Category Archives: Written Word

Lessons Through Literature

GutknechtAllisonA year or so ago, when Allison Gutknecht C’05 uncovered an embarrassing fact about the marching-band pants she’d worn in high school, she pulled out her phone and quickly tapped out a note to herself: Next book:, she wrote, Don’t Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants and Other Lessons I’ve Learned. “That title is where the whole thing stemmed from,” she says now.

Gutknecht had written three other manuscripts by the time she started Don’t Wear, which will be published by the Simon & Schuster imprint Aladdin on Nov. 12. Those first three stories centered on 10- and 11-year-old kids, but for her new project, Gutknecht decided to aim younger. Mandy, the narrator and main character of Don’t Wear, is an 8-year-old second grader.

Gutknecht spoke with us about publishing her first book, the art of writing for kids and the unusual way she met Ann M. Martin.

POLKADOTCOVERYou wrote Don’t Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants from 8-year-old Mandy’s point of view. How did you find the right voice for such a young narrator and make sure it was authentic?
It just kind of came out that way. My mom teaches second grade, so I hear a lot of stories about kids and school all the time. Mandy was written as an experiment because I’d never done an 8 year old’s point of view before and I wanted to try it. It’s actually harder for me to write from a teenage perspective because their lives change so rapidly. I find them harder to keep up with. Kids are kids to me, no matter what. Their problems are kind of always the same. It’s more universal and easier to tap into for me than older perspectives.

Now that you’ve been through the writing process from idea to published book, what are the biggest things you’ve learned?
For me, it’s always important just to keep going. If I’m working on something, I try to write a chapter every day. It’s good practice whether or not anything ever comes of it. I wrote the first draft [of Don’t Wear] very, very quickly. I think it was four days. Then I revised it many times after that before sending it to my agent.

I also think it’s very important to remember that no matter what story you’re telling, your perspective will be different from the way anyone else can write it. That’s the one thing you have major control over: writing it down and making it the best you can.

What are you working on now? Do you see Don’t Wear as the first in a series of books about Mandy?
I would love to write about Mandy for eternity. There is a sequel coming out on March 4 in the Mandy series called A Cast Is the Perfect Accessory. After that, we’ll have to see. I’m working on other projects also, but it’s pretty Mandy-centric right now.

Are there specific authors or books you remember loving as a kid?
Ann M. Martin, who wrote The Baby-Sitters Club, was always my favorite. I read The Baby-Sitters Club from when I was too young to read it until I was too old to read it. I read all of her other books, too: Ten Kids, No Pets; Bummer Summer; Yours Truly, Shirley. Any book she wrote, I read. There were other things I read as a child, but truly no one had the level of Ann M. Martin in my mind.

A couple years ago, I decided I wanted a kitten. I found out that Ann M. Martin was fostering a litter of kittens at her house. They were all gray-and-white tabbies, which is what my beloved childhood cat was. Long story short, I contacted the woman from the adoption agency and went to go meet the kitten. Ann lives about two hours north of New York. My parents and I drive up to her house. I meet her, I’m in her house, she takes me to her writing studio and I’m dying of happiness. She is the sweetest, nicest, most genuine person — just the person you would want her to be. Two weeks later, I went back to pick up my kitten.

Did you go back and re-read some of her books once you started writing your own?
When I was in grad school [at NYU], I wrote a children’s chapter book for my thesis and adapted it to a children’s pilot television script. For the research part of the thesis, I looked at relatable versus aspirational characters, including in The Baby-Sitters Club. I still keep up with the new releases of authors that I like, so I still read a lot children’s books, but I don’t do it specifically for research or anything. I do it because I like it.

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Kelly Writers House announces this year’s crop of alumni book groups

Last year around this time, we told you all about the free online book groups Kelly Writers House had created for alumni — and today we’re back to do it again! The first group starts in late October, so there’s still plenty of time to join up and get readin’ before then. Here’s an overview of the seven groups on tap for 2013-14.

goonsquadGroup #71: Oct. 21 – 30, 2013

Separate But Together: Links in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad

The focus: Selections from the Pulitzer-winning, alumna-authored A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan C’85) will guide the group’s discussion of “linked narratives.” Participants will examine what binds the Goon Squad stories together and consider the craft and style of these “independent” narratives.

The leader: Courtney Zoffness C’00, who co-founded Speakeasy at the Kelly Writers House as an undergraduate. She has taught creative writing at numerous universities since and recently won a 2013 Emerging Writer Fellowship at the Center for Fiction in New York. She’s currently writing her own collection of linked stories.

Writing-Down-the-BonesGroup #72: Nov. 4 – 14, 2013

Getting Your Words Out: Using Techniques from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones to Begin or Augment Your Creative Expression

The focus: First published nearly 20 years ago, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within fuses Zen meditation principles with writing how-to’s. The group will read Bones and then employ its lessons and techniques, sharing the results with each other online. But there will be no critique of individual writing samples, as Goldberg’s methods focus on casting aside negativity and judgment.

The leader: Janet Falon, an award-winning writer who has taught the craft for 37 years and studied directly with Goldberg. Falon wrote The Jewish Journaling Book and has taught both students at staff at Penn for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and on WHYY-TV.

ArmantroutGroup #73: Dec. 5 – 19, 2013 and Jan. 2 – 16, 2014

The Poetry of Rae Armantrout

The focus: With her short-lined, complex poems, Rae Armantrout is considered a founding member of the West Coast-based Language poets. She’s published numerous books of poetry, one of which (Versed) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. She’ll also be visiting the Writers House for three days in April as a Kelly Writers House Fellow. While participants in this group are free to purchase one or two of Armantrout’s recent books, it’s not required. The leader will send copies of her poems via email.

The leader: Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and Faculty Director of the Writers House, who has led numerous online book groups and has taught several all-online, semester-long courses. He has won multiple teaching awards and was named the Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. He’s also published four books including, most recently, Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry.

brooksGroup # 74: Feb. 3 – March 3, 2014

The Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks

The focus: Gwendolyn Brooks, a celebrated poet and the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. While her best-known work is the rhythmic poem “We Real Cool,” Brooks’s full body of work spans a wide range of form and content. This group will examine her long career and consider what Brooks’s works reveal about 20th-century ideas of race, gender, motherhood, urban living and education. Participants will read The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, the long poem “Annie Allen,” prose, interviews and listen to recordings of Brooks reading her work.

The leader: Julia Bloch Gr’11, an editor of Jacket2 and the associate director of Kelly Writers House. Her book of prose poems, Letters to Kelly Clarkson, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She teaches creative writing at Penn and is also working on a book in literary studies focused on gender and the long poem in 20th-century American poetry.

frazierGroup #75: Feb. 19 – March 19, 2014

Writers House Fellows OOC

The focus: Modeled on the annual Writers House Fellows course, this open online course (OOC) will re-examine the works of four previous fellows and ask: What makes writing contemporary? The extensive Writers House archives will be put to full use here, supplying past readings and conversations with each of the fellows: Ian Frazier, Jamaica Kincaid, Robert Coover and Susan Howe. Participants will also read texts by each fellow.

The leaders: Max McKenna C’10, a first-year PhD student in English at the University Chicago, and a familiar face in the Writers House ModPo MOOC. He has published fiction in several literary journals and essays on modernism and contemporary literary culture both in print and online.

Lily Applebaum C’12, assistant to Al Filreis and coordinator of the Writers House Fellows Program. She is also a teaching assistant for ModPo and coordinator of the Brodsky Gallery at the Writers House.

dylanGroup #76: April 7 – 16, 2014

Blood on the Tracks: Tangled up, and blue…

The focus: It’s been nearly 40 years since Bob Dylan released Blood on the Tracks, but it’s still difficult to categorize the album. Many see it as strongly autobiographical, though Dylan has insisted it isn’t; others debate its status as a “concept album.” However you interpret it, the 52-minute record is both simple and complex, sweet and venomous — and the ideal subject for an alumni discussion group.

The leader: Patrick Bredehoft, director of the Penn Alumni Interview Program in the Office of Alumni Relations. Before coming to Penn, Patrick was an IB English teacher and college counselor at a small boarding school located outside Istanbul, Turkey, where he also served as the head of foreign languages. From 2010-2012, he worked for Penn’s Undergraduate Admissions Office, where he served as the liaison between the UGAO and the Kelly Writers House.

cheeverGroup #77: May 15 – 24, 2014

Short stories by John Cheever and F. Scott Fitzgerald

The focus: Participants will consider two short stories: Cheever’s “Boy in Rome” (1978) and Fitzgerald’s “One Trip Abroad” (1930). Though published almost 50 years apart, both stories focus on Americans traveling abroad, in search of something they lack at home. This group will examine each story individually, then compare and contrast the two.

The leaders: Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and faculty director of the Writers House, and David Roberts W’83, a member of the Kelly Writers House Advisory Board and denizen of the alumni book groups who works in Manhattan in the investment business.

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Writing instructor Karen Rile C’80 on her new literary magazine, Cleaver

karen-rileKaren Rile C’80 always dreamed of starting her own literary magazine. The idea just kept pushing its way into her head until finally, in early 2013, she launched Cleaver Magazine with her daughter, Lauren Rile Smith. The mother-daughter team released their new publication’s first full issue in March and a follow-up in June. The third issue of Cleaver is due out Sept. 3. We spoke with Rile, a Penn writing instructor and Gazette contributor, about her experience starting and running a literary magazine.

What is it that appeals to you about literary magazines, and why did you decide to start your own?

Where is most fiction and poetry being published these days? You get a little bit in places like The Atlantic or The New Yorker, but most of it is really happening in literary magazines. I’ve been interested in literary magazines for many, many years, and I’ve always wanted to have a magazine, but the problems of distributing a print edition were overwhelming. It’s very difficult. But now with the Internet the way it is and the tools that are available, my idea was to start a magazine that was online-only.

How did you land on the name Cleaver?

It was something my daughter came up with years ago and we decided on a whim that we’d use it. ‘Cleave’ is a Janus word: It means both to chop apart but also to stick tight. It’s just a nice little pun. And it’s kind of a joke — what is ‘cutting edge’ anymore? Everything has been done.

What type of work do you publish?

We’re really just interested in good writing and the work we’ve been choosing is pretty eclectic. Some of it seems very experimental, some of it seems very traditional. There’s a lot of variety in what we’re presenting, but our particular taste is work that’s very specific and well-crafted.

How did you spread the word about Cleaver?

I’ve been involved as a writer for many years, so between Lauren and me we have a lot of connections. I also listed it on Duotrope, which is a website where writers can keep track of their submissions. They list hundreds of literary magazines. Immediately submissions started pouring in.

Who are your contributors? I know I spotted at least a few alumni on the list.

We’ve had people from all over the world. When I added it up recently, maybe 12 or 15 percent of the writers are connected to Penn, either as alumni or faculty or current students or staff. That’s partly because I know so many writers at Penn, but also because we feel a real connection to that community.

We publish people who are very established writers and also quite a lot of people who have never published before. We’ve had over a thousand submissions, and I think our acceptance rate is around seven percent.

What’s on the horizon for Cleaver?

We started adding book reviews a couple months ago. Every week I’m putting up maybe two or three of those. I’m also interested in bringing in dramatic writing by publishing monologues as text and including high-quality videos of an actor performing the monologues. That should be a lot of fun and bring in a whole other community.

The most recent issue of Cleaver is available here, including these contributions by Penn alumni:

Emily Steinberg C’87 FA’87 GFA’91
The Modernist Cabin (art)

Nathaniel Popkin C’91 GCP’95
“The Dig” from Lion and Leopard, The Head & The Hand Press, October 2013 (novel excerpt)

Jamie-Lee Josselyn C’05
Dispatch from the Cat Show” (essay)

John Carroll C’05
Journalism” (flash fiction)

Anna Strong C’13
from Aposthropes (poetry)

Anya Lichtenstein C’13
Beating Ploughshares into iPods” (essay)

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How do Penn professors spend their summers?

You may have wondered what Penn’s illustrious English professors are up to when school isn’t in session. The short answer is plenty. The longer answer, at least in the case of Kenneth Goldsmith, is showing up on popular TV shows and websites to discuss all kinds of interesting stuff.

Last Tuesday, we spotted Goldsmith—who we previously wrote about here and in the magazinecalling himself a “dumb writer” on The Awl. That evening, he turned up again, this time sparring with Stephen on The Colbert Report while promoting his new book and giving us a sudden craving for watermelon:

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 2.25.43 PM
You can watch Goldsmith’s full interview with Colbert on the show’s website (make sure you watch until the end, as things really heat up around the 4:30 mark), but here’s a taste of the conversation:

Colbert: You are the poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art. You’ve got 10 books of poetry. You teach writing at the University of Pennsylvania and you’ve got a new book called Seven American Deaths and Disasters. Did you write this?

Goldsmith: Absolutely not. I never write any of my books.

Goldsmith: You see, artists are dumb.

Colbert: Artists are dumb?

Goldsmith: Artists are dumb. We do things that you shouldn’t do. What I’m doing is too easy for an investigative reporter to do, and by doing something that is that simple, we’re uncovering something that nobody else has actually ever thought of.

Come fall, Goldsmith will be teaching a course focused on the Institute of Contemporary Art’s 50th anniversary called Writing Through Art and Literature.

The merrily attired Goldsmith wasn’t the only Penn writing professor we found in the spotlight this summer. Beth Kephart C’82, Lorene Cary C’78 G’78 and Diane McKinney-Whetstone CW’75 are honored in a new exhibit at the Philadelphia International Airport and were all on hand for the July 2 unveiling. Under the lengthy title Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy: Selected Authors, Playwrights and Poets — from Writers of the Declaration of Independence to Present Day, the exhibit also celebrates Benjamin Franklin, W.E.B. DuBois, Lisa Scottoline C’77 L’81 and L.A. Banks W’80.

Kephart passed along these photos from the opening ceremony:

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For those who are curious, here’s the full 50-name list of those honored in the exhibit, on view in Terminal A-East:

Louisa May Alcott, Lloyd Alexander, L.A. Banks, Berenstains, Ben Bova, Sandra Boynton, Charles Brockden Brown, Rosellen Brown, Pearl S. Buck, Bebe Moore Campbell, Lorene Cary, Noam Chomsky, R. Crumb, Gardner Dozois, W.E.B. Dubois, Ben Franklin, Charles Fuller, David Goodis, Carolyn Haywood, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Solomon Jones, Ken Kalfus, Beth Kephart, George Lippard, Alain Locke, Diane McKinney-Whetstone, Margaret Mead, James Michener, Katherine Milhous, Karen E. Quinones Miller, Thomas Paine, Richard Powell, Tom Purdom, Joe Queenan, Anna Quindlen, Deborah Kogan Ray, Agnes Repplier, Sonia Sanchez, Judy Schachner, Lisa Scottoline, Sara Shephard,  Jerry Spinelli, I. F. Stone, Michael Swanwick, Jennifer Weiner, David Wiesner, Owen Wister,  Teri Woods.

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Caren Lissner C’93 hopes to ‘kickstart’ Carrie Pilby movie

carriepilbycoverTwo weeks ago, Variety announced that Caren Lissner’s novel, Carrie Pilby, was “headed for the big screen.” That same day, the Women in Film Institute proclaimed that “Susan Cartsonis, Chair of the Women In Film Foundation is producing an adaptation of the young-adult novel Carrie Pilby…[and] working with her Storefront Pictures colleague, Suzanne Farwell who is a long-time collaborator of Nancy Meyers and co-producer of Something’s Gotta Give.”

While both articles mentioned that the producers were “planning to fund the project via a Kickstarter campaign,” no further details were given. We recently spoke with Lissner C’93, who explained that director Susan Johnson of Braveart films and producers Cartsonis and Farwell are trying to raise $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to “show investors that there’s a fan base out there. If they can’t reach that goal, the movie” — which would cost about $2.5 million to produce — “wouldn’t get made,” she added.

As of this morning, the Carrie Pilby Kickstarter was almost halfway to its goal, with 11 days of fundraising left.

It’s been 10 years since Lissner’s first novel, Carrie Pilby, was originally published, and three more years since it was re-released. It’s sold more than 50,000 copies and editions have been published in France, Italy, Mexico, England, Australia and Indonesia.

Here’s how Carrie Pilby is described on the Kickstarter page:

Carrie Pilby‘s eponymous main character is a 19-year old genius who graduated from Harvard early and has no idea how to fit in, date or talk to people.  She believes the majority of her hometown, New York City, to be sex-obsessed, immoral hypocrites.  Despite her father’s “Big Lie” about meeting like individuals at college, she felt the same way about her college peers, and an affair with her college professor only left her more isolated and alone.  Her therapist gives her a five-point plan to test her very black-and-white beliefs. Ultimately, Carrie faces the universal coming-of-age (at any age) question: Which tradeoffs, if any, are acceptable in order to “fit in”?

“The women involved in this are really interested in getting this quirky, nerdy character onto film,” Lissner said. “I think it would be great to see this story on the big screen. This isn’t a character you normally see as the star of a movie.”

Is there an actress she would love to see play Carrie? “A lot of people on the web have been suggesting Emma Watson and Chloë Moretz,” Lissner said, “but I’d be happy with any actress who could get [Carrie’s] particular brand of nerdy enthusiasm right.”

Lissner published her second novel, Starting from Square Two, in 2005. She said she’s working on another book right now called In for the Winter and hopes to finish it by this fall. “Readers who liked Carrie Pilby will probably like this one, too,” she added.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter campaign has surpassed its fundraising goal. Carrie Pilby will indeed become a feature film.

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Two of Penn’s arts-and-culture-focused MOOCs start this month

Did you catch Trey Popp’s story about massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the March/April 2013 Gazette? It’s called “MOOC U.” and you can read it in full here.

While the story included a handy info box with Penn’s Coursera offerings, we wanted to let you know about two arts-and-culture-oriented MOOCs that both start later this month: Greek and Roman Mythology and Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society.

First, here’s the skinny on Greek and Roman Mythology — taught by Peter Struck, associate professor of classical studies and director of Benjamin Franklin Scholars — from the Coursera site:

Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.

Assigned readings will include Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As Struck told Trey Popp: “My bread-and-butter course has always been this mythology class” — and it sounds like a fun one to us. It starts in two weeks, on April 22, and you can sign up here.

Karl Ulrich, vice dean of innovation at Wharton and CIBC Professor of Entrepreneurship and e-Commerce, is teaching Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society starting April 29. Coursera lists it in the Information, Tech, and Design class category and says it will combine “fundamental concepts with hands-on design challenges to become a better designer.”

It’s meant for anyone who’s interested in designing something — regardless of what category that “something” may fall under — as noted in this extended description (emphasis ours):

This is a course aimed at making you a better designer. The course marries theory and practice, as both are valuable in improving design performance. Lectures and readings will lay out the fundamental concepts that underpin design as a human activity. Weekly design challenges test your ability to apply those ideas to solve real problems. The course is deliberately broad — spanning all domains of design, including architecture, graphics, services, apparel, engineered goods, and products. The emphasis of the course is the basic design process: define, explore, select, and refine. You, the student, bring to the course your particular interests and expertise related to, for instance, engineering, furniture, fashion, architecture, or products. In prior sessions of the course about half of the participants were novices and about half had prior professional design expertise. Both groups seem to benefit substantially from the course. All project work is evaluated by your peers — and indeed, you will also be a peer reviewer. This format allows you to see an interesting collection of projects while getting useful feedback on your own project.

Ulrich himself helped design this scooter, the TerraPass system and Gushers fruit snacks. He talks about those creations and his plans for the class in this introductory video:

Of course, if you do enroll in one of these Penn MOOCs, we’d love to hear about your experience!

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“Rough Wednesday shake the Darling Buds of May.” Or, what does Google Voice do when fed actual poems?

John Carroll C’05 created a website that’s been entertaining us for the last few months. Now we’re sharing it with you: Poetry, by Google Voice.

Here’s how it works: People call a Google Voice phone number and read an actual poem. Google Voice transcribes that reading, mishearing much of it and spitting out what is essentially a brand-new poem. Carroll then posts the new Google Voice-ified version of the poem, along with a link to the original work, on his website.

A Penn English major and former assistant director of development at the Kelly Writers House, Carroll answered a few questions for us via email about his site and the poems it’s produced so far.

I love this idea of having Google Voice make its own weird poems out of actual poems. It’s a great twist on the Google-Voice-transcriptions-as-poetry concept. How did you come up with this?

Well, I’ll tell the unnecessarily LONG version so I provide the proper context. I started a Google Voice account when the service started years ago. I didn’t know if it’d be something I used, but it was intriguing enough that I figured I should get a local number and just hold onto it. And I didn’t use it much at all, but it was still linked with my email. So I occasionally got weird messages and voicemails from it — typically spam, trying to tell me I’d won a free iPad or something.

But in December, I received a hilarious voicemail from a couple that had tried to dial 215-821-4761, which I only know because they left a message where they discovered their error, talked about it, tried to figure out how to delete a message, then finally hung up. And the only thing more delightful than the message itself was Google’s attempt at a transcript: “Over. Over. Okay bye. So I just want to put the tanks flooring and I found very racist. 643-4764, that’s 7 network, Okay bye. Not. I need that we do call. We races. Your. Sorry order, Yeah, well at ever. It is proper response option. Yeah.”

I posted it to my Twitter account since I found it so funny, and Lily Applebaum C’12 —who works at Kelly Writers House — sent a reply that said: “That’s the best poem I’ve read all day!” And her reply reminded me that Google Voice “Poetry” is something that exists — so I thought I’d submit it to that site. That’s how it existed in my head: there’s a site out there that posts Google Voice transcripts that are particularly funny. But when I searched for it, I found that there were dozens of sites that did it.

And it’s such a minor thing, but it bothered me!  Poetry can be difficult, but I think it’s too often dismissed as abstract — or weird for the sake of weird — by people who just don’t want to take the time to read it closely. And while I don’t mind people not reading poetry, I guess I did mind all of these sites that were copying one another. So I wanted to try something different.

The site was ultimately born from the idea that poetry is not awful and random, but that I could take this popular idea (bad transcription = poem!) and apply it to poems themselves. It reminded me of something I could have done in a Penn class I took with Kenneth Goldsmith called Uncreative Writing. Let me produce a new piece of writing by using something that already exists.

From there, it just continued to grow. I called to start it. Then I asked friends to call. Then I started using the vast PennSound archives to play readings to Google Voice. And then I started to recall shows and movies that featured poems. It started as something that I thought might be fun for a few days and became something that I’d like to maintain for a while.

Why did you decide to start with Emily Dickinson?

The poem is important to me. You can find it excerpted on the dedication plaque inside the Kelly Writers House, which was an important place for me both as its student, employee and alum. I don’t think I’d be interested in poetry without that place and its people, or without being ushered to Emily and her work. So it just seemed like a natural place to start. Her importance also helped establish that nothing was off-limits. I wasn’t creating this blog to make fun of bad poems. I wanted to feed anything and everything to Google Voice to see what came out on the other side.

Which has been your favorite Google Voice-ified poem so far?

Oof. This was harder to choose than I thought. There are so many good ones. I love the Mad Men reading of Frank O’Hara because it’s opened up some new possibilities in the future. And Tom Devaney called himself after I fed Google Voice a recording of him, so that was a thrill.  But if I’m picking one, it’d have to be “Ontology of Chang and Eng, the Original Siamese Twins” by Cathy Park Hong.

“Ontology” just struck me as both hilarious as a translation and perfect for the goals of the site: its shape and formatting guide your reading, so it’s exactly the type of work someone might dismiss as too abstract for them. And Google Voice just couldn’t make any sense of it, because it’s built to transcribe simple messages between people. So “Eng” becomes “And” and the poem just mutates into this big, indecipherable mess. I was laughing the entire time I was formatting it for the site.

Is there one that you’ve felt turned out better than the original?

Just today I posted a translation of the poem that Julia Stiles reads in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. The poem is a pretty simple, rhyming piece: the kind of thing you’d expect someone who’s never read much poetry to write. Is the translation better? Maybe, maybe not. But what I like about it is how it gets a lot of the content right, but strips all of the format and musicality. It’s what I’d expect Julia Stiles to read in the movie if she was wearing a beret and didn’t love the guy. So maybe it’s not better, but it equals the trashiness of the original, and that’s probably the best work Google Voice has done so far.

If you want to read a poem for Carroll’s site and see what Google Voice comes up with, here’s the process:

1.  Dial (215) 821-7461.
2.  Leave your full name when prompted.
3.  State the poem’s title and author.
4.  Read the poem. (A note from Carroll: Google Voice has a 3-minute limit on voicemail, so you either have to be brief or call a few times!)

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