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

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.

The snake according to Eileen Myles

In January 1998, during a reading at the Ear Inn in New York, Eileen Myles read a poem called "Snakes." We recently "found" this poem in that reading; it hadn't been segmented and we just didn't know "Snakes" was one of the poems Myles read that day. I for one am glad of the find. It's quite an interesting poem: story-like but defiant about its story-ness, to say the least. A kind of kunstlerroman, a portrait of this particular artist as a young girl. And not surprisingly it plays with and against the powerful gendered associations of snake. Here is a link to the recording of the poem. And here is the text of the poem as it once appeared in The Massachusetts Review (in 1998).

Tribute to Barbara Guest

We at PennSound have now segmented the entire audio recording made of the Barbara Guest Praise Day Tribute at The Bowery Poetry Club, October 21, 2006. These people performed selections of Guest's poems, offered interpretations of them along with reminiscences: Lewis Warsh, Marcella Durand, Charles Bernstein, Africa Wayne, Charles North and Erica Kaufman. The event was hosted by Kristin Prevallet. Anna Zalokostas has nicely arranged all the readings on our Barbara Guest author page. Lewis Warsh, for instance, remembered Guest in connection with The New American Poetry of 1960. Africa Wayne read "Negative Possibility." Charles North read "Roses." Lytle Shaw read "Sante Fe Trail." And much more.

Five Recordings of "This Is Just To Say"

William Carlos Williams

I hope readers of this blog can forgive me for gushing about PENNsound's William Carlos Williams page. There you'll find links to every recording of Williams that has been found so far. For the moment, most of the poetry readings he gave are available in single recordings (not broken up by poem), but we have been able to clip the longer files and produce five versions of WCW reading "This Is Just to Say." Each is a downloadable mp3, so click away and enjoy: 1 2 3 4 5. And here is the text of that famous poem.

Jack Spicer on Wallace Stevens, 1965

In one of Jack Spicer's now-famous lectures in Vancouver, 1965, he discusses (and commends) the "serial poem." After a while he takes questions, and someone asks him whether Wallace Stevens didn't indeed write serial poems--perhaps "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction" is one? Spicer's response is fascinating. I've taken the long audio recording of the whole lecture, and selected just the discussion about Stevens. The whole lecture can be found on Spicer's PENNsound page and the excerpt (3:27) can be heard here: mp3.

Syndicate content