Tuesday, July 31, 2007

you bet your garden

The great garden guy, Mike McGrath, the Philadelphia-based host of NPR's You Bet Your Garden, was a guest reader-performed on Live at the Writers House, our monthly radio program aired on XPN 88.5 FM. First Mike spoke a little about his work and his writing (listen to it here). Then he read a piece called "The Little Willow That Could" (also recorded and available here). He was part of our 58th show.

Monday, July 30, 2007

origins of Speakeasy

"Speakeasy" is the name given to the twice-monthly open-mic performance night at the Kelly Writers House. It's had a remarkable run for a decade. Courtney Zoffness, who now teaches creative writing at CPCW, was then an undergrad and was among Speakeasy's founders. As he was gathering information for the piece he's writing about Speakeasy, Eric Karlan received this account from Courtney:

Speakeasy started in the fall of 1997 (my sophomore year). I'd taken an English 10 creative writing class with instructor Rebekah Grossman the previous spring, and she emailed my friend Emily Cohen and I to see if we wanted to get involved in this new under-construction venue called the Writers House. I came up with the cheeky (annoying?) slogan "poetry, prose, and anything goes" and drew that sketchy mic-man as our "symbol." We recruited fellow classmate (and Wharton patron) Adam Kaufman to help with marketing, etc. Our first semester, we held the bi-weekly event in the basement of "Chats," a cafeteria-style, windowless space across the walk (currently home to a Starbucks, I believe?). We chalked up Locust Walk with big arrows, put flyer-tents on all the Chats tables and plastered all the telephone polls on campus. Alas, our attendees consisted mostly of our friends and roommates and a sprinkling of suspicious onlookers. It was only when we plugged into the now-officially-built Kelly Writers House that we acquired the resources and support we needed to grow and thrive.

For us, back then, Speakeasy was a way to connect to the writing community on our own terms. It was student-run -- which, I think, seemed less intimidating to burgeoning creative types. They weren't being graded. They weren't being judged. In fact, with Al's blessing, we even compiled submissions from regular participants and published a "Speakeasy Anthology." (Do they still do that? They should!)

Now that I'm a bit older, and a bit more settled into a regular writing life, I know that having a creative community is INVALUABLE to a pursuit that can feel overwhelming and intimidating and even isolating. It's why I went to graduate school (twice) for creative writing. It's why I loved going to Bread Loaf. It's why I joined a writers group in Brooklyn. And it's why -- though I may not have been able to articulate it then -- I felt disproportionately attached to the Speakeasy experience and the Writers House at large.

In October 2001 an episode of "Speakeasy" was recorded after it was webcast live. You can see and hear that recording here. For his Notes from the Green Couch series, Eric Karlan has written about the history and impact of Speakeasy.

Wallace Stevens's primitive fantasies

In 1986 Beverly Coyle and I co-edited the complete correspondence of Wallace Stevens and the Cuban editor-poet-impresario, Jose Rodriguez Feo - published by Duke. You can use Google book search to view selected pages from the edition here. (I also wrote about the fascinating Stevens-Rodriguez Feo relationship in a chapter of my Stevens & the Actual World [Princeton, 1991].) Stevens fantasized about his young Cuban friend alternately as a primitive and as a sophisticated intellectual stuck in primitive circumstances. Rodriguez Feo, infatuated with Stevens poetically and personally, wanted to oblige such fantasties as much as he could tolerate, although every so often he resisted, correcting the older man in stern but finally hilarious letters in return. More often, though, he happily described himself at his family villa, trying to read while Lucera the cow and Pompilio the mule made such intellection difficult. Reacting to that scene, Stevens wrote:

Somehow I do not care much about Lucera. I imagine her standing in the bushes at night watching your lamp a little way off and wondering what in the world you are doing. If it was she, she would be eating. No doubt she wonders whether you are eating words. But I take the greatest pride in now knowing Pompilio, who does not have to divest himself of anything to see things as they are. Do please give him a bunch of carrots with my regards. This is much more serious than you are likely to think from the first reading of this letter.

Excerpts from three letters are here--as well as a few other links. The book is called Secretaries of the Moon.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Coolidge on Kerouac

Clark Coolidge's PENNsound page is one I happily recommend. I think my favorite set of recordings there is from his March 2000 reading at the University of California at Santa Cruz, hosted by Peter Gizzi. Peter's introduction--also among the recordings--is itself a fine introduction to Coolidge's life and importance to contemporary poetics. After the reading Coolidge took a few questions. Someone asked about burn-out (a writer reaching the end of writing) and Coolidge responded by speaking of Kerouac's line, Where pain don't take you by surprise. Coolidge discusses Kerouac's line and Kerouac, and then he re-reads the poem in which Kerouac's idea occurs. I think the Coolidge-Kerouac connection is quite edifying. Here's the recording. And here is Coolidge's essay on Kerouac's sound or "babble flow"--for instance, "Black black black black bling bling bling bling black black black black bling bling bling bling black black black black bling bling bling...." The essay was first published in the January/February 1995 issue of American Poetry Review.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

card announces "I am here"

When Rae Armantrout agreed to present at the "9 Contemporary Poets Read Themselves through Modernism" three-night event (in 2000), and when she chose Emily Dickinson as the modern through whom to read, I knew I'd be in heaven--and I was. It wasn't just a stunningly good performance; I learned a great deal about Dickinson's presence in the poetic present; I also learned how distinct (yes, and distinct from Dickinson) Rae Armantrout is. If Dickinson is my favorite poet to teach, I think Armantrout is the second. Not to say it's easy to teach her poems, but everyone--students and I alike--feel rewarded by the effort. Here's the link to the RealAudio recording of that performance. If readers of this blog have not read or heard Armantrout's poems, may I suggest one for starters? It's a poem called "The Way", most recently published in Veil. Listen to the poem but also hear the poet talk about it in her May 2006 conversation with Charles Bernstein: click here for the segment on "The Way."

See a later entry for link to and description of a PENNsound podcast that includes a reference to "The Way" and Armantrout's discussion with Bernstein about the poem.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

a listener's guide to Ezra Pound

PENNsound's Pound archive is truly remarkable. This blog has already thus testified, per poet Peter Gizzi. The earliest recording that survives--The Harvard Vocarium reading in Cambridge--was made in 1939. The latest are some miscellaneous recordings made in San Ambrogio and Venice, between 1962 and 1972, by Olga Rudge. Richard Sieburth did the lion's share of the work in assembling and comprehending the Pound recordings. Even he--an expert on the topic--discovered some new things along the way. For PENNsound Richard wrote a "listener's guide" titled "The Work of Voice in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". On May 22, 2007, I recorded a discussion with Richard about all this. You can hear it here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

poetry in the mountains

Each year for five years now I and a group of 20 or so Penn alumni have spent three days and two nights at the Straus estate at Frost Valley in the Catskills, studying and discussing modern and contemporary American poetry. And each year a poet--whose work we read--joins us. This web page describes the project and is an archive of previous workshops.

“The few days at Frost Valley were wonderful for me. I had been feeling overburdened and distracted in general. Those three days were like a different world. I think people become better somehow in that environment. And the opportunity to be there and to concentrate on poetry did create magical moments. On a more practical level, it’s hard to believe that there is so much clean air so close to New York. Anyway, even I wrote a poem when I got back, before reverting to my more prosaic self… That you have to read poetry to write it, is true. I immediately understood, on a deeper level, what poets are trying to, and in the case of what we read, did, accomplish.”--Liz Seeley

"For me Some Trees is a true retreat. I do not retreat to vegetate in the sun – I don’t like the feeling of emptiness when I return to the details of my daily life. I prefer to stretch myself, to test my limits. Sometimes it is to challenge myself physically. Sometimes it is to dig deep into my spirituality. Sometimes it is academic and cerebral. And then there is Some Trees, three days and nights that encompass all of these possibilities in the most enjoyable way. I will not wax poetic about our marvelous leader. Suffice it to say that he has brought us the best poets from whom to learn, given us the loveliest environment for discourse and contemplation, enthusiastically led us outdoors to remind us what a wonderful world this is, and most of all, gathered us together to be enriched by each other. I took some heat for being out of the office for half the week, and it was worth every raised eyebrow."--Carol Clapp

Here is a video about the 2006 retreat (the format is RealVideo). The project has become known among the participants as "Some Trees", after the early poem by John Ashbery that has become the one poem discussed every year, a kind of keynote.

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something....

a novel of blowtorch intensity

I edited and brought out a new edition of a relatively unknown novel, Ira Wolfert's Tucker's People. The new edition was published by Illinois with my introduction. When Tucker's People was published in 1943 it was praised by the New York Times: "Wolfert's blowtorch intensity, his subtle shadings of character and meaning, his distinctive and even poetic style and his terrifying clarity of vision lift his first novel bodily above the run of the mill. Tucker's People is an important work." H. G. Wells called it "a great book by a really talented author" when it was published in Great Britain. The book was subsequently translated into many languages, including French, Italian, and Russian. Tucker's People examines the 1930s takeover of the New York City numbers racket by a gangster modeled after the notorious mobster Dutch Schultz. It is "a penetrating, sympathetic novel of frustration and insecurity, a story of little people, many of them decent people, battling against forces they are too feeble to resist and too simple to understand," according to the Saturday Review of Literature. Originally rejected for publication by Little, Brown on the grounds that Wolfert had been branded a Communist, Tucker's People was published only after Angus Cameron, a well-known editor, approached more than twenty publishers in a personal attempt to see the book in print. Within a month of its publication, the book was in its third printing. "Wolfert's blowtorch intensity, his subtle shadings of character and meaning, his distinctive and even poetic style and his terrifying clarity of vision [make] Tucker's People an important work." -- The New York Times

Sunday, July 08, 2007

the one course I dread teaching

Last fall (autumn 2006) I taught my Holocaust course again. I love teaching the modern and contemporary American poetry course, English 88, and my annual spring Writers House Fellows Seminar, but I can't say I "love" teaching the Holocaust course. Do I feel obliged or committed to do so? Am I part of the "chain of witness"? That seems much too simple. My feelings about teaching this subject are more complex than I can say. I have doubts about every part of the enterprise. Well, the proper title of the course is "Representations of the Holocaust in Literature & Film":

This course is about the enormous difficulties faced by those who felt the urgent need to describe their own or others' experiences during the genocide of the European Jews, 1933-1945. We will explore the complex options they have faced as narrators, witnesses, allegorists, memoirists, scholars, teachers, writers and image-makers. Some linguistically (or visually) face the difficulty head on; most evade, avoid, repress, stutter or go silent, and agonize. Part of the purpose of the course is for us to learn how to sympathize with the struggle of those in the latter group. This is not a history course, although the vicissitudes of historiography will be a frequent topic of conversation.

I dread the semester going in, and sometimes still feel dread at the end. But this time the students' response was extraordinarily good and positive--notwithstanding the confusion the course (the topic but also the course as designed) creates. You can get a good sense of the students' response by listening to what they had to say on the last day of the semester: mp3 audio.

on frets about the death of the book

Back in the heyday of claims about "the internet revolution"--I'd say 1997 was a peak year--there was naturally a backlash. I sympathized a little bit with the backlashers, since so many people who knew nothing about computing and information technology participated in the hype. But mostly I did not sympathize. In '96 or so I was asked to write a short review of Barry Sanders' A is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word (Pantheon, 1994) and I used it as my chance to respond to those who fretted about the impending demise of the book. (I knew Barry a bit from our days researching together at the Huntington Library and actually--from those good conversations in which he seemed no troglodyte--I was surprised when reading his book how much I disagreed with him.) Here are the first two paragraphs of the review (the rest can be found here):

Some anxieties become merely historical. One is surely Barry Sanders's. His book A is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word (Pantheon, 1994) is full of worries that the flow of data across the screen is replacing the cozy curl in the armchair--frets about the death of the book. I'm not really much concerned with the problem of making a rejoinder to Sanders, or to Sven Birkerts, whose book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Faber, 1995) eloquently joins the trend of English profs become anti-computing Jeremiahs. I'm more concerned, actually, with the way in which the logic of Sanders and Birkerts and others affects our thinking about universities at a critical moment when teaching, the intellectual relation of teacher to student, and basic university structures, can dramatically change for the better if we take a few conceptual cues from the information age. The parallels between the two situations--how electronic media alter the book and how they alter education--will have to remain somewhat implicit here, for lack of space. (But, partly to prove my point, I invite discussion of the animated sort these printed pages won't enable; see below.)

For Barry Sanders, computers are intellectually fascistic. He thinks that when young people read books, as opposed to electronic text, they experience a kind of authority (the author's) that is engaging and not forbidding--entreating interaction. Horrified, he imagines that when a "young person...enters into an electronic world, [it is] one in which the rules are immutable and pre-established.... He or she comes to know that authority, real knowledge, and skill, reside in the machine, dictated by an anonymous disembodied programmer.... Authority resides in the book as well. But it is authority, not technological ukase." This so completely mistakes electronic text that one hardly knows where to begin. Sanders is wrong about the relationship between the authority of the programmer and the individual reader of e-text. If anything, authority is both more transparent and more effectively open to response in the new media for reading and learning than in the context of print--and here is where we might conceive of a powerful author-reader/teacher-learner relation for the near future.

And my final paragraph:

Authors and teachers have as a new tool a kind of text that can "meander" by virtue of its form as well as its content, literally urging the reader to make choices at every turn. To the extent that we can resist the easy characterization of this mode of reading and learning as inhuman and "dictatorial" - with its anxious view of cultural authority as residing not in the individual creator of text but in the creator of the system syntax - then, I think, we will be better able to face a few of our problems as educators.

I suppose in those days I was sometimes accused of participating in the hype. I went around the country giving a lecture called "The End of the Lecture" (paid well to do so). Yet I do believe we should and will see the end of the lecture as we know it. More on that in some later post. Meantime, do watch a short version of that talk that was videotaped as part of Val Ross' "60-second lecture" series: here.

writing actually as works of art

The Modern Language Association conference was held in Philadelphia last December ('06) and, as usual, the local newspaper feels obliged to cover it. Usually such stories devote most of the space to mockery at arcane, whacky paper topics and seem inevitably to have a jokey, anti-PC, anti-academic tone: how silly, all this. But this year the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a piece that catches nicely, I think, the sense of what we’re doing through the Writers House and CPCW, with the whole nexus of a university’s writing programs brought together, devoted to the art and practice of “contemporary writing” rather than splitting off modern and contemporary literature from composition from creative writing from a center for the writing arts (KWH). Add PENNsound to the mix and you've got what Charles Bernstein in the article is quoted as saying: an "interest[...] in these works as works of art," as made things. "People are interested in literature," says Marjorie Perloff, and "many of them are also writers." "We're in a phase right now where students was to study literature and to write. We're in a very literary moment," said Rosemary Feal, MLA's executive director, and "there is more emphasis on what writers do, reading what writers write, and if you want to be a writer, learning how to write." The full text of the article is here.

setting Patchen to music

Kyle Gann in 1994 set lines from a poem by Kenneth Patchen to music. "Since college," he has written, "I have been a big fan of the San Francisco poet Kenneth Patchen, one of the most compassionate, lively, human voices in modern poetry. (I think of him as the John Cage of poetry, only far more emotional.) In July of 1994 my mother-in-law died, and in August death was on my mind. I had always loved Patchen's line, 'There are so many little dyings that it doesn't matter which of them is death. I sampled his voice reading it from one of his Folkways recordings, deciphered the inadvertant pitches and rhythms of his speech, and based this work for keyboard sampler on the phrase. At first the sentence is imitated by sampled toy piano in a microtonal scale, but gradually the toy piano is replaced, phrase by phrase, with Patchen's warm voice." Now listen to the mp3. Gann's piece is based on Patchen's poem "And What with the Blunders". Gann's site offers more of his music in mp3. If Patchen seems alluring, be sure to read Henry Miller's essay, "Man of Anger & Light."

daughter is to dad as beach is to mountains

Each May, as the families of undergrad seniors come to Philly for their kids' commencement, we hold a celebration to honor a group of students who have been closely--sometimes very closely--affiliated with the Writers House. This year's "senior capstone event" honored 12 seniors. We recorded all of these emotional farewells, but there's one I recommend for starters--that of Anna Levett (in the center of the photo here. She read poem called "California", meant to turn the honor around at her father, who was of course sitting in the audience. I'm the dad of a daughter myself, and so I couldn't help but imagining what such a tribute would feel like--more specifically that gracious gesture of redirecting the gratitude--would feel like. Anna's father, Kit, whom I've known a bit for a few years, received the poem as a kind of graduation gift. The poem is in a sense a parallel list of differences between daughter and father (she likes beaches, he mountains) but it's also about their common home (the California landscape that can encompass both), and so, while the poem was read aloud emotionally on this occasion, its words are not merely sentimental (though they certainly are that): they create or rather maintain a distance between these two people who love each other, revering the distance and making it part of affection.

take the no out of now

On September 26, 2000, we were visited by the rare and remarkable Gerd Stern, who in the sixties designed one of the first multi-media discotheques, which he named "The World." Stern was a poet and multi-media artist (I say was; in recent years he has been a businessman--or, more properly, a businessowner). His book, First Poems and Others, was published in 1952. A second volume, Afterimage, appeared in 1965. During the early 1960s Stern started using cut-out words to create visual collages, and soon after that started making kinetic pieces using flashing lights, and electro-magnetic components to construct poem sculptures. These were first shown at New York's Alan Stone Gallery and in Stern's first one-person show at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The next phase of Stern's work included multi-channel word visuals and sounds cut out of the real world, titled "the Verbal American Landscape." Influenced by Marshall McLuhan's written work, Stern appeared with and was associated with McLuhan for a number of years. At the Writers House he came with one of his electro-boxes--a truly groovy relic of the pre-computer days of aesthetic psychodelia. And he explained, among other things, how we can all take the no out of now. Only after that can we take the ow out of now. We were all persuaded, at least for the moment, that this is the order of things. More about Stern and his Writers House visit here.

above: "NO OW NOW," the electronic mantra, reproduced from the exhibit "from USCO through Intermedia, 1962-1979" at Thorpe Intermedia Gallery, which opened on September 9, 1979, assembled by Michael Callahan, Gerd Stern, Zalman Stern, Lind Von Helwig (Sparkill, New York)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

three young fiction writers

Michael Hyde, Courtney Zoffness, and Laura Dave each read from their fiction on Alumni Day at the Writers House, May 12, 2007. Recordings of each of the three readings--and profiles of the writers as well as photographs of the event--can be found on a special event page we've created. Click on the image here to the right and view a video excerpt from this program: Jessica Lowenthal introduces Courtney Zoffness. Courtney, by the way, teaches creative writing workshop here at Penn, which "explores the bridges and boundaries between fiction and nonfiction."

writing about 9/11

Greg Manning came to the Writers House in September 2006, almost exactly five years later, to discuss writing about his and his wife's experiences during and after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Listen to a podcast about this event, and watch a 4-minute video clip. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Love, Greg & Lauren: A Powerful True Story of Courage, Hope, and Survival, which has been published in seven languages and was a finalist for several book awards. For more about Greg and Lauren, here's a CNN story.

Rosanne Cash

The first Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium at the Kelly Writers House featured Rosanne Cash. The event took place on April 12. Anthony DeCurtis moderated a Q&A with Rosanne, and she played several of her songs (guitar and voice only--what a treat), including a favorite of mine, "Black Cadillac." The session was recorded and audio is available for free download (right-click on the link above). The July/August 2007 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette includes a good article about the program. Rosanne will be a hard act to follow, as it were, but we'll be hosting another singer-songwriter symposium next spring. The photo here is of Sam Preston, Penn's eminent demographer and former dean (and avid songwriter himself), with Rosanne after a wonderful celebratory dinner in the Writers House dining room.

finding Stevens along dream streets

Melanie Almeder has a new book of poems out, On Dream Street. "La Pluie," a poem written "after Marc Chagall," is in the Wallace Stevens idiom: "The only green thing: the tree at the center, / bent by the pull of wind in the frail sails of its blossoms." I'd say Almeder is not a Stevensian poet overall: she believes in natural description and doesn't dwell on abstractions as lovely in themselves. But she's got the Stevens phrasing here and there and it's personally gratifying to me that she does. Why? Because I taught her, not at Penn as a member of the faculty--but at Virginia when I was there teaching as a doctoral student. Melanie was even then--as a freshman--a fine writer and a great student. And I recall that in class (although it was supposed to be a composition class of sorts) I read aloud from Stevens' poetry semi-obsessively. The book is published by Tupelo.

Adrienne Rich, "quite struck dumb"

Surely one of the highlights of my involvement with the Writers House Fellows program--which has brought three eminent writers to the cottage at 3805 Locust Walk each year since 1999--was the visit in April 2005 of Adrienne Rich. She gave a wonderful reading and we had a terrific interview-style conversation the next morning. What stunned and moved me most was her very positive reaction to us and her praise of the Writers House and the students and even of me. Her response was everything we'd hope for when we experimentally created the Writers House in the first place--and more. Of the new poems (from School among the Ruins) she read for us, I was most taken by a short poem called "Wait." Here is an mp3 of Rich reading the poem, and here is her 34-second introduction of it.

five recordings of "This Is Just to Say"

I hope readers of this blog can forgive me for gushing about PENNsound's William Carlos Williams page. There you'll find links to every recording of Williams that has been found so far. For the moment, most of the poetry readings he gave are available in single recordings (not broken up by poem), but we have been able to clip the longer files and produce five versions of WCW reading "This Is Just to Say." Each is a downloadable mp3, so click away and enjoy: 1 2 3 4 5. And here is the text of that famous poem.

baseball: symbol of American civic religion

I adore baseball in every way it's possible to do so: see it live, play it (rarely but longingly), view it on MTV.TV, read about it. I always read at least two baseball books each summer. (One of this summer's reads is Dan Okrent's Nine Innings.) My interest in the 1950s of course leads me to baseball through another route--actually it's three interests converging: baseball, the 50s, and poetry. The best expression I know of this is Gerald Early's essay published in the American Poetry Review in July/August 1996, "Birdland: Two Observations on the Cultural Significance of Baseball." I put an excerpt from this essay on my 1950s site.

West Philly is home

Back in 1998, my employer, the University of Pennsylvania, created a mortgage incentive plan: the idea was and is to encourage Penn-affiliated families (staff and faculty) to choose to live in Penn's neighborhood rather than the Main Line or South Jersey. I had wanted my family to live in West Philly and this was just indeed the incentive I needed. I was the first Penn person to use the plan; probably that is why The Philadelphia Business Journal came out to the house to do a story on the program featuring my move. If one goal of this project was to induce faculty to
be more present on campus and more involved in the life of the university's neighbors, I think it surely worked in my case. The main force behind this innovative program--and the mortgage incentive system was just one part of it--was Judy Rodin, then president of the university. In the fall of '06 I invited Judy back to Penn (she'd left to run the Rockefeller Foundation) to give a talk about the urban university. We recorded this talk, and I also produced a podcast about it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Auschwitz: once you're in the room, you can't get out

Daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, Debbie Fischer, asks her father, as he lies dying, to tell her the real story of his time at the death camp. He has refused to tell her much all these years, always giving a blandly positive response to life in the camp. Here is the audio recording of her testimony about his testimony: mp3.

See my Holocaust site for much more.

Bob Gibson per Roger Angell

Roger Angell offers commentary here and there throughout Ken Burns' 9-part (or 9-"inning") documentary Baseball. In what is perhaps my favorite of his appearances in this film, he talks about Bob Gibson. Here is an mp3 recording of it. Angell was a Writers House Fellow in 2005, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him (mp3). He
enjoyed his time with the students and the other people of the Writers House community, as he said so, generously, a few days later. Eric Karlan has written a nice summary of that interview. "Angell concluded his several-day stay in Philadelphia," Eric writes, "with an excerpt from a piece on the 1975 World Series, the infamous Game 6 when Carlton Fisk willed the ball fair for the game-winning home run. As he does so well, the longtime New Yorker writer provides a fresh, provoking perspective on an event. He leaves the Writers House thinking about 'caring.' Despite being a fanatic, Angell recognizes the triviality of baseball in the grand scheme of life. And that is why, as he imagines people across New England giddy and elated at the Red Sox victory, he reminds all of us not only of how odd it is that we dream through sports teams, but how it has seemingly ceased to matter to everyone what they care about - 'as long as the feeling is saved.'" You can hear other Angell clips (on the early Mets, on NYC as the capital of baseball in the 1950s, on Bobby Thompson's homer, on Willie Mays, on the Red Sox 6th game victory in 1975, and on Babe Ruth's final weekend) by going to the 2005 Writers House Fellows reading list. Listen to Angell read from his essay about the 1975 World Series.

Pound was punk to Gizzi

"I LOVE, I mean LOVE that Pennsound has put up all the Pound material," wrote Peter Gizzi to us not long after the Ezra Pound recordings were added to PENNsound. He continued: "I have it all in bootlegs and tapes of course but it is wonderful to have it there, finally, I mean it is THE MOST OUT there of anything on that site or ubu web! EP is the best. I used to listen to those tapes over and over in my car in the late 70’s when I was a teenager. To me it was Punk. And hearing it now it brings back summer and my youth! Listening to the Spoleto recording, maybe my fav for its restrained intensity, I am taken aback just how his late syntax has totally effected me. Liz and I were listening and we could hear my poem 'Homer’s Anger' loud and clear for instance. Amazing. And Richard Sieburth’s headnote makes me want to listen further." For more praise of PENNsound, see this.

a poet starting with X

My modern American poetry site is set up alphabetically. I've never had a link under "x." The spoken word poet ("I have been involved in what is now called spoken word since 1982") Emily XYZ wrote to me suggesting that I correct this omission, and so I have.

Jack Spicer on Wallace Stevens, 1965

In one of Jack Spicer's now-famous lectures in Vancouver, 1965, he discusses (and commends) the "serial poem." After a while he takes questions, and someone asks him whether Wallace Stevens didn't indeed write serial poems--perhaps "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction" is one? Spicer's response is fascinating. I've taken the long audio recording of the whole lecture, and selected just the discussion about Stevens. The whole lecture can be found on Spicer's PENNsound page and the excerpt (3:27) can be heard here: mp3.

discussion with Steve Evans about recorded poetry

Does the ubiquity of recordings of poets reading their own poems change the way we teaching modern and contemporary poetics? On April 23, 2007, I had a good conversation with Steven Evans about this in my office at the Writers House. Here is a slightly edited recording of that conversation: this link takes you directly to a downloadable mp3 file. Steve's Lipstick of Noise site is subtitled "listening and linking to poetry audio files." I visit the site at least twice weekly.

on Primo Levi's "Gold"

At an event we called "7 Up on Gold"--featuring seven people speaking for seven minutes each about gold, the color or the element--I chose to speak about the chapter entitled "Gold" in Primo Levi's brilliant book, The Periodic Table. I've taught the book a number of times in my course on the Holocaust. My "7 Up on Gold" talk about the chapter was recorded in audio. You can go here and see the link to the audio (downloadable MP3 file). I was once asked to write a paragraph about a book I've read and re-read many times. I chose Levi's The Periodic Table, and here is what I wrote:

By now I have read Primo Levi's The Periodic Table a dozen times. It defies categories. It is partly a scientific treatise, partly post-Holocaust ethics, and partly a modernist prose-poem of fragments. For me the book always bears re-reading, inspiring me toward true interdisciplinarity and an ethical modernism. Neither at Auschwitz nor during most of the years afterward did Levi fit well as a person. His writing, certainly at first, similarly fell between categorical cracks. He dared to see in organic chemistry, the "lesser" of the chemistries, a powerfully figurative organicism. In this very special case, organicism--usually thought to be about wholes rather than fragements--served to enact a modernist sensibility in the very leaves of a book telling autobiographically but non-narratively of the dangers of inertness, and, finally, of the wonderful possibilities of the shifting present discernible in the marks we put here and now on the page.

This last point ("here and now on the page") refers to the stunning ending of the final chapter, "Carbon." Oh, blog-readers, read that!

my podcasts

I happily host two podcast series. One is PENNsound podcasts and features recordings from that vast archive of poetry recordings. The other series, Kelly Writers House podcasts, presents excerpts from various sorts of programs, events, seminars and discussions at the Writers House. Please listen and let me know what you think.

the very first news article about the Writers House (1995)

My former student Randi Feigenbaum was a big-wig at Penn's student-run daily newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian at the time the Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk was just forming. It was in those weeks and months known as one of the "pilot" projects of the "21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience" at Penn. Randi's news piece was published in the December 7, 1995 issue of the DP. It gives a pretty good sense of what we were trying to get started there. To this day, Randi is a big supporter of the Writers House.

Is "Filreis" Portuguese?

In 2003 I corresponded with the cultural director of a Portuguese foundation. He responded to the possibility that my family's name is indeed Portuguese. I'm not sure what the origin of this family assumption is--perhaps it's been passed down to my father's older brother through his father or his brother who passed through western Europe on the way to Brooklyn twice in the 1910s and '20s (once before WW1 and once again after). Western Europe--France, we assume--where one of these Filreises made contact with French or Spanish/French Filreises and learned of the ancestral connection to Iberian peninsula. We put that "news" together with the clear sense that the families were part of a Sephardic community in Warsaw and have assumed that they were part of the exilic migration away from Spain to northeast Europe in the late 15th-century and early 16th. It is very difficult to track this but since Jewish families typically bred very closely within the Jewish community, there is probably a way of following the lineage. I haven't figure out how yet. I suppose first would be to find out definitely where the members of the Warsaw family were killed during the Holocaust; I'm 99% sure it was at Treblinka, the killing camp that destroyed Warsaw's Jews in 1942 and '43.

I am the very model of a member of the faculty....

I maintain a deep and eleborate web site about the culture of the 1950s--with an emphasis on the cold-war and literary politics. Recently I posted to that site a verse parody written in November 1949 by an anonymous member of the faculty of one of the California colleges. It's based on Gilbert and Sullivan and was given the title "Ode to Hysteria: University Division." Of course it's a response to the anti-communist loyalty oaths of that moment: here's that poem.

Tom Devaney's poem written for my 50th

Tom Devaney wrote a poem to mark my 50th birthday back in March of 2006. It was recently published in Arts Poetica and here's the link. The poem that Tom read at our post-9/11 event - called "Finding the Words" - I found very beautiful and moving, even though--as Tom pointed out--it had nothing directly to do with the World Trade Center attacks and had been written six months earlier.

audio & video recordings: interviews, introductions, mini-lectures

PENNsound includes a page that lists and links audio and video files of me conducting interviews, giving introductions, and teaching poetry. The page is here and includes links to audio and video of my interviews with Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Cid Corman, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, June Jordan, Carl Rakosi, Adrienne Rich, Lyn Hejinian, Richard Sieburth, Steve Evans, and others. These are just the poetry-related interviews. Here you'll find my interviews with John McPhee, Jamaica Kincaid, Richard Ford, Cynthia Ozick, Ian Frazier, Roger Angell, E. L. Doctorow, Russell Banks, James Alan McPherson, Susan Sontag, Walter Bernstein, Michael Cunningham, Charles Fuller, Tony Kushner, David Sedaris, Grace Paley, and others.

redesigned home page (finally)

I've have what my IT pals call an "early 90s-style" home page. So I've ditched it - or, rather, hidden the old full page under a more elegant surface. The new front page is here: www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/.