Commentaries - February 2011
Over at Geekadelphia, Lillian Dunn has written appreciatively about PoemTalk. Here is the link to the whole article, and here is the relevant text:
Poets, with all their feathery pens and solitude, might not strike you as a particularly tech-savvy group. But Al Filreis, poet-in-chief at UPenn’s Kelly Writers House, just laughed out loud at me when I suggested as such. What about Flarf – a whole new genre Google search poems? Or “spoetry” – sonnets crafted from spam e-mails’ fabulous nonsequiturs?
Filreis himself homebrews the successful “PoemTalk” podcast in the garret of the Writers House on UPenn’s Campus, convening 3 local and visiting poets to talk about a poem by a 4th. In PoemTalk, along with some local poetry Facebook groups and CA Conrad’s loopy, beautiful Jupiter 88, a “video-journal of contemporary poetry,” Philly poets are using tech to pop the lid off an often-hermetic art form.
Filreis says he chose the podcast format because it lets poetry do some new tricks. First, he digs “the radical equivalency of iTunes;” poetry’s right up there with Lady Gaga and the NBC Nightly News. And listening on an iPod “is more intimate than listening to the radio;” you choose it, you download it, and then you get to sit down with your new friends, just you and the poets alone, in your own world of sound, the words rattling in your chest and clutched in your coat pocket.
Despite its slick editing and newfangled delivery, the PoemTalk podcast itself lets you get closer to poems by very old-school means. Every month, Filreis gets together 3 poets – living in Philly or just passing through – to talk about a 4th poet’s work, selected from Penn’s archives. (The show is also a peek into the vast audio archives of PennSound, UPenn’s collection of poets reading their own pieces, basically spanning the history of sound recording.)
Then the poets just take the poem apart, joking, telling stories, letting it fold back in on itself. Even if poetry usually leaves you feeling lost or bored, the sense of adventure in these conversations is infectious. Discoveries happen. It’s actually fun to be lost with 3 articulate, funny people, each carrying their own hand-drawn map. The podcast is not super-academic, and it’s always less than half an hour.
The new PoemTalk, the best way to bring 4 poets along with you on a treadmill and not get any weird looks, is up at poemtalkatkwh.blogspot.com, featuring Tracie Morris, Josephine Park, and Herman Beavers talking about Etheridge Knight.
In October of 1989, John Ashbery went to St. John's the Divine Cathedral in New York to be part of the induction of Wallace Stevens at the Poets' Corner. There was a vespers service and Ashbery read six sections of Stevens's "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven." Imagine that--that poem read at a vespers service! Anyway, I certainly don't know of another recording of Ashbery performing Stevens. Stevens was a fairly bad reader of his own poems. Ashbery is deemed by many to be an indifferent reader of his poems. (I don't agree, but understand the point.) But here, reading Stevens, Ashbery is marvelous. Here is a 7-minute recording of sections 3, 5, 12, 17, 18 and 30 of the Stevens poem that comes closest to real serial writing (seriality at the level of the section, anyway).
At left you see Charles Alexander and colleagues working on a publication of Chax Press, which Charles has been directing for the past 27 years. Charles was at the Writers House today, to give a reading and be part of a recording of an episode of PoemTalk. We took a few minutes to talk about letterpresses and other alternative presses--and some important twentieth-century figures in letterpress publishing. This discussion is episode #20 in the PennSound Podcast series.