Q&A: Frank Sherlock

The Philly poet tells us about Jay-Z and who else he's reading this summer

Photo by Heather Raquel Phillips

Robert Frost once said that “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Nothing could be more true for Frank Sherlock, a Philly poet who has earned a reputation for his sometimes experimental poems about the city he calls home.

The author of Over Here and Ready-to-Eat Individual with Brett Evans, as well as a collaboration with CAConrad called The City Real & Imagined: Philadelphia Poems (there’s an excerpt available here), Sherlock is getting ready for a new reading this weekend. And most recently, he’s been working with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project on “Journeys South,” a public art project that documents the immigrant experience in South Philly.

He sat down with us to talk about his upcoming reading, what inspires his work these days and who he reads when he’s not putting pen to paper.

What will you be reading this time around?

I’ll be reading some new work that I’ve developed since I completed the Mural Arts’ Neighbor Ballads poetry-as-news street installation project. I’ll also sample some friends from distant places who haven’t read in Philly for some time.

Who will be joining you?

Well, one of Philadelphia’s best poets will be reading with me. I’ve known Kevin Varrone for more than a decade, and his work just keeps getting better. He’s amazing. James Bellflower will also be reading. I don’t know him, but our hosts JenMarie Davis and Travis McDonald believe us to be a lineup that makes sense. I look forward to meeting him and hearing his work.

What’s the focus of the event?


It’s presented by Fact-Simile Press. Travis and JenMarie have recently moved to Philadelphia, and they’ve been very active here ever since. They’re indy publishers with a focus on the book-object, often created from recycled and reclaimed materials. It’s one of the better poetry mags around these days, and their chapbooks are beautiful.

Lately, what’s been inspiring your writing?

Hmm…I’m inspired by the ongoing Tahrirs from Tel Aviv to Wisconsin, my father’s death, Grace Lee Boggs, dialogic poetries in public space, magic, the sexual assault of a friend, Lupe Fiasco, love as old as time and new as now, and the creativity of people I have the good fortune to call friends. That’s about it for today so far. Weird mix, I know.

What are some of the new projects you’re working on?


I’m organizing a PACE (Poet Activist Community Extension) action for September 24 as part of 100,000 Poets for Change- a worldwide demonstration/celebration of poetry to promote social and political transformations. Past PACE actions have played out as roving street performances and poem distributions from the Gallery to the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Who are you reading now?

I’m really taken with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Her blur and fragmentation make for re-makings of memory and transcendence of/through suffering. Cha writes,”The main body of my work is with language before it is born on the tip of the tongue.” I love that. I’m also reading Franco “Bifo” Berardi lately. I’m interested in the pathologies of desire and alienation in this historical moment of the mentalization of production. Also, I re-read Jay-Z’s Decoded, which speaks to all of the above.

Frank Sherlock, Keith Varrone and James Belflower Reading, Aug. 13 (7-8:30 p.m.), Robin’s Books and Moonstone Arts Center, 110A S. 13th St., 215-567-2615.