Sue Landers’ latest book, Franklinstein, is a hybrid genre collection of poetry and prose that tells the story of one Philadelphia neighborhood, Germantown—a historic, beloved place, wrestling with legacies of colonialism, racism, and capitalism. The book draws from interviews, historical research, and two divergent but quintessential American texts: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.
Allison Cobb of Jacket2 calls Franklinstein “a beautifully layered book, steeped in complexity, relationship, and connection.”
To Fill Up a Place When Someone Has Lost Out of Them a Piece
The pleasure of a ruin [is] to reconstruct in the mind’s eye the structure
in its original state. The better one [understands] the ruin,
the better the imaginative reconstruction.
—M.W. Thompson, Ruins: Their Preservation and Display
The Franklin Exchange was a phone bank,
a bank of princess phones
arranged in a basement
that visitors could dial
for the purpose of retrieving
recordings of famous people
remarking on Benjamin Franklin.
I want to say Gertrude Stein was there
with a Paris exchange that
would take a while to dial,
but her presence is my bad
memory, a transposing
with George Sand whose voice
over the phone told us
Franklin made her cry.
It was always 1976
at the Benjamin Franklin Underground Experience
and I was a Philadelphian
lively in the feeling of loving
standing with my father
who would be dead
in three years
but I didn’t know that then,
it was just 1976.
Let’s call this my earliest memory.
The experience was a museum
under a ghost house, a skeleton,
where Franklin’s house
had stood before it was razed.
The ghost house, the skeleton
in the shape of a house for which
few records remained,
intended to remind visitors
of the limits of historical knowledge.
They said it was no use
trying to reproduce Franklin’s house.
The records were too few, they were
outnumbered by memories.
So let’s create a museum instead,
underground and accessible via a ramp,
a red ramp to invoke a colonial road,
which would allow visitors to descend
into the foundation of what had been
Franklin’s house. And a hall of mirrors.
Mirrors adorned with neon lights spelling out
Franklin’s various selves. Mirrors
and their neon lights designed
to inspire visitors to reflect
on our own various selves.
IT WAS 1976 IN PHILADELPHIA
AND WE WERE ALL BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
The experience would become a time capsule
in museum practice.
Decades later, they said,
the museum did not contribute
to the historical significance of the site,
not in the same way that the ghost house did,
so it would be dismantled
down to its skeleton
upon which a new body
would be built
under the skeleton
of the house that remains
in its inadequacy.