The Emily Dickinson of Mars: Gifts from Baltimore Poet Chris Toll

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by Teresa Duggan

Baltimore lost a visionary poet and artist last week, when Chris Toll suddenly passed away. I was very fortunate to count Chris as one of my oldest friends, so it came as a devastating loss to hear that he had died. But since both his meticulous collages and his exacting poetry are so full of the humor, heartache, and gentle devastation of insight that formed his personality, we are left with so much rich art and wisdom to pore over. I'd like to share some of these items with the library community, as well as some of his favorite books and movies that we have here the library.

I'll begin with a quote from Chris's fellow poet and dear friend Rupert Wondolowski: "Because of the naked yearning and whimsy in Toll's writing and the interweaving of lowbrow/pop culture with his more erudite side, I've always thought of him as The Emily Dickinson of Mars. "The Queen of the Vampires" assembles her "army of zombie shamans./They storm Jerusalem and rescue Jesus./No cross is is erected on top of Golgotha." He is as familiar with The Bible as he is with Marvel and DC Comics, Poe and Plath sit comfortably in the mad swirl of zombies, vampires and werewolves."

You can hear Chris Toll reading The Shaken is My Shepherd for his book trailer:

The following tributes from his fans, friends, and gifted writers tell more than I could in my own words:

Some Chris Toll lines that are resonating with me now:

from Why Isn't Try In Divinity?
"Your heart is a seed. Let it break."

from The Abyss Has No Biographer:
"How long can I stay in the inn in innocent?
Love is so hard, and it’s all we came to do."

I'm also a big fan of Chris Toll's recent book of poetry, The Disinformation Phase. You can read some of those poems online here.

And here you can view Toll's I'll Be the Invisible Girl Till the Day I Die, a PDF Chapbook from Publishing Genius. Also available as a printable PDF download.


The next piece was one of several read at his incredibly moving memorial service, published in Volume 3 of Artichoke Haircut, A Literary Arts Magazine Publishing the best poetry & fiction from Baltimore and beyond:

This Is How We Make a Broken Heart
By Chris Toll
Approximately 13.7 billion years ago,
an antimatter scientist
drops an antimatter test tube.
In the summer of 1966,
Bob Dylan leans
as he steers his motorcycle
into a curve.
Beneath a lilac bush,
the FBI sniper takes aim.
Behind the tinted glass of a limousine,
the imposter memorizes the lyrics
filed in a loose-leaf binder.
My poem comes from far away
and it’s going far away –
I’m just in the middle
like a lonesome TV station
with no employees.
The Angel of Death
has a black leather trench coat
draped around her shoulders.
She steps out of an elevator
and pulls her suitcase behind her.
Two accordion folders full of legal briefs
balance on top of the suitcase.
Her black wool sport coat
lies across the uppermost accordion folder.
The sport coat falls off and hits the floor.
Side effects include unusual dreams.
When I stand up from my dead body,
my face is a howl of stars.

I leave you with some of Chris's favorite books and movies, all of which are available from the Pratt Library. Enjoy.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson  The Essential Rumi Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, 1952   Edwin Mullhouse: the Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954 - by Steven Millhauser, 1972

Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link  The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1910 Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda, 1973   Buffy the Vampire Slayer books, Season 8

I'm Not There - Chris called it An exact visual representation of a Bob Dylan song The Dark Knight Pink Flamingos 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Harold and Maude (1971) Lars and the Real GirlCapote The Big Lebowski

So beautiful. Thank you!
Posted by: Megan at 10/3/2012 1:30 p.m.

Thanks for your comment, Megan - glad to see it appreciated.
Posted by: Teresa at 10/3/2012 4:42 p.m.

[ This comment was deleted, as it did not meet our Community Guidelines: ]
Posted by: Count Tousser at 10/3/2012 5:38 p.m.

Thanks for posting this, T. The eternally youthful light of the Toll imp and his precise dedication to art will be an inspiration until my inhaler stops working. His roots in our unique city go deep.
Posted by: Rupert Wondolowski( Visit ) at 10/3/2012 8:14 p.m.

I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your friend. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute!
Posted by: Jessica( Visit ) at 10/4/2012 10:56 a.m.

Thank you Teresa. Wonderful resources. Beautiful sentiments. Chris' words seem so relevant after his death. I'm glad you've given them another valuable outlet here.
Posted by: bob at 10/4/2012 11:33 a.m.

Thank you, everyone. Today I see that the Poetry Foundation news blog also posted a tribute: and that there are plans to publish a forthcoming chapbook of Chris Toll's poetry, aptly called Life on Earth. I'll add more here when I have confirmed details.
Posted by: Teresa( Visit ) at 10/4/2012 11:45 a.m.

Thanks, T.
Posted by: Eleanor at 10/4/2012 2:13 p.m.

So sorry to hear of Chris' passing. He was truly one of the most unique individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Sorry I didn't know him better.
Posted by: Paul McDaniel at 10/5/2012 11:54 p.m.

Nice appreciation by Bret McCabe in the City Paper today, Remembering Chris Toll:
Posted by: Teresa at 10/10/2012 12:25 p.m.

A great tribute, Teresa! I only knew Chris in passing on the arts scene - he was always at Normal's events or Creative Alliance or the Charles Theater - but he was always very pleasant and always in the know as far as music, film, lit.
Posted by: Tom Warner at 10/10/2012 3:42 p.m.

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