Author: Christina Davis

“ARCHIVE OF THE MOUTH”: Tracing Baez, Plath, Sun Ra, Sexton, Et Al Back to a Single Pivotal Recording Studio

This was supposed to be a story about one of the nation’s first “library of voices” and its phonographic instigator Frederick C. Packard, Jr. And, in many ways it remains so. But, as poet Lyn Hejinian has observed, people are collecting-experiences, and if one genuinely follows a single human being one inevitably happens on someone else who forms the fulcrum of a very different set of phenomena and occurrences.

In this story that person is a quiet, self-taught Boston audio engineer Stephen B. Fassett (1914-1980), and this article is a preliminary attempt to honor his generative, facilitating and unsung role in the early careers of countless mid-century poets, jazz & blues musicians, and folk music revivalists as they converged on the burgeoning epicenter of 1950s and 60s Cambridge/Boston.

HEAR YE: Announcing the 2017-2018 WPR Creative Fellowship & Grants

I begin to go hear. –Charles Olson The Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to announce that Kate Colby (of Providence, Rhode Island) is the recipient of the 2017-2018 WPR Creative Fellowship ($3,500) for her project “Mist on the Mirror: Writing in Olson’s Breath.” The annual WPR Creative Fellowship invites poets, writers, multimedia artists, and scholars of contemporary poetry to propose creative projects that would benefit from the resources available at the Poetry Room and to generate new work that further actualizes the WPR’s collections and contributes to the culture at large. Previous recipients of the fellowship have included Eileen Myles, Fanny Howe and (most recently) Erín Moure. Due to the unprecedented number of applicants and remarkable quality of the proposals, the committee will also be awarding two WPR Creative Grants ($1,000). The 2017-2018 grantees are Lillian-Yvonne Bertram (of Lowell, Massachusetts) and Christine Finn (of London, England). Finn’s grant is jointly funded by the Heaney Suite at Adams House. Past recipients of the WPR Creative Grant have included Dan Beachy-Quick and Lindsay Turner. The WPR Creative Fellowships and Grants are …

THE LOST SPEAKERS: When Poetry, Technology & Public-Speaking Converged

As we enter a new era of civic discourse—one governed by 140-character-limits, “air quotes,” and alt facts—and as we encounter an administration intent on destroying the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, it is helpful to reflect on a time that faced similar social and economical struggles (accompanied by rapid technological advances) and met them with a combination of artistic, scientific, and imaginative might.

Carl Sandburg Gives His Regards to Our “Garrulous” Moment

On October 18, 1950, Socialist troubadour, Abraham Lincoln biographer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg read at Harvard University under the auspices of the Morris Gray Reading series. He was likely invited by Department of English faculty member Archibald MacLeish. Long-time friends Sandburg and MacLeish shared in being “critical of writers who [had] remained detached from the national emergency of World War Two.” True to his convictions, Sandburg states (in his opening remarks) that “a writer’s silence on living issues can in itself constitute a propaganda of conduct leading toward the deterioration or death of freedom” and—in a palpable hit at Harvard—he urged the students to remember that “men of ideas vanish first, when freedom vanishes….”

ORAL HISTORY INITIATIVE: A Conversation with Jean Valentine

The primary questions I asked her related to the mid-century history of the Poetry Room and its then curator John Lincoln Sweeney. The stories that emerged included a much wider sphere of intersecting lives and poetries than I had heretofore imagined, among them: Adrienne Rich, Marianne Moore, Edith Sitwell, Fanny and Susan Howe, Edwin Honig, Robert Lowell, Dudley Fitts, Robert Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, and many more.

POETRY’S NOBLE PAUSE: On Patti Smith’s Nobel Prize Performance & Poetic Rupture

Poet and singer-songwriter Patti Smith’s recent magisterial performance at the Nobel Prize ceremony—in which she interrupts her own rendition of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and takes a moment to apologize for her nerves—offers us a chance to reflect upon and celebrate poetry’s role in an increasingly mechanistic society.

WPR CREATIVE FELLOWSHIP & GRANT: Announcing the 2016-2017 Recipients

As we prepare to welcome this year’s WPR Creative Fellow Eileen Myles (who will be present on campus throughout the month of April), the Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to announce that the recipient of next year’s WPR Creative Fellowship is Erín Moure for her proposed project,“RESONANCE: A Modernism.” Moure will receive a stipend of $4,000 (generously funded by the Dr. Michael and Teresa Anagnostopoulos Fund) and plans to be in residence in April 2017. During her fellowship, Moure will travel from Montreal to sit in the Woodberry Poetry Room and engage in a journey of listening in situ to the recorded voices of four American women modernist poets, seeking an auditory trace that will lead her into a new piece of writing, her own trilingual take — for her ear is attuned to French and Galician as well as English — on the grain of the American modernist voice in poetry and on what it provokes today. Moure says: “I would start by placing the cavity of my ribs, my ears, and the cells of my own cerebrum in the …

NOT TO BE PLAYED: Liner Notes for an Exhibition

“NOT TO BE PLAYED, OR TRANSCRIBED…” Ezra Pound writes emphatically in an October 1955 permissions note to Yale professor Norman Holmes Pearson, in conjunction with that year’s WYBC broadcast “A Tribute to Ezra Pound”. The radio program was a part of a larger effort to secure Pound’s release from St. Elizabeths Hospital, where the poet had been held since 1946 as a result of his “treasonous” (and anti-Semitic) wartime broadcasts, which the U.S. Federal Communications Commission began monitoring in 1941 and recording in 1942.

“Outside the Fold”: A Conversation with/without Erín Moure and Chus Pato

“My position in the desert is that of one who stays outside the fold, outside the flag, outside the placenta….” –Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure On Tuesday, September 29, 2015, the Woodberry Poetry Room’s Fall 2015 season launches with a celebration of one of the most dynamic and catalyzing literary partnerships in recent years: Erín Moure and Chus Pato. To mark the occasion and to honor the fact that this will be their first combined U.S. reading, the Poetry Room interviewed the Quebec and Galician poets (or rather, we emailed a few questions in English via Erín, who translated them into Galician, and subsequently conducted the answers back to us in English). Their visit is co-sponsored by “Rethinking Translation,” a Harvard translation think-tank founded by Professors Sandra Nadaff and Stephanie Sandler, and is also made possible by Dara Wier/UMASS Amherst, who will also be hosting a reading by Moure & Pato during their stay. The Poetry Room evening will be introduced by Prof. Daniel Aguirre Oteiza, himself a translator of John Ashbery, Wallace Stevens and Samuel Beckett. …

THE PACKARD COLLECTION: New Initiative to Chronicle & Preserve the Works of a Harvard Recording Pioneer

You could say he was the Alan Lomax of poetry recordings. As the founder of the Harvard Vocarium (1933-1955), one of the first poetry record labels in the world, Frederick C. Packard, Jr., was responsible not only for making the earliest extant poetry recordings of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Muriel Rukeyser, Randall Jarrell, and Marianne Moore, but also for capturing (in some cases for the first time) the works of a dynamic range of poets and performers composing in Gaelic, Yiddish, Afrikaans, and Haitian Creole. As an associate professor at Harvard’s Speech Clinic (one who helped generations of students and faculty with speech impediments) and the university’s first professor of public speaking, he had both a physiological and metaphysical relationship to the voice. He was convinced that the spoken word was to be the instrument of the age and that (if radio broadcasts in Europe were any indicator) the United States needed to educate its next generation of public speakers as a counterpoint to the hypnotic effects of fascist broadcasts and rallies. He considered poetry to be essential in …