All posts filed under: Articles, Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research, events, 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” (1947-48), 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 …

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Gerrit Lansing

Due to the unprecedented weather conditions in Cambridge, we have decided to postpone Gerrit Lansing’s previously scheduled event tomorrow. But, lest we let the snow get the last word, we wanted to share with you the introduction that Ruth Lepson had planned to give at the event, by way of celebration. 1. His family were early settlers around Albany; a village nearby, Lansingburgh, was named after them, a town where, I might add, Melville lived, studied briefly, and courted a girl. 2. Gerrit himself grew up in the township of Bainbridge, Ohio, on a farm, where he was in charge of the chickens. 3. He came across Jung at Harvard, and later in New York met the secretary of the Bollingen Foundation, which published Jung. In the summer following that meeting, he took a train from Rome to southern Switzerland, where he attended the Eranos meetings (eranos meaning ‘love feast’) on symbolical, archetypal and mythological themes, and continued to go to the Bollingen in NY while he was working at Columbia in the publications department. 4. He’s delved into alchemy; his poetry is a …

A PRO-POUNDIAN BROADCAST: On a Recently Digitized Radio Program from 1955

Sixty years ago, on December 5, 1955, the Yale Broadcasting Company (WYBC) aired “A Tribute to Ezra Pound” on the occasion of the poet’s 70th birthday. Far from your average three-score-and-ten jubilee, the montage was an effort to garner support for the poet’s release from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. In the mid-1950s, similar appeals were being made over the airwaves via the Canadian Broadcasting System and the Vatican Radio (see J. J. Wilhelm, Ezra Pound: The Tragic Years, 1925-1972). Pound’s publisher New Directions also printed  and adapted many of the comments from the WYBC broadcast in its pamphlet Ezra Pound at Seventy (1955), which was (according to John Cohassey) published to bring attention to Pound’s recent works and “to further the cause of the poet’s freedom” after almost a decade of incarceration. Pound was released from St. Elizabeth’s in April 1958. The irony of using a broadcast to advocate for someone who had been imprisoned for the content of his own radio broadcasts probably didn’t escape the participants, who included W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Archibald MacLeish, Marianne Moore, Stephen Spender, Robert Penn Warren, …