Notes from the Green Couch

Creative Writing winners, 2006

Each spring, the Creative Writing Program sponsors contests for Penn students. At this event, students who won prizes in various genres of writing read from their work.

April 26, 2006

The 2006 Creative Writing Awards reading was a night about people. It started with a series of letters to pop phenomenon Kelly Clarkson, ended with a handicapped, musically-obsessed mother, and featured an array of

Notes from the Green Couch

fictional and nonfictional characters -in between -- from "an exacting, fragile maestro," to Bob Dylan; from a pair of flirts to Muhammad Ali. While poetry remained the prevalent genre, an audience of proud faculty and friends were also treated to screenwriting, fiction, and for the first time ever, journalism readings. In all, ten awards were awarded to ten young writers and yielded ten outstanding readings.

Half the readers presented selected poems, each offering a different flavor - a unique character. Julia Bloch, winner of the William Carlos Williams Prize for Poetry by a graduate student, read a trio of poems. Beginning with the aforementioned "Letters to Kelly Clarkson," Bloch also read a sonnet from her "Apartment." Bloch concluded with the highly praised "On The Way Home From Your House There's a Bar Called Chances," of which judge Allen Rosser said "[There was a] verbal virtuosity and lyrical pressure cooking...a uniquely intriguingly pre-jaded quality to the wistfulness expressed...[where] the speaker is driving across the hip of the city singing to nothing..."

Pia Aliperti not only placed third in the College Alumni Society Poetry Prize; she was also the central character in one of her collection of poems. Her poems are a set of paintings in words, which morph into self-portraits by the verses' end - a chance of the speaker to reflect on self. This abstract trend was established in Aliperti's first poem, "Amsterdam," where a series of 'punny' snapshots tell the story of her own visit to the eccentric European city; it ended with her final poem, "Self Portrait Bo Bartlett," where a male painter shows off a self-portrait and a painting within a painting.

Adrian Khactu shook things up in a big way with his translation of the Vietnamese poem, "June," which earned him the Ezra Pound Prize of Literary Translation. Khactu was the only reader whose work did not profile an individual or group of individuals. Rather, Tiu lu Sai Gon's "June" was a political poem disguised as a love poem, "mourning the loss of a country or ideal."

Kathryn Fleishman, second place in the College Alumni Society Poetry Prize, returned to more personal poetry with her pair of works: "?" and "Mousetrap." In the former, Fleishman brings to life a farming family she worked with in Tuscany. The latter poem was actually written on a poetry retreat with none other than Al Filreis, and shifts seamlessly from a story about her boyfriend liberating a tortured mouse on a sticky trap to a love poem for her boyfriend.

Sam Donsky, winner of the College Alumni Society Poetry Prize, closed the book on the evening's poetry with a pair of complicated and challenging works - "Astonishing and vertiginous logical acrobatics...he expects the reader to make connections," Rosser said. In "A Broken Piece of Porcelain Doesn't Give You Much Information," Donsky offered the listeners with a series of unrelated personal anecdotes, where Donsky reacts ironically to others' comments. In "Young Person's Guide to Physics," Donsky tells the story of his grandfather dying of cancer through physics theories.

David Hindin and Alicia Oltuski provided the audience with an outstanding combination of musical fiction. Hindin, an ongoing medical school student, put on his writer's scrubs when he wrote the Phi Kappa Sigma Fiction Award second place piece, "One Thousand Kinds of Love." Told by an orchestral musician, Hindin's piece focuses on a maestro - the ensemble's conductor. The character of the unnamed maestro is accurately brought out through scrutinizing observations by the narrator (no physical movement goes undetected) and the maestro's own stories; the maestro's intense sentimentality and vanity are exposed simultaneously through the retelling of an exhausted story about how his first musical lesson was in his mother's womb.

Oltuski's "Points of Contact," the winner of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fiction Prize, complemented Hindin's piece perfectly - "Reading her humane, light touch is akin to hearing the individual notes in a complicated and beautiful concerto," said judge Mary Kaye Zerovleth. Oltuski excerpted a portion describing the mother having a visitor, Michael, play Mozart for her on the piano because she is unable to play any longer. Through the music, Oltuski makes a statement about inevitabilities in life - such as the one killing her story's central figure.

Shifting from fiction to screenwriting, Matt Rosenbaum wrote about what an audience saw, and Lindsey Rosin wrote what the audience would see. Rosenbaum was awarded the Lillian and Benjamin Levy Award for Review for his documentary write-up on "Five Years of Dylan." As our guide to the documentary, Rosenbaum analyzes the profile of Dylan perfectly - the man's evolution from awkward Robert Zimmerman into the voice of a generation; the ongoing conflict between image and self; the simple fact that it always was "all about the music."

On the other end of the spectrum, Rosin shared the opening of her play Something Good, which won the Judy Lee Award for Dramatic Writing. A gift to her parents for their 25th anniversary, Rosin's two-person play is what she imagines her parents' meeting would be had they met contemporaneously at the age where they actually met. The play shows an interesting reversal of character traits in a short period of time, as the boy begins on the offensive but soon melts as the girl begins psychoanalyzing his life accurately.

Finally, for the first ever Creative Writing Prize for Nonfiction, Drew Dulberg read his "In the Half-Dream Room: In Search of Muhammad Ali." Written in Paul Hendrickson's "Telling Stories Out of Photographs" class, Dulberg zooms in on a picture of Ali, triumphantly towering over the knocked out, formerly invincible Sonny Liston. With the photograph as a means to an end, Dulberg highlights the contrasting attributes the photograph captures: shouting but silent; movement though it cannot be sensed; defiance and immortality though only through the photo.