Kelly Writers House

Craig Saper: Something more intimate to what is called thinking

When we at the Writers House brought Craig Saper back to Penn in 2001 to give a talk about Fluxus, some of us attended because we are fascinated by Fluxus and really admire Craig’s way of discussing such art. A few Writers House regulars came in spite of not having experienced Saper’s brilliance at first hand, but because it was known around the House that he had praised KWH as a learning community (see below). Others came because they still by then lamented the loss of Craig from the Penn faculty (by denial of tenure). On that occasion Joshua Schuster — he was by then a grad student but he'd known Saper from his days as an undergrad too — gave a fine introduction. Here is that introduction, in its entirety:

I have this vision stuck in my head of Craig Saper, at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1996, pulling up an essay by Walter Benjamin and reading: “I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am.” It was a storybook beginning to a storybook class. We were confronted from the outset that there was a crises in criticism and that we were going to have to invent our way out of it. At stake was a way both in and out of criticism itself. Benjamin was a model; that the act of unpacking one’s library could be the very model for a form of scholarship and knowledge. Where else could we find models? With adrenaline and a hallucinatory focus, and perhaps anything could serve as the conceptual apparatus from which to generate new ways of thinking. How can an event be a model of thought? How do you think a handshake or a barricade or a letter being passed through a postal system? All that is solid melts into air-there, capital in its own act of disguise was exposed as a model for new ways of thinking. Or a telephone call, that brings one to the question of what is called thinking? Or to take tonight’s topic Fluxus, the art movement, could it secretly be the code by which a university could be built anew?

High school, haiku, tweet tweet

Devaney, Ashbery, Basho

A while back, in 2009, I tweeted the following:

A poet in a serious discussion yesterday used the example of 140 characters as a constraint-based poetics. He was talking about haiku, natch

The tweet in itself was precisely 140 characters. Here in the relatively spacious J2 textbox, though, it seems so bare, so minimal. In the twitter format I use (the application called “Tweetie”) the full 140-character update fills the space and makes me feel downright loquacious. These new media really are our messages. You'd think I'd have discovered this before now.

Marjorie Perloff's talk on the exhibition context for Duchamp's 'Fountain'

Marjorie Perloff visited the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia for most of four days this week – as a Kelly Writers House Fellow. For three hours on Monday, she met with 21 undergraduates in the so-called Writers House Fellows Seminar; they had read and discussed her writings for the previous five weeks. That evening – April 25, 2011 – she gave a 55-minute talk that, in part, offered the full context for Marcel Duchamp's attempt to exhibit his pseudonymous readymade, "Fountain" (1917). 

J2 launches

A preface from the publisher

Happily, we inaugurate Jacket2. For all the complexity of the work in poetry and poetics you’ll read on these screens, what we’re doing here is I think explained rather simply. We want to preserve what John Tranter has done with Jacket in its first forty issues, and to a significant extent — although in a somewhat new mode and a somewhat different context — continue and extend it. The new mode? A site pushing technically past what’s been called 2.0, with all the vaunted interoperabilities: collaborative editing and rostering of new articles; a rotation of three-months-each guest commentators, able themselves to post contemporaneous responses to various poetics scenes they “cover”; a means of laying out features that enables readers to see at once all diverse elements of materials and responses to a single poet or topic as gathered by a guest editor; an image gallery for uncluttered viewing of many images associated with an article or feature; podcast series (such as PoemTalk and Into the Field) both streamable right on the page and downloadable for free; video players both inline and linked; a Reissues department for making otherwise inaccessible archival material available in full digital facsimile; advanced searching through both new Jacket2 pieces and every single article, review, and announcement ever published in old Jacket; and seamless server-side linked cross-relations between critical responses written for J2 about readings and recordings on one hand and, on the other, all the digital audio (and video) stored in the vast archive known as PennSound. Even as we just get started, dig around and you’ll find a great deal here — and tons of potential.

Asking Creeley about Williams

Note: Robert Creeley was a Kelly Writers House Fellow in April 2000. I conducted a public interview and moderated a discussion on April 11 before an audience of eighty people. The recording (both video and audio) of the interview has been available both on the Kelly Writers House site and at PennSound.  Recently Michael Nardone transcribed it. We expect to publish the entire transcript in Jacket2 before too long. Meantime, below we present the portion of the discussion in which I ask Creeley about William Carlos Williams.


Al Filreis: Now back to Williams, your initial response to Williams — according to something you said at Camden in December [1999] — was that what mattered to you in reading Williams, particularly The Wedge, was that the work was driven by anger. This is what, at least, Ron Silliman posted to the Buffalo poetics listserv afterwards. And then he went on to comment on how Williams had a huge impact on him as well, but it was a very different Williams. So, if anger is not quite operating as much, what’s your Williams now? How does Williams animate you now?

Robert Creeley: Back to Ron’s point, that that wasn’t the Williams he read, he reads the later Williams.

Filreis: The Desert Music.

Creeley: Yeah. Which is not an unangry poem, so to speak. But it certainly isn’t nearly as angry as the poems he was writing in the thirties or twenties. Spring and All, for example. Or The Descent of Winter, or “March First.” Many of the early poems are really angry, and their emotional base is their revulsion and anger at the world he finds around him.

Filreis: So, now when you look back at Williams, how does it feel?

Creeley: Well, it feels very much like my own life. I, when young, felt a dismay, let’s put it, that such things as the Holocaust or the Second World War or the Depression or many other factors in one’s real life, that these could be so unremarkable to the body politic, that it seemed not to matter.

Jean-Michel Rebaté describes Oulipo

at the Oulipolooza

Jean-Michel Rabaté describes Oulipo at an event called "the Oulipolooza"--at the Kelly Writers House on March 15, 2011. The organizers of the event wrote the following:

Come help us celebrate the continuing potential of literatures by attending the Oulipolooza, a Kelly Writers House-style celebration of all things Oulipo. The OuLiPo, or "Ouvroir de littérature potentielle" (workshop of potential literature), is a group of experimental French poets founded in 1960, devoted to exploring the potential of literature, language and freedom through the lenses of different constraints. Oulipolooza will include readings about the Oulipo by Penn's own Jean-Michel Rabaté and Katie Price, a reception full of Oulipo-inspired foods, and the launch of "An Oulipolooza": a collection of oulipian texts.

I and Albee

Edward Albee at the Kelly Writers House, March 22, 2011

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).

Susan Sontag Loved the Writers House

"We're in the Same Zone"

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.

Take the No Out of Now

Gerd Stern, Happenings Artist

Image 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)

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

Patti Smith at the Writers House

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.

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