Local poets highlight readings, interpretations

The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 09, 2003

Philadelphia poet Gil Ott

Philadelphia poet Gil Ott reads excerpts from his work at the Kelly Writers House as part of a preceptorial during which he also sang lyrics a cappella.

Scott Hong/The Daily Pennsylvanian

The linguistic stylings of local poets took center stage at the Kelly Writers House Thursday night when the Penn community welcomed Jessica Lowenthal, Gil Ott and Tom Devaney for a special preceptorial program.

The reading and discussion, entitled "Three Philadelphia Poets," was led by English Professor Al Filreis -- who spent two hours earlier in the day with a small group of preceptorial students examining work by the evening's guests.

Dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a gray-green, long-sleeved shirt, Lowenthal started the reading with a poem titled "Definitions," which mimicked the layout and style of a dictionary.

Lowenthal read for about 15 minutes before turning the microphone over to fellow local poet Ott -- who immediately launched into a cappella lyrics singing, "The moon does not run on gasoline."

Ott spoke at length between each of his poems, at one point taking several minutes to explain his current interest in fairy tales before reading a poem titled "PSRSPHNE."

The last poet of the evening was the Writers House Program Coordinator Tom Devaney, who read for close to half an hour. The delivery of his poems often had the audience laughing as he read, especially during a piece titled "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"He didn't want to be known as the 'long-haired, broken-sandaled Kenobi,'" he recited.

The organized portion of the evening ended with Filreis moderating a short question-and-answer session before inviting audience members to enjoy an Indian buffet dinner with the featured writers.

For students who had attended the earlier workshop, the rare opportunity to compare their interpretations of the poems with that of the actual poets reading their work was exciting.

"One of the best things about poetry is seeing it performed live, hearing how the poet meant for each individual word to work within the poem," College freshman Jill Ivey said. "Readings like this one let others get that -- it's poetry on a whole new level."

For Ott, the attraction in reading for an audience was the chance to hear an interpretation other than his own.

"It's very odd to have people talk about your poems," he said in the middle of his reading. "It's odd to read your poems. So maybe later, you'll tell me what my poems are about."

After the event, Ott had nothing but praise for the Writers House and the evening.

"There was a room full of interested people who had read the work," he said. "It was a very literary atmosphere."

The program was presented by the Kelly Writers House in conjunction with the Preceptorial Committee.