Hear New U.S. Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin, on PennSound

Posted 7/2/2010 (link)


Given the highly-polarized state of contemporary poetics, this week's announcement of W.S. Merwin as the new United States Poet Laureate is as likely to simultaneously generate as much controversy and indifference as any other candidate might have.

"[I]f the appointment of the PLOTUS is not about the range of what's possible in American verse," Ron Silliman writes in a blog post today, "it still serves a function, the creation of a public advocate for poetry." In this regard, Silliman can laud the work of aesthetically dissimilar Poets Laureate such as Kay Ryan and Robert Hass, who have "constantly spoken up for poetry without any particular agenda as to what kind" (undoubtedly, Robert Pinsky also deserves recognition for his work towards this end), while lamenting those who fail in the role due to either absence (he cites Louise Glück) or untempered vengeance (cf. Charles Simic's public attack on Robert Creeley). Silliman fears that Merwin might fall into the former category, noting that "[a]t a time when the funding of literature and the arts is under attack in virtually every state budget, another ghost as laureate would represent a real abandonment of responsibility," and while the Hawaii-based poet's comments to The New York Times — "I do like a very quiet life [...] I can't keep popping back and forth between here and Washington" — seem to support that worry, the same article raises the exciting possibility of employing "remote technology" to facilitate Merwin's advocacy of both poetic and environmental causes.

Scanning PennSound's archives, I was genuinely surprised to discover that we have a recording of Merwin, though judging that it comes from Leonard Schwartz's Cross Cultural Poetics program — a show well-known for its catholic and cosmopolitan tastes — that should come as no surprise at all. Merwin was Schwartz's guest for approximately two-thirds of program #72, "What Survives," in 2005, discussing and reading from his translation of French poet Jean Follain, which appeared in the volume, Transparence of the World: Selected Poems of Jean Follain (Copper Canyon). You can click on the title above to listen to this episode.

Those interested in learning more about Merwin and his work will find a wide selection of his work, along with recordings, commentary and more on the Poetry Foundation's website. In terms of discussion of the appointment, Ron Silliman's aforementioned observations on this matter are both fascinating and incisive, and Don Share's response to Silliman's blog post also merits reading, along with the NYT profile quoted above.


Lyn Hejinian Remembers Leslie Scalapino, 2010

Posted 7/5/2010 (link)


"With the death of Leslie Scalapino on May 28, 2010, the world loses a writer whose visionary thinking provided her with a range of intensely experienced themes and images." So begins a recent remembrance by Lyn Hejinian — a long-time friend and collaborator of Scalapino's — which she was kind enough to allow us to share with our listeners.

In this thoughtful recollection, Hejinian discusses Scalapino's creative process, situating it within the contexts of a life-long study of Buddhism, as well as Beat Generation influences and her central place in the Language writing community, however, she's quick to note, "In her writing, Leslie Scalapino's voice and vision were unprecedented, a product of her unique and rigorous intelligence and compassion. She belonged to no school; her engagement with continual conceptual rebellion would have prohibited that." After discussing Scalapino's many personal accomplishments, Hejinian focuses on her compassionate and generous service to the broader poetics community, and the ways in which this reflected her own personal convictions:

Leslie's generosity to poets (as a teacher, as an editor, as a publisher, and as an audience member at readings) was an expression not only of interest but of her ferocious persistence on behalf of something larger than art, though art was central to it. Leslie — in every facet of her complex and committed life — was engaged in a struggle for truth. It wasn't a transcendent truth but the truth of justice — particular and specific to the instant. She was an unprecedentedly original writer, because she was so very much an original thinker. She was also a fiercely compassionate writer. Suffering and injustices (of circumstance, of other people's thoughts as well as actions) were persistent themes in her writings, which sought (and spotted) alternative terrains for being, however fleetingly they could be glimpsed or said to exist.

Hejinian concludes by focusing on the her two collaborations with Scalapino: the sense-based dialogues, Sight and Hearing. The two were working on the latter at the time of Scalapino's death). She observes "Having received a new dictionary, Leslie embarked on a torrent of sound-based writings. Much of this work will appear in The Dihedrons Gazelle-Dihredals Zoom. But it inspired some of her most gleeful contributions to the Hearing project," including the example that brings the essay to an end.

We couldn't be happier that Hejinian has so generously allowed us post her memorial, and hope that you'll enjoy it as much as we have. To start reading, click on the title above to visit the special page we've put together for this essay, and don't forget to check out PennSound's author pages for both Hejinian and Scalapino, where you can listen to a wide variety of recordings.


A Slew of New PennSound Author Pages

Posted 7/7/2010 (link)


If you look to the right, you'll notice that we've created quite a few new author pages in the last day or so — the result of Jeff Boruszak's tidying up our Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club page. Since there are more than twenty new additions, we'll let you browse through them at your leisure, however we wanted to point out a few key poets now included on our ever-increasing authors directory.

First, there's our page for the legendary John Giorno, without whose innovative multimedia poetry experiments of the 60s, 70s and beyond — including Electronic Sensory Poetry Enviornments, Dial-a-Poem and Giorno Poetry Systems record releases — it would be difficult to conceive of PennSound in the first place. Giorno's page houses four segmented tracks from his Segue Series reading in February 2009 (unfortunately, this was one of several readings from that season with significant technical difficulties and therefore the complete recording isn't available). The set's concluding poem, "Thanks for Nothin'," composed on the occasion of Giorno's 70th birthday, is a standout here.

Mel Nichols' author page showcases her Segue Series reading from October 2007, as well as several poems ("Behind the Kaboom (excerpt)" "Turkey Bounce or, Obstacle Course #1" and "You Should Be Nice to Call Center Workers") from the Flarf Poetry Festival at the Kelly Writers House earlier that year, where she appeared alongside Nada Gordon, Rod Smith, Gary Sullivan and Sharon Mesmer — a landmark event that's been commented upon as part of both PennSound Podcast #4 and PoemTalk #33.

Finally, there our page for Aaron Kunin, where you'll find his 2004 Segue Series set, alongside a 2007 reading from UC Berkeley's Holloway Series and the single poem, "The Sore Throat," taken from 2004's Frequency Audio Journal, as well as Kunin's most recent collection, the marvelous and dizzying The Sore Throat & Other Poems. The ever-astute Steve Evans has already highlighted this track in a post on Third Factory / Notes to Poetry, where you can find a link to the text of the poem in Boston Review.


New Bay Area Recordings from A Voice Box

Posted 7/9/2010 (link)


If you've been suffering from this week's heatwave, you might not want to hear that it's a refreshing 57° in San Francisco as I type this. While we can't physically transport you to cooler climes, today we can offer you a mini poetry vacation with several newly added recordings from Andrew Kenower's wonderful site, A Voice Box — home to the best in recent readings from the Bay Area.

Among those new recordings, you'll find a number of interesting pairings, including Julien Poirer and Jacqueline Waters' set at the Canessa Gallery on September 19, 2009; David Abel and Chris Daniels' reading at the Compound on March 21, 2010; and an event featuring Dawn Lundy Martin and Bruce Boone, recorded at the home of poet David Buuck three weeks ago on June 18th. We've also added two individual sets: one by Paul Ebenkamp at Woolsey Times on October 29, 2009 (which complements Ariel Goldberg's set from the same evening, added some time ago) and Evan Kennedy's reading at Condensary on May 30, 2010.

It's been a little less than a year since we started "syndicating" (as it were) Kenower's recordings — the result of a fruitful correspondence following his taping Charles Bernstein's set with Judith Goldman last June — and we couldn't be happier with the results. With more than a hundred recordings from the past three years alone, A Voice Box is a fabulous document of a thriving cultural scene in all of its permutations: from well-established writers to emerging voices, native talent to visiting writers. Click on the title above to start exploring and you're likely to get dizzy with possibilities.


Don't Miss the Season's Last Segue Series Readings

Posted 7/12/2010 (link)


A few weeks ago, we added the spring's last three Segue Series readings at the Bowery Poetry Club, and wrote up the first of the three, featuring Jean Day and Andrew Levy, on PennSound Daily. Today, we'd like to highlight the stellar final pair of recordings.

First up, from May 15th, we have the pairing of Brandon Holmquest and Matvei Yankelevich. Holmquest's set is comprised of poems from his latest collection, The Sorrows of Young Worthless (recently published by Segue co-curators Kristen Gallagher and Chris Alexander's press, Truck). Yankelevich's set starts with an excerpt from a manuscript-in-progress, entitled After Time, written in partial response to Kristin Prevallet's I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time, and also includes selections from his latest collection, Boris by the Sea.

The final reading of the season took place on May 22nd with sets by Nathan Austin and Craig Dworkin. Austin starts off his set with a handful of more recent poems that use his cell phone's autosuggest function to reinvent iconic poems, before reading from his recent book, Survey Says!, which takes a similarly playful ludic approach to contestants' responses on Family Feud. Dworkin brings the year to a close, starting with "Fact," a poem which began as a description of "the physical makeup of the Xeroxed page," which, after lengthy research, turned into a similar project concerned with film stock. His subsequent poems are concerned with, among other things, libraries, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin and Louis Aragon.

You can visit PennSound's author pages for Matvei Yankelevich and Craig Dworkin by following the links above, and click on this entry's title to visit our Segue at the Bowery Poetry Club series homepage where these four sets, and hundreds more, are waiting for you.


POG Sound: Nine New Readings Added

Posted 7/14/2010 (link)


One summer tradition that I always look forward to is adding new readings to our POG Sound series page. For three years now, we've been adding recordings from this exciting joint venture between Chax Press and POG (a Tucson-based cultural non-profit), which ably demonstrates the rich poetry scene taking place in the Arizona desert.

Our latest batch of recordings includes readings from nine poets from six different events during this year, starting on January 23rd with the pairing of Stephanie Balzer and Tony Luebberman. This was followed by a trio of solo readings by Bonnie Jean Michalski (on March 20th), Linda Russo (on April 10th) and Jonathan Stalling (on April 10th). Two more pairings — Jake Levine and Lisa Robertson on April 30th, and Kimberly Lyons and Denise Uyehara on May 8th — brought the season to a close.

On PennSound's POG Sound series page, you'll find all of the aforementioned recordings as well as sets by a wide array of poets, including Charles Alexander, Rodrigo Toscano, Leslie Scalapino, Tim Peterson, Lewis Warsh, Tyrone Williams, Tenney Nathanson, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Norman Fischer and Pierre Joris (by the way, happy birthday, Pierre!).


PennSound Says Farewell and Thank You to Rebekah Caton

Posted 7/16/2010 (link)


Over the course of this still-young summer, we've had to say goodbye to far too many poets — most recently Tuli Kupferberg — and today, we're saying goodbye again though thankfully this farewell has a far less mortal ring to it, even if we feel it just as deeply.

Rebekah Caton, who's been an indispensable part of the PennSound team for the past two years, will be leaving us today, and on Monday (which also happens to be her 23rd birthday) she'll be embarking on an exciting, new adventure: a 27-month stint in Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer. It's practically impossible to begin to calculate the impact she's had upon PennSound during her tenure with us. If you're listening to an expertly-edited track by your favorite poet, or browsing through a recently cleaned-up and reorganized author page, there's a very good chance she's had a hand in it. Over time, Bekah has taken on increasingly greater responsibilities, including the occasional curatorial role — tracking down recordings to create an author page for a new favorite poet or proposing new projects (some of which we'll be unfolding over the remainder of the year) — and it's been a true pleasure to see someone with such tireless enthusiasm and genuine self-possession mature and develop over the past two years. "I absolutely can't pass up the chance to work at PennSound," Bekah wrote in an e-mail to me not long after our first chance meeting at UPenn's Rare Books & Manuscripts Room (where she's continued to work until now, alongside her work for our site), and it was clear from the start that she'd be a real asset to our small but dedicated team of student workers. Now, on her last day, we're not sure what we'll do without her.

However, while the work she's done for PennSound has been impressive, it shouldn't overshadow the fact that Bekah is also a talented young poet, one that we're glad to have as part of our archive. Towards that end, I've segmented her wonderful reading from last December (as part of the Whenever We Feel Like It series), and created an author page for her. For me, the standout track here is her revisioning of Bernadette Mayer's "First Turn to Me," which alternates the original's unbridled carnality (channeled here through her own personal experience of the arc of a love affair) with her bowderlized versions of these events as she might relate them to her parents, such that the dizzying shift of emotional dynamics (between hilarity and poignancy) and savvy attempts at cross-generational communication (as both poet and daughter) dazzles listeners. You can hear that poem and the other eight in her set, as well as a recording of Bekah reading her poem "Ruts" (a cross-generational family history, written through Shakespeare and Pink Floyd) by clicking the title above.

Once more, all of us at PennSound extend a grateful thank you to Bekah for everything that she's done, and wish her the very best as she begins the next chapter of her life in the Peace Corps. We have no doubts that she'll be a tremendous success.


Cross Cultural Poetics: Five New Episodes

Posted 7/19/2010 (link)


Our summer updating of some of our favorite ongoing series continues today with five new episodes of Leonard Schwartz's KAOS-FM radio program, Cross Cultural Poetics. We celebrated Schwartz's milestone 200th show last December, and today, we're happy to highlight episodes #215-219.

First up, in April 4th's "Sze/Moxley," we have half hour sets from the titular authors: Arthur Sze discusses the new anthology, Chinese Writers on Writing (Trinity University Press), while Jennifer Moxley reads from her latest collection, Clampdown (Flood Editions). Next, in episode #216, "Paris/Rome/L.A./Mexico City" (broadcast April 11th), we have the international pairing of French poet Jacqueline Rissett (calling in from Rome), who reads her work in translations by Serge Gavronsky, and Mexican poet Gabriela Jauregui (now a Los Angeles native) who discusses her debut collection, Controlled Decay (Black Goat Press). One week later, on April 18th, program #217, "Epitaph," featured Deborah Woodard (discussing her new translations of Italian poet Amelia Rosseli in The Dragonfly: A Selection of Poems 1953-1981 [Chelsea Editions]) and Mark McMorris (who reads from his new collection, Entrepot [Coffee House Press]).

Demonstrating the breadth of Cross Cultural Poetics' interests, the two latest programs are focused heavily on opera, with appearances from VOX opera producer, Beth Morrison, and singer Hai-Ting Chinn (both active in New York's opera scene) and Jonathon Dean, the Seattle Opera's Education Director. Alongside those conversations, in episode #218, "Word and Music," poet Jonathan Stalling reads from his latest collection, Grotto Heaven (Chax Press), while in episode #219, "Purgatory," Chilean poet, Raul Zurita, reads from two recent books out from the University of California, Purgatory and Anteparadise.

You can listen to all of the programs mentioned above — which have been segmented into individual tracks for each participant — as well as the previous 214 programs in the series, by clicking on this entry's title.


LA Lit: New Programs, PSAs and Clouds Conference

Posted 7/21/2010 (link)


The summer rolls on and we keep updating some of our most-beloved series. In the spotlight today is LA Lit, the Los Angeles-based program hosted by Mathew Timmons and Stephanie Rioux at Betalevel. Over the past two years, we've brought you thirty-three episodes, broadcast between 2005 and 2008, including wonderful, in-depth readings and conversations with poets including Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, Will Alexander and Lee Ann Brown.

This week, we've updated our LA Lit series page, adding a number of new materials. First, we've added a pair of "Poetic Service Announcements" from 2006, featuring Alexander, Diane Ward and Guy Bennett. We've also posted the show's last three episodes (for the time being) — featuring Vincent Dachy, Lisa Samuels, Harold Abromowitz — which were produced in the fall of 2008 and the spring 2009. While the series is on hiatus at present, it certainly went out in style, with the two-day Clouds Conference, celebrating LA Lit's third anniversary. Recorded on November 21-22, 2008 at Betalevel and the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, the conference featured a number of readings as well as two wide-ranging panel discussions, and its roster — including Sawako Nakayasu, Teresa Carmody, Mark Wallace, K. Lorraine Graham, Demosthenes Agrafiotis, Stan Apps, Ary Shirinayan, Lisa Samuels, Amarnath Ravva and Christine Wertheim, along with Alexander, Bennett, Timmons and Rioux — is not only a who's who of contemporary poetics, but also a testament to the richness of LA Lit's editorial perspectives. PennSound's newest team member, Katie Siegel, has carefully segmented the conference recordings so that individual tracks are available for each reader and panelist, allowing listeners to browse at will. To begin listening, click on the title above.


Woodberry Poetry Room Oral History Iniative: Denise Levertov

Posted 7/23/2010 (link)


A few months back, PennSound co-director Al Filreis posted a blog entry highlighting several selections from the PennSound archives concerning Denise Levertov — a poet whose work we don't yet have permission to reproduce (though we'd very much like to) — including Robert Creeley and Albert Gelpi in conversation about her and her work (the former as part of the poet's visit to the Kelly Writers House in 2000, the latter on Cross Cultural Poetics), as well as John Wieners reading a poem dedicated to Levertov and Ken Irby reading one of her poems. Today, we're very happy to add another resource to that list: a March 2010 conversation at Harvard's Woodberry Poetry Room, as part of their Oral History Iniative, featuring several of the poet's close friends and associates.

This event begins with brief preliminary statements by the three participants — Mark Pawlak (poet and editor of Hanging Loose, who befriended Levertov at MIT in 1969), Dick Lourie (founding editor of Hanging Loose Press and a member of Levertov's very first writing workshop in 1965) and Donna Hollenberg (author of the first full-length biography of Levertov) — which is followed by a fifty-minute open discussion, including questions by audience members. Woodberry Poetry Room curator, Christina Davis, who was kind enough to record the proceedings and send them our way, notes that the event had, "some wonderful and unexpected and cacophonous content and its free-form quality elicited much that I could not have foreseen." We're grateful to Christina for her generosity and know that you'll enjoy this spirited and intimate discussion of Levertov's life and times.


PoemTalk 34: Charles Olson's Maximus Poems

Posted 7/26/2010 (link)


Today, we release the thirty-fourth episode of the PoemTalk Podcast Series, in which host Al Filreis is joined by an all-star panel of Bob Perelman, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Charles Bernstein for the monumental task of discussing Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems. For sanity's sake, they've chosen to limit their discussion to one poem in particular — "Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld] — with hopes that it might reflect broader trends throughout Olson's life-spanning project.

Filreis begins by addressing the return implied in the poem's opening line, "I come back to the geography of it," which serves as a corrective and situates the poem as part of a recursive process. "What really strikes," DuPlessis, are the "zones rippling outward start[ing] with the personal and continue to recur to that personal moment, his zone, his father, his mother" — which is reinforced, in a YouTube video of Olson reading the poem in 1966, by "major choreographic gestures" — and "going outward from the body to the place, to the world, to the world history, and the zones are continuous, he has no question about the linkage of the zones."

Perelman then comments on the poem's personal nature: "I can see why he withheld it and then gloried in it later once he accepted it, because it transgresses against so many Olsonisms . . . it's a poem about his parents, he's happy in his complete connection with those memories," and this "poetic blasphemy" is important because "it's necessary to not just take Olson at his word." For Filreis, the poem's "American nostalgic sweetness" is undercut by the presence of "pharmaceutical conventioneers" in the poet's earliest memory — and he's quick to note that "The Maximus Poems spends a lot of its energy arguing against American mercantilism" — and given the poem's mock heroic tone, it "falls flat when the Greek epic gets there." Perelman concurs while still asserting how this "sweet anecdote displays and contains and miniaturizes paternal rage."

The panelists shift gears to discuss the differences between the PennSound recording of this poem used throughout the podcast and the 1966 YouTube video, which is unanimously thought to be the better version, "an incredibly charming performance of one's own modest charisma," in DuPlessis' words, largely due to his gestural playfulness throughout, culminating in the poem's final sentiment, "Polis / is this," where "this" becomes the poet's own physicality. Bernstein likes this reading, but also introduces a different take on the ego here, where "the I is the product of the resistance to the present, the understanding of what the future could be, of possibility, and also the recognition of the past," a constructed Americanness. The lyrical voice here is contrasted to "animality," in Bernstein's mind: "the body is this animal thing that's connected to the geography, not some separate ego that's autonomous that can speak." Likewise, while this constructedness is an idea borrowed from Alfred North Whitehead, Olson makes a significant change, specifying that it's not just a human, but rather an American, who is a "complex of occasions," and this leads into a fruitful discussion of the complex role of American exceptionalism within this poem and Olson's work as a whole, particularly in comparison to
William Carlos Williams' Paterson. Before soliciting final thoughts on the poem, Filreis asks the panelists about Olson's "conservatism" here, the nostalgic glance here that's resistant to change.

PoemTalk is a co-production of PennSound, the Kelly Writers House and the Poetry Foundation. If you're interested in more information on the series or want to hear the previous thirty-three episodes, please visit the PoemTalk blog, and don't forget that you can subscribe to the series through the iTunes music store. Stay tuned for future programs in the series which will address poems by Fanny Howe, Bruce Andrews, Jena Osman, Norman Fischer, Ethridge Knight and Joan Retallack. Thanks, as always, for listening!


PennSound Wishes John Ashbery a Happy Birthday

Posted 7/28/2010 (link)


Today is the eighty-third birthday of poet John Ashbery, and all of us at PennSound wish him many happy returns. There's no better way to celebrate the occasion — and Ashbery's continued importance to American arts and letters nearly sixty years after the release of his debut collection, Turandot and Other Poems (1953) — than browsing through and the dozens of readings and hundreds of poems archived on PennSound's John Ashbery author page.

I feel a particular affinity for our Ashbery collection, not just because I admire his work, but also because we received initial permission to share John's poetry not long after I started working at PennSound, and in many ways, it feels as if my main task over the past three years has been amassing and cultivating that archive. With such a diverse array of materials (readings, interviews, discussions, lectures, etc.) spanning the poet's entire writing life — our first recording, a 1951 Poets Theater staging of Everyman: a Masque predates his first publications, while our most recent addition previewed poems from his newest collection, Planisphere — our Ashbery page is an a key example of PennSound at its very best, and we hope it will continue to be an important resource to scholars and casual listeners for years to come. Of course, none of this would be possible without the generosity of both Ashbery and David Kermani, who've been enthusiastic supporters of our endeavors and have sent us many of the recordings available to our listeners. Likewise, we're grateful to all of the other people and entities who've passed key recordings our way, including Robert Creeley, Harvard's Woodberry Poetry Room, the Key West Literary Seminars, Wave Books and The New York Review of Books. We have some very exciting additions planned for the future, so keep an eye on PennSound Daily for announcements of new recordings, and to start exploring our Ashbery collection, click on the title above.


Six Poets Each Teach One Short Poem to High School Students

Posted 7/29/2010 (link)


Among a full roster of wonderful programming, one of the most innovative of last year's events at the Kelly Writers House went by the lengthy title, Six Poets Each Teach One Short Poem to High School Students. Bringing together students from Liza Ewen's poetry course at Friends Central School and a half-dozen poets from the Philadelphia community — who discussed poems by their favorite poets — the event was so successful that a second visit was planned for this past May, and we've recently posted audio and video clips on our special page for the Six Poets events. Al Filreis, who hosted the event, gives a rundown of this year's participants and their selections in an entry on his blog this week:

Rivka Fogel taught "This Room" by John Ashbery, a beautiful indirect memorial to Pierre Martory and non-narrative meditation on absence as presence. Sarah Dowling then came in and taught a section of "A Frame of the Book" by Erin Moure. Jessica Lowenthal then taught Harryette Mullen's "Trimmings." Randall Couch taught a very early poem by John Keats before revealing that it was Keats. John Timpane taught an Yvor Winters poem about the emotional complication of saying farewell to an adult child at an airport; Wintersean restraint and emotional distance abound here and strike one (strike me, at least) as a refreshing sort of illiberalism in an age of gobs of conventionally sentimental parent-child verse. Tom Devaney may have taken the pedagogical prize on this day, presenting William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"—a seemingly easy poem for h.s. students to grasp. Yet it also does everything a modern poem does, and makes a remarkably good scene of instruction.

In addition to streaming and downloadable MP3s and QuickTime videos of the twenty-minute presentations, we've also made PDF versions of the poems available on on our Six Poets Each Teach One Short Poem to High School Students event page, and don't forget that you can still listen to and watch last year's discussions, featuring several of the same poets (Dowling, Timpane, Couch, Devaney), as well as presentations by CAConrad, Michelle Taransky.