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.
About a year ago Curtis Fox, who produces and hosts a weekly poetry podcast for the Poetry Foundation, spoke with me about our dial-a-poem project, which is part of a telephone system we at the Writers House set up, figuring that it was beginning to be, or was well into, an age once again in which telephony was the site of convergence for many if not all things communication. Which is a probably an over-fancy way of saying something obvious about how many of us walk around with smartphones and do email, texting and of course phone-calling on the one portable device. So when our email weekly calendars get sent out, listing and linking to upcoming events at the Writers House for the coming week, at the top of that announcement is our phone number: 215-746-POEM (215-746-7636). When you're looking at this emailed announcement on a smartphone, the device will automatically make a kind of hyperlink of the phone number (it knows to do this for every 10-digit number it sees). Touch that link or scroll to it and hit your button, and the phone will automatically dial it. Because of this, we figured we ought to be there with some cool telephony, retro and cutting-edge both. Try dialing 215-746-7636 right now and see what I mean. Press "3" and you'll hear a single poem recording from PennSound - a poem read at the Writers House. Press "4" and you'll hear a 1-minute performance from a member of the Writers House community. Click here and listen to Curtis Fox's interview with me about this new/old version of "dial-a-poem."
Today the University of Pennsylvania's main news page features a program in the Kelly Writers House Podcast series. This is a conversation I hosted with Jessica Lowenthal and Jamie-Lee Josselyn about the book Jamie-Lee has been writing about her mother's death. The direct link to the podcast is here.
Nate Chinen, now a music critic for the New York Times, was a Writers House regular as a student and for the year or two afterward. Nate visited us again this past spring and here's a video of Anthony DeCurtis introducing him.
In May we hosted a visit by a class of high school students from Friends' Central School, a second annual gathering co-organized by me and Liza Ewen of the FCS English department. (Liza teaches an elective quarter-long course each spring on poetry.) I invited six poets each to teach a single poem in just 20 minutes. Rivka Fogel taught "This Room" by John Ashbery, a beautiful indirect memorial to Pierre Martory and non-narrative meditation on absence as presence. Sarah Dowling then came in and taught a section of "A Frame of the Book" by Erin Moure. Jessica Lowenthal then taught Harryette Mullen's "Trimmings." Randall Couch taught a very early poem by John Keats before revealing that it was Keats. John Timpane taught an Yvor Winters poem about the emotional complication of saying farewell to an adult child at an airport; Wintersean restraint and emotional distance abound here and strike one (strike me, at least) as a refreshing sort of illiberalism in an age of gobs of conventionally sentimental parent-child verse. Tom Devaney may have taken the pedagogical prize on this day, presenting William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"--a seemingly easy poem for h.s. students to grasp. Yet it also does everything a modern poem does, and makes a remarkably good scene of instruction.
Each of the six 20-minute presentation is now being made available in PennSound as downloadable audio, streaming QuickTime video, and the texts of the poems are available as PDF's (digital copies of photocopies handed out to the students).
It's our hope that by presenting such materials, grouped together and well organized, PennSound will be useful to teachers and others looking for an introduction to poetry and poetics - and also to the phenomenon of the poet teaching poetry.
Here is your link to the PennSound page. It includes the six presentations from 2009 as well.
Subscribe to the Kelly Writers House YouTube channel. It's been there for a while, but this summer we're adding a slew of video clips from a selection of our programs. Click here and click "subscribe."