PennSound is an online archive of recordings of modern and contemporary poets housed at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kerouac riff in text-audio alignment

Thanks to the efforts of PennSound’s Rebekah Caton, principally among others, we are now able to present the text-audio alignment of the opening two paragraphs of Jack Kerouac’s ”October in the Railroad Earth.”

Ashbery's silences sampled

'It reads a kind of ecopoetics back into the poet’s auditory performance.'

In the spring of 2012, Christian Hawkey was invited to participate in a festival celebrating John Ashbery at the New School (called How to Continue: Ashbery Across the Arts). Each participant — poets, dancers, filmmakers — was invited to engage his or her work using a variety of media and disciplines, and Hawkey chose to explore his audio archives, or rather, the various recordings of John Ashbery that Pennsound has compiled over the years, beginning with his 1961 reading for the Living Theater

He became especially interested in listening to the room tone and background noise in all the recordings: the recorded texture of the room, the sound made by the recording device itself, and the non-vocal presence of Ashbery himself (a page turning, lighting a cigarette, sipping from glass of water and swallowing). Working with a friend, the artist Simone Kearney, Hawkey scanned the roughly 45 extant recordings on Pennsound to find, in each one, a clip of “silence” — a brief 3-to-7-second non-vocal moment (longer proved impossible to find) between poems, or between commentary and poems, or between title and poem. They then assembled the clips into one audio file.

It was surprisingly difficult to do this, they found, since most sound engineers remove as much dead sound and background sound as possible, or they snip off the silence at the beginning or end of a reading.

Ashbery on the decision to write short vs. long poems (& more)

New at PennSound

Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s vast Ashbery page now includes links to segments of a recording of his appearance on The Book Show in 1992. Hosted by Tom Smith, The Book Show was produced by the New York State Writers Institute at SUNY Albany. On this program, Ashbery discusses Flow Chart (1991) and Hotel Lautréamont (1992).

  1. reading "Light Turnouts" (0:43): MP3
  2. introduction (0:56): MP3
  3. the writing of Hotel Lautreamont and the figure of Lautreamont (3:43): MP3
  4. discussing the title poem and the implications of the hotel (3:58): MP3
  5. when the poems in Hotel Lautreamont were written in relation to Flow Chart (1:21): MP3
  6. deciding to write short v. long poems (2:55): MP3
  7. the evolution of Flow Chart (1:10): MP3
  8. Ashbery describing his writing process (3:44): MP3
  9. cultural noise as inspiration and all-inclusivness as an overriding aesthetic concern (3:15): MP3
  10. abstract expressionism in relation to his poetry (2:13): MP3

Susan Howe reads from 'My Emily Dickinson' & discusses with poets

New article about PennSound

'The Speed of Sound,' by Blake Cole (May 2012)


Four recordings of William Carlos Williams performing 'The Red Wheelbarrow'

  1. Read January 9, 1942 (0:11): MP3
  2. Read for the Library of Congress, May 5, 1945 (0:15): MP3
  3. Read on an interview for the Mary Margaret McBride Show, December 4, 1950 (0:08): MP3
  4. Read at Princeton University, March 19, 1952 (1:42): MP3

Five recordings of William Carlos Williams performing 'This Is Just to Say'

  1. Read in Rutherford, NJ, June 1950 MP3 (1:18)
  2. Read in Rutherford, NJ, August 1950 MP3 (0:17)
  3. Read in Van Nuys, Calif., November 16, 1950 MP3 (0:23)
  4. Read at Harvard University, December 4, 1951 MP3 (1:14)
  5. Read at Princeton University, March 19, 1952 MP3 (0:41)

1974 Larry Eigner recordings

left: Larry Eigner by Kit Robinson; right: S Press cassette cover

On July 1 and again on July 11 in 1974, Michael Koehler recorded Larry Eigner reading twenty-seven of his poems in Swampscott, Massachusetts. The recordings were later released by S Press, as tape number 37 in their series, under the title Larry Eigner: around new / sound daily / means: Selected Poems. A number of university libraries — and of course individuals — own copies of the recording; but it is fairly rare at this point. Among the libraries with a copy is the special collections archive at the University of Connecticut, where the tape was apparently part of the materials Cid Corman gave them to form the Corman Papers there. I located the Eigner recording in the Corman finding aid, asked the UConn librarians to copy it for us at PennSound. (Many thanks for Melissa Watterworth Batt, curator of Literary, Natural History and Rare Books Collections there.) Soon after, with permission from Richard Eigner, Larry's brother and the executor of the poet’s literary estate, we digitized, uploaded and then segmented the recording into individual poems. They are now available for both streaming and downloading at PennSound’s Eigner page.

100 Ear Inn recordings from the early 1990s

New at PennSound

PennSound has just made available 104 recordings made at the Ear Inn in the early 1990s. These include recordings by Cabri, Child, K. Davies, A. Davies, Derksen, Dewdney, DiPalma, DuPlessis, Farrell, Fitterman, Fodaski, Foster, Fyman, Gander, Gizzi, Goldsmith, Frim, Heller, Hixon, Hoover, Inman, Kalendeck, Killian, A. Kim, Kocik, Kraut, Levy, Lewis, Lubeski, Lusk, Lyons, Mac Low, Matthews, Messerli, Myles, Neilson, O’Brien, Pearson, Price, Raworth, Regan, Rettallack, Richard, Roberson, Rosenfeld, Rower, Sala, Shaw, Sirowitz, Smith, Tillman, Toscano, Venuti, K. Waldrop, R. Waldrop, Wallace, Wheeler, C.D. Wright,  J. Williams, Ziolkowski, Zivancevic, Zurawski, and more.

Jhave Johnston's PennSound mashup with WEAVE

Working with our PennSound audio files, Jhave Johnston has created a prototype mashup machine that enables on overlay of poets’ sounds, with an option to turn on WEAVE, which senses silence (e.g. between lines or stanzas in a performance) and automatically intercuts from one short file segment to another, creating a flow of shifting voices. “I always figured,” says Charles Bernstein, my co-director at PennSound, “that once we had a substantial archive of sound files, the next phase would be for people to use them in novel ways.”  “Reminds me,” says Michael S. Hennessey, PennSound’s editor, “of one of my favorite things to do with the site before we switched to the current streaming codec, which doesn't allow for simultaneous play: pull up a few author pages — best of all Christian Bök — and start layering tracks over his cyborg opera beatboxing.” Jhave adds: “My motivation for building it is similar to Michael's: a joy in listening to things overlap.”

Syndicate content