Current Groups

Discussion Group 112: October 10 – 19, 2018

Lauren Yates: Witchiness, Femininity & Healing

In this 10-day discussion group, we will explore themes of gender, trauma, and emotional labor through poetry. Topics to be discussed will include repetition as incantation, the validity of intuition as a way of knowing, and the cultural archetype of "the witch" as a pariah, and the new archetype of "the healer" as a queer femme identity.

Lauren T. Yates is a writer from Oceanside, CA. In 2012, Lauren earned her B.A. in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in ANOMALY, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Rust + Moth. For more information, visit laurentyates.com.


Discussion Group 113: October 18 – November 16, 2018

Mike Hennessey: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Kurt Vonnegut's 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (or Pearls Before Swine), is a book that's easy to overlook — coming between his two best-known novels, Cat's Cradle (1963) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) — and yet it serves as a vital missing link where ideas central to the author's philosophy and aesthetic are given shape.

Though the titular Eliot Rosewater is our protagonist, Vonnegut tells us in the novel's opening sentence that "[a] sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees." Specifically, he's talking about $87,472,033.61 (a lot of money then and now). Eliot is the primary trustee of the Rosewater Foundation — a philanthropic organization set up by his father, an Indiana senator, as a tax shelter — to whom the money belongs. At the heart of the novel is the question of qualities such as charity, fellowship, selflessness, and generosity (as embodied by Eliot) and the place they occupy in a capitalist society. These concerns are perhaps even more important now than they were in the mid-60s, when Vonnegut's quaint sociological notions about humankind's duties to one another captured the imagination of young readers.

As Vonnegut slowly but surely worked his way towards being able to write Slaughterhouse-Five, we learn that Eliot, like Vonnegut, is scarred by his experiences during WWII and a major part of how he comes to terms with that is by valorizing the role firefighters play in society. Vonnegut himself had been a volunteer firefighter while he worked at GE, and his own admiration for them is mirrored in the novel, where he observes that they are: "almost the only examples of enthusiastic unselfishness to be seen in this land. They rush to the rescue of any human being, and count not the cost. The most contemptible man in town, should his contemptible house catch fire, will see his enemies put the fire out. There we have people treasuring people as people."

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater also serves as our first introduction to Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut's alter-ego and one of his most-cherished creations. If you're not already acquainted with him, Trout is a prolific science fiction writer — author of more than 117 novels and 2000 short stories — albeit not one who has gained either critical or financial recognition: his work is usually published as filler in pornographic magazines. Eliot Rosewater is a diehard fan of his work, however, and through his influence, so is Billy Pilgrim, protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five. He'll also appear in that novel, as well as Breakfast of Champions, Jailbird, and Timequake, along with countless stories, and Rosewater would serve as a frequent muse as well, also appearing several later novels.

Whether you're an old fan of Vonnegut's work or this is your first time reading him, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater serves as poignant and pointed commentary on our past, our present, and our future. I hope you'll join us for a fun month of reading and discussion.

**Please note: participants will need to have access to their own copy of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater**

Michael Hennessey is the editor of both PennSound (an online poetry audio archive) and (with Julia Bloch) Jacket2 (a journal of poetry and poetics), both of which are part of UPenn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. He also teaches at the University of Cincinnati on a variety of topics from the Beats to Baseball Literature, including a popular semester-long course on Kurt Vonnegut's life and writing. His critical writing has appeared in The Journal of Electronic Publishing, Interval(le)s, English Studies in Canada, MELUS, Jacket2, as well as in several books; creative work has been published in EOAGH, Jacket, Cross Cultural Poetics, Zen Monster, Moss Trill, Jupiter88, Elective Affinities, and Noon, among others.

Discussion Group 114: December 3 – 17, 2018 [break for the holidays] January 3 – 17, 2019

Al Filreis: The Poetry of Mei Mei Berssenbrugge

This group will read and discuss a selection of poems by Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, a 2019 Kelly Writers House Fellow [will link to Fellows page when the update for 2019 is complete]. Berssenbrugge is known for her poetry's beautiful and long, deceptively prose-like line, which she uses to navigate many interconnected topics, including the natural world and the inner world of human thought and perception. Join this group whether you are learning about Berssenbrugge's work for the first time, or excited to discuss treasured poems in a new setting. All materials will be provided for you, and this session will be conducted inside the ModPo site. Those not already enrolled in ModPo can do so here: www.coursera.org/learn/modpo.

Additionally, if you are in the Philadelphia area, we invite you to RSVP to attend Berssenbrugge's events at the Kelly Writers House during her March visit as a Fellow. Please write to the Fellows program coordinator, Lily Applebaum for more information about these events: alily@writing.upenn.edu.

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

Discussion Group 115: February 19 – February 28, 2019

Lily Applebaum: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

In summer of 1983, Kate Bush moved to a 17th century farm house in the countryside, filled her barn-turned-recording-studio with her Fairlight synthesizer, and began work on the groundbreaking album Hounds of Love. Her partner bassist Del Palmer, her family members, and others would drop in to collaboratively produce sounds for the album over the many month long recording process. Each track on the album scaffolds, layers and builds in a symphonic way that was unlike any other music using synth that was being made at the time. She drew on wide-ranging inspirations from her own life, nature sounds, folk tales, classics of Western literature, overlooked moments in history, and more; our job is to figure out how it all works together. We’ll take this ten day group to closely listen to and unpack the layered and cacophonous sound on this influential and beautiful album (yes, even the wildly experimental second side of the album!), as well as watch music videos and read interviews, reviews, and other musicians’ interpretations of Bush’s work and legacy. Whether this is your favorite album of all time or you’re new to Kate Bush’s work, you’ll find something fun and wild to latch on to here.

Lily Applebaum works at the Kelly Writers House as the Assistant to Faculty Director Al Filreis. She received her BA in English and Environmental Studies in 2012 from Penn, and the 2018/2019 school year marks her 11th (!) year of involvement with this community. Through her work at KWH, she coordinates the Kelly Writers House Fellows program, serves as a TA for ModPo, and for 8 years coordinated the Brodsky Gallery in the first floor of the house, among many other projects. If you see her at the House, say hello and ask her about today's weather.

Discussion Group 116: March 13 – March 22, 2019

Victoria Ford: Uses of Dark Humor in Black Literature

Humor is how Black folk congregate. For Black writers and artists, humor is often used to illuminate the condition of Black life by capturing the complicated pot of our joy, our grief, and the mundane. In this group, we will discuss how contemporary Black writers utilize humor, irony, and satire to capture the depth of Black life—questioning definitions of citizenship, respectability politics, and classism, as well as pleasure, relationships, and the body. Excerpts for this discussion will include pieces from Nafissa Thompson-Spires' debut short story collection, Heads of the Colored People, Samantha Irby's nonfiction collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and more.

Victoria Newton Ford is a poet and essayist from the South. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 with a B.A. in English and a concentration in creative writing. A 2018 Lambda Literary Poetry Fellow, Victoria's writing has appeared in Sojourners, Connotations Press: An Online Artifact, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. She is currently based in Washington, D.C.

Discussion Group 117: May 8 - May 17, 2019

David Roberts and Al Filreis: Two short stories

This group will pair and discuss two short stories, to be announced soon. Text of the stories will be provided to participants of the group. Each story will be discussed and analyzed on its own, but also each story will influence how we read and make meaning from the other story. A great group for all who love the form of the short story, regardless of whether or not you're familiar with the work of the two authors we'll be comparing here!

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

David Roberts is a member of the Kelly Writers House Advisory Board, a denizen of the KWH book groups and when he is not reading, works in Manhattan in the investment business. He is a 1983 graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania.