Commentaries - July 2007
Each May, as the families of undergrad seniors come to Philly for their kids' commencement, we hold a celebration to honor a group of students who have been closely--sometimes very closely--affiliated with the Writers House. This year's "senior capstone event" honored 12 seniors. We recorded all of these emotional farewells, but there's one I recommend for starters--that of Anna Levett (in the center of the photo here. She read poem called "California", meant to turn the honor around at her father, who was of course sitting in the audience. I'm the dad of a daughter myself, and so I couldn't help but imagining what such a tribute would feel like--more specifically that gracious gesture of redirecting the gratitude--would feel like. Anna's father, Kit, whom I've known a bit for a few years, received the poem as a kind of graduation gift. The poem is in a sense a parallel list of differences between daughter and father (she likes beaches, he mountains) but it's also about their common home (the California landscape that can encompass both), and so, while the poem was read aloud emotionally on this occasion, its words are not merely sentimental (though they certainly are that): they create or rather maintain a distance between these two people who love each other, revering the distance and making it part of affection.
Michael Hyde, Courtney Zoffness, and Laura Dave each read from their fiction on Alumni Day at the Writers House, May 12, 2007. Recordings of each of the three readings--and profiles of the writers as well as photographs of the event--can be found on a special event page we've created. Click on the image here to the right and view a video excerpt from this program: Jessica Lowenthal introduces Courtney Zoffness. Courtney, by the way, teaches creative writing workshop here at Penn, which "explores the bridges and boundaries between fiction and nonfiction."
Greg Manning came to the Writers House in September 2006, almost exactly five years later, to discuss writing about his and his wife's experiences during and after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Listen to a podcast about this event, and watch a 4-minute video clip. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Love, Greg & Lauren: A Powerful True Story of Courage, Hope, and Survival, which has been published in seven languages and was a finalist for several book awards. For more about Greg and Lauren, here's a CNN story.
The first Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium at the Kelly Writers House featured Rosanne Cash. The event took place on April 12. Anthony DeCurtis moderated a Q&A; with Rosanne, and she played several of her songs (guitar and voice only--what a treat), including a favorite of mine, "Black Cadillac." The session was recorded and audio is available for free download (right-click on the link above). The July/August 2007 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette includes a good article about the program. Rosanne will be a hard act to follow, as it were, but we'll be hosting another singer-songwriter symposium next spring. The photo here is of Sam Preston, Penn's eminent demographer and former dean (and avid songwriter himself), with Rosanne after a wonderful celebratory dinner in the Writers House dining room.
Melanie Almeder's poems
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.