I spent the last two days with Edward Albee, whom I hosted as a "Writers House Fellow." I was able to persuade him to read my favorite speech in all of his 30 plays--the pre-elegy given by A (modeled on Albee's adoptive mother) to the audience at the very end of Three Tall Women. My second favorite (while we're on favorites...): Martin trying to describe his feelings for the goat in The Goat (Or: Who Is Sylvia?), an attempt that breaks down because such longing is an experience of non-relation. He cannot "relate" it because it doesn't not "relate to anything," a foregrounding in a surface of halting words the key double meaning of (in my view) all great writers. Relation = to connect (or--mostly--not) and to describe in words (or--mostly--not).
After many years of hosting our Writers House Fellows program (since '99) and teaching the Fellows seminar each spring, I think I've experienced my share of challenges--challenges typically at once programmatic and intellectual. The project of squeezing into the little cottage some very giant personalities, intellects, and--yes--literary egos is no inconsequential venture. Some I expected to be difficult (John Ashbery--not an ego but shy and sometimes reticent) turned out to be easy. Other folks I'd heard would be sweet and accommodating presented all kinds of problems--requiring hard work but always (fortunately; so far) successful. I must say that the Writers House itself does a good deal of calming and charming. The late Susan Sontag, who spent three days with us in April 2003, wss generous with her time, focused on the students, and truly pleased that so many attentive readers surrounded her. But, as anyone who met her knows, her intellectual rigor is unforgiving. This made me a little nervous, understandably, since her first meeting would be for three uninterrupted hours with a group of 22 undergraduates--none of whom had read anything by her prior to our month-long series of readings and discussions. Toward the end of her stay, I interviewed her and hosted a public conversation with her--our typical Tuesday morning Fellows event. About a third of the way through the interview, Jennifer Snead, then our Director, asked a complicated question, which Susan immediately appreciated, and it caused her to praise the Writers House scene in a way that is completely memorable to me, and (obviously) pleasing. Click on the video player above and watch a grainy copy of the old RealVideo file we made back then. The audio is fine and you can watch the whole recording or listen to audio (the whole or segments) by going to our Sontag page.
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
We had the pleasure of hanging out with Patti Smith at the Kelly Writers House back on December 10. The highlight was an interview/discussion moderated by Anthony DeCurtis. The event was the fifth in our Blutt Singer-songwriter Symposia. Our previous Blutt visitors: Steve Earle, Suzanne Vega, Rosanne Cash, and Rufus Wainwright (Rufus is being rescheduled, actually). Some of these sessions were recorded so take a look at our Blutt page and enjoy.
On July 8, 1999, we at the Writers House held our first live interactive webcast. The discussion was all about William Carlos Williams's "To Elsie" (the pure products of America go crazy) from Spring and All. I hosted and was joined by Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, and Kristen Gallagher. We fielded questions from people watching on the internet, among them Jena Osman and Terrence Diggory.
It was streamed as video in RealVideo format and preserved as a video later in the same format. (Those who have RealPlayers installed still can watch the grainy video.) Later we extracted the audio from the video and now we've segmented that audio into topical segments. Here are the segments:
 Bob Perelman reading "To Elsie" (2:21)
 Kristen Gallagher on facing alterity (4:30)
 Al Filreis on the poem's uncertainty (1:54)
 Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on "the pure products of America" and the issue of control (5:26)
 Shawn Walker, Al Filreis, Kristen Gallagher and Bob Perelman on Williams' position towards Elsie (6:44)
 Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on imagination (8:26) audience comments and Bob Perelman on "peasant traditions" (3:17)
 Bob Perelman on how the open architecture and "unsuccessful" quality of Williams' poems are relevant to poetics today
 Al Filreis on Williams' attraction to the new "mixed" American culture
Here is the link to the page with links to audio and video.
PennSound's Williams page includes eight recordings of the poet reading this poem.
My introduction to the recent symposium on poetry in 1960. It begins with a look at a late late 1959 essay by Stanley Kunitz predicting that the 1960s will in poetry be a time of consolidation and not of experiment--that experiment was all exhausted, played out.
Penn's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, ran a story in this morning's paper about our efforts at the Writers House to find talented writers among high-school student candidates for admission to the university. Click on the title of this post for a larger view.
Curtis Fox does a weekly podcast show called "Poetry off the Shelf." One week, a program titled "Poetry 911," he featured our "dial-a-poem" service (215 746-POEM). Here's the audio. I spoke with him by phone and was winging it, but I think it came out okay, don't you? Of course Curtis sets up the context for this new phone service: John Giorno's "poetry systems". Go to Ubuweb for the best archive of the dial-a-poem poets.
Last July, 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 lulu.com 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.
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 Thomas Devaney. The whole interview with the 99-year-old Rakosi can be found here.