All posts filed under: LINER NOTES: Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

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, …

HWAET: Or, Can You Hear Me in the Back?

Can you hear me? Some variation on this question opens at least 25% of the poetry readings I have listened to and/or attended—especially those in large auditoriums or cacophonous bars. But its repetition, far from rendering the question moot, has only made it the more curious to me. The question acknowledges the essential uncertainty that marks the outset of a reading and suggests that any communication of this kind “is first of all communication not of something” but of “communicability itself” (Giorgio Agamben). The uncertainty of whether one is being heard—one of the essential questions of transmission—immediately distinguishes the live reading from some of the primary securities of the printed page (or screen) and constitutes one of the first losses of authorial control over a poem, if indeed it can ever be said to have existed. (True, you could say that printed matter includes the uncertainty of whether it is being or is going to be read, but unless it is a handwritten or heavily marked-up manuscript or typescript, once the page is before the reader—in an age of standardized computer …

HASHTAG BISHOP: Elizabeth Bishop at the MLA (1976)

For the 1976 Modern Language Association Conference at the Americana Hotel in New York, Sybil Estess, who had recently acquired her Ph.D. from Syracuse University and was one of the first generation of students to write a doctoral thesis on Elizabeth Bishop, put together an ambitious multi-part tribute celebrating Bishop and the publication of Geography III. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first academic conference to so honor Bishop, and the range of the undertaking was rare even for the MLA. In a morning session, Estess herself moderated a panel of young Bishop scholars—Edward Hirsch, Willard Spiegelman, and me (it was my first academic paper about Bishop’s recent poems). In the afternoon, there was another literary session, with Estess again moderating, and which included four senior figures: Ivar Ivask (the editor of Books Abroad discussing Bishop’s being awarded the Neustadt Prize), Marjorie Perloff, Jerome Mazzaro, and Ashley Brown, plus William Meredith reading his charming homage, “Invitation to Miss Elizabeth Bishop.” These talks were followed by a performance (only the second) of Elliott Carter’s …

THORNTON’S LOST RANT: On Wilder’s Poets’ Theatre Outburst

Last October, Christina Davis, the imaginative and disciplined curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room, made an amazing discovery: the original recording of an unscripted rant by playwright Thornton Wilder about the current state of drama and poetry, which he delivered spontaneously to a captive audience of theatergoers at the inaugural Poets’ Theatre event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on February 26, 1951. Since that memorable evening, myth and fact have quietly merged in retellings. Like much of the drama surrounding the New York School poets and painters in the 1950s, Wilder’s harangue, which followed the first performance of Frank O’Hara’s Try! Try! with John Ashbery playing the part of “John, a friend of the poet’s,” has become part of the lore of the period. In one interview I did a few years ago for my biography of John Ashbery’s early life, a former Harvard student present that night told me that Wilder’s “kind of crazy” rant lasted “nearly twenty minutes.” Wilder’s “scolding” of the audience for laughing during O’Hara’s play, and their annoyance at him for misunderstanding …

STOPPING BY FROST’S ON A SNOWY AFTERNOON: On the First Saying of “Stopping by Woods”

For the last 20 years of his life (from 1941-1963), Robert Frost lived about a mile’s walk from the Woodberry Poetry Room, at 35 Brewster Street in West Cambridge. Word has it that when undergraduates escorted the (seemingly) elderly poet home from campus, he would be so engaged in a story he was telling that he’d proceed to walk the students straight back to Harvard again…. Today, mid-blizzard, and with the Poetry Room closed, I decided to stretch my legs and trudge down Brattle Street. As I approached the bend toward Brewster, I could hear Frost’s voice (from a March 13, 1962 recording in our collection) saying: “Now… you know, I know what you’re all thinking, I’m thinking it too: Can a poem get too worn, you know, so much said. I wonder how many people in this crowd never read it—“Stopping by Woods”? You never heard it? [he pauses to count hands] That’s one…. Don’t be ashamed! [laughter in the audience] See, if I could only find a few people who hadn’t read it… “The Road Not Taken,” how many heard that? [pause to take poll] …