WXPN, Kelly Writers House take poetry and music to the airwaves

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 17, 1997

Perhaps the ambience of the Kelly Writers House -- the pervasive coffee scent that greets visitors upon entering, the mahogany 19th century furniture and the cozy lamplight -- cannot be transmitted over radio waves.

But Saturday night, poetry and music from the Writers House was broadcast throughout Pennsylvania and three other states. From midnight to 1 a.m., WXPN-FM, the University-owned radio station at 88.5, featured a live poetry reading from the Locust Walk locale, marking the premiere episode of what is to be a monthly radio show.

"It's definitely beneficial to both Writers House and 'XPN," Sarah Giulian, student-producer of "Live from Kelly Writers House," said.

Through frequent broadcasts of a calendar of events, the show boosts publicity for the Writers House, which has been open to the public for less than a year.

And the show signifies an effort on the part of WXPN to build "stronger ties with the University."

"[Until now] 'XPN has been everything but Penn," said Joe Taylor, who produced the show for the station. "It's silly for us to be at such a great university and not take advantage of it."

Volunteers for WQHS, the University's student-run station at 570 AM, assisted WXPN in coordinating the program -- a move that reflects WXPN's desire to increase interaction between the two stations.

Giulian added that the show will spread literary awareness to a wide audience as part of an effort that has never before existed in the area.

"[Live broadcast poetry] is not done often -- and it's certainly not done in Philly," said Giulian, a College senior and a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist. "We can get people hearing, listening [and] thinking about poetry."

Writers House Faculty Director and English Professor Al Filreis began the show with a poem that reflected how poetry -- though new to radio -- is often best enjoyed aloud.

The readers took advantage of being on radio by inflecting their voices, involving multiple readers in poems and even using music to accompany their poetry. Giulian's poem was a narrative set to Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

"I thought everyone was going to be nervous and rush through their poems," Giulian commented afterwards. "But it turns out that poets are natural actors -- and everyone was a ham."

The "house band" of the Writers House -- the Virgin Septet -- also received airtime during the show, although they were not able to perform live due to lack of space in the house.

Instead, using WXPN equipment, the band recorded music onto a CD, which was played periodically throughout the program. Giulian cited this as an example of the "rubber flexibility" that working with WXPN affords the Writers House.

The Writers House was instituted as part of Penn's 21st Century Project to "provide a different Penn experience for students graduating in the 21st century," said Giulian, who added that she was excited to see it becoming a popular spot on campus.

The house is open to the public from noon to 11 p.m. every day except Friday, when it closes at 5 p.m. It features a variety of services and writing-centered activities for the University community -- including guest speakers, peer writing advisors and "show and tell" sessions for sharing original poetry.

"It is all way beyond my imagination," said Giulian, who added that the house's incredible progress is due in great part to the efforts of Filreis.

Many students have been equally enthusiastic and Saturday's event was no exception. After the broadcast, the event coordinators were already preparing for the next live session.