Gary Barwin traveled from Hamilton, Ontario, to spend the day at the Writers House the other day. Gary is a poet, fiction writer, composer, and performer, whose many books of poetry include The Porcupinity of the Stars (newly published), Outside the Hat and Raising Eyebrows (all from Coach House), and whose music has been performed by, among other groups, The Vancouver Chamber Choir, The Bach-Elgar Choir, and by the Windtunnel Saxaphone Quartet. Along with Danny Snelson and Ammiel Alcalay, we recorded a session of PoemTalk on a poem by John Wieners. Then I induced Gary into an hour-long recording session for PennSound. And now, already, lo and behold, we have a new Gary Barwin author page at PennSound: here. I had first met Gary at Banff a year ago and enjoyed his company a great deal.
Gary is also the Serif of Nottingblog - which is to say, runs a blog going under that title. He blogs on average once every other day. I recommend it as a digital destination.
Gary is Jewish, and the family's path runs like this: Lithuania, South Africa, Ottawa. His Lithuanian family fled the holocaust. His great-uncle Isaak Grazutis is a holocaust survivor, and also, now, a painter. "In 1941, at the age of eleven, Isaak was forced to flee his native village in advance of Nazi occupation. After his parents were taken away by the invading forces, he was brought to live in an orphanage in Ural, and later, Moscow where he spent his formative years." Here is much more from Gary's blog. At right you see one of Isaak's oil paintings.
Thanks to the work of Henry Steinberg, we've just added four new recordings of Robert Creeley reading his poems: "The Dishonest Mailman," "Please," "After Lorca," and "The Ballad of the Despairing Husband." We've also included links to four YouTube video clips of the same reading.
In May we hosted a visit by a class of high school students from Friends' Central School, a second annual gathering co-organized by me and Liza Ewen of the FCS English department. (Liza teaches an elective quarter-long course each spring on poetry.) I invited six poets each to teach a single poem in just 20 minutes. Rivka Fogel taught "This Room" by John Ashbery, a beautiful indirect memorial to Pierre Martory and non-narrative meditation on absence as presence. Sarah Dowling then came in and taught a section of "A Frame of the Book" by Erin Moure. Jessica Lowenthal then taught Harryette Mullen's "Trimmings." Randall Couch taught a very early poem by John Keats before revealing that it was Keats. John Timpane taught an Yvor Winters poem about the emotional complication of saying farewell to an adult child at an airport; Wintersean restraint and emotional distance abound here and strike one (strike me, at least) as a refreshing sort of illiberalism in an age of gobs of conventionally sentimental parent-child verse. Tom Devaney may have taken the pedagogical prize on this day, presenting William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"--a seemingly easy poem for h.s. students to grasp. Yet it also does everything a modern poem does, and makes a remarkably good scene of instruction.
Each of the six 20-minute presentation is now being made available in PennSound as downloadable audio, streaming QuickTime video, and the texts of the poems are available as PDF's (digital copies of photocopies handed out to the students).
It's our hope that by presenting such materials, grouped together and well organized, PennSound will be useful to teachers and others looking for an introduction to poetry and poetics - and also to the phenomenon of the poet teaching poetry.
Here is your link to the PennSound page. It includes the six presentations from 2009 as well.
Today we are releasing episode 34 of PoemTalk. In this one I and three PoemTalkers talk about one of Charles Olson's Maximus poems, "Maximus to Gloucester, letter 27 (withheld)." Go here for much more about the episode and link to the show itself. Below is a YouTube clip of Olson reading (over-reading?) the poem.
The Pennsylvania Current is now running a story about the legacy of poetry at Penn: "Penn’s rich poetry legacy," by Tanya Barrientos. It features a nice mention of the Kelly Writers House and of PennSound.
My own PennSound page is being updated with recent recordings--interviews, introductions and discussions. Soon I hope to add the recording of the talk on Henry Rago and the Chicago Poetry scene 1955-60, delivered in Chicago in mid-April.
After months--several years--of digitizing, consulting, traveling, etc., we at PennSound are now ready to make available the recordings of Wallace Stevens reading his own poetry. We begin our new Stevens author page with two readings he gave at Harvard near the end of his life. Our friends at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Lamont Library (though organizationally Woodberry now is part of the Houghton Library system) have shared these with us. Peter Hanchak--only child of Holly Stevens who was the only child of Wallace and Elsie Stevens--has given us at PennSound permission to make available whatever Stevens recordings we can find. I'm personally very grateful to Peter, who clearly understands that PennSound is all about noncommercial, educational use. Thanks to Joan Richardson and John Serio who helped me work with Peter on this; and thanks to Christina Davis, new director at the Woodberry, and Don Share, former director there, for their help and advice as we've moved forward. It's our hope, of course, that the way Stevens is taught will at least somewhat change now that his own way of reading the poems is widely and freely available. Long live open access!
Splendid day in Chicago yesterday. Began it with another run along Lake Michigan. Then down to Hyde Park early to record an episode (for later release) of PoemTalk. Don Share (senior editor of Poetry), Judith Goldman (on the U of C faculty, in the Society of Fellows) and David Pavelich (modern poetry bibliography in Special Collections at U of C) - poets all three - joined me to talk about a pair of poems: H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" and Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies." (I've written a little about this pairing earlier here.) A very good session. I begin to realize that a keen choice of poem (or poems, as in this special case) enables the conversation almost automatically (that is, with little effort needed on my part as moderator). During an hour or so between PoemTalk and the Modern Poetry Symposium sponsored by Special Collections, I met up with Brandon Fogel, a former student of mine at Penn and now, with Judith, a faculty member of the Society of Fellows. Brandon's field is philosophy and physics (not just the idea of physics in some squishy history of science sense, but real hard-sci physics). As an undergrad at Penn he majored in English and physics, the only student to do so in my 25 years at the university. Unsurprisingly, the gang already surrounding me knew Brandon, so it was a confab. Then to the conference.
Garin Cycholl gave a wonderful paper on the poet Sterling Plumpp and jazz geography; I don't know much about Plumpp so I was being well schooled. Stephanie Anderson, a doctoral student here at U of C, then gave a talk on Chicago magazine, which Alice Notley edited during her several years here in Chicago in the early 70s (and also a bit afterward--when she and Ted Berrigan were in Europe). Paired with the Notley paper was Nancy Kuhl's on Margaret Anderson and The Little Review. Both these papers made use of fabulous rare materials. Nancy is the curator of poetry collections at the Yale American literature collection at the Beinecke. (I'd corresponded with her in recent years about the various manuscripts I used to research and write Counter-Revolution of the Word but had not met her until yesterday.) Nancy is also a fine poet, as witness The Wife of the Left Hand, a copy of which she gave me yesterday.
The Alice Notley/Margaret Anderson pairing - thank you, David Pavelich - was inspired, suggesting all kinds of things about the terms "editing" and (versus) "curating"; raising questions about young avant-garde women who find themselves at the center of a writing scene ("enabling," etc.). Notley very consciously sought to do all this without much help from Berrigan, and after she gave birth (fall '72?) he guest-edited one issue of Chicago--producing a very different choice of poets. Stephanie suggested that Notley meant to show this difference to their friends and colleagues, to prove, in a sense, that the other issues bore no trace of Ted's hand.
Don Share (he of the equanimous disposition and wonderfully sure, calm voice--a "radio voice," as they used to say) and I gave a pair of papers on the editorship of Henry Rago at Poetry: 1955 (when he took over from the zig-zaggy Karl Shapiro) to 1969 (when Rago suddenly died of a heart attack, not long after an apparently final retirement). My take, in short, is that 1955-1960 is a mixed record for Rago and Poetry at best, and that in 1960 or so Rago caught some fire. Don didn't disagree with my division of the Rago years into two, and he was nicely able to elaborate on all sorts of particular matters of editorship. During the discussion afterward, we began to talk about the special burden - given its special legacy of modernism - facing any editor of Poetry, and got close to a full-out conversation about the situation of Poetry today...when time ran out. But the topic had been raised (what do the failures of Rago's first four or five years teach us?) and it was very good.
After just a few minutes with Nancy Kuhl I remembered that I read (at the Regenstein, in fact; in the Poetry archives) about Lee Anderson's recordings of modern poets--recalled that Anderson (in the late 50s?) was preparing to give these recordings to Yale. Nancy of course knew about the Anderson recordings. There they are, still at Yale. Might it be possible for us at PennSound to collaborate with our pals at Yale to make available some of these recordings? You can be sure we'll be on the train to New Haven soon to discuss.
On the drive from Hyde Park to Chinatown for dinner last night, we passed by Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. The horizontal flat stone thing looks so utterly natural in its urban prairie setting. I was a little shocked by this. I can usually see architecture in photographs and get it sufficiently; but Robie House needs to be seen as it is, just there, on a residential corner in this sweet little university town on the flat south end of its broad-shouldered city.
Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "Truth" is an early poem - probably written in the late 1940s, perhaps 1949. She mentions this poem in the introduction she gave to Etheridge Knight before Knight's reading on February 26, 1986. The recording of that introduction is available on PennSound's Etheridge Knight page. Here is a copy of the text of Brooks' poem.