Al Filreis

Finding Stevens along dream streets

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.

Adrienne Rich, "quite struck dumb"

Surely one of the highlights of my involvement with the Writers House Fellows program--which has brought three eminent writers to the cottage at 3805 Locust Walk each year since 1999--was the visit in April 2005 of Adrienne Rich.

Baseball as Civic Religion

I adore baseball in every way it's possible to do so: see it live, play it (rarely but longingly), view it on MTV.TV, read about it. I always read at least two baseball books each summer. (One of this summer's reads is Dan Okrent's Nine Innings.) My interest in the 1950s of course leads me to baseball through another route--actually it's three interests converging: baseball, the 50s, and poetry. The best expression I know of this is Gerald Early's essay published in the American Poetry Review in July/August 1996, "Birdland: Two Observations on the Cultural Significance of Baseball." I put an excerpt from this essay on my 1950s site.

West Philly is home

Back in 1998, my employer, the University of Pennsylvania, created a mortgage incentive plan: the idea was and is to encourage Penn-affiliated families (staff and faculty) to choose to live in Penn's neighborhood rather than the Main Line or South Jersey. I had wanted my family to live in West Philly and this was just indeed the incentive I needed. I was the first Penn person to use the plan; probably that is why The Philadelphia Business Journal came out to the house to do a story on the program featuring my move. If one goal of this project was to induce faculty to be more present on campus and more involved in the life of the university's neighbors, I think it surely worked in my case. The main force behind this innovative program--and the mortgage incentive system was just one part of it--was Judy Rodin, then president of the university. In the fall of '06 I invited Judy back to Penn (she'd left to run the Rockefeller Foundation) to give a talk about the urban university. We recorded this talk, and I also produced a podcast about it.

Auschwitz: once you're in the room, you can't get out

Daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, Debbie Fischer, asks her father, as he lies dying, to tell her the real story of his time at the death camp. He has refused to tell her much all these years, always giving a blandly positive response to life in the camp. Here is the audio recording of her testimony about his testimony: mp3.