In the spring of '96 I taught a course called "The Literature of Community", a seminar in which all the members of the class, including me, lived in the same building. This was Van Pelt College House, here at Penn.
We viewed and discussed - heatedly debated - the film On the Waterfront. I asked the students to summarize the film pithily by email (we used a listserv, one that hummed with incoming messages night and day, mostly night).
Here is a super-succinct summary of the film written by Alex Platt in the middle of the night on January 18, 1996:
So, we're all a bunch of squabs looking over our shoulders for the hawks that live on top of the hotel, with the occasional longshoreman to throw us a handfull of feed? Is that why ideally "everybody should care about everybody," cause we're all in the same pile of sh+t?
When students walked into class the next day, I wordlessly handed them a sheet with this on it:
Read the comment carefully - it's pithy and suggestive rather than explanatory (typical Alex, I think) - but if you take time to comprehend it you will be able to discover a general criticism of the film we watched last night. So read it and work out in your mind what Alex's position on the film is.
If you agree - more or less, on the whole - with Alex's position, sit on the side of the room nearest the windows.
If you disagree - more or less, on the whole - with Alex's position, sit on the side of the room nearest the door - across from the windows.
If you don't know, don't care, prefer not to take a position one way or the other, side along the back wall, between the windows and door walls.
Then they began to discuss - passionately. I experimented that day, deciding not to say a single word until at least 30 minutes into the class. It worked. They did it all themselves and the discussion covered pretty much all the points and topics and approaches I would have wanted to raise myself.
For Lingua Franca's "Breakthrough Books" feature back in January of 2000, I wrote this paragraph on Marjorie Perloff's Poetry on & off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions (Northwestern University Press). What can one do in a paragraph? Not much. It's a bare summary, but I hope a suggestive one:
This fine collection of occasional essays is concerned with the way supposedly ordinary language becomes poetic. From The Poetics of Indeterminacy (1981) forward, Marjorie Perloff has confidently, helpfully mapped contemporary poetics during a period of almost constant change. (She herself is one of the few constant features on that landscape.) Wary, as always, of holistic paradigms for the literary history of poetry, in Poetry on & off the Page she describes not the replacement of hip canon for square canon, "political" for "formal" poetries. Rather she shows shifts within (usually coinciding with the growth of) aesthetic movements that range across interests, forms and social formulations. Although a number of the essays have less to say about poetry per se than about, for example, Johanna Drucker's bookworks, the video art of Bill Viola, the photographs of Eugene Atget, and Christian Boltanski's simulated documentaries, I cannot think of a better introduction to contemporary poetry and poetics. Such commendation tells much about the special mode of Perloff's writings as well as the dynamic, interactive condition of experimental poetry today.
In November 2003, Kurzweil and John Keklak, an engineer, received patent No. 6,647,395, covering what Mr. Kurzweil calls a cybernetic poet. Essentially, it is software that allows a computer to create poetry by imitating but not plagiarizing the styles and vocabularies of human poets.
It works something like a cyberblender.
Here is a poem the cybernetic poet wrote after "reading" poems by Wendy Dennis, a poet employed by Mr. Kurzweil:
Sashay down the page
through the lioness
nestled in my soul.
While other poetry-generating software exists, Mr. Kurzweil said, it is less sophisticated than his. "Those are fixed, fill-in-the-blank approaches that resemble the Mad Libs game," he said. "They are not really trying to create new patterns based on a more flexible pattern structure."
"The real power of human thinking is based on recognizing patterns."
From a New York Times article.
Our annual "Writers House New York" evening will take place this year on November 7, as always at Meisel Gallery in SoHo, 141 Prince. If you want to join us, write to rsvp [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu. Among this year’s readers are LEE EISENBERG (Penn ’68) former Esquire editor and author of several books including the New York Times bestseller The Number; MAX APPLE, beloved fiction and nonfiction writing professor at Penn and author of seven books, including The Oranging of America, Roommates, and most recently The Jew of Home Depot; KRISTEN GALLAGHER (C’91, CGS’99), a poet, publisher and longtime Writers House Hub member whose work has appeared in Antennae, Ecopoetics and elsewhere; PIA ALIPERTI (C’07), whose poetry has been published in Peregrine, The F-Word
and The Penn Review and who has received multiple awards from Penn’s College Alumni Society; and GABE CRANE, a current Penn senior who paddled down the Mississippi River by canoe this past summer and blogged the whole way. You can find profiles of all our featured readers and more information about the event here:
It is surprisingly difficult to find a very good brief summary and introduction to the writing of John Ashbery. Harold Bloom once described a single poem ("The Instruction Manual"--not typical, though) as "a rueful adieu to experience." Perfectly right, I think. But of the whole? Not much in the way of coherent overview, elegant primer. Well, Ann Lauterbach recently introduced Ashbery at a weekend-long celebration of the poet at 80 - at Bard. Here is part of what she said in her brief welcome:
At nearly every page along the way, we have been invited to re-imagine what a poem is, to listen in a new way. This newness shifted the ground on which a poem might be resting. Indeed, the separation of figure from ground in an Ashbery poem is all but dissolved; things seem to happen in a fluid solution, as if always on the way to or from a destination that is itself simultaneously approaching and receding. Observations, revelations, ideas, encounters, and objects course through in such a way as to suggest there is nothing to know outside of the poem. This replete, mutating experience is carried along on the most elastic yet taut syntax; and, because nothing stays in focus for long, the notion of a poem as high-resolution picture, or story, or memo to live by, gives way to the poem as a condition, a habitat, a surround.
Between the high detail of the foreground and the abstract distance of the horizon, the reader is invited in. One can take one’s stuff; it is quite roomy. It is the space, say, of a city square, an open market, a corner bodega, a hotel lobby. Here we greet each other, exchange information and opinion, but because we are on our way elsewhere, a certain civility prevails; we do not intrude, or impose. The diction is one of mild, good-natured inquiry and response; a demotic grace and graciousness prevails, invariably punctuated by mishearings, odd juxtapositions, the marvelous, sometimes sad and often funny enjambments and eruptions of actual life.
The full intro is here on Charles Bernstein's blog.