All posts filed under: LINER NOTES: Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

OUR SKILL SOMETIMES TO RECORD IT: On W.C. Williams’ Debut of “The Desert Music”

When William Carlos Williams first agreed to speak at Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa Literary Exercises in 1951, he did not realize that the delivery of the poem would truly require exercise. He could not have foreseen at the time of commission the stroke he would suffer the following month, and the toll it would take on his capacity to perform it.

MAGPIETY: An Interview with Melissa Green

Poetry is Melissa Green’s landbridge, her strongest connection to the wider world—though it would be more accurate to say that, through poetry, the rest of the world gains access to Green’s “tremendous intensity and tremendous intelligence,” as Joseph Brodsky put it. Marie Howe has written that “Melissa Green might well be a 21st century version of Emily Dickinson, poet of ecstatic states and extremity.” Like Dickinson, a careful repose allows Green to sustain the sensitivity that the machinery of modern life erodes.

ODE TO THE INSTRUMENT: Liner Notes for a John Wieners’ Recording

“Now a poem from Black Mountain, written in 1955,” begins this affecting recital of “Ode to the Instrument,” recorded for the Woodberry Poetry Room at Boston’s Fassett Studio in March 1962. The crystal-clear track is the only known recording of this uncollected early poem, in which Wieners’ later lyricism—his soft-stated allusiveness and lovesick, apostrophic poise—can already be heard lifting into place. The poem, written during Wieners’s first month at Black Mountain College, also marked a sea change in his dawning, elemental friendship with Charles Olson.

IT’S ALL RIGHT: On Sean Cole’s “To Acropolis”

The Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to announce a new online series called BOSTON ORIGINALS—a celebration of poets who hail from, dwell in, or write about the greater Boston area. Each BOSTON ORIGINALS post will feature a brief reflection on a Boston poet’s work (or interview with the poet) and an audio or video recording. The Poetry Room wishes to thank Audrey Mardavich (and videographer John Mulrooney) for generously agreeing to contribute to this inaugural post. I have been an admirer of Sean Cole’s work as a poet and as a radio producer for many years. He is a superb thinker: he can be irreverent when it matters most, he is inventive with his images and sounds, he is very funny and probably has the best laugh of any poet around. He brings that to every poem and every radio story of his I’ve heard. This poem, in particular, especially reflects that spirit. Sean Cole at the 2015 Boston Poetry Marathon: “To Acropolis” begins at 5:07.  “To Acropolis” touches on the history of the marathon in Greece, the history of 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.


They put on exotic European imports, like René Char’s balletic The Man Who Walked in a Ray of Sunshine, and earnest home-grown efforts like Lyon Phelps’ The Gospel Witch, a play about Salem fated to be overtaken by Arthur Miller’s. They staged the solemnity of Yeats’ Purgatory and the cheerful absurdity of Ashbery’s Pirandello-style comedy, The Compromise. Readers included metrical conservatives like Richard Wilbur, so-called Confessional poets Anne Sexton and George Starbuck, and professional circuit performers like Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice. Kenneth Koch and James Merrill sent them plays, and there was a brilliant adaptation of Finnegans Wake (by Mary Manning Howe). Even Gregory Corso had a brief stint with the Poets’ Theatre, as a janitor.

REEL WRITING No. 6: The Return

“We’ll take refuge in bells, in the swinging bells,
 in the peal, the air, the heart of ringing.
 We’ll take refuge in bells and we’ll float
 over the earth in their heavy casings.” —from “The Bells” by Adam Zagajewski This is the sound of the Letecks foundry outside Moscow in Russia. The screech of metal polishers, the roar from the container of molten metal, and hiss of hot wax being poured into their molds. It is here, in this enormous industrial warehouse, that some of the holiest icons in Russian Orthodoxy are born. It’s incredible that such a cacophony will result in a sound like this. Bells. In Russian, kolakol. For centuries, the art of casting bells has been developed and refined, with craftsmen producing enormously heavy instruments that are both feats of engineering and beautiful artifacts of metal iconography. In Russia, bellringing takes on a much different form from the bells you might hear in the rest of Europe or the United States. For one thing, melody is not the focus of Russian bellringing. …

REEL WRITING No. 5: Nabokov’s Ear

I now pass to my own stuff. And in order to soften the transition—a gap of a hundred years, after all—I shall start with a poem about a Russian visiting speaker. He’s supposed to be talking about Russian language and literature to a group of… This is Vladimir Nabokov, speaking to a gathered audience at Harvard University in 1952, when he came to record a few of his own poems along with translations of Tyutchev, Pushkin, and other Russian poets. You can be sure that, throughout each recording, every word was meticulously prepared. Nabokov was famous for writing down everything he planned to say beforehand. In the heavily edited book of Nabokov’s interviews, Strong Opinions, he writes: “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child… I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand and not held under my eyes on the bright-lit lectern.” …all hangs together—shape and sound, heather and honey, vessel and content. Not only rainbows—every line …

REEL WRITING No. 4: Talking Letters

Virginia Marshall: Okay, we’re going to start over. Hey, Melanie. Melanie Wang: Do you want me to say my name again? VM: Sure, yeah. MW: Melanie Wang. VM: Great. Um. So, last summer, what were we doing? This story will hopefully take you to a few different places. It will use audio from files and cassette tapes that people mailed or emailed to each other. So you might be thrown around a bit. This episode is about writing and recording letters and poems. I’m Virginia Marshall and you’re listening to Reel Writing: Poems and Prose off and on the tape real. Now, here’s my friend Melanie to tell you about our version of letter writing. MW: So last summer, I was in Chicago and you were in Boston. And we sent each other recordings back and forth the whole summer. Hi Melanie, it’s Ginger. Hi Ginger. MW: Each recording started with whoever was sending it talking about where they were— I am sitting in a conference room in Knox Hall at Columbia University. Right now, …

REEL WRITING No. 3: Recalling the Stacks

You’re listening to the third episode of Reel Writing: Poems and prose off and on the tape reel, brought to you by Houghton Library and the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University. This is Virginia Marshall. Today, we’re going underground. Emilie Hardman: This is the first atlas of Siberia. It’s just lying there and kind of by luck it survives. Down in the buzzing, climate-controlled basement of Houghton Library live thousands upon thousands of books. EH: There’s one where they look like kangaroos… I’ve never been able to—there they are. Don’t they look… I mean, how would he have found a kangaroo to—and why? In my mind those are the kangaroos of Siberia. I don’t want to compare it to a dungeon of scholarship, but the metaphor is somewhat appealing. I could never call it a “dusty old library” because—though some books are old enough to be written on papyrus—they are far from dusty.  EH: This is our little backpack vacuum. We have to vacuum the stacks.  That’s Emilie Hardman, the Houghton research librarian who …