Articles, Ideas & Discoveries, MEGAPHONE: News & Events

THE LIVING ARCHIVE: Highlights from Our Recent Acquisitions

The Living Archive collage

The Poetry Room’s archive does not consist of objects cryogenically frozen in time: To collect for a living archive is to be in relationship with what Donna Haraway calls a “thick [and complex] present,” constituted not only of archival objects (e.g. reels, discs, magazines, typescripts) but of the conversations and questions that precede, surround, and follow upon the creation of each recording or text in the collection.

In this new series of Blog posts, we will present recent additions to (and highlights from) the Poetry Room’s ever-evolving archive, as they catalyze new possibilities, resonances, and connections. In addition to these recent donations and acquisitions, we also encourage you to explore another way that the Poetry Room grows its collections: through the curation of public programs that generate new recordings for the audio-visual archive.

American Poetry Review Presents
Allen Ginsberg, VHS tape, 1988

"Allen Ginsberg on Flagg St" Polaroid photo of Ginsberg starting straight at the camera. Signed "Dorfman."

In the late 1980s, the Philadelphia School District partnered with the company Rohm and Haas to fund the popular series of educational videos PoetVision (1988-1990), featuring readings by such poets as Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Allen Ginsberg, Etheridge Knight, and Cecilia Vicuña,.

According to PoetVision producer David Sutton, some of the material recorded for the 1988 Ginsberg episode was subsequently “deemed inappropriate for high school students” by the school district, and his recording of “Howl” and “Bird Brain” were removed from the final cut.

In the midst of the pandemic, Sutton approached the Poetry Room about the possibility of donating the unabridged version to our collection. During the course of the donation, Sutton shared the remarkable story of how he and his PoetVision partner Stephen Berg (founding editor of American Poetry Review) decided to make the unexpurgated footage available as a VHS tape, which they offered as a limited-edition gift to APR subscribers under the moniker: APR Presents Allen Ginsberg (1988). “We believed,” said Sutton, “that the material so generously created by Allen Ginsberg needed to be shared and not suppressed.” Sutton’s donation means that future scholars will be able to benefit from comparing the two versions and integrating them into larger discussions of censorship and shifting definitions of “age-appropriate” material.

The Ginsberg video enhances the Poetry Room’s substantive collection of works by the author, which include his homemade cassette for Boston’s Phone-A-Poem hotline; outtakes from his appearance on Richard O. Moore’s 1965 USA Poetry documentary series; and his unforgettable 1964 reading with Peter Orlovsky, at Lowell House, Harvard University.

About this recording: Gift of David E. Sutton, in memory of Stephen Berg. Cataloging and digitization in process. Image credit: “Allen Ginsberg on Flagg Street,” from the Elsa Dorfman papers, Houghton Library.

Fire Exit Magazine, Vols. 1-8, 1968-1978

In its continuing effort to document the local literary scene, the Poetry Room has recently acquired a full run of Fire Exit, which (according to Fanny Howe) was “first dreamed up and brought to life by William Corbett, Ruth Whitman and me, in dark public rooms around Harvard Square.” The little mag took its name from a V. R. Lang play produced by the Poets’ Theatre in the 1950s. According to Howe: “The title refers to the choice Eurydice makes at the gates of Hell:  to return to Orpheus or live alone. She chooses the latter….”

Of V. R. “Bunny” Lang, Howe adds: “She was an iconic figure during her brief life. An anomaly: glamorous and Bostonian. Frank O’Hara even wrote a series of elegiac poems to her…. ” Howe believes “the magazine is and remains an intelligent glimpse into poetry of the Sixties.”

Edited by the beloved Boston-based literary impresario Bill Corbett (1942-2018), with early assistance from Howe and Ruth Whitman, the magazine’s inauspicious start is wonderfully described by Corbett in the following self-effacing note: “Editorially the first issue was a disaster. I think it safe to say that never has a magazine been published with so little evidence of editorial care and subsequently so many howlers. Pages were bound out of sequence, almost every page had a misprint and most several, writers’ names were misspelled, and the New Poets’ Theater [sic] was spelled four different ways.”

Yet the magazine persisted and went on to include a cast of contributors, artists, and editors that reads like a veritable who’s who of the Boston poetry-and-art scene of that period, including Russell Banks, Clark Coolidge, Sam Cornish, Philip Guston, Jim Harrison, Kenneth Koch, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Susan Howe, Charles Olson, Charles Simic, James Tate, John Wieners and John Yau, among many others.

Visit From a Secret Location for more delightful reminiscences by Corbett, and explore all eight issues here. The Poets’ Theatre papers are available at Houghton Library, along with V.R. Lang’s papers.

About this item:  Gift of Paul Kahn (nos. 3-4), and the Oursler Fund, through which we purchased the remaining issues of the magazine. Cataloged and accessible via the Houghton Library Reading Room.

Vinyl Discs from Fonograf Editions,
2016 to the present

Since Fonograf Editions was founded in 2016 (as a literary press and LP publisher), the Poetry Room has been acquiring–and admiring–their “literary-influenced albums and musically-influenced books.” You can explore the WPR’s collection of Fonograf materials here, including a range of stunning vinyl discs featuring readings by Rae Armantrout, Eileen Myles and Harmony Holiday.

Our latest acquisition is FODDER, a dynamic phonodisc of Douglas Kearney and Val Jeanty–a sample of which is available here. (Kearney also read for the Poetry Room, alongside Tracie Morris, in 2017, and the Poetry Room will be adding his March 2022 reading—with Jos Charles—to the collection shortly).

As one of the earliest poetry-related record producers (circa 1933), the Poetry Room is proud to announce that they will be collaborating with Fonograf Editions to release their first LPs since the 20th century. The series, called “The Woodberry Sessions.” will launch this Fall with archival recordings by Audre Lorde (1970) and John Ashbery (1976).

About these materials: Fonograf materials are available for listening in the Poetry Room, which is free and open to the public. To make an appointment to listen to analog materials, feel free to email or call the curatorial staff.

Telephone Magazine, 19 issues, 1969-1983

In addition to the 100+ literary magazines that the Poetry Room makes available to the public in its reading room, the library has also begun actively collecting the complete run of journals that document the local (New England/New York) literary scene and/or feature works by poets we have recorded for the archive.

When all 19 issues of Telephone (1969-1983) became available last year, the Poetry Room immediately picked up the phone! This inimitable little mag was founded by poet and editor Maureen Owen in the hopes that it would serve as a veritable telephone book for poets, featuring as many writers as possible in each issue.

Among the 630 contributors to its 19 issues were such poets as Ted Berrigan, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Bernadette Mayer, and Susan Howe. With the support of Anne Waldman and her Poetry Project friends, Owen learned to run the Gestetner mimeograph upstairs in the church; some issues of Telephone were also printed by a press in Somerville, Massachusetts.

In keeping with the telephonic theme, Owen printed the mag on legal-size paper reminiscent of phone booths. The title of the magazine was intended to suggest the regional differences Owen observed in U.S. poetry communities in the 1970s-80s. The results: a magazine that will provide scholars with a unique lens on experimental poetry.

About this collection  Cataloged and accessible via the Houghton Library Reading Room.

Anne Sexton & Her Kind sound recordings,

Anne Sexton performs with a voice that has seen the nightmare and the dream that is Man, and is not afraid to disturb us with the offering of Truth,” so says a 1968 ad for the groundbreaking literary rock ensemble, Anne Sexton & Her Kind (1967-1971). The collected recordings of the band were generously donated to the Poetry Room by the band’s manager Robert Clawson.

The collection includes more than fifty recordings (inclusive of duplicates), including rehearsals, studio sessions, and live performances, as well as miscellaneous typescripts, annotated setlists, photographs, correspondence and administrative files related to the band’s formation and evolution.  An in-depth oral history about Her Kind, featuring Linda Gray Sexton and Bob Clawson, was recorded by the Poetry Room in Fall 2021 and will be archived shortly (look for it on our YouTube channel). For an excellent and colortful article about the band’s history and some sample tracks, we recommend this Harper’s Magazine article.

The Her Kind collection builds on the Poetry Room’s long-standing relationship to Sexton’s work: in 1960, the WPR commissioned Sexton’s first studio recording and made one of her final recordings in 1974. Click here to experience Sexton’s 1960 and 1974 recordings.

About this collection: Gift of Robert Clawson. Cataloging and digitization in process.

Rebecca Araten is a Mahindra Humanities Center undergraduate intern at the Woodberry Poetry Room. She works with poetry recordings and supports efforts to increase accessibility of the Poetry Room’s collections.