by Harry Mathews
In 1999 the Literature faculty and the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT invited Harry Mathews to present on Oulipo. The complete recording is available at Harry Mathews's PennSound page. And we have segmented the audio — making available separate links to audio recordings of his introduction, his remarks on the Oulipo group, a brief Q&A session, and several readings of lipograms and N+7 writing. As a service particularly to those who don’t know much about Oulipo, Nick DeFina at PennSound has created an edited 15-minute excerpt of Mathews’s general overview. Now Emily Harnett offers an introduction to this 34th episode in the PennSound podcast series.
Featuring Michael Hennessey's recollections of his own work with the archive
On November 18, 2013, Steve McLaughlin hosted a celebration of PennSound’s 10th anniversary. After introductory remarks offered by Al Filreis, there were short talks each by Charles Bernstein, Michael Hennessey, Danny Snelson, Katie Price, Steve McLaughlin himself, and Benjamin Behrend. Hennessey was not in Philadelphia for the event and had prepared a recording to be played. In this PennSound podcast, the 33rd in the series, we feature Hennessey’s retrospective (along with clips he prepared from various bits from the archive). Allison Harris edited the podcast and introduces it. Full audio and video recordings of the event are available at the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry.
PennSound podcast #18
Rare it is that John Ashbery explains one of his poems. But, in a radio interview in 1966, he did that just. He read “These Lacustrine Cities” and then went line by line offering various sorts of explanations - paraphrase, sources for phrases and words, a sense of the process of composition. Here is a PennSound podcast, the 18th in our series, featuring this recording, which aired on WKCR. The podcast is 18 minutes long.
Bob Cobbing, 'Portrait of Robin Crozier'
Bob Cobbing (1920–2002) — sound poet, visual and concrete poet, DIY printer, and active member of an alternative socio-poetic community in the UK — insisted that there’s no use in adding to poetry what’s already there. In “Some Statements on Sound Poetry” (1969) he wrote: “Gone is the word as the word, though the word may still be used as sound or shape.” And he added: “Poetry now resides in other elements.” In this episode, Al Filreis is joined by sound poet Jaap Blonk, phonotextualist Steve McLaughlin, and experimental archivist Danny Snelson as they approach a single work by Cobbing, “Portrait of Robin Crozier,” in an effort to identify generally those “other elements.” The version of “Portrait of Robin Crozier” we use here is from the album Green Computer of 1988 and can be found on PennSound’s Cobbing page under “Recordings 1968–2005.”
Robin Crozier was a Fluxus-affiliated mail artist who sent out commissions to 100 artists, asking each to make a portrait of him — although most of those commissioned had not met Crozier in person. So far as we can tell, Cobbing was among those who didn’t “know” Crozier in that conventional sense. Cobbing used a spirit duplicator, probably his famous old Gestetner machine, inky and smelly, to produce an image (see below) that to Danny Snelson seems at first abstract, then figurative (it is possible to see it as a human shape), then abstract again. Steve McLaughlin sees in the portrait — both the visual Gestetner smear and the sound poem derived from the visual blot as a kind of score — an expression of the special way in which Cobbing shared Crozier’s aesthetic and political (anarchistic) sensibility: thus the laughter in the sound poem expresses delight in a friendship as it enacts in itself the pleasure — what Steve calls “a pre-hierarchical glee.” The poem attempts to do in sound what its author believes Crozier does in his work; its meaning as portraiture derives from doing rather than being, composition as playful work rather than essence as a given. Jaap notes that one hears affection in the piece, and can understand it — like any traditional poem of love or admiration — as a “direct utterance” toward a friend.
PoemTalk #72 was engineered by Zach Carduner, produced by Al Filreis, and edited by Steve McLaughlin. On the day Jaap Blonk joined us for PoemTalk, he also performed at the Kelly Writers House; that performance is available in audio and video recordings on the Writers House web calendar and at Blonk’s PennSound page.
Bob Cobbing, Portrait of Robin Crozier.
Claude McKay, 'If We Must Die'
Herman Beavers, Salamishah Tillet, and Kathy Lou Schultz joined PoemTalk producer and host Al Filreis to talk about Claude McKay’s widely anthologized sonnet, “If We Must Die” (1919). Its content advocates counterviolence in response to racist violence; its form is the exquisitely constrained Shakespearean sonnet, aligned with English poetic mastery. Does pushing through this formal constraint bring McKay’s speaker toward freedom or fatedness? Does the sonnet as a formal choice befit a cultural inside or an outside? Is the Anglophone literary tradition itself at risk if the super-talented Afro-Jamaican sonneteer is killed while fighting back, and what might it mean if McKay put it too — the tradition — in harm’s way? And what of the poem’s lack of explicit racial marking? The political positioning of this poem (published first in the radical-left Liberator) seems clear enough as a matter of its semantic sense, but such a stance opens wide when one reads the poem as a formal intervention — broadens so much that our four-way conversation inevitably ranges across numerous interpretive options. There is defiance as well as constraint in the message of the poem about a heralded proud response to the awful Red Summer, but, so too, both defiance and constraint in the poem as a poem.
This episode of PoemTalk was engineered by Zach Carduner and edited, as always, by Steve McLaughlin. PoemTalk is a collaboration of the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation. It is published as a podcast series in Jacket2 and available for subscription and download in iTunes. In your iTunes store searchbox, type “PoemTalk” and you'll easily find us.
If We Must Die