Thursday, September 30, 2010

Writers House Fellows seminar, spring 2011 (Mondays 2-5)

Note: Admission to this course is by permission of the instructor only. Applicants should contact Jamie-Lee Josselyn at

This is the 13th annual Kelly Writers House Fellows Seminar, which features visits by very eminent writers as "Fellows" of the Kelly Writers House, the student-conceived writing arts collaborative at 3805 Locust Walk. The seminar is taught by Professor Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Writers House, and will include extended visits to the class by Edward Albee, Susan Cheever and Marjorie Perloff. Cheever is a memoirist, novelist, and essayist, with a new biography of Louisa May Alcott, and has written powerfully about her father, John Cheever. Marjorie Perloff, whom many say has been the most influential critic and supporter of experimental writing in the U.S. and has written a memoir of her family's escape from the Nazis and the intellectual legacy of that exile. Albee is widely considered to be, simply, the greatest living American playwright. Throughout the semester we will study the work of these three writers—and some of the materials "around" them that make the particular contemporary context in which each operates so compelling. Enrollment in the course is strictly limited. Students will be enrolled only by permit of the instructor and are asked to send a one- or two-paragraph statement by email to describing why they want to participate in this project and what academic (or perhaps non-academic) experience makes them especially eligible. Participants will write frequent short position papers; will engage in collaborative projects following up each of the Fellows' visits; will be involved in interviewing the three Fellows; and will take a comprehensive final examination. Participants must be available on three Tuesday mornings during the semester. The Writers House Fellows program is made possible by a generous grant from Paul Kelly.

he caused a poetry culture war in Poland

Thanks to Phillip Barron, we now make available recordings of Piotr Sommer who read from Continued at the National Humanities Center in 2005--poems in Polish and his own translations in English. Sommer has been responsible for giving Polish readers access to Allen Ginsberg and Frank O'Hara. Sommer's O'Hara translations into Polish (1987) led to a small poetry culture war between the young experimental group of poets influenced by O’Hara, known as “The Barbarians,” and their antagonists “The Neo-Classicists," who defended traditional Polish poetry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

poets of New York via Folkways

In 1959 Aaron Kramer recorded a Folkways album called Serenade: Poets of New York. Thanks to Aaron's daughter, we have a copy of the LP and permission to make the recording available through PennSound. Among the "New York" poets he reads is the remarkable (and personally although not literarily bizarre) Maxwell Bodenheim, a bohemian who became a communist who eventually was murdered in the Bowery. Aaron concludes the recording by reciting a poem by Alexander Berkman. Here is a link to PennSound's Aaron Kramer page. This is the only public source of recordings of him.

Monday, September 27, 2010

the Writers House in a 16-minute video

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

Last spring Emma Fox--then a high-school intern at the Writers House--did a ton of filming while we all ran around crazily during the busiest time of our program year (April and early May). Emma made a 16-minute video and here it is. We'd be delighted if you want to embed this video on your web site or blog; just go here and you'll see the code to copy and paste.

Bernadette Mayer on giving birth

On Pacifica Radio, April 22, 1979, Susan Howe interviewed Bernadette Mayer. They discuss, among other things, Mayer's poem "Baby Come Today, October 4th" and then Mayer gives a terrific reading of that poem about giving birth. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas we at PennSound have now segmented this reading, which had previously been available as a single file. As usual during the process of segmentation, we (re)discover some gems. Mayer's reading of "Invasions of the Body Snatchers" is another such. Here is our Mayer author page, and here is a link to all the shows for which recordings survive of Susan Howe's radio show aired on Pacifica and WBAI in the late 1970s.

Friday, September 24, 2010

group app icons and find yourself less rather than more organized

I love the iPhone and use almost all the applications I've added to the thing. Sure, there are a few I got (mostly for free, but some I've purchased) but don't use. But the apps I use fill up a number of screens. And until recently I really didn't know how to organize them. Grouping them didn't quite work. I put the most-often used on the first screen but after that it's been a hodge podge. Then a new operating system for the iPhone came out, with a feature that enables you to slide a number of related apps into one generic icon; you can name the icon (e.g. "news" or "audio/radio"). This is much better but notice that the single-app icons are, well, iconic - visually memorable and distinct. But these new grouped categories are not visually distinct and I have a difficult time seeing them. At right is my first screen of apps on my phone. The clock (for setting my morning alarm) is really easy to see: it's a clock! My RunKeeper app (which I use every time I run) just really shouts: I'm a runner! But then there's "sports," "finance," "notes," "weather." Nothing distinct about them. So as it turns out it takes me just as long to find the apps, although they are neatly arranged and taxonomized, as it did before when they were all scattered about. This is perhaps not worth the complaint. But maybe among my blog's readers are Apple designers (actually I know there are): We need an upgrade of the operating system that will enable users to create the icon for the app groups. (By the way, I notice that this feature is not yet available for the iPad. I suspect this is so because the ugliness that results would look really ugly on the bigger device. I'm guessing that they're working on it.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Arabic words in English

Leonard Schwartz spent the day with us at the Writers House. We recorded an episode of PoemTalk at 3:30 and then later gathered in the Arts Cafe for a reading. The first set of poems he read - relatively new work - went under the series title "Apples Anyone?" Here (in the YouTube video above) he reads "Apples Anyone? #6." This and the other poems in the series of made almost entirely of English words derived from the Arabic. This was his constraint, and when he felt that the constraint was leading him to too much unbalanced didacticism about the importance of cross-cultural poetics, he layered in phrases and diction from "conservative" Shakespeare. This poem, like the others, ends with a list of English words from the Arabic.

political writing

The Writers House will be hosting a mini-course taught by Howard Fineman on political nonfiction. The University of Pennsylvania Current today features a story about this project. In it I am quoted as follows: "One of the most basic structural problems with the curriculum is the idea of the semester,” says Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English and one of the founders of the Writers House. “It often prevents us from engaging brilliant people in the extended Penn community who would be great teachers and mentors of our students but, because they are geographically far-flung and in the world of everyday practice, a semester-long course is impossible. So, I'm thrilled that through the Writers House we can create mini-courses and that someone like Howard Fineman can actually teach our students, despite his otherwise crazy schedule." Here is your link to the article.

she chose Penn over Princeton because KWH smelled like home

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer features a long article about the newly renovated kitchen at the Kelly Writers House, now renamed in honor of Ed Kane and Marty Wallace: The Kane-Wallace Kitchen. Here is a link to the whole article, and here, below, are the final paragraphs of the piece:

Ed Kane, a venture capitalist who lives in Concord, Mass., says his first connection to the Writers House came through Paul Kelly, a 1962 Penn and 1964 Wharton School grad, who funded the renovations that made this old house ready for prime time. Both men were university trustees.

Kane's second connection is through daughter Eleanor. She chose Penn over Princeton, Ed Kane says, because the Writers House "smelled like home."

At home, mom Martha Wallace had a career in computer software, but whenever possible she had meals made from fresh ingredients on the dinner table.

"I wasn't a fanatic about it," Wallace says. "But I come from generations who cooked from scratch. My grandmother made her own ketchup.

"For my part," Wallace says, "I didn't make things from a box or buy prepared foods."

Ellie Kane, who majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing, worked for a year after graduation at the Writers House, where, in addition to recruiting prospective students, she perfected a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (see recipe). She's leaving soon for the Farm School in Athol, Mass., to pursue a career in agriculture and education.

In other words, she's becoming a farmer.

Here is a PDF copy of the article.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rachel Zolf

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

Rachel Zolf reading at the Writers House, introduced by Rachel Levitsky.

Eileen Myles

Listen to an announcement about Eileen Myles' visit to the Writers House, coming up on October 13.

as a way of getting to political poetics

In Praises & Dispraises--a book about political poetry finished not long before his awful and untimely death--Terrence Des Pres began with a remarkable chapter on Antigone. I think I'm going to teach this chapter/essay in my course on the holocaust when I teach it next year. Here is a link to a PDF copy. I've written about Des Pres (my former teacher) here before; click also on the tag below for more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Toronto poet, hand-delivered to KWH

Victor Coleman, born 1944 in Toronto, worked for the Toronto Star, Oxford University Press and then did a stint as the linotype operator for Coach House Press. Then for ten years he was the editor in chief at Coach House. And he's done a thousand other things. The other day who should step into the Writers House here in Philly but Andrew Whiteman, the Canadian songwriter and musician, longtime Toronto guy (and now in Montreal). Most people know Andrew from his band, Broken Social Scene. Anyway, Andrew is a fan of PoemTalk, he says, and spends a good deal of time listening to PennSound and Ubuweb recordings. He had with him some recordings of Victor Coleman, whom he thinks should be better known in the U.S. and generally. Well, thanks Andrew, and now we indeed have a new PennSound author page for Victor Coleman. So far we have segmented recordings of three readings, two from 1980 and one from this year.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Joyce reads

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

Joyce Carol Oates reads at the Writers House last year. She was the first of three 2010 Writers House Fellows. For more about the Fellows program, click here. Note: This recording runs for about an hour.

Leonard Schwartz here this week

Poet and host of the great radio program, "Cross Cultural Poetics," Leonard Schwartz will be visiting the Writers House this Thursday. He will give a reading at the Writers House at 7 PM. For more details, click here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I hope readers of this blog will also follow me on Twitter:

sincere vs. disoriented: which side are you on?

I listened to the current Poetry Magazine podcast - a monthly show hosted by Don Share and Christian Wiman, editors of Poetry. They feature readings from and discussions of poems, reviews and essays appearing in that month's issue. Tony Hoagland talks with them by phone about his essay ("Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness") dividing contemporary poetry into two tribes or camps, one (in short) sincere and the other (in short) disoriented. The very terms I find misleading and troubling. Have a listen to the podcast (you can also find it on iTunes). And see, below, my exchange with Don Share on Facebook.

The web site for the magazine offers this "discussion guide" on the Hoagland piece:

The September issue of Poetry includes an essay on poetics by Tony Hoagland, who considers two kinds of poetic meaning. Hoagland, a poet and professor at the University of Houston, distinguishes between poems that familiarize and those that confuse, “the gong of recognition versus the bong of disorientation.” His piece focuses on the latter sort, the “poetry of derangement.” Hoagland suggests that vertigo (which he defines as “a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated with looking down from a great height . . . dizziness”) “is the preeminent topic of contemporary poetry” and “may be the dominant stylistic inclination as well.”

Hoagland points to various techniques of imitating and inducing vertigo: non sequitur, fragmentation, disassociation, truncation. (For further reading on this general topic, see his 2006 Poetry essay “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment” and Stephen Burt’s 1998 Boston Review exposition on Elliptical poetry.) Do you agree with him that vertigo helps define contemporary poetry? If so, does it play other roles than the ones Hoagland discusses? Further, why would a poet employ such a tactic in the first place?

If you want me to post a response, please email me at afilreis[at]gmail[dot]com.

Anne Frank's fetching tartan plaid fashion cover

The Westport CT Country Playhouse is putting on a production of The Diary of Anne Frank along with a series of events intended to remind theater-goers and neighbors of the details of that genocide. One of the events features Lawrence Langer, whom I admire very much. Here's a blurb from an emailed newsletter:

Concurrent with the production of The Diary of Anne Frank, Westport Country Playhouse presents an unprecedented series of lectures, film-screenings, talkbacks, art exhibits and panel discussions designed to provide a wider context in which to access the life of Anne Frank, the Holocaust, genocide and issues of social justice. Join an important conversation with influential scholars, artists, advocates for human rights, educators, documentarians and eyewitnesses as they shed light on a broad spectrum of fascinating subjects. These programs, the fruit of partnerships with sixteen community organizations, offer something for every interest, and will enhance your understanding and appreciation of one of the most urgent stories of the twentieth century.

But then there's this among the associated events:

Making Diaries: A Family Workshop Based on The Diary of Anne Frank
Friday, October 8
Westport Arts Center
Join Molly Ephraim, the actress who plays Anne Frank, as she recites Anne's powerful words, and then create your own story in a mixed-media diary using a range of innovative art materials.

I'm sure I deserve some flack for being impatient with this, but...come on. Maybe it's the pink tartan snap-closed diary that's setting me off. But really. If there are ways to engage children aged 6 through 12 on the topic of the Holocaust (and I have my doubts, as I've said here in this blog in various ways), making your own "mixed-media diary using a range of innovative materials" is certainly not it. I rather think it's appropriate even for a family-oriented theatrical center to say: In this one instance, we suggest that you leave the children at home. A friend, in pointing out this session, acidly observed: "They get points for trying to shake up the Westport cocktail ice cubes with some Holocaust Awareness this Fall, but check out session with the Anne actress who will help you do your own diary--presumably with the fetching pink tartan plaid fashion cover! Had Anne just had a nice diary cover like this no doubt it would have eased her suffering."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

the whole island

Mark Weiss has edited Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, an anthology given the title The Whole Island. published recently by UC Press. We're bringing Mark to the Writers House for an event on September 30. Here's an audio announcement about it. The anthology includes several poems by Jose Lezama Lima and a few others from the so-called "Origenes" group.

open access in action

As a strong proponent of open access, I'm an avid user of both Selected Works and Scholarly Commons. My Selected Works site is I've just begun to add old articles and book chapters to the site, but I can say that it's not at all hard: find the offprint or make a photocopy, scan, upload, add the bibliographic information with an easy interface, click. Now anyone can read these heretofore hard-to-find essays, reviews, etc. As I do this work I ponder whether anyone will care, but then I receive monthly stats on how many people have downloaded each article. I'm amazed and gratified by how many. I suspect many if not most are outside the academy, far-flung geographically, or are high-school students without access to a good library.

top 20 PoemTalks in the last month

The most-often listened-to PoemTalk episodes in the last month: 1) Bruce Andrews, 2) Robert Creeley, 3) William Carlos Williams, 4) Wallace Stevens, 6) Charles Olson, 7) Robert Grenier's Williams, 8) Susan Howe's Emily Dickinson, 9) Adrienne Rich, 10) Ezra Pound, 11) Ginsberg sings Blake, 12) Barbara Guest, 13) Sharon Mesmer, 14) Ted Berrigan, 15) Gertrude Stein, 16) Lydia Davis, 17) Cid Corman, 18) Kit Robinson, 19) Rae Armantrout, 20) John Ashbery.

at the ball game

The Poetry Society of America's web site is featuring short pieces on favorite poems. Spring and All is perhaps my favorite poetic sequence, for what it's worth, so when asked by PSA to write about a short poem, I chose the "At the ball game" section of the sequence. I was at the time writing an essay for the Cambridge University Press companion to baseball (my first time ever publishing something in print on the beloved game) so WCW's take on the crowd struck me particularly. (My essay for the Cambridge book is on "the baseball fan," a topic I'd written about several times in this blog.) Here is your link to the little essay on the PSA site.

on Williams's Paterson

Joe Milutis at New Jersey as an Impossible Object has in my opinion mastered the form of the blog as an ongoing investigation or project. I've written about it here before. A few years ago Joe came to Philly wanting to talk about William Carlos Williams and he recorded a conversation with me, Randall Couch and Jessica Lowenthal. He edited it and made it available in segments as mp3 audio files. You can find links to the audio and Joe's nice entry on his visit here but I'm happy to reproduce the links below:

1. on teaching Paterson
2. Paterson, keep your pecker up
3. Ginsberg and Nardi
4. Sam Patch and general privation
5. the discovery of the triadic line
6. approaches to the knowledge
7. Paterson and the world

Friday, September 17, 2010

on the seminar

As it appears in Selected Essays about a Bibliography: Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, my short essay "Seminar": [PDF]

Ted Berrigan: it's too hot

Ted Berrigan on the radio: "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," originally broadcast on Berkeley’s KPFA-FM and hosted by Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson, August 11, 1978. In this excerpt of a transcription made recently by Michael Nardone for Jacket2, we join the three about 10 minutes into the show:

You just mentioned the secret actually of all my entire poetry, which is that it has to do with planes of reality, of perception. Not of reality, because that sounds theoretical, but with planes of being coming not in a theoretical sense but in a sense of trying to get accurate.

I am talking to you but he is thinking about it while I am talking.

And they, they said something about this, too. And other peoples’ voices come into your work.

They are over there, though, and I is here. And he is a little bit over there but is near.

So there’s an incredible sense of location.


Like when you say three hundred and sixty degrees, you get a center.


And you get a circumference, and a point of the center.

There’s something feminine if you can actually get three hundred and sixty degrees, which I didn’t realize, I suppose, until a few months ago that you could have planes and still have a circle, which is a really nice idea.


All that sounds so abstract, and it’s not abstract when I’m doing it. It’s simply trying to have something exist without describing it. To name its parts rather than describe it. Description is slow. I can’t keep up to the pace of my metabolism when I am using description usually. But I can do it while simply naming things. You know I don’t use images much but I will name an image. I mean I will say a tree. I don’t try to make a picture of a tree for you. I assume—

What about in your novel, in Clear the Range?

What about it? I mean, that’s another story entirely. I mean that’s a poet’s novel. I wrote it as this poem, was writing it. It’s a genre work, a genre which I was thoroughly familiar with, the Western novel. And I used the genre then to make everything be very slow and to make this setting in which there was a hero and a villain. Almost like Commedia del Arte. Then there was a girl. And then there were various other characters, including a horse and a mule. But, I mean, the main thing that was going on was that the villain and the hero were constantly having these Western confrontations, in which they didn’t finally pull out their guns and shoot each other. And they were very similar sort of, except that the villain was obviously villainous, and the hero was obviously the hero.

Anytime one of them did anything like go into a restaurant or a bar, then the other one was a waiter or the bartender, and they had these confrontations every minute. I think I thought I was making something similar to Camus’ book The Stranger, in which the guy, Meursault, the hero, walks around and becomes totally bemused by the sun smashing on his brain every minute and he ends up, it seems, that he killed somebody. He doesn’t quite remember, or he does remember but he doesn’t know why he did it or any thing in particular, but he did it for a very good reason: it’s too hot.

- - -

Here is the recording of the original show, how housed at PennSound.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

are you writing poems?

During a LINEbreak show, hosted by Charles Bernstein in New York in 1995, Bruce Andrews was asked: "Do you think of yourself as writing poems?" Here was his answer:

That's an interesting question. I do now. I guess when I started, I started writing in the 1969-1970 period, I thought of it as a kind of literary writing or experimental work in writing, more than I thought of it as poetry. Poetry I think of now as an institutional designation, so as soon as I began publishing and getting in touch with other writers, it was clear that any future for anything I did or anything they were doing was going to be under the category of poetry as defined by other people. So, over the years I've just accepted that.

I remember, for instance, when the term 'language poetry' started getting thrown around, and my original nervousness about the term stemmed mostly from the P word rather than from the L word. You know, that I thought of it as language writing, a term that I wasn't all that displeased with, because it suggested almost a new genre or a new sub-genre possibility that hadn't yet been defined, so that it would be a type of writing that had the certain way of foregrounding the way meaning was produced and operated on in a social world, rather than language poetry, which then implies that language is the adjective referring to a sub-category of what we already think of as poetry.

Here is an audio recording of the LINEbreak show featuring Bruce Andrews.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Carl Rakosi on writing political poetry

Speaking of the 1930s: Carl Rakosi was a member of the communist party and, when he was merely 99 years old, several of us at the Writers House asked him to talk about the problems and possibilities of writing a politically radical poetry. He gave a halting but very thoughtful response. Keep in mind that he was speaking in 2002 about the period 1938-41. It's hard to see clearly through the fog of warring politico-poesis. Many thanks to Henry Steinberg for editing this segment. The questioner is Tom Devaney. The whole interview with the 99-year-old Rakosi can be found here.

from the 'twenties to the 'thirties

About a decade ago I recorded a mini-lecture about the transition from the American poetry of the 1920s to that of the 1930s. It gives some obvious dramatic examples of big changes, e.g. Isidor Schneider's move from latter-day imagist in the mid-1920s to communist poet of the 1930s. I left out any nuance here, but then the nuance became the subject of my most recent book, which in a sense refutes the standard description of the big change ("from modernism to radicalism"). However, I do stand by this little audio mini-lecture as a first foray into the topic for my students. And naturally, in the course, we read lots of examples.

natural abstraction

My former student Ed Fuhr is a photographer. The shot above is one of his natural abstractions (a garden hose in a swimming pool, I believe). I taught Ed at Virginia in the--when was it, Ed? late 1970s or 1980--and we've been in touch, on and off, in recent years. So here's a shout-out to Ed!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

magazine troubles, yes, but where's the story?

Yesterday's Times ran a story on the Arts page - something of a lead story - that struck me as oddly reported and unfinished, and it bothered me quite a bit that they'd even run it. Where was the story? At the University of Virginia, the venerable and, until recently, rather sleepy old quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, is having some problems. Its editor, whom almost everyone praises for having revived the journal, seems to be a bad manager and supervisor. There have been complaints to the university from the staff. The editor was turned town for a faculty appointment in the English department. The managing editor, who had suffered from depression, recently committed suicide. The article implies a cause-and-effect connection between and among these factors but--unless we're not being told some crucial fact--it just doesn't add up. Bad relations between a university-affiliated journal and the English department? No news there. A talented editor is bad at running his office? University staff complain about poor management? No news there either. A person suffering from depression takes his own life? Sadly, no news there. So where's the story? I missed any sort of narrative smoking gun here. Presented with this story, as written, the Times editors should have killed the article or asked that the evidence of something newsworthy be made clear. Otherwise, it's commonplace innuendo. As an attentive reader I kept thinking this: Is there something else I need to know to understand this? Is the Times being tasteful in leaving out something salacious? At its worst, the story vaguely implies that the editor drove his managing editor to suicide. But no one quoted in the article comes even close to saying that, so running a fairly major article implying it is, I think, reprehensible as journalism.

(Full disclosure: I got my PhD from UVa; I slightly knew VQR's old longtime editor, Staige Blackford, and wrote perhaps one short review for the journal 25 years ago.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

on memory and writing

Several times recently I've mentioned Susan Schultz' Dementia Blog here, so I won't repeat the basic information about the project; rather I'll direct you back here. Michael Nardone recent completed transcribing the conversation between Leonard Schwartz and Susan recorded for one of Leonard's "Cross Cultural Poetics" shows. We hope to publish it some day in Jacket2 but meantime here's a preview - an unedited transcription of one portion of the interview.

- - -

So, it's a really rich and complicated weave of things, and so beautifully juxtaposed. You know, you have that section: my empathy is memory, is a container into which your experience sometimes fits, shallow grave or swimming pool, death by water. The mind is a memory of overpasses, not to pass over but under by way of air. The air is human. I am the limbless woman.

Can you say a little bit—-I know this is a, you know, vast and grave question—-but a little bit about your take on memory having moved through this experience with dementia, and on the personal level, your mother's dementia, and the political level, with the Bush administration now reaching its end?

Could you ask me a bigger question, Leonard?

Were one to ask Proust the question about memory, I know what we would get. It would take several volumes. It's a big question. He's got quite a few books that are devoted to that, but what would be the thumbnail sketch of Susan Schultz's vision of memory?

Well, I've always been quite obsessed with memory, and I think most of my work comes out of the way in which my memory—which I think in many ways is simply an echo chamber of the larger cultural and social memory—works, if that's the right word. So, I think memory is not just a solitary activity, it's very much a communal activity. It's what joins us to other people once we take our memories and offer them to others. So, perhaps one of the most striking effects of memory-loss is that return to a kind of profound solitude that I certainly saw in my mother for a long time. Now that she's in a better place—she's in an Alzheimer's home and she is very well taken care of—there is a sense that she's back in community. But she doesn't speak of her memories. I'm not sure she has them anymore, and so, in that sense, I think there's a kind of profound solitude that has to do with living exclusively in the present.

There's also a strong ethical sense to memory. There's a wonderful book about the ethics of memory by an Israeli philosopher whose name, of course, I can't call to mind at the moment, but the sense in which if you have a memory and you use it correctly, it's an ethical act. If you fail to remember certain important things, that's an unethical act. And yet, if you lose your memory to illness, it's something else again. So the difference between that loss of memory to illness and the loss of memory that the Bush administration tried to create for all of us, I think, is very telling that there are different uses of the erasure of memory, and in my book I was trying to negotiate a place from which I was encountering both at the same time. So, I don't know if that answers your question—

It's a wonderful response to the question. I'm so glad I insisted even though you tried to laugh the question off at first, because it's a great—and there's so much to think about in what you just said, the way in which, in fact, memory is communal, we think of memory at some level as a deep form of introspection, and it is, but at the same time certain kinds of memory, certain forms of memory would not be possible without a conversation, or without the wider conversation that is sometimes called community. So, that complexity, that complicated tissue of discourse and language that makes memory possible, you speak to so tellingly in what you just said, and in the book itself, Dementia Blog, which is really quite extraordinary.

Kelly Writers House is 15 years old

KWH 15th Anniversary Celebration, a reading by former students of Al Filreis, 4 PM in Saturday, October 30, 2010, in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk. RSVP to rsvp: or call (215) 746-POEM

Here are the four readers:

Suzanne Maynard Miller
Alicia Oltuski
Eric Umansky
Kerry Sherin Wright

Suzanne Maynard Miller (C'89) is a playwright and teacher. Her plays include Young Love, Flirting With the Deep End (Dramatic Publishing, 2007); Beatrice; The Handwriting, the Soup, and the Hats; and Abigail's Atlas. Her work has been produced in Los Angeles, Seattle, Providence, New Haven and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Maynard Miller has taught playwriting and expository writing at Brown University and at the Rhode Island School of Design. She has been an artist-in-residence at public schools in Seattle, Providence, Brooklyn, and the Bronx and a playwright-in-residence at Annex Theater in Seattle, where she was a company member from 1989-1996. Maynard Miller has also led playwriting workshops for incarcerated women and was a founding member of Kidswrite, a Seattle-based literacy program for fifth graders. Currently, she teaches in the English Department at the New York City College of Technology/CUNY. A graduate of Penn, Maynard Miller received her MFA in playwriting from Brown University in 1998. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

Alicia Oltuski (C'06, G'06) is a writer whose book about diamonds is forthcoming from Scribner. She concentrated in creative writing at Penn and spent many happy hours at the Kelly Writers House. After graduating, she completed an MFA at Columbia and taught at the University of the Arts. Her work has appeared in literary magazines, newspapers, and on the radio. She lives with her husband Uri Pasternak, a 2004 graduate of Penn Engineering.

Eric Umansky is a senior editor at the non-profit investigative newsroom, ProPublica. This year, ProPublica became for the first online-only news organization to win a Pulitzer Prize. Previously, Umansky was a columnist for Slate. He has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, The New Republic, and elsewhere. Umansky is also the co-founder of DocumentCloud, a new non-profit that's building tools to improve how documents are shown and shared online. Earlier in his career, Umansky was editor of

Kerry Sherin Wright is the founding Director of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House at Franklin & Marshall College and Executive Director of Poetry Paths, a poetry and public art project in Lancaster, PA. She is also an adjunct assistant professor in the English department at Franklin & Marshall, where she teaches courses in creative writing, contemporary experimental fiction, and graphic literature. Before joining Franklin & Marshall in 2003, Wright served for six years as the first Director of the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. Wright was recognized upon her departure from the Kelly Writers House at Penn with the creation of The Kerry Sherin Wright Prize, an annual award that supports an event or project that "best captures" her spirit of "aesthetic capaciousness and literary communitarianism." She has a PhD in English literature from Temple University, and she received her Masters in creative writing from Hollins College and her Bachelors in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Wright serves on the boards of the James Street Improvement District and the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design’s Public Art Advisory Committee. She is a writer of both scholarly and creative prose and is currently working on a novel. She lives in Lancaster with her husband Scott Wright and their son Skyler.

howl festival

The Howl! Festival 2010 kicked off in Tompkins Square Park yesterday evening (5-7 PM). Three days of events to follow. Meantime, our best and favorite photographer of poets, Lawrence Schwartzwald, was there and snapped some great shots, these two among them. From left to right: John Giorno, Anne Waldman and Bob Holman. Bob was MC. Take a look at the East Village Howler blog for various commentaries and Howl! Festival news.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

online book discussion groups

The Writers House today announced its new slate of online discussion groups for Penn alumni and parents of Penn students. Here's the new roster.

Waldman is in a rogue state of mind

Anne Waldman gave a reading at Belladonna on April 26, 2002. She read five poems. Thanks for our friends at Belladonna, we at PennSound have the recording. Yesterday we segmented the recording into singles, which include the powerful anti-George Bush chant, "Rogue State" (PennSound now has several recordings of this), and Waldman's singing of William Blake's "The Garden of Love." The latter is an arrangement that Allen Ginsberg composed for his album of Blake songs. One of PennSound's most popular pages, in fact, is the Ginsberg/Blake page. Here is Ginsberg singing "The Garden of Love," and here is an episode of PoemTalk featuring a 25-minute discussion of it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


I'm delighted by a review of my book, Counter-Revolution of the Word, which has just now come to my attention. Here [PDF] is a link. The relevant pages begin on page 922.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Cagean, plus or minus

Here is the text* of Joan Retallack's poem "Not a Cage." And here is a recording of Joan reading the poem at Buffalo in 1993.

* from How To Do Things with Words, Sun & Moon, 1998.

poetry on rooftops

Last night Dorothea Lasky, Matt Hart and Catie Rosemurgy presented "Poetry from the Rooftops" in association with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, sponsored by The Academy of American Poets atop The Arsenal Building in Central Park. Lawrence Schwartzwald, fabulous photographer of poets, was there and, among many good shots, took this photo of Matt Hart during his reading.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sappho-Dickinson hybrid with a Beat sensibility

Tony Trigilio has been working this past year on an edited collection of poems and fragments from Elise Cowen's only surviving notebook. This edition will reproduce the notebook poems themselves, as they were written in Cowen's hand. Cowen's surviving family generously granted the rights to Tony to edit the book. The project, which is still looking for a publisher, will include many never-before-seen Cowen poems and will correct those that had been mis-transcribed in the past. The book is taking shape as an intriguing Sappho-Dickinson hybrid with a Beat sensibility -- an odd mixture, perhaps, but an accurate description of Cowen's varied influences.

For years I've taught Elise Cowen in my modern/contemporary American poetry course (English 88) and once created a modest Cowen web page here. Here's more about Tony.

Cole Swensen on gardens

Cole Swenson was a guest on Leonard Schwartz's radio program, "Cross-Cultural Poetics," back in January. Thanks to Henry Steinberg, now PennSound offers a segmented recording of the reading and discussion. Swensen offers a reading of "A Garden Is a Start" and then takes a few minutes to talk about the style of that poem. She reads "If a Garden of Numbers" but we are also treated to her discussion of the geometry of Le Notre gardens, of gardens taking dominion over nature, of fountains as a public commodity. (The readings were from her recent book, Ours.) It's all here--available as of just yesterday. By the way, I'm happy to say that Leonard Schwartz will be here at the Writers House this fall (9/23/10) - and also a guest on PoemTalk.

Edit Publications

On July 29th, Edit Publications launched eleven books expanding Tan Lin's Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obiturary 2004, The Joy of Cooking (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2010). These printed editions derive from an event at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania on April 12th, 2010 titled "Handmade book, PDF, lulu, Appendix, Powerpoint, Kanban Board/Post-Its, Blurb, Dual Language (Chinese/ English) Edition, micro lecture, Selectric II interview, wine/cheese reception, Q&A (xerox), film."

Books published include: Purple/Pink Appendix by Tan Lin with an introduction by Danny Snelson, afterword by Charles Bernstein and indexes by Lawrence Giffin, Ashley Leavitt, John Paetsch, Danny Snelson, and Tan Lin. Blurb by Tan Lin. Event Inventory and Documentation (monochrome and polychrome editions) by Jeremy JF Thompson. Selected Essays About a Bibliography, with contributions by forty-eight authors. 7CV Chinese Edition (1-4) (七受控詞表和2004年訃告). 7CV Critical Reader, with full text downloads in PDF format. Printed on demand by in a continual state of revision.

Event Editors and Authors include: Matthew Abess, Chris Alexander, Louis Asekoff, Stan Apps, Danielle Aubert, Charles Bernstein, Marie Buck, Lee Ann Brown, E. Shaskan Bumas, Ken Chen, Evelyn Chi'en, Clare Churchouse, Cecilia Corrigan, AMJ Crawford, Kieran Daly, Monica de la Torre, Thom Donovan, Patrick Durgin, Kareem Estefan, J. Gordon Faylor, Al Filreis, Thomas Fink, Mashinka Firunts, Robert Fitterman, Jonathan Flatley, Brad Flis, Peter W. Fong, Christopher Funkhouser, Kristen Gallagher, Sarah Gambito, Ellen Gruber Garvey, Kenneth Goldsmith, Cecilia Gronberg/Jonas (J) Magnusson, Heidi Brayman Hackel, Erin Gautche, Lawrence Giffin, Diana Hamilton, Eddie Hopely, Paolo Javier, Greem Jellyfish, Josef Kaplan, John Keene, Diana Kingsley, Matthew Landis, Ashley Leavitt, Tan Lin, Warren Liu, Jessica Lowenthal, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Maya Lin, Warren Liu, Dana Teen Lomax, Patrick Lovelace, Dan Machlin, Rachel Malik, Josiah McElheny, Stephen McLaughlin, Joe Milutis, John Paetsch, Asher Penn, Ellen Quinn, Diana Ro, Raphael Rubenstein, Jay Sanders, Katherine Elaine Sanders, Karen L. Schiff, Jeremy Sigler, Danny Snelson, Carlos Soto, Kaegan Sparks, Chris Sylvester, Gordon Tapper, Michelle Taransky, Jeremy JF Thompson, Richard Turnbull, Dan Visel, Dorothy Wang, Andrew Weinstein, and Sara Wintz.

You can download everything at once, or you can purchase individual copies of the volumes - or download each separately.

Your friendly blogger here has an essay in the volume called "Selected Essays About a Bibliography." Click here and you should get to a page where you can buy a copy of that book.