When Rae Armantrout agreed to present at the "9 Contemporary Poets Read Themselves through Modernism" three-night event (in 2000), and when she chose Emily Dickinson as the modern through whom to read, I knew I'd be in heaven--and I was. It wasn't just a stunningly good performance; I learned a great deal about Dickinson's presence in the poetic present; I also learned how distinct (yes, and distinct from Dickinson) Rae Armantrout is. If Dickinson is my favorite poet to teach, I think Armantrout is the second. Not to say it's easy to teach her poems, but everyone--students and I alike--feel rewarded by the effort. Here's the link to the RealAudio recording of that performance. If readers of this blog have not read or heard Armantrout's poems, may I suggest one for starters? It's a poem called "The Way", most recently published in Veil. Listen to the poem but also hear the poet talk about it in her May 2006 conversation with Charles Bernstein: click here for the segment on "The Way."
See a later entry for link to and description of a PENNsound podcast that includes a reference to "The Way" and Armantrout's discussion with Bernstein about the poem.
PENNsound's Pound archive is truly remarkable. This blog has already thus testified, per poet Peter Gizzi. The earliest recording that survives--The Harvard Vocarium reading in Cambridge--was made in 1939. The latest are some miscellaneous recordings made in San Ambrogio and Venice, between 1962 and 1972, by Olga Rudge.
Each year for five years now I and a group of 20 or so Penn alumni have spent three days and two nights at the Straus estate at Frost Valley in the Catskills, studying and discussing modern and contemporary American poetry. And each year a poet--whose work we read--joins us.
Last fall (autumn 2006) I taught my Holocaust course again. I love teaching the modern and contemporary American poetry course, English 88, and my annual spring Writers House Fellows Seminar, but I can't say I "love" teaching the Holocaust course. Do I feel obliged or committed to do so? Am I part of the "chain of witness"? That seems much too simple.