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.