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.
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.
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.
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.
Does the ubiquity of recordings of poets reading their own poems change the way we teach 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.
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.
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.