartwarming exercise in validation. On a personal level, I knew that Michelle was wonderful; a humble poet (often to the point of being self-deprecating) who was always eager to learn from, share with, and champion the efforts of her contemporaries.
There is no doubt that Michelle will continue to be sorely missed by countless persons, nor that her spirit will live on eternally, via the beautiful words with which she'd gifted this world. It is my delight to present you with some of those words, here, as well as the words of others, who have come to pay homage to one of the most noteworthy poets of our time.
The day I learned of Michelle's untimely passing was the same day my wife learned she would have to begin another round of chemotherapy to treat her advanced metastatic melanoma. Dealing with Elaine's life-and-death crisis, which ended with her tragic passing less than two weeks ago, has consumed the time that I would normally spend writing.
Michelle Greenblatt was a special person to me, no doubt in part because she expressed her appreciation for my work so passionately. Her own work impressed me so much that I felt an urge to mentor her, although I believe Sheila E. Murphy ultimately mentored her longer and more effectively. In the first of our few face-to-face meetings, I could read the hell of Michelle's existence on her face. Without a word, I sensed her pain was existential, an awareness deeper than any combination of psychological and physical diagnosis could explain. When she wrote about the dark areas of life, she wrote with clarity and authority; her pain was not mere sophomoric angst exaggerated into a romantic conceit. Seeing her pain awoke in me the social worker's urge to help; Tourette Syndrome had given me its own set of demons to cope with and I attempted to suggest things I had learned that might help her cope with her own problems.
As a social worker, I can't say I was successful. Our literary collaboration proved much more successful. Over the span of a year, we composed about 48 pages of poetry, now published by Unlikely Books as Definitions of Obscurity, that represents the most effective collaboration I've ever participated in. Our rapport was uncanny; we worked with very little direction to achieve a synthesis uncommon for two such distinctive stylists. Unfortunately, a string of personal problems compounded her health issues, making the collaboration impossible to maintain.
While she worked out her problems, I published a number of our poems in literary magazines. Several appeared in an anthology of collaborative poetry. Argotist E-Books published Dark Hope, which compiled about two-thirds of our collaborative output.
After a five or six-year silence, Michelle got back in touch with me. Since her physical condition hadn't changed, her life essentially remained the same. I realized her health prevented her from doing many things she would have liked to do and accepted what she was able to offer. Although we weren't in regular contact, she proved a great source of moral support when Elaine was stricken with what proved to be a terminal cancer.
When we did have personal contact, Michelle was enjoyable and offbeat company, equally eager to discuss progressive politics or have a good laugh. The second and last time I saw her made me wish we could have gotten together regularly over the years.
The news of her passing saddened me because I had considered her not just a friend, but part of my literary Brain Trust, the small group of people whose opinions I seek when I've written something so edgy that it exceeds my own comfort zone. And I will miss the beautiful, moving letter I know she would have written me if she had lived to learn about Elaine. I will miss her company and the body of work I felt certain would have established her literally prominence.
We try to honor her memory by keeping alive the gifted work she created in her tragically abbreviated lifetime.
My eulogistic writing for Michelle dominated Unlikely's front page for some months (that eulogy is now here), and is now scattered through this tribute issue within collaborative works, so I'll use this space to talk about Unlikely, which brought Michelle so much happiness.
First, thanks to K.R. Copeland, Vernon Frazer, and Justin Herrmann, who worked with me to edit this issue. Their aesthetic judgments, editorial volunteerism, and careful consensus-building are the strength and impetus behind this tribute issue. Thanks very much to all the contributors: who collaborated with Michelle, myself, the editors, and each other; who donated their time and energy, who worked in new mediums, and who had the courage to believe that their words, as Michelle's short life, are worth remembering. Thanks to Vincent A. Cellucci for his technical assistance and to Alan Fyfe for unknowingly providing the issue's name, "Devorah." Thanks to those who blurbed Michelle's book, Definitions of Obscurity, and to Barry Wallenstein and Jennifer Levin for their work toward Michelle's legacy. All our thanks to those members of Michelle's family—Kyle Ramsay, and especially Pearl Goldman—who helped maintain the quality of this exhibit.
Before Michelle passed, she and I had decided to retire the Unlikely Stories: Episode IV incarnation of this site and move on to Unlikely Mark V, which is a reference to a tank and a Jock Ewing and represents final assaults and out-of-control greed and whatever else we can apply to that title which we thought sounded cool. We decided to do one last issue of Unlikely Stories: Episode IV; since she could not, "Devorah" will be that final issue, and the permanent Unlikely Stories: Episode IV archive will feature "Devorah" as its main page.
Michelle and I worked out a schedule and base structure for Unlikely Mark V, based on the assumption that I would step back to the position of "Executive Editor" and she would take the role of "Editor." Without her, these issues will have to be reconsidered. At this point, I can tell you that we'll finally be leaving hand-coded HTML and using Drupal, and that the staff will be:
Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief (working on poetry and sociopolitical content)
K.R. Copeland, Multimedia Director (working on visual, audio, and audiovisual art, static and animated)
Justin Herrmann, Stories Editor (meaning Creative and Creative Non-Fiction)
and Frankie Metro, Staff Reviewer
Frankie will have a press pass, which I trust he will use ironically and often. We will continue to come up with new definitions of literary genres and force others to be beholden to them, but we hope not to use our novel definitions of "eulogy" and "elegy" again—they will never again mean so much.