Commentaries - December 2007

A nice blog response to the New York Times piece than ran yesterday: "The [Writers] House reminds me of everything I love about universities — that in addition to being places to work and to learn, they can also be a home. Not just to the students who live on campus, but to anyone who can find support and friendship and make themselves at home there." MORE>>>

A former Writers House regular wrote: "The notion of the KWH as a little piece of Swarthmore, Reed or Bard in a large Ivy was spot on ... yet, as someone who originally fled Williams for its lack of intellectual opportunity, I would have to add that the real magic in the House was/is the critical mass of devoted faculty, students and other fellow travelers may available by the shear size of Penn. It is unfortunate that the modest size of the liberal arts college often stymies their becoming fertile ground for such innovation. And what they do have to offer isn't always a substitute."

An alumnus (lawyer turned writer-thinker) whom I've met once or twice but has participated in various online discussion groups we host: "Yes, your acceptance and encouragement of even a person like me is what makes The Writers' House and its staff bar none the best place for a writer to grow. I hope over the years ahead to be able to be a better supporter. Al(l) best ..."

A former undergrad: "I feel honored to have been a part starting so many years ago. I've been thinking about it more and more as I do law school applications since I remember KWH being a huge reason I applied to Penn. That was almost 10 years ago!"

Nick Spitzer, host of radio's American Roots, wrote in part: "You have created at once a a center of artistic and personal social power, a non-bureacratic, unconventional power in one spot without being marginalized in the process. Brilliant."

Someone working deep inside the research projects of the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn: "I've been a secret admirer since I've come to Annenberg and love Kelly as an artifact of a different time and theory of education. Amazing to see this wonderful recognition in the Times."

A former student, now a professor at a midsized public midwestern university: "My warmest congratulations for this well-deserved national recognition. I just sent the link to the president and academic dean of my institution, along with a statement about how we can draw inspiration from what you've accomplished. We'll never have the funding or the elite students, but we can steal some of your ideas and methods. Honestly, a couple of us have already begun. We've set up blogs and wikis, invited students to gather for informal literary events, planned an open mic night and trips to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City to hear big time writer's read. I'm also trying to get the campus radio station out of mothballs and operating again — hopefully with a more creative mix of student-produced programming."

I've briefly mentioned Tony Green here before (scroll down the sidebar at right until you see the image of a cone-like object). Tony, of New Zealand, makes poem-objects of various kinds. Or: sculptured poems. Or: three-dimensional linguistic accumulations. "Accumulations" is in fact a term he sometimes uses. The above object is called a "sliding accumulation" and it really does "work" just as you think it does from the way it looks here. It's made like one of those little palm-sized games you played when you were a kid. One space is open and you slide the little tiles around until you are able to put things in the right order — letters or numbers or colors. Here of course it's a poem — a poem that can't really be wrongly arranged. What you have instead of options for reading.

I'm pleased to say that I own one of these. In a latter entry I might attempt to show you how some of the patterns mean.

There's a nice article about the Kelly Writers House in today's New York Times by Alan Finder, the reporter who covers higher education for the paper. This link should work (it might not if you don't have a subscription): LINK. In the paper itself, the story seems to be in section B, page 7 (at least in the edition I get delivered to my house here in Philly).

So what is the point? “Apprenticeship, mentorship, internship,” Dr. Filreis said. The goal, he added, “is to enrich the undergraduates’ lives outside the classroom.”

“For me, this is Swarthmore, Reed or Bard, here in the middle of a big research university,” said Dr. Filreis, a bearded, often beaming professor of modern and contemporary poetry whose enthusiasm and avuncular demeanor seem to permeate the Writers House. “This is a little bit of Bard. You can come in and people know who you are.”


When Israeli novelist and essayist and activist Amos Oz visited the Writers House in October 2004, his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, was just then begin published in English — in a beautiful translation by Nicholas DeLange. DeLange visited the Writers House too as part of a 4-day Oz conference. I had read the proof copy of the memoir in the weeks prior to the visit, and had fallen under its spell. Then I had the honor of reading a chapter from the book in English, with its famous author sitting there in the front row. Fortunately he liked the way I read the chapter very much.

I chose to read the chapter about attempts by the young Amos and his father to grow vegetables in the Israeli soil. Not a success. It's easy to think of the story as an allegory for living life in Israel from Oz' political point of view, but Oz himself resists this interpretation, preferring to think of the tale as a literal remembrance. You can judge for yourself. The reading of the chapter takes 26 minutes, so perhaps you'll download the mp3 of my reading of it and listen to it on your IPod.

When the weather starts to get a bit nasty, and just going out for a stroll in nature seems the last thing I'd want to do, I make "Let's Go Out" as recited by Jaap Blonk my poem of the day. Oh, let's go out, let's go out. Let's go out into nature, nature, nature, the natural word along with natural language, the most natural language there is ...

Jaap Blonk read at the Writers House on November 11, 2004, and this performance was stunningly good. Woke me up, completely, to the sound of words as sounds.

So, dear reader, it's my poem of the day: so start it off with a good listen, please, to "Let's Go Out".

[] Jaap Blonk's reading: LINK
[] brief bio on Blonk: LINK
[] Blonk's web site: LINK