Complete works

Image by Noah Saterstrom

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.

While listening to the following recordings over the last few weeks, I was reminded of Christine Hume’s review/essay “Carla Harryman’s Baby: Listening In, Around, Through, and Out” published in How2. Hume’s piece not only provides an insightful, nuanced reading of Harryman’s work but it also compiles a vocabulary, from various sources and disciplines, for talking about modes of listening, such as Negatively-Capable Listening, Gestalt Listening, and Analytic Listening. Without ignoring the specific context of the essay as a review of Harryman’s book, I’d like to keep Hume’s sense of the multiplicity of listening modes in mind with this set of recordings.


Dana Ward’s Typing “Wild Speech” (Summer BF Press, 2010). Recorded live at Canessa Gallery in SF, 2009.

Barbara Guest’s Quill, Solitary Apparition (Post-Apollo Press, 1996) via Kootenay School of Writing Audio Archive. Recorded live at the KSW, 1999.

Susan Howe’s Singularities (Wesleyan, 1991). Assembled from three separate live readings: Segue Series, 1986; Kelly Writers House, 2007; SUNY Buffalo, 1995.

Summi Kaipa’s The Epics (Leroy, 1999). Recorded live at University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2000.

C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon 1998). Studio recording made in Port Townsend, WA in 1999.

Farid Matuk’s This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machine, 2011). Recorded for Jacket2 and PennSound at the author's home in Dallas in March, 2011. [Segmented version forthcoming.]

HR Hegnauer’s Sir (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2011). Recorded for Jacket2 and PennSound at the author's home in Denver in June, 2011.

Clark Coolidge’s Polaroid [divided into part one and part two] (BIG SKY/Adventures in Poetry, 1976). Recorded by Michael Kohler at University of Connecticut in 1974.

I would suggest downloading and listening to some of these back to back or in different combinations, for example, listening to the gradually unfurling and intertwining micro-narratives of Dana Ward’s Typing “Wild Speech” alongside Barbara’s Guest’s more gestural, atmospheric Quill, Solitary Apparition. Something about Ward’s voicing/intonation patterns make the poem feel like it is being written while it is being read. Even though Ward is reading from a text, the self-questioning aspects of it allow the performance to seem new and immediate. The piece seems to create itself out of an impulse to question its own development. At one point, Ward asks something like “Did I just write a blurb?” and the question, though hilarious, is also amazingly  profound because there’s a real sincerity about the shock of how one often finds oneself, unconsciously and involuntarily, in the middle of a new discourse.

Barbara Guest’s book is more concerned with the glancings of language and the residues of reading. However, by pairing these recordings together one might more readily attend to the ephemeral streaks of sound and image embedded in the more speech-oriented, narrative, essayistic approach of Ward’s chapbook and to the less pronounced, more textual subjectivity of Guest’s work that is so intricately tied to the act of reading as a practice of manifesting presences, conjuring apparitions. I’m also interested in the ways Guest performs the space of the page and certain visual elements that might not be readily apparent in the audio recording. Here, you can see how Guest work appears on the page.

Susan Howe’s recording of her book Singularities was a single file that I assembled from several distinct readings of different portions of that work. I am interested in the ways Howe renders the pages that twist and turn the text around on the page during the “Thorow” section. Like Guest’s recording, this aspect of Howe’s reading, the necessity of creating a sonic interpretation of spatialized text, complicates the idea of the “complete” work.  

In Summi Kaipa’s introductory comments on her chapbook, The Epics, she describes the work as “more overtly about my own identity and what I consider to be multiple selves.” The following passage provides a sense of the abrupt transformations and striking juxtapositions alive in the piece: “Please excuse my gratuitous anachronism. As in Hinduism, when the eight planets align, the apocalypse is said to arrive but doesn’t. Someone purposefully avoids me because of the intelligent company I keep, or Barbarella is the greatest movie ever made. The leading antagonist in the story is Duryodhana, who is envious of Krishna’s kinship to his cousins. Most of us can sympathize with blood relations. My brother, Sami, is looking for a high-paying job in the computer industry and my cousins are in medical school. Am I concerned that I will be rich? No. Someone’s child, unborn, is already burping the alphabet.”

C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining creates a music of place by weaving a number of voices, field notes, allusions, public and private histories. You can read an excerpt from the text on Jacket 15  and see a review of the book written by Mark Nowak in Rain Taxi online.

Farid Matuk’s This Isa Nice Neighborhood was recorded in its entirety for Jacket2. Unlike Wright’s book, the work is comprised of individual poems, but what I love most about this recording is the way hearing all the poems together, especially the poems with identical titles, creates its own internal echoes and transfigurations. Like Kaipa’s chapbook, Matuk’s book might be described as an investigation of multiple selves, and like Wright’s book, it might also be considered, at least partially, as a reading of the complexities of place. However, hearing this book of more or less discrete poems against the backdrop of more continuous work by Kaipa and Wright allowed me to attend to its horizontal movement. In a similar way, I was able to recursively pay attention to some of the subtle pauses, breaks, and brief silences within the other works on the playlist.

HR Hegnauer’s author’s statement on her chapbook Sir (via Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs) reads:  “SIR is an attempt at thinking about what it means to be a human alongside another human, especially as we age. I've been writing through what a memory can be and how to preserve it; how to keep it, lose it, and try to retrieve it over time. This project wonders how to grieve the loss of memory at the same time as the loss of life, while trying to keep in mind that we are living right now. I am indebted to my grandparents who have inspired the characters of Sir & Mrs. Alice.” I was lucky enough to join a small group of listeners including Andrea Rexilius and Danielle Vogel in hearing Hegnauer read this newly published work in the author’s Denver home. I was struck by the clarity and power of the work when read aloud, how its compelling series of vignettes focus the listener’s attention with such intensity.

Clark Coolidge’s Polaroid might suggest a very different approach to listening because of its length and the level of abstraction at work in the language. However, after listening to Hegnauer’s recording I tried to listen to Coolidge’s more ambient work with the same quality of absorption. A PDF of Polaroid is available on Craig Dworkin’s Eclipse Archive. I found that reading along with the text, something I tend to avoid doing, was helpful in staying close to the experience of listening.

More work by Noah Saterstrom