Annual programs

Senior Capstone Project 2000

University of Pennsylvania B.A., 2000
at the Kelly Writers House
on Saturday, May the Twentieth, at 6 PM

"A Scrapbook of Intersections: Places Where Philadelphia and I Have Met"

A reading/presentation | Celebratory critical praise | Food & fun

From the invitation to friends, family and Writers House colleagues

Kirsten Thorpe is graduating with her bachelor of arts degree on Monday, May 22, 2000. We at the Writers House know we aren't saying goodbye to her, but we want to mark the occasion by honoring her and celebrating her exciting, fresh work as a poet - and her deep involvement, over four years, in helping to build the community of writers and artists at and around the Writers House.

Kirsten's final poetry project has been the making of a series of poems and visuals (mostly photographs) under the title "A Scrapbook of Intersections." I have sponsored this culminating academic project officially, but the refinement of Kirsten's work has been a collaborative effort--with ongoing critical reviews offered by Heather Starr, Kerry Sherin, Mike Magee, Mytili Jagannathan, Shawn Walker, Greg Djanikian, and Bob Perelman.

From the Writers House calendar announcement

A celebratory reading by graduating senior Kirsten Thorpe. Kirsten Thorpe is a Senior Creative Writing Major here at Penn who has devoted the last semester to a Senior Capstone Project involving a poetic and visual scrapbook of points of intersections between Philadelphia as a space, and her life as it relates. She has published poems in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Xconnect and has appeared several (well, three) times on Live at the Writers House, a WXPN monthly radio program featuring poets and musicians, and often holds impromptu readings for her friends in her kitchen.

From Al Filreis's introduction

Someone, here at the House yesterday - an alumna for whom I had enthusiastically described the event we'd be holding here to today in honor of a graduating senior - commented, "What a terrific thing to do for a Penn undergraduate!" I thought this was precisely right. But then I thought some more, and realized that - no, better: "What a terrific thing to do for us - to do for ourselves, collectively." This is for Kirsten, yes - but it is also a great and good and apt thing to do as a collectivity.

As Kirsten's faculty advisor, I asked her if she wanted to spend her senior year engaged in an unusual project. It turned out to be a "triple-credit independent study," with three interlocking parts. First, she became a special student in my survey of modern American poetry - which happened to be an on-line course. Second, the following term - this past semester - she served as an undergraduate TA in the face-to-face version of the same course, held in this very room. Third, she would undertake, this term also, a major creative project, as a kind of capstone experience, and prepare herself for this final presentation/colloquium.

This evening's program, following my remarks, will consist of a personal introduction to Kirsten by Writers House Director Kerry Sherin, then Kirsten's presentation of the project, with slides, following by questions if there are any. Then will follow a critique of the project by Mike Magee, who was one of the official readers - and then, happily, a reception.

Since Kerry will focus on Kirsten herself, I want to take a moment formally to acknowledge the work of the "readers" of the draft of Kirsten's project. They gave her serious, detailed responses, and these were enormously helpful. (How many Penn undergraduates experience such a thing? Seven poets brought to bear on her new writing great attention and care, evaluative energies by talented elders that individualized the "senior" experience in a way quite rare, anywhere.) They were: Kerry Sherin, Heather Starr, Mytili Janganathan, Bob Perelman (who is absent tonight - traveling in Spain), Greg Djanikian, Shawn Walker, and Mike Magee. Thank you all.

Kerry Sherin's introduction

Watching students graduate, this year, I have been thinking a lot about what those of us who are in the position of teachers, or mentors, can give to our students when they go. I have a teacher from 10th grade who knew me very well (well enough also to be able to be critical when the need arose) who said a few encouraging things to me about twenty years ago, and I keep her words around for use in difficult times. As a person who has known Kirsten in a number of ways-as her "boss" here at the Writers House, as a fellow writer, and as an older friend-I am delighted to have this opportunity to say in public some things that I hope Kirsten can take with her wherever she travels. I think it is fair to say that there are at least a dozen people here at the Writers House who could also pack Kirsten's bag with truly heartfelt declarations of admiration and respect, so I am especially honored to be the lucky person who gets to say them out loud.

It is hard for me to imagine the Writers House without Kirsten, since she started working here around the same time I did, in the summer of 1997. Mike Magee, her creative writing teacher, told me that one of his students, a good writer and really cool person, was hoping to get a job at the Writers House, and I emailed Kirsten and set up an interview. Or maybe she emailed me? (Even then she was usually way ahead of the curve.) We met in High Rise East, the temporary home of the Writers House during our six-month renovation, and I explained to Kirsten that I wasn't exactly sure yet what she would do, and that I did know that for at least a little while we'd be working pretty closely together-in two rooms, to be exact. Kirsten nodded, and that was that. At the time, I think I thought Kirsten was shy. But after a few weeks of working with her, doing everything from recruiting people to read at open mike nights at Chats to postering to talking about where to put the chairs in the still-under-construction Writers House, I came to understand the true meaning of her nod. It's an all-purpose, matter-of-fact, money-in-the-bank 'I can handle that.'

There is passion in that nod, too, when Kirsten uses it at the Writers House. From the start, Kirsten has had a sense of mission here. She has wanted to build a better community for writers here at Penn, and she consistently has put her prodigious talents and energies to work to make that happen. In Kirsten's three years here, there really isn't anything she hasn't done to support and grow the House. As our erstwhile room scheduler for the past 3 years, Kirsten has instituted and managed the system that determines which five rooms are filled by which 23 student groups and ten classes that use the House each week. And she does it with style; I love receiving cc's of her replies to people's requests for rooms. Can we have 202 on March 10 for a Modernism study group meeting? Sure, cool. Have a great day! -Kirby. As a regular staff member, Kirsten has done couch duty, carried wood, and introduced visiting writers, among many other things. As a writer and member of the community here, Kirsten has managed hubverse, our on-line poetry writing workshop, and she has also been a core member and one of the most prepared members of the Women's long poem group. She has also taught poetry to 4th graders at the Drew and Powel Schools in West Philadelphia. Last spring, she guest produced a really stellar show of Live at the Writers House, our spoken word radio show on WXPN, and several times, she has read on the show. I remember her first appearance on Live, in 1997, not long after we'd met. Due to the renovation, we had to broadcast the show from the ICA, and there were over 100 people in the room, plus possibly thousands more out in the world, ready to listen to eight poets and writers broadcast their work live at midnight on a Saturday. The readers had wine for steeling themselves, but Kirsten was underage and couldn't have any. She stepped up to the mike and read four fine new poems, exuding both quiet confidence and new courage. "I can handle that."

What, really, has Writers House been able to teach Kirsten? She came with what she has. So maybe what Writers House has made possible is for Kirsten to teach herself and the rest of us about her. Every day that she is here, she has taken it all in and made it her own: The poets who come in hems dragging and sleep on the couch. The poets who point out the ways that language is often taught to us as a system of rules, of correct choices, of right ways of saying, and how that system of rules reinforces certain political and social agendas. In Kirsten's own work, we can see how language actually comes to us in action, as we use it; it gets poured into a coffee cup at the local diner; it bounces slowly across a quiet Philadelphia street. I thank Kirsten for the unpretentiousness, the openness she has brought to the House. I respect her at the same time for her incredible discipline. She has the athlete's sense of self in competition with self. She works very hard, always, without ever seeming busy, exactly. I asked Kirsten what she was doing last week, and for the first time in three years, she said, I'm going home to sit in the sun. There is discipline, too, in the delicate, willful way she places herself, the way she places her words, the way she plants herself in a place, just as she has planted herself, and grown, right here.

Last year, I surprised myself, and probably surprised Heather and Kirsten too, when Kirsten came down to my office and asked, is there anything I can help you with, and I handed her a book of poems and asked her to go read them and make notes for herself. I looked at her, and I wanted to give her time to be a writer. The Writers House has given her that, for a while: days to sit on the green couch and read and listen and write poems. Even as she has done lots of other cool things, too.

Please welcome
a brilliant and disciplined athlete
an extremely promising psychologist and poet
our dear friend
best of all, the author of herself

Kirsten Thorpe.

Mike Magee's critique of the project

Kirsten Thorpe was in her initial year at Penn when her talents as a poet first came to my attention. She was in my creating writing class and one of her first poems, "oh, man," dealt matter of factly with a man standing to pee, moving from a casual statement of fact ("oh, man, he stands when he pees," if I'm remembering correctly) to an unabashed but purposefully unassuming consideration of the fact, ending where it began. The whole thing was like Warhol -- back and forth, always, between the utterly familiar and the vertiginously defamiliarized -- all as a consequence somehow of her peculiar tone, a tone I'm happy to find at work again, with some important new twists, in her Scrapbook.

It's ambitious work with a lot of range -- beginning with the unconventional poetic memoir "how it started." The life story, the narrative of genius cultivated, starts only once, but Kirsten rejects that old story -- she starts again and again -- I was going to say, like a car stalling: but her mode, actually, isn't one of mock-awkward hesitancies (like, say, Creeley); it's more like test-driving a days worth of cars you don't intend to buy: and this isn't escapism, mind you, it's the Self decided in/by the interplay of subject and object: "adjusting the radio noises and these internal geometries," as she says in "test drving." The I is a small i in Kirtsen's work, not, I don't think, as very loud statement about silencing (although her work can be quite political, as in the found poem "squirreling") but because it is figured as one of many discursive elements in the making of a poem ' hence "it" never really starts as a founding, autobiographical moment, and Kirsten finally wants to posit only a rhetorical space "where it started when it didn't start," insisting that "it was always here / happening / when i came to it for me." Do i and me mark the same identity-space here? The syntax suggests otherwise and the Self, one feels, is happening, like "it," in the gap between them. Likewise, the "man on the roof" in the poem of that title, is evoked through an insistence on his not being in any of the places described ' is this "not" an expression of disbelief ("people don't get up / that high") or a refusal to pin this man down ("he's not got one heart / beating") or a refusal to pin herself down (he is not seeing me")? All of the above.

On to my particular favorites. The synesthetic "two papers" knocks me out. What begins as synesthesia in its simplest form -- "there's something orange about Thursday" -- ends in a wonderful Steinian tangle: "there's something savage, love / and premature about / yellow and weekly / about Wednesday." We see alongside the poem a photograph of city paper dispensers and for us Philadelphians past and present the poem is in part a familiar wink; but the real subject, the real star of the poem, for my money, is the language itself. The sense that place is a web of language is only heightened by the experimental poems which come toward the end of the volume: "215" written over a copy of the phone book page where Kirtsen's address appears, places live, momentous, syncopated street-speak of the kind one might hear eavesdropping at 41st and Spruce on top of alphabetic formality of Thortons, Thorpes and Thurmans. And the really stunning "Center City Philadelphia" superimposes words on a cartoonish map of the city: it's the sound of those places (Schuylkill, Independence Hall, Rittenhouse) which set things going in some dialogic relationship w/ Kirsten's experiences in detail. We get the god's-eye-view of the city but her poems remind us that the language is happening at street level and that she's one the people making it, bouncing it off the architecture, so that Society Hill becomes "so shy is me / oh sigh / itty? Small? / but, no, tall / so see it." And we do.

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