|| 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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:
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