When Don Share was an archivist at Harvard, he worked with audio recordings that were and are in the collection of the Woodberry Poetry Room, and (getting grants and whatnot) started to put together "The Poet's Voice" - subtitled "a digital poetry collection." Harvard has a recording of the 1952 poetry reading Stevens gave there, introduced by Richard Wilbur. And also the more well known 1954 reading which became the basis of a cassette Stevens distributed by Random House Audio. Click here to see the Poet's Voice entry for these two recordings. Here is a perhaps more helpful listing of all the poems Stevens read aloud - with links to RealAudio streaming (not downloadable) digital recordings of some of them.
With thanks to Ben Wiebracht who helped me conduct this search, here is a list of other recordings of Wallace Stevens poems:
(1) A poetry blog where someone who calls himself "Hoon" quotes, comments on and reads aloud some poems by Stevens:
(2) Early poems read aloud by Alan Davis Drake. Many of these readings were made for LibriVox.org and Cloud Mountain Studios.
(3) "Peter Quince at the Clavier" read by Walter Rufus Eagles.
(4) An old, not-maintained HarperAudio site that includes old-format digital audio files in three formats of Stevens himself reading "The Idea of Order at Key West," "The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain," and "Vacancy in the Park," and "To An Old Philosopher in Rome."
(5) Wesleyan University hosts the site of the Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens. Here there is a link to a single poem read by Stevens from the recording made at Harvard in 1954, "Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself." The audio file is stored on a Wesleyan media server, but did not work the last time I attempted it.
(6) Salon.com hosts recordings of Stevens reading "To the One of Fictive Music" and "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself."
Max Bodenheim in the late 1940s and early 50s, destitute and always looking for the next whiskey, sold poems for drinks. To be specific, he set himself up on (let's say) Hudson Street right outside the White Horse Tavern, would in some way indicate to passersby or ingoing White Horse patrons that he was indeed the once-famous freewheeling Roaring Twenties novelist and poet Maxwell Bodenheim, a glimmer of those days of High Modernist Hilarity past, and you'd make an arrangement with him: he'd write you a "sonnet to order." People would pay to help out (and thus touch the life of) a broken-down old boho with bona fide modernist and radical lineage. If one ever gets to read the Bodenheim sonnets of this period, they have to be read, it seems to me, as made by the market for aesthetic-ideological nostalgia.
Back in the late 70s I spent some time reading the manuscripts of Bodenheim in the special collections department of Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. I was taking a graduate course in bibliography, textual criticism, philology, books and bookmaking, and manuscripts, taught by the eccentric and wonderful bibliographer, Lester A. Beaurline, whose love of setting type by hand was the one thing that made me realize doctoral study in English could well connect to my life as I'd already been living it. (In high school I'd been the one A-student who took "print shop" all four years. Print shop was deemed then to be a haven for guys we rather liberally called "greasers.")
One of the assignments Beaurline gave us: find a cache of unpublished manuscripts and make something of them. I think he was hoping students would read around in Arnold, Tennyson, Chaucer (there are 4 Chaucer manuscripts there), Poe, even Thomas Jeffrerson (patron saint at UVa), Faulkner (junior patron saint there). The other students went in canonical directions. I went for Max Bodenheim - and specifically Bodenheim's final post-communist post-modernist years on the streets of New York. He lived not just symbolically but literally on the Bowery. He was murdered in 1954 by a man who in court later said he was proud to have killed a commie poet. I read a pile of these sonnets, composed by a bad shaky hand. (Somewhere I have the notes from this - and possibly some photocopies. I'll look.)
Yesterday photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald happened upon a 21-year-old poet, one Robert Samel Snyderman, who sets himself up in Central Park to write on a portable typewriter: he will sell you a poem for $5. He told Lawrence that he "writes all the time" and prefers to write on his typewriter in the park "rather than in an academic environment." Of course there are many places to write poems in the large space between on one hand the "academic environment" and, on the other, Central Park, but never mind. The photo, I think, captures the early-summer post-communist post-modernist Bodenheimian sensibility perfectly.
There--see?--I used the term "post-modernist" to mean something much more specific (I mean it as ex- something) than the dead-metaphor term that gets deployed to indicate vaguely any 1945-present or 1960-present art that either continues out of modernism or reacts against it. Bodenheim's fate is thus finally instructive. He went through his modernist phase (Replenishing Jessica and other flapperistic fictions) and went through his communist phase (in the 30s and early 40s, as actually an activist member of CPUSA), and by the time we meet him selling sonnets for, shall we say, a flow of cash, beyond those aesthetic -isms and (back to? on to? down to?) the poem as a vital (desperate) function of the quavering body in need, setting itself up (through poetry!) to be needy. As you can see I'm still thinking about the possible import of C. A. Conrad's (Soma)tic Midge (see "Poems under the Influence" below). Not advocating it as an end to the coherent movement, just being sure I remember that not everyone befits such. It's possible that Lawrence's photo romanticizes this not-fitting; quite likely that Mr. Snyderman would join the first aesthetic category that would have him. And that's my point: Bodenheim would have done the same in a flash, if it would have saved him from the extremity that wrote those sonnets, some of which someone saved and which later I saw at Alderman. I'm glad I saw them. I've never known until now (blogs are fine things) how or when I could ever mention them.
Credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Splashnews
Pieces at the 2002 show at the Jewish Museum, "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art":
 "Giftgas Giftset," three replicas of Zyklon B gas canisters in the colors, and bearing the logos, of Chanel, Hermes and Tiffany's.
 "Prada Deathcamp" is a model of a concentration camp on cardboard from a Prada hatbox. The exhibit catalog on this: the artist "dares to observe Holocaust museums and their visitors from the position of a critique of consumption."
 "LEGO Concentration Camp Set" consists of replicas of boxes of the children's building blocks, but the boxes bear photographs of models of barracks and crematoria. The catalog: this work shows "how such seemingly harmless items may pose serious psychological and philosophical questions about gender, sexuality, and childhood."
 In "It's the Real Thing -- Self-Portrait at Buchenwald," the artist digitally inserts a photograph of himself, holding a Diet Coke, into the foreground of a famous photograph of emaciated Jews in their bunks shortly after the liberation of Buchenwald. The catalogue: this work "draws parallels between brainwashing tactics of the Nazis and commodification. Just as much of Europe succumbed to Nazi culture because it was the dominant paradigm, so does our contemporary culture succumb to consumerism."
Conservative columnist-pundit George Will was among those who hated this show, and in his column called "Exploiting the Holocaust, intellectually" he wrote: "A wit once said that everything changes except the avant-garde. But it does change. It gets worse." Be sure to read the rest of his essay.
"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside." Mark Twain wrote that. C. A. Conrad's book of poems (Soma)tic Midge proves that exactly the opposite (opposite in every element) is probably the truth. Eat what you must, and let the food fight it out on the outside. Fortunately for us, the outside is this writing.
The Faux Press of Cambridge, Mass., has published Conrad's chapbook, the first work in a series Conrad is writing under the general rubric "somatic poetics." Poetry of the body, by the body, maybe even for the body--although while the first two effects can be discerned in the writing, the latter of course can only be guessed from it. But I'm guessing this work has felt to the poet to be for the body also. Work that is done to the body.
In this sequence, Conrad writes whatever he wants under the vague (that is to say, only generally defined) somatic influence of foods of a certain color. To write the poem partly titled "distorted torque of FLORA'S red," he ate only "red foods for a day"--and in that instance subjected himself to the additional rule or compositional constraint of being "under the influence of" a red wig, worn a certain way.
So these poems are rule-bound - procedural poetry - but the effect is left to the reader to understand according to his or her belief (if "belief" be the word) in the idea that we are what we eat. To exactly the extent one believes we are what we eat these poems will seem specifically somatic.
The poems don't at all participate in the traditional symbolism of colors. The red (red food day) poem is not about love; the yellow poem is not about cowardice; the green poem is not any more verdant or natural than any of the others.
I dig rule-based verse at the level of the series/project, though sometimes less so at the level of the stanza and line in such a poem. But in (Soma)tic Midge I dig it sometimes at the level of the line as well. My mind is working all the time: this or that never-quite-explicable stanza always stands in some kind of relation to the poem's color, the food I'm imagining Conrad had to eat that day to write it. The juxtaposition doesn't keep the poem from going where it will go but commands alertness to juxtaposition--not juxtaposition of poetic elements set side by side and operating on same plane, but rather this: (1) words in front of you, "under the influence of" (2) the body consuming food of a certain resonant-but-not-symbolic color. The effect is hard to describe and I'm sure I have failed here. In the yellow poem, is the "something" in
might hinder this
all that yellow food--grits with butter, wax beans, bananas? Is "this" the poem that tries to stand against what yellow typically means? We ain't foolin' around. The poet who wrote those lines spent the day eating yellow food (enough to make me feel a loose bowel movement coming on) and, I should add, "while under the influence" of a yellow condom tucked into his left sock. Anyone who met C. A. Conrad that day wouldn't have known of the latter "influence"--it's between us, shall we say; we are let in on a close-by secret and I for one find myself under its strange influence too. I too "look under / pain and / find me."
As we move through these drastically colored days, the conditions seem to increase in extremity. For his blue day he subjects himself to the continuously looping sound of Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velet." For white, the final poem, the food is at its most awful blandness (although I love turnips if they are pureed) and the ultimate bodily white--semen--is written on the poet's forehead. A life-embracing somatic twist on Kafka's notion of penal punishment. This final poem is devastating:
Dear Admiral White Pants
you make me the
through at last
White is war. It's also the color of the truce flag, announcing the withdrawal from the agonistic field. In C. A. Conrad's white (white food day) poem, the speaker is rebuked by a martial uncle who thinks his nephew would make a bad soldier, and we have no doubt by that point that he is right. But then again, think of the discipline required. That he's got aplenty. He takes over white--takes it over from the militarizers. Finally, in the end, in the final lines, white is in fact peace, as "a dove / lands but / I say nothing" and "no spell [is] / broken." We are back to the great traditions of poetry: the end of the poem is the coming down softly of language, swerving but with surprising grace, upon extended wings.
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C. A. Conrad's PennSound author page includes links to free downloadable mp3's of many of the poems this chapbook, as well as from his more recent book, published by Chax, called The Book of Frank."