I’ve been to my share of funerals, but last night’s tearful and comic (but mostly tearful) tribute to visionary poet and collage artist Chris Toll at Ruck Funeral Home in Towson — on what would have been his 65th birthday — holds a few distinctions. First, the whole service was coordinated and emceed by Chris’s sons — a heart-wrenching, emotionally exhausting task, no doubt. Second, the place was packed. There had to have been something like 200 people there, with some standing in the back. Third, there was frequent clapping.
Several of Chris’s relatives and friends took the mic to eulogize him and read from his work. The event felt something like a teary, banter-heavy poetry reading, and so applause was a natural consequence, despite the sad occasion.
Chris Toll was an absolute force of nature in Baltimore’s literary community. His apocalyptic poems with lines like “I’ll be a desperate 17-year-old bisexual virgin / till the day I die” and “Art is the bed where I cry myself to sleep” and “Love is so hard/ and it’s all we came to do” won him the admiration of his fellow-poets, and his willingness to engage with younger writers’ work made him a decades-long influence on the scene.
Chris’s publisher, Adam Robinson, collected memories of the visionary poet in a post on alt-lit blog HTMLGIANT (complete with Emily Dickinson’s birth and death dates).
A recently completed manuscript, Life on Earth, is forthcoming from Joel Dailey’s press.