Back in 2006, when the Modern Language Association conference was held in Philadelphia, Nick Montfort joined twenty-seven other poets for the annual “MLA Offsite Series” reading. Each poet read very briefly, typically just one poem. Nick chose to perform “I Icing Sing.” The constraint is a phonetic one. Each stanza consists of many pairs of syllables that sound very alike, as in “eye eye sing sing.” So the beginning reads:
eye eye sing sing but but er er up up right right in in joy joy
— and here is how those sounds become words in the first two lines:
I icing sing — but butter her up upright, right in. Enjoy joy.
The poem was published in CrossConnect magazine and can be found here. And here is the recording of the poem made at the MLA reading. The recording of the entire event can be found here.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor features three talented students who found their college experience in unusual ways. One of those three is Taha Tariq — of Lahore, Pakistan — who discovered Penn and the Kelly Writers House through “ModPo,” the free and open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry offered through the House. Here is a portion of the article. The whole article can be found here.
When I meet Taha at the White Dog Cafe in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, it is apparent that he loves language – and conversation. He is a geyser of ideas, large and small, and offers snippets of insight and self-awareness.
Over smoked salmon artfully arranged on a rectangular plate, he proclaims his passion for author Jodi Picoult ("The judgments, decisions, moral dilemmas, and questions she presents leave me speechless," he says). Later, we visit Hill College House, his dorm, and meet his suitemates on the fourth floor. I learn that he has seen plays around the city, been a guest at a roommate's home on Long Island, and led late-night debates in the communal study space.
Taha is also intrigued by an ongoing conversation he has been having with a street vendor about religion. We sit on a stone bench amid fallen leaves as he describes the moral twists the man's narrative suggests and his plans to write about it, not for any class, but for himself.
Taha is interested in problems of perception and understanding. In Pakistan, he says, a relative and a friend's uncle were both injured by bomb blasts near mosques. "I feel I should be doing something about that," he says, during a Friday evening phone conversation. It's unclear what Taha will make of his future, but he is ambitious, imaginative, and eager to have an impact. It is odd, he says, to realize that just a year ago he had stumbled upon a MOOC and was watching Dr. Filreis online – the same professor he now calls "Al." Filreis is his adviser and teaches the seminar he recently took on representations of the Holocaust in film and literature.
Steve McLaughlin represented the Kelly Writers House on a committee steering the University of Pennsylvania through its “year of sound” (2013-14). Needless to say, sound is right down our audiophilic alley. Steve organized an event as part of the theme year at the Writers House — held on February 4, 2014 — and it featured experimental radio host and producer Benjamen Walker. Audio and video recordings of the full program are available, but today we are releasing a Kelly Writers House podcast, number 35 in the series, that offers a 15-minute excerpt of the hour-plus-long program. The excerpt was edited by Matt Bernstein.
The event was called “What Oozed Through the Staircase: A Winter Afternoon of Surrealist Writing and Music,” held in the middle of the surrealist exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, January 26, 2014. Surprised that the event wasn't being recorded, I brought out my smart phone and captured the audio as best I could from the fourth row. I also made a video recording of the final performance — a surrealist game. All this is now available at a special PennSound page.