Kristin Prevallet, Simone White, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge joined Al Filreis to talk about Barbara Guest’s poem “The Blue Stairs,” title poem of the book published in 1968. It can be found on pages 61–63 of the Collected Poems, edited by Hadley Guest and published by Wesleyan in 2008, fifty years later. PennSound’s Barbara Guest page is, we think, a thing of beauty, featuring more than a dozen readings across decades, each reading-length recording organized into poem-by-poem segments. The Guest author page includes three different performances of “The Blue Stairs,” the first given at the Library of Congress in June of 1969; the second a studio recording made in 1984; the third in 1996.
This episode of PoemTalk was cocurated by Mark Nowak and Al Filreis. In it we discuss with Meg Pendoley and Husnaa Hashim six short poems following the tanka form. The tankas were composed by three poets, two tankas each by Christine Yvette Lewis, Lorraine Garnett, and Davidson Garrett. The poets are members of the Worker Writers School, which meets regularly in New York City. The recordings we hear in the episode were made by Brooklyn-based filmmaker Zardon Richardson at a meeting of the workshop on February 2, 2019. With our program notes, we make available the films of these poets performing their poems.
Al Filreis gathered with Adrienne Raphel, Jennifer Firestone, and Julia Bloch to talk about Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. This book of 240 numbered prose-poem propositions was published by Wave Books in 2009. The group focuses on eleven sections, those numbered 222–232; these appear on pages 89–93 in the Wave edition. Maggie Nelson’s PennSound page includes several recordings of readings in which she performs this work. The recording we play at the start of this episode is from a reading she gave at Boise State University in Idaho on April 26, 2013.
Al Filreis was joined by Ellen Berman, Anthony Rostain, and Ahmad Almallah to talk about Anne Sexton’s poem “The Ambition Bird” (1972). Berman and Rostain are practicing psychiatrists, and Almallah is a poet whose first book, Bitter English, is being published by University of Chicago Press. A film of Sexton reading the poem — available on YouTube — is the basis of the audio we extracted.
For this episode of PoemTalk, Al Filreis convened Ujjwala Maharjan and Kevin Platt to meet with Nasser Hussain for a discussion of Hussain’s recent project, SKY WRI TEI NGS (Coach House Press, 2018), a book of poems in which words are chosen only from the list of all the world’s three-letter airport codes. The group focused on three poems from the book: “ISL AMO PHO BIA,” “EAT (FOR MIC LEE),” and “STO RIS.”