Philomene Long loved pigeons. She also loved poetry, her husband John Thomas, Venice, Zen Buddhism, nature, the vintage Venice apartment house where she lived. But it was an image of Philomene hovering over a pair of newborn pigeons, documented in one of her sister Pegarty’s many films, that began “The 2nd Annual Philomenian,” a remembrance to mark the second anniversary of her passing, at Beyond Baroque, August 21.
Writer-activist Jim Smith, who hosted, told the audience: “We hope there are some people here who are being introduced to Philomene tonight and will learn about her.”
He read excerpts from a newspaper article that traced Philomene’s life. Born an identical twin, she often acted in her sister’s films and videos. In her late teens, Philomene entered a convent (we saw a photo of her in a nun’s habit). When told that she seemed more of a “beatnik” than a nun, she left her habit behind and moved to Venice, where she became involved with poet Stuart Z. Perkoff. She wrote poetry of her own, studied Zen, produced literary programs for KPFK radio, did readings, taught at UCLA Extension, and married another poet, John Thomas, who was a literary as well as a soul mate.
Some of those who knew Philomene found it hard to describe her in more than a few words. R.D. Armstrong, who published two of Philomene’s books, Queen of Bohemia and Cold Eye Burning at 3 A.M., said that he found her to be “a very interesting albeit quirky person” and that someone would have a “field day writing her biography.” Local poet Hilary Kaye spoke of seeing Philomene walking on the beach, many years before meeting her, and wondering who she was. “She was so into her own aura.”
Beyond Baroque Director Fred Dewey recalled, not without some personal pain, that Philomene had “suffered more than anyone I know”. Yet, “she helped me keep my spirit alive.”
The “who” of Philomene Long was there in the poems read by her friends. Michael C. Ford had asked her to write a baseball poem for a CD compilation. Not having a baseball poem, Philomene wrote one. “And boy did she deliver!’ Ford recalled. He read the (hilarious) poem: “Marcus Aurelius at a Baseball Game: Kirk Gibson at Bat.”
What wiped everyone out however, was a video performance of Philomene’s long poem “Venice Woman Tossing Terra Cotta Planter, Hits Gunman,” about a neighbor whose act of courage saved her boyfriend’s life. As Philomene lived this adventure in words, one could almost see the events unfold as if in a movie.
“The Philomenian” will be an annual event at Beyond Baroque. Philomene Long’s books are available at the Beyond Baroque bookstore. She is part of Venice and Los Angeles literary history.