Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman, “Memorial Day” (26:33): MP3
Today at PennSound we’re marking the Memorial Day holiday in a distinctly poetic way, by unveiling a long lost recording of Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman’s “Memorial Day” from a May 5, 1971 reading at the Saint Mark’s Poetry Project.
This new addition to the PennSound archives is notable not only because “Memorial Day” is a landmark collaboration between two of the New York School’s finest poets, but also due to the rarity of the recording. Berrigan and Waldman only read the poem together and in its entirety once — in fact, “Memorial Day” was composed specifically for their joint reading in the spring of 1971 — and while the event was recorded, it would seem that the tape had been missing for several decades, presumably lost forever.
It feels very fitting to write this opening note on April 5th, the fourteenth anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s death. Certainly Ginsberg spent the majority of his life as an ardent and innovative advocate for the cause of poetry, in a manner not dissimilar from that of John Tranter, whose Jacket Magazine (born within six months of the poet’s passing) we now carry on into the future as Jacket2. However, Ginsberg has a more personal significance for me because I can honestly say that without having encountered his work around the age of fourteen or fifteen I wouldn’t be here today working at Jacket2 and PennSound, as a poet and a scholar, as a socially and politically-conscious human being. Instead, I’d likely be a doctor or a music journalist or something far more lucrative and life-affirming than this strange life I’ve stumbled into; most days, however, I’m very happy with the choice I’ve made.
The strange thing though is that I really have no idea how I came across Ginsberg’s work in the first place. I know that my mother dutifully trudged out to a Waldenbooks in a mall somewhere in the Philly suburbs to buy a copy of his Collected Poems 1947-1980 (pictured above) as a Christmas present, and I’d guess that I’d requested it after coming across a story on the poet in Spin or Rolling Stone (both of which I read faithfully at the time). What I do know for certain is that I devoured the collection with tremendous fervor, loving not only the clear-cut classics like “Howl,” “America,” “A Supermarket in California” and “Sunflower Sutra,” but also the offbeat pieces that showed me things I’d never realized poetry could do before: the intense collage-work of “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” the rabid chant of “Hum Bom,” the novel constructions behind poems like “I Am a Victim of Telephone,” “Grafitti 12th Cubicle Men’s Room Syracuse Airport” and “Junk Mail.” As you can tell by the photo above, the spine bowed mercilessly by dozens of bookmarks (the yellow ones torn from a comment card for the local theme restaurant,Nifty Fifty’s, the blue ones scraps from a college bluebook cover), I had a lot of favorites.