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

J2 launches

A preface from the publisher

Happily, we inaugurate Jacket2. For all the complexity of the work in poetry and poetics you’ll read on these screens, what we’re doing here is I think explained rather simply. We want to preserve what John Tranter has done with Jacket in its first forty issues, and to a significant extent — although in a somewhat new mode and a somewhat different context — continue and extend it. The new mode? A site pushing technically past what’s been called 2.0, with all the vaunted interoperabilities: collaborative editing and rostering of new articles; a rotation of three-months-each guest commentators, able themselves to post contemporaneous responses to various poetics scenes they “cover”; a means of laying out features that enables readers to see at once all diverse elements of materials and responses to a single poet or topic as gathered by a guest editor; an image gallery for uncluttered viewing of many images associated with an article or feature; podcast series (such as PoemTalk and Into the Field) both streamable right on the page and downloadable for free; video players both inline and linked; a Reissues department for making otherwise inaccessible archival material available in full digital facsimile; advanced searching through both new Jacket2 pieces and every single article, review, and announcement ever published in old Jacket; and seamless server-side linked cross-relations between critical responses written for J2 about readings and recordings on one hand and, on the other, all the digital audio (and video) stored in the vast archive known as PennSound. Even as we just get started, dig around and you’ll find a great deal here — and tons of potential.

Newly available 1952 Robert Duncan reading from the archive

Robert Duncan

Nancy Kuhl and her colleagues at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, have been discussing with us at PennSound for many months the treasure trove of recordings that Lee Anderson had made and collected and eventually donated to Yale. First the Beinecke folks have begun to preserve the recordings by transferring them from old media to digital files. Then, happily, through a pilot project with PennSound, we are together making a selection of them available for everyone. The first of these readings is was given by Robert Duncan and recorded in 1952. Today for the first time, PennSound and the Beinecke together make available segmented files of 12 poems Duncan read that day. Here is your link to PennSound's Duncan page and this new recording.

PennSound anthology of 18th-century poetry

John Richetti

Benjamin Gottlieb has written a brief review of John Richetti's PennSound Anthology of Restoration & 18th-Century Poetry:

John Richetti is a much-respected scholar of 18th-century English literature, but here he makes a strong case for moonlighting as a voice-over man, registering as something in that much-neglected space between Rod Serling and a used-Jaguar salesman.  On PennSound, an entire page is devoted to his readings of various works by Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Dryden; fittingly, it's listed in the PennSound Classics section, which is a terrific place to begin one's trek through the site's often intimidating topography.  Everything here is wonderful: Richetti reads each work in a charmingly insouciant tone, one that belies the considerate thought he has given each recitation, which are never less than great fun, and are often quite relevatory.

I recommend listening to everything on this page, but, in the interest of highlighting a place to begin, I don't think one could go wrong with Dryden's Mac Flecknoe or Swift's Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, perhaps with Pope's On a Lady who P?st at the Tragedy of Cato as a chaser.

Maggie O'Sullivan

the page is a like a score

PennSound's Maggie O'Sullivan page includes a recording of a discussion with Penn students in Charles Bernstein's "studio 111" seminar. Michael Nardone has transcribed the session now and here is a portion:

Thank you for your close reading, Ms. O’Sullivan. I was wondering if you could describe the relationship between performing your work and writing it.

Well, it depends on, every situation is different. Performing it is another opportunity to re-engage with the text at different levels, and another opportunity to negotiate the text on the page.

As you’ve probably heard, I often find my work is quite difficult for me to read from the page. Writing it, I hear the sounds often in my ear. But having to perform it, all the difficulties emerge. There’s lots of disconnectiveness and disjunctiveness that is kind of working against how I sort of, how sometimes it seems it may be read.

Would you consider, sort of, maybe, performing it to be more body intensive than, I guess, writing it.

Well, writing is a body-intensive activity, totally. Absolutely, totally. The whole body is engaged in the act of writing. Whether it’s on the computer, with using a pen in the hands. The breath is involved in all activities. But with the performing, there are others that you have to connect with, and the place of performing also figures on it.

A number of your poems integrate different languages, musical notes, pictures, and streaks, and they push the possibilities of poetic forms on the page. I was wondering whether this is supposed to conflict with the words, compliment them, or maybe even both.

The words working as part of all this kind of radical shifting—

Aaron Kramer

We at PennSound have now created a new author page - that of the left-wing poet Aaron Kramer. Kramer was (for a time, and perhaps for a long time) a member of the Communist Party of the U.S. He was involved in just about every radical issue, cultural and straight-out political, of this time: the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Perhaps his first big break as a poet was his inclusion in the anthology, Six Poets in Search of An Answer (1944), which at a (brief) hopeful moment in the liberal-left alliance brought Aaron in with Max Bodenheim, Joy Davidman, Langston Hughes, Alfred Kreymborg (by then a vintage modernist who'd joined the radical left), Martha Millet, and Norman Rosten. His "Garcia Lorca" memorialized that poet murdered by Spanish fascists. "Berlin Air Raid" begins: "For ten years they were listening to different / sounds." "Natchez" is about southern racist violence, a place where "a hundred tabloid writers ran to the flame." I have been in touch with Aaron's daughter Laura for years. Recently she went through the attic and gathered together three shoeboxes of cassettes and VHS tapes and delivered them to us at PennSound. We are slowly going through them, digitizing them, and make them available--as always--for free download through our archive. Thanks to the work of Rebekah Caton, the first three readings are now up. Coming soon: a recording of a radio program featuring a discussion and performance by Kramer of poems from the sweatshops - verse of radical Jewish immigrants of the first years of the 20th century.

Robert Grenier

The ghostly presence of New England

Back in mid-March 2010, I traveled to Manhattan and met Charles Bernstein and Robert Grenier at the East Side apartment of Michael Waltuch, Grenier's old friend and collaborator. We recorded part 2 of what is now a long 2-part interview with Grenier about his early years. Part 1 focused on 1959-64, with a bit of a look back to Grenier's high-school years just before that period. Part 2 goes back a bit into the early 60s but then moves forward, covering 1965 to the early and mid 1970s. If last time the central topic was Harvard, this time the central topic, as it emerged, was New England: New England in the specific biographical sense (Bob G.'s wanderings there, especially on trips shooting outward from Harvard) but also in the meta-geographical sense--New England as a haunt, a crucial (it would seem now, in Grenier's way of thinking) ghostly presence in his thinking and in his writerly development.

We are pleased to release this second interview through PennSound - available, along with part 1 and many other Grenier recordings, on PennSound's Robert Grenier author page. It's a long recording (2 hours and 11 minutes) but I hope you'll find listening to it rewarding.

Ted Berrigan interviewed by Hejinian and Robinson

On "In the American Tree," 1978

August 11, 1978. On the radio program, "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson are our hosts, and the guest is Ted Berrigan. A PennSound recording of the show is available, and here--thanks to the work of Michael Nardone--is part of the transcription:

- - -

We’re going to continue on now with our guest Ted Berrigan. This is "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets."

Ted, you have a sequence of poems?

Yeah, I’ll read three poems from a book, which I just completed, I completed it three or four months ago, it’s called Easter Monday, and it’s fifty poems. And they’re all, most of them are close to the same size, which is about, well, my favorite size, which is about 14 lines. Well, they are sonnets, in fact, but they don’t really work at that too much. Not all of them are. Some are longer. None are shorter, but some are quite long, quite a bit longer, because they just got longer sometimes, and when they did I just let them be longer.

These fifty poems are, fifty was an arbitrary number I decided upon ahead of time based on a theory that if you do two or three works that are fairly similar, and that you liked them, even if you just do one, you do one work and you like it and do another one that’s similar to it, there’s no particular reason to do the next one, a second one, and there’s no particular reason not to do it. But if you feel you have a number then there, you can set yourself this arbitrary number and just decide, well, I’ll do fifty of these. Then you’re sort of clear as to what you’ll be doing for a while. I got this idea from a painter friend of mine.

So, I did fifty of these, and it took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I said that I would do fifty. It’s called Easter Monday because it’s really about second life, life beginning about the age of 40. And since it is personal, I mean it is the second half of one’s life, it’s about being young, a young older person. I was involved in a second marriage, second family, but even if I hadn’t been, it still could have been the same thing.

Consequently, it is like Easter Monday. Easter Friday you die. Easter Sunday you rise again from the dead and that’s really glorious and wonderful, but then Easter Monday you have to get this job and support yourself for the rest of your life.

The poems were all written in two or three or four years from the time I was 38 until last year when I was 42. So they are not all about one’s whole second life, but rather about being aware of coming into that.

When I say they are about something, I mean, I strictly mean “about”. I don’t know what each poem is about particularly. I could study them and tell you what each one is about, but that’s not what I’m willing to do.

Each poem is a very separate poem. They are not like my work The Sonnets where, although every poem can stand on its own, they were sequential and serial in a certain way. There is some repetition of things, but it’s really like fifty separate works which were done knowing I was going to do fifty, and therefore they relate that way. Now, I knew what the themes were, though I didn’t work at them too hard. I just knew what they were.

This is the first three. The first one is called “Chicago Morning.” It’s dedicated to the painter Phil Gustin simply because I was looking at a painting of his while I was writing because it was hanging on the wall over the typewriter, and so I actually used some things in his painting to refer to when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Christian Bok

Retelling the Illiad with the letter E

In 2005, a seminar of Penn students and Charles Bernstein spoke with Christian Bok, making a recording that is now part of the "Close Listening" series hosted by Bernstein. Here is the recording and here is more information about the session. Now Michael Nardone has transcribed the interview for later publication in Jacket2 but we cannot resist offering a brief excerpt here:

- -

So, while we are talking about Eunoia, can we look forward to a consonant sequel?

A consonant sequel? No, I’ve promised myself that I won’t ever write another constraint-based book again. The blood-pact I have with my peer group is that every book we write will be radically different from its predecessor, that the entire oeuvre should be completely heteroclite. So, the next project requires learning a whole new skill-set and re-training my brain, in effect, to learn something else. I probably would not have the endurance now or perseverance required to actually finish a constraint-based book.

So, clearly, this is very constraint-based, and from what you’re saying, you’re probably going to set yourself a new set of rules every time you write something new. So, are you arguing for something, for going back to sort of the poetic formality that has existed forever, against the tide of free verse, or stream-of-consciousness?

Well, actually, I have no problem with those poetic forms. I think my only complaint about those poetic forms you’ve cited is that they are not feeling much incentive to innovate and produce something new and reinvent themselves in a manner which is exciting and stimulating. And to me, it’s not so important that the work actually demonstrate some sort of formalistic character, so long as it has some kind of innovative rationale for its practice. So, I’m not making a case, I think, for a return to rigorous and strict formality. You know, I’m not that fascistic or school-marmish, I think, in my sensibilities. But I did this project thinking that it was a kind of experimental work. I didn’t know if it could be done, and I merely conducted the experiment to see what would happen. And to me, that’s really what writing poetry is about, it’s a kind of heuristic activity where you indulge in a completely exploratory adventure through language itself.

Levertov here and there

We don't have any recordings of Denise Levertov yet in PennSound, but Levertov appears, one way or another, here and there throughout our archive. Robert Creeley talks about her (with me at the Writers House). Ken Irby reads one of her poems. John Weiners in 1965 at Berkeley reads a poem dedicated to her. Albert Gelpi talks with Leonard Schwartz about the letters of Duncan and Levertov. And a letter Duncan wrote Levertov as he was finishing the poem "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow" is discussed in passing in our Duncan PoemTalk episode.

Ken Irby in 1984

Kenneth Irby reads "Given: Three Beavers in a Tree," a 2 minute, 49 second recording made at Irby's 1984 Ear Inn reading. He also read several poems by Mary Butts and well as his own "Gutter Ode" and several others of his own poems. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas for segmenting this recording for the first time. The whole thing can be found at Ken Irby's PennSound page.

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