Commentaries - July 2007
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.
The Hazy Geneaology of a Sephardic Family
In 2003 I corresponded with the cultural director of a Portuguese foundation. He responded to the possibility that my family's name is indeed Portuguese. I'm not sure what the origin of this family assumption is--perhaps it's been passed down to my father's older brother through his father or his brother who passed through western Europe on the way to Brooklyn twice in the 1910s and '20s (once before WW1 and once again after). Western Europe--France, we assume--where one of these Filreises made contact with French or Spanish/French Filreises and learned of the ancestral connection to Iberian peninsula. We put that "news" together with the clear sense that the families were part of a Sephardic community in Warsaw and have assumed that they were part of the exilic migration away from Spain to northeast Europe in the late 15th-century and early 16th. It is very difficult to track this but since Jewish families typically bred very closely within the Jewish community, there is probably a way of following the lineage. I haven't figure out how yet. I suppose first would be to find out definitely where the members of the Warsaw family were killed during the Holocaust; I'm 99% sure it was at Treblinka, the killing camp that destroyed Warsaw's Jews in 1942 and '43.
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.
Tom Devaney wrote a poem to mark my 50th birthday back in March of 2006. It was recently published in Arts Poetica and here's the link. The poem that Tom read at our post-9/11 event - called "Finding the Words" - I found very beautiful and moving, even though--as Tom pointed out--it had nothing directly to do with the World Trade Center attacks and had been written six months earlier.
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. Here you'll find my interviews with John McPhee, Jamaica Kincaid, Richard Ford, Cynthia Ozick, Ian Frazier, Roger Angell, E. L. Doctorow, Russell Banks, James Alan McPherson, Susan Sontag, Walter Bernstein, Michael Cunningham, Charles Fuller, Tony Kushner, David Sedaris, Grace Paley, and others.