All posts filed under: LINER NOTES: Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

Tracing Sonic Tones in the Poetry Room

My project interrogates the foundational question of language for Postcolonial, Black Diasporic, and African American writers by turning explicitly to its sonic articulations. I consider, for instance, how sound storage and reproduction technologies shaped the compositional and performative strategies of poets during the rise of cultural nationalism in the middle of the last century.

Of Poems, Sound & the Sutures of the World

In the 1930s, two projects at Harvard brought the rapidly-advancing technology of sound recording to bear on poetry. In 1933 and again in ‘35, classicist Milman Parry traveled to Yugoslavia to make phonographic recordings of Balkan epic poets, documenting the performers’ use of formulaic expressions to structure and link long passages of epic recitation. Showing the capacity of oral poetry to match the length and complexity of the Homeric oeuvre, Parry’s recordings lent strength to his theory that the Iliad and the Odyssey began in Mycenaean oral tradition. In the very same years Parry trekked to the Balkans, Professor Frederick C. Packard, Jr., established the Harvard Vocarium as a recording label devoted to the expressive possibilities of the human voice. Beginning with the recording of Norton lecturer T. S. Eliot in 1933, Packard inaugurated a pioneering campaign of poetry readings and attendant audio recordings, which continues today in the program of the Woodberry Poetry Room in Lamont Library. Both Parry and Packard’s efforts also produced archives, the holdings of which embrace the media archaeology of the …

Prufrockian Grooves: On Recording the Love Song of T. Stearns Eliot

“Prufrock” has always caused a little bit of trouble, and the Harvard Vocarium’s recording of the poem—one of the earliest in existence—is no exception. When you hear the recording (currently accompanying the centennial exhibit, “Ragged Claws: T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock at 100” at Houghton Library and at this evening’s event with Sir Christopher Ricks), you might be hard pressed to discern the procedural involutions and Transatlantic shuffling necessary to bring it into being. In many ways the trajectory of the recording recapitulated the evolution of the poem itself, which Eliot began to write at Harvard in 1909 and completed in England. In 1947, after delivering his Morris Gray lecture in May of that year (only his second trip to the United States after his long absence during the war), Eliot agreed to record a range of poems for the Harvard Vocarium record label, including “Journey of the Magi,” “Difficulties of a Statesman,” “Fragment of an Agon,” and “Prufrock.” Harvard Vocarium recording of T.S. Eliot reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1948), produced and distributed …

“Make Poetry An Angry Rifle”: On NO INFINITE, Boston’s New Zine of Poetry & Radical Politics

Produced in hand-numbered limited editions, containing original black-and-white artwork, printed on simple white paper and staple bound, No Infinite self-consciously situates itself within the zine tradition defined, in look and feel, by Punk, the 1970s pamphlet which lent its name to that emerging musical/social scene. This is an aesthetic and practical choice, no doubt—but it’s also an ideological one. The first issue’s manifesto reads, “No Infinite is born out of the lost illusions of the 21st century, the failure of infinite growth on a finite planet and numbed to near death by indolent economists and out of touch politicos.” To a certain extent, No Infinite attempts to distill in poetry the anarchic, alienated philosophy generated by Punk all those decades ago. But the zine aesthetic is also misleading. Compared with the enormous array of thick, softcover, nationally-distributed journals—which themselves vary widely in artistic and editorial quality—a zine’s modest production naturally gives the impression of an amateur project. And many of them are. However, No Infinite belongs on the top shelf, beside the Balvenie 12 yr. and …

Photograph by Paul Petricone

“A Formal Rack/-et”: On Stephen Jonas’ Exercises for Ear

First published by Ferry Press in 1968, long out of print, Stephen Jonas’ Exercises for Ear was rescued in 1994 when Talisman House republished the complete book in Stephen Jonas, Selected Poems. Over the years I’ve wanted to extend the discussion of Exercises for Ear that I began in my introduction to that Selected, to look more closely at particulars, not-so particulars, local, not-so local, and to jump into the mix anywhere I choose—amidst characters and dramas of a tawdry, highbrow late 50s through mid-60s milieu—to listen to songs of Boston gone. To begin, these are not poems in a traditional sense. Gerrit Lansing has called them etudes. They are bits and pieces—some complete units, others trail off—snippets of conversations, tongue-in-cheek shouts, persona poems, rants, quick snapshots of Boston above and below ground. If anything, they are a marvelous whole, yet individually they’re more like riffs a sax player is rehearsing on the Esplanade with his case open for coins. No two alike. Melodies of hustlers, junkies, lovers, hipsters and not so hip—sneaky peeks, steamy manhole …