All posts filed under: Articles, Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research, events, and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

“I Have You By the Ears”: Liner Notes for a John Wieners Exhibit

John Wieners and I spent much time hanging out in his apartment at 44 Joy Street in Beacon Hill. It was a ramshackle, railroad apartment with bamboo patio furniture and exotic crazy collages on the walls. There was a modest shelf of books and piles of papers and folders stacked in a shifting order throughout his three rooms. I spent a great many hours thumbing through his fantastic array of personal items, handwritten poems and marketing literature, as well as postcards and letters from his friends and family. John would cut and paste these images and articles inside copies of his own books. His texts would become scrapbooks of decoupage collages composed of everything around him. Although they would appear, at first glance, to be random assemblages of junk mail and articles cut from newspapers and magazines, one would gradually see a pattern of transposing and pasting his dreams over the reality of his printed work. So, over the years, I assembled this collection of books and magazines, mostly given to me by John himself. John actively …


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 …