When I learned of Vito Acconci….

I wrote this after reading my friend Jennifer McCoy's piece on Vito Acconci on Hyperallergic....   at her suggestion I added it as a comment below her piece, but HPA seems to keep removing my comment-- perhaps it's too long...   so here is my piece.....

When I learned of Vito Acconci….     Thomas Lail

When I learned of Vito Acconci’s death I joined many of my friends and community in mourning the passing of the giant.   I shared only a little-   I wrote a little piece for my students’ zine, but I was reluctant to claim Vito as my story or insert my person into what I know is a much larger story.

This morning I read my friend Jennifer McCoy’s piece on Vito and it changed my mind.   Sharing the fragments of those who are no longer by our side… trading stories and making inside jokes… is part of what makes us a tribe, it’s part of what binds us together.   It gives us a common history and builds the resolve of our common purpose.   So this morning, after reading Jenn’s lovely and eloquent piece, I thought I could-- and maybe even should-- add my story to the innumerable pieces that refract and reflect Vito and what he meant to so many of us.

I met Vito in the early nineties- probably as so many met him- I invited him to do a talk.   His first words to me are in part why I am now writing.   Waiting at the train station for him to arrive, the train pulled in, people disembarked and wandered past me-- bags in tow.  No Vito.   I thought I had been keeping a pretty good eye out for him and of course I knew what he looked like.   Then a tap on my shoulder and that voice… “Thom?”  I turned and there he was.  “How did you know me?” I asked.   He tilted his head and said…   “Well, you can always recognize your tribe…”   
Had he just welcomed ME?  I felt he had.  

I saw Vito a good deal through the 90s.  He and Tara(Fracalossi) and I would talk, dine... he would gently set me right about a film or a poem.  His influence and shadow were always large, but having that contact and rapport was and still is influential beyond any words.   He once told us he was an eternal optimist.   He critiqued extant structures because he always wanted things to be better.   I think we both have held on tight to that idea.

As Jenn said, words were important to Vito…   he wouldn’t settle for vague imprecision.   His was a descriptive language of clarity.   Whether sex, narrative, film or ideas, Vito brought a mechanic’s practicality to his words and somehow transformed that plain speech-ness into a resonating poetry.  He was always really a poet.   Sure, he started as concrete poet, but really he always remained one.   The space of the page, the space of the action, the space of city, the space of the building --- these were all the same a-priori space given… carrying with them the strictures, limitations, possibilities and dreams of their frames.   

A few years ago Vito and I worked on a small chapbook that would have contained two versions of the very same piece to which Jenn referred in her reminiscence.  (This too encouraged me to write something-- sometimes we each hold a piece, but never sit down together to do the puzzle…..) A proposal for a research base in Antarctica, Vito suggested this for the project because it only existed in words and thus would be appropriate for a chap book.   One version was a descriptive proposal. The second version was the same text re-engineered into a dialogue with a slight extension at the end.   Beautiful and haunting, the piece embodied many qualities of Vito’s oeuvre.  I was thrilled to work on it.   Then other things came up and it got tabled and never completed:  a text-only proposal for a never-built project and a chapbook never-finished.  

Apart from our conversations back and forth about that project I had only sporadic contact with Vito recently.  Always right back in there when we spoke, but it wasn’t often.  There didn’t seem to be any rush.   Vito always seemed like he would be there.

There’s no wrap up.  (Thanks, Vito.) There’s no conclusion. (The tribe won’t forget the lessons.)  It just ends.