space holder 2002: A Cyberspace Odyssey (continued)

    In June, six months after the course had started, Filreis extended invitations to alumni on the Alumverse list and on a Writers' House alumni list; 18 chose to join in (including me).
    "Alumni participation came to us as an afterthought," O'Donnell says. "In some ways, we're making it up as we go along. Recent former students have a perspective that most incoming students don't get."
    But one of the most active alumni participants was a not-so-recent former student, Karen Sternhell Rosenberg, CW'64, who sparked several debates. In one case, she asked if the "2002ers" had spent much of high school preparing for college. This prompted a flurry of exchanges on the subject of college competitiveness, with one student from an upper-crust New Jersey hamlet revealing that jealousy had gotten so intense in her senior class that one honors student keyed another's car.
    Another topic that preceded collegiate advice and intellectual banter concerned a remark by Kara Blond, C'97, that she had heard that Ellis Island was being declared part of New Jersey. She said couldn't picture people's grandparents having immigrated to New Jersey. Of course, the angry Jerseyans in the group rose to defend their much-maligned state.
    Then, the intellectual discussions began.
    Filreis asked everyone to discuss two poems. The first was Gary Soto's "How Things Work," and the second was "Young Woman Looking Out a Window" by William Carlos Williams, M'06, Hon'52. Participants interpreted the first poem and compared two versions of the second to see which was more effective.
    Alumni were eager to nudge the 2002ers along. When one pre-freshman ended his analysis with, "I just liked the first one a lot better," Ingrid Philipp, CW'69, responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

Subject: Re: Why?
Date: July 10, 1998
From: Ingrid Philipp, CW'69
A bit of advice from a teacher and editor -- for the next four years avoid any honest discussion of your feelings. You are paying the big bucks to Penn so you can learn to write objectively about all subjective emotion. After you graduate you can pay big bucks to a therapist to unlearn everything.

    "The poetry analysis thing was pretty funny," says Rosenberg. "The English-major alumni fell over themselves explicating and deconstructing. The high-school seniors were politely uninterested."
    Chandra Hagan corroborates this. "At times, the alumni were far more enthusiastic than we 2002ers about the questions," she says, "especially when the questions sounded suspiciously like work."
    At one point, Rosenberg wrote about having published an early Allen Ginsberg poem in the 1960 Pennsylvania Literary Review, which led, in turn, to several requests from pre-freshmen and alumni for the poem. O'Donnell told the group that rising stars are still visiting Penn.

Subject: Re: Ginsberg poem
Date: June 10, 1998
From: James O'Donnell
It's easy to say 38 years later, GOSH ALLEN GINSBERG, but he was 34 at the time and a star but not so clearly a classic as he is now. There are interesting 34-year-old folk who turn up on the Writers' House scope and you can chase them.

    The discussing and deconstructing and explicating and exclaiming continued for a while. Then, something happened that overwhelmed all other subjects:
    Course scheduling.

Continued...
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