Penn Arts & Sciences Logo
Pennies from Hell, and the Material Rain of the Cloud
  • Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Wolf Humanities Center, Williams Hall, room 623

Poet/artist/translator/scholar Jennifer Scappettone will present work and give a talk in conjunction with the mounting of the Digital Trash exhibition at Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, which opens September 5, 2018. She will discuss the poetic, historical, and conceptual foundations of LAMENT; Or, the Mine Has Been Opened Up Well, an interactive augmented and virtual reality installation on view at Rutgers comprising poetry, captured documentary sound and video, and a soundscape by text/sound artist Mark Booth. LAMENT is an ongoing interdisciplinary project based on years of research into the material foundations of the network, and was produced in collaboration with writer and code artist Judd Morrissey and artist, technologist, and educator Abraham Avnisan.

Scappettone will discuss the implications of the transnational circuitry of copper exploitation: her stumbling, through research surrounding a defunct copper mill on Long Island, into tortuous recognition of a global trajectory of resource extraction that moves from the copper mines and smelters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Western US, and the Andes, to the mills and sheltered offices of New York, Boston, and Lima, to the e-waste dumps of Ghana and China. The resultant libretto for a countermusical inverting the fantasy of Pennies from Heaven yokes the environmental humanities to radical labor history by invoking key moments of production in the multilingual publishing communities formed around copper mining. It seeks to expose those communities’ role in constructing the monument to Liberty Enlightening the World, that ever-volatile signifier of the US as melting pot. Viewed against the reputedly universal (multinational) language of telegraph code books—deployed to control natural resources, workers, and the market while encrypting and economizing messages sent to the peripheral zones of capitalist bonanzas—these literary efforts represent a grappling with the cultural plurality of the working populace and the vast geographical extent of the “cloud’s” footprint.

Jennifer Scappettone’s writing grapples at the borders of scholarly research, translation, and the literary, visual and performing arts. She is the author of the critical study Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice (Columbia University Press, 2014) and of the cross-genre verse books From Dame Quickly (Litmus Press, 2009) and The Republic of Exit 43: Outtakes & Scores from an Archaeology and Pop-Up Opera of the Corporate Dump (Atelos Press, 2017). Her most recent publication is SMOKEPENNY LYRICHORD HEAVENBRED: Two Acts, a free e-chapbook from The Elephants hailing from a libretto composed for live mixed-reality performance with writer and code artist Judd Morrissey and artist/technologist Abraham Avnisan. Other new work can be found in Asymptote, Boston Review, e-flux, Jacket2, Nuovi argomenti, Poetics and Precarity, The Fate of Difficulty in the Poetry of Our Time, and in the catalog for the US Pavilion of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Dimensions of Citizenship. Her translations of the polyglot poet and refugee from Fascist Italy Amelia Rosselli were collected in an award-winning collection called Locomotrix (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and she curates PennSound Italiana, devoted to marginalized voices in Italian contemporary poetry. Visual and interactive poems of hers have been installed and performed by dancers and musicians at locations ranging from 6018 North for the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2017), to WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles (2014), to Trajan’s aqueduct under Rome’s Janiculum Hill (2011), to Fresh Kills Landfill (2010-11). She is an associate professor working across several departments at the University of Chicago, and a 2018-19 External Faculty Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. Find an online archive at


For more information, please contact Orchid Tierney at