Commentaries - December 2009

I've happily joined a university-wide committee that will spent the next four months pondering how to promulgate a new policy guiding faculty as they publish articles and books: open access. The idea is simple: make scholarship and research widely and freely available to as many people as possible; don't restrict by protected access, fees, firewalls, subscription, limited physical circulation. Such a change is likely to upset the well settled ecosystem of professional societies, academic journals that depend on subscription, and university presses that depend on sales of their books to libraries that currently provide access to knowledge in these books only through the book itself. It might even augur major changes in the peer-review process.

The question for the committee will be a classic: how to put forth a unified policy for a huge faculty in diverse fields with varying and distinct practices. On the medical science side, there are already rules in place (such as those imposed by NIH and other government funders) that make the immediate wide and free release of new papers mandatory. Why would a government fund research, only to have the results readable by a small group who have access, and even then only six months after the paper is finished and edited (in a printed journal which publishes its issues slowly)? On the other hand, humanists who write and publish books feel no pressing need and might rather publish with a trade press; the latter is less likely to pay an advance if some or many or all chapters are made available, as finished, in a world-wide-readable web-based Scholarly Commons.

MIT faculty recently voted on a new open access policy. A number of other fairly complex universities have done so. But Penn, if and when we do it, is likely to be the most complex university yet to create a unified policy.

Readers of this blog will likely know where I stand. Open access. The wider and freer the better. In my field--poetry & poetics--most of us have wanted to get the stuff out quickly and without restraint, and the 'net has fortunately enabled this. This is in part the case because poetry has never been very remunerative, so less, it seems, is at stake in providing a shortcut in the process that has for centuries kept the writer from joining quickly and freely with readers.

Comments welcome at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.

I've long been a big fan of journalist Murray Dubin. No one knows more about Philly than Murray. He was recently at the Writers House and this link will take you to links to both audio and video recordings of the event. A Philadelphia native and Temple grad, Murray's publications include South Philadelphia: mummers, memories, and the Melrose Diner (1996, Temple University Press) and Living Under South Street : Photographs of South Philadelphia by Jonathan Elderfield (2003, Kehrer Verlag). Along with freelancing, he is currently co-authoring a book with Dan Biddle on America's "first" Civil Rights movement, the effort by free blacks in the North to secure true freedom for themselves in the 1800s by advocating ending discrimination in employment, transportation, education and on the baseball playing fields.

The newest issue of How2 has papers on Caroline Bergvall by Sophie Robinson, Nathan Brown, cris cheek, Laura Goldstein, and Majene Mafe. It also has a section on "Reading Carla Harryman" featuring papers by Laura Hinton, Christine Hume, J. Darling, Carla Billitteri, Renee Gladman, and Austin Publicover.

Alan Loney's book of poetry, Katalogos, printed & published by Scott King at Red Dragonfly Press in Minnesota, will be available next month, in January. Details: $110 -- printed in just 90 copies, of which 75 are for sale. This is, I'm certain, a gorgeous object: printed letterpress in Dante types on damped Nideggen paper on a proof press, with two illustrations from the 1912 catalog from which half of the poem is constructed. Signed by the author. To hear a fair chunk of the poem being read, see (hear!) Loney's PennSound page. How to order or inquire:; or

The Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan has posted on its web site a lecture by Dr. Tim Whitmarsh (Oxford) which celebrates the latest addition to the diachronic canon of Greek literature, the construction of the poetry of Ananios of Kleitor: "Fragments of Greek Desire" by Tim Whitmarsh, Fellow and Tutor, University Lecturer in Greek, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, was delivered on the Ann Arbor campus on November 23, 2009, and is available here. Scholar, critic, translator and poet George Economou has donated to Michigan's Papyrology Collection the archive of his ten-year labor that resulted in the edition of Ananios' Poems & Fragments and Their Reception from Antiquity to the Present (2008). Whitmarsh's lecture was part of the special occasion where Modern Greek, Papyrology, and Contexts for Classics honored Professor Economou for "his classical inventiveness" and for the donation of the archive.