Commentaries - July 2007
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.
At an event we called "7 Up on Gold" — featuring seven people speaking for seven minutes each about gold, the color or the element — I chose to speak about the chapter entitled "Gold" in Primo Levi's brilliant book, The Periodic Table. I've taught the book a number of times in my course on the Holocaust. My "7 Up on Gold" talk about the chapter was recorded in audio. You can go here and see the link to the audio (downloadable MP3 file). I was once asked to write a paragraph about a book I've read and re-read many times. I chose Levi's The Periodic Table, and here is what I wrote:
By now I have read Primo Levi's The Periodic Table a dozen times. It defies categories. It is partly a scientific treatise, partly post-Holocaust ethics, and partly a modernist prose-poem of fragments. For me the book always bears re-reading, inspiring me toward true interdisciplinarity and an ethical modernism. Neither at Auschwitz nor during most of the years afterward did Levi fit well as a person. His writing, certainly at first, similarly fell between categorical cracks. He dared to see in organic chemistry, the "lesser" of the chemistries, a powerfully figurative organicism. In this very special case, organicism — usually thought to be about wholes rather than fragements — served to enact a modernist sensibility in the very leaves of a book telling autobiographically but non-narratively of the dangers of inertness, and, finally, of the wonderful possibilities of the shifting present discernible in the marks we put here and now on the page.
This last point ("here and now on the page") refers to the stunning ending of the final chapter, "Carbon." Oh, blog-readers, read that!
I happily host two podcast series. One is PENNsound podcasts and features recordings from that vast archive of poetry recordings. The other series, Kelly Writers House podcasts, presents excerpts from various sorts of programs, events, seminars and discussions at the Writers House. Please listen and let me know what you think.
My former student Randi Feigenbaum was a big-wig at Penn's student-run daily newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian at the time the Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk was just forming. It was in those weeks and months known as one of the "pilot" projects of the "21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience" at Penn. Randi's news piece was published in the December 7, 1995 issue of the DP. It gives a pretty good sense of what we were trying to get started there. To this day, Randi is a big supporter of the Writers House.