by Len Lear
About 10 years ago I took my first Pilates lesson ever at Vitality Studio in Mt. Airy, which was owned from 2003 to 2008 by a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Phylinda Moore. (It is still in business but with a different owner, Jessica Meeker.) After one hour of working out on the Pilates equipment, which resemble medieval torture devices (at least to me), I thought I would have to crawl right to the emergency room at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Parts of my body were sore that I did not know existed.
Since I do exercises every day, I thought I was in pretty good shape until the Pilates lesson taught me otherwise. For those who may not be familiar with it, Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by German-born Joseph Pilates. It is practiced throughout the US., where Pilates later lived, developed and taught his method. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 14,000 Pilates instructors in the U.S.
Since the only thing I knew about Phylinda was that she was ridiculously fit (she now owns and operates an unnamed studio at 3580 Indian Queen Lane in East Falls), I was quite surprised to get a postcard last week about a book release party at her studio this Saturday, Aug. 9, 7 p.m., for her just-published book of poetry, “Herculaneum’s Fortune.”
As it turns out, Phylinda’s imagination is just as nimble and fit as her body. The 38-year-old poet/fitness instructor has a B.A. in English literature from Oklahoma State University and a Master’s degree in fine arts from Rosemont College on the Main Line. She has had her poems published in many journals, including Fuselit, Midwest Literary Magazine, Bogg, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, Philadelphia Stories, Words & Images and Milk Money Magazine, among others.
(By the way, Phylinda explained the origin of her unusual first name as follows: “My mother made up my name to blend my parents’ names together because of the meaning of their two names. ‘Friend’ is the Greek meaning of my father’s name, Phillip, and Linda, my mother’s name, is ‘beautiful’ from Spanish, so Phylinda is ‘beautiful friend.’”)
“The physical pursuits (of her studio) support the creative, intellectual pursuits so well,” Phylinda said in an interview last week. “I cannot stress enough how important exercise is to a happy, healthy, well-balanced life. The human body is built to move. Getting up and moving or taking a break for a quick walk is one of the best things I can do for my creative work. I get unstuck, inspired, and I physically feel better.”
How did Moore come up with the unusual title for her book? “Herculaneum is the name of the town that was buried in the same volcanic eruption that covered Pompeii in 79 A.D.,” she replied. “I use the devastation and subsequent excavation of that area as a metaphor to examine how we have a similar process when we experience chaos, transition and loss. The word ‘fortune’ has a double meaning, both treasure and fate.”
Phylinda began taking Pilates classes in Oklahoma in 1999. “I loved how it made me feel from the first class,” she said, “so I started taking classes five days a week. In short order it cured my neck pain, restored my flexibility and got me back in shape. I felt stronger than ever. I started my matwork training in Oklahoma and Texas and finished my apparatus training in Washington D.C.
“I like that Pilates can be adapted to meet any need at any level. For example, I work with professional aerialists, and my oldest client is 88. Pilates helps with strength, flexibility, alignment, balance, and it is mentally engaging.”
Phylinda first moved to Philadelphia to teach Pilates on the Main Line. After one year, when her contract was up, she traveled quite a bit and even lived for a time in Malaysia and then New Orleans, but she returned to Philadelphia in 2002 “because I enjoyed living here.”
One of Phylinda’s students, Steve Segal, 67, of Mt. Airy, told us, “I came (to take Pilates lessons) to improve my tennis game. I keep coming because not only has my game improved significantly, buy my body is changing. I am feeling more flexible, balanced and focused.”
Phylinda’s new book was published by Anaphora Literary Press, which was started as an academic press in 2009 but has expanded to publish creative and nonfiction books. Some other poets whose work has inspired her were Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hayden, Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno (of Chestnut Hill), Delmore Schwartz, Anna Akhmatova, Maram Al-Massri, et al.
“No subject is off limits really,” she said. “It’s the beauty of poetry; each word can function on multiple levels. I love delving into the interior experience of things people rarely say but do sense. There’s a rich language to consider in almost everything. I’m inspired by the usual suspects — art, music, philosophy, conversation, nature … The poems in ‘Herculaneum’s Fortune’ particularly deal with what it means to experience transition, chaos and loss as a human.”