Month: January 2015

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 …

“FOR ONE BOSTON”: On View at the Poetry Room

From February 2 thru May 1, 2015, the Woodberry Poetry Room will present an informal mini-exhibit featuring a rotating series of selections from “For One Boston,” a collection of 132 works—by 149 artists, writers, designers and printers—published by Pressed Wafer in collaboration with Granary Books to benefit those injured in the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. On view this month is a selection of eight items—including poems, essays, epigrams, photographs, paintings & a signed Red Sox card—contributed by Jim Behrle, Don DeLillo, Susan Heideman, Fanny Howe, Vincent Katz, Colleen McCallion, Kayla Mohammadi, Jennifer Tseng & C.D. Wright. The deeply compelling, poignant and provocative materials that converge in the “One for Boston” box reflect a dynamic range of responses, what one of its contributors, Fanny Howe, calls “a collision of histories, local and global. The papers fly, the paintings and signatures mark the trails from Boston to Dagestan.” Of her contribution, “Prayer for Someone,” poet Jennifer Tseng reflects: “I wrote this poem expressly for the box. It took me a long time. […] I began with the impulse to honor the victims; I wanted …

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] …

Fare Forward, Chloe Garcia Roberts

This February, after four and a half years of  steadfast service to the Woodberry Poetry Room, Associate Curator Chloe Garcia Roberts will be leaving us to accept the position of Managing Editor at the Harvard Review. During her tenure at the Poetry Room, Chloe has been instrumental in helping to expand WPR’s public programming and online listening booth, as well as its circulating collection. Among her many specific accomplishments and lasting contributions are her establishment of the Omniglot translation seminars; her oversight of Transversal, the first-ever Latin American Poetry Lab at Harvard; and her editorship of our online Catalyst: Comparative Listening series. Throughout her time here, she has also demonstrated consistently generous care and attention to all who enter the room. In so doing, she has exemplified and embodied the very word “curator,” which means in its etymological essence: to care. We will miss her immensely, but we wish her the very best in her journey “down the hall” to the Harvard Review and with the upcoming publication of her first collection of poems, The Reveal (Noemi Press, 2015). This is not farewell, as the poet …

Hear ye, hear ye: the Spring 2015 season is announced

The Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to announce its Spring 2015 season of events, including readings, seminars, lectures, and film screenings by Gerrit Lansing, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathaniel Mackey, Timothy Donnelly, Andrew Zawacki, Fanny Howe, Peter Howarth, Bhanu Kapil, Fred Moten & Claudia Rankine. Our first event will take place on February 11th and will feature a reading by (and oral history conversation with) Gerrit Lansing—a festive celebration will follow.  

The Coming Forth of Stylus

Welcome to stylus: the blog of the Woodberry Poetry Room.

Our blog will allow us to get the word out about our upcoming events (beyond the closed-circuit of Facebook); to document our latest discoveries & acquisitions; to make known some of the fascinating research that is being conducted by our visiting scholars/researchers, our WPR regulars (which we very much hope you’ll become) and the WPR staff; to invite crowd-sourced assistance with certain archival recordings and films; and to share and extend the audience of some of our other questions and conundrums—from the bibliographical to the lexical to the metaphysical.