My final commentary focuses on writers reading the work of other writers. I was interested in recordings that did more than simply pay homage or celebrate an influence. The experience of listening to the following recordings was often one of hearing some aspect of the text come loose through the reader's voice instead of hearing the text being inscribed into a fixed state.
In a 1998 recording at the Kelly Writers House, Rachel Blau DuPless reads an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land during a celebration of the Poems for the Millenium anthologies. DuPlessis explains: "The Waste Land isn't in this anthology. [. . .] Because of the price the Eliot estate charges." Instead of reprinting The Waste Land, Poems for the Millenium: Volume One includes a brief commentary contextualizing the poem's relationship to a range of modernist literary movements. DuPlessis continues: "I also wanted to note that there are always people missing whenever there are writers. There are people who aren't writing or can't write or don't write. And sometimes they get absorbed into the writers. And this is a section of The Waste Land that was basically spoken by Eliot's maid, named Ellen Kellend." By reading this passage from the poem, DuPlessis foregrounds the material conditions under which literature is created (or not created) and disseminated (or not disseminated).
This post presents recordings inspired by the life and work of the musician and composer Arthur Russell. A limited edition collaborative chapbook written by CA Conrad and Thom Donovan called Arthur Echo (Scary Topiary Press, 2011) addresses Russell’s haunting and beautiful recording World of Echo. In this excerpt from the co-written introductory statement, the authors describe their process: “While house sitting for friends in Philadelphia we collaborated on the following (Soma)tic exercise, playing Arthur Russell’s CD World of Echo on repeat on all five floors of the house. We moved from floor to floor from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., taking scheduled breaks for food, conversation, and checking in for further fine tuning of the (Soma)tic maneuvers.” Conrad and Donovan read the entirety of their chapbook (with the exception of the two introductory statements) on February 8th, 2011 at the Zebulon Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
While I was listening to the following recordings, I kept thinking about how my friend Noah Eli Gordon used to love finding yield-to-pedestrian crosswalks when we both lived in Western Massachusetts, and how much he enjoyed simply being able to walk across the street without worrying about being crushed by a huge SUV. (We had both grown up in different parts of the sprawling Midwest where cars never stopped for pedestrians.) I don’t want to dwell too much on this personal association, but listening to each of these recordings recreated some version of that feeling of being struck by a small moment of unexpected freedom in the immediate environment.
It’s not that these recordings are full of unequivocal happiness or unchecked optimism (there’s plenty of complication, violence, distress, and danger hovering around them all), but that they temporarily create spaces for the listener to experience the interplay of phenomena, a listening-feeling that acknowledges complexity and flux but doesn’t make one feel a sensory overload (though I love recordings that do that too).
This playlist includes recordings of authors reading the entirety of a book or chapbook. I find that longer recordings allow me to become immersed in the textures of the work, to register the ambient sonic environment, and to perceive other small shifts and variations within and between pieces. I sometimes listen to one long recording that allows me to settle into a particular mode of listening and then follow it by listening to another recording that suggests another form of attention. I like the feeling of becoming engrossed and hypnotized by a recording and then using another recording to snap myself out of the experience so that I can see the initial recording with more critical distance.
I want to backtrack a bit and link to some recordings related to earlier commentaries. Rather than update the older posts, I’ll periodically add new tracks to expand previous playlists. I’ll also make some new unthemed playlists of singles segmented from longer recordings that I came across while browsing PennSound’s reading series pages.