In Memoriam: Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1932-2017)

Posted 4/1/2017 (link)

It's a rare occurrence to have a poet's death officially verified by a governmental news agency, but then again Yevgeny Yevtushenko was an uncommon talent. The Russian new agency TASS confirmed with close friend Mikhail Morgulis that Yevtushenko passed away earlier today in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he taught for many years at the University of Tulsa. He was eighty-four.

The New York Times' obituary hailed Yevtushenko as "an internationally acclaimed poet with the charisma of an actor and the instincts of a politician whose defiant verse inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War." Meanwhile, the Guardian's memorial recalls the early work that brought him renown outside of the Soviet Union: "He gained international acclaim as a young revolutionary with "Babi Yar," an unflinching 1961 poem that told of the slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews by the Nazis and denounced the antisemitism that had spread throughout the Soviet Union."

Fortunately, we only recently added a wonderful recording of Yevtushenko to our site — via George Drury's amazing "Word of Mouth" archive — produced by Drury and Lois Baum and recorded on April 3, 1987 at the Chicago Cultural Center. The program's introduction provides a wonderful encapsulation of his life and career up to the mid-1980s (where he was still battling with the powers that be, challenging the openness of Gorbachev's glasnost policies) and from the very start, the qualities of his work, both on the page and in performance, are evident.

Fatemeh Shams: New Author Page

Posted 4/5/2017 (link)

Our latest author page is for Persian poet, translator, and scholar Fatemeh Shams, who recently joined the UPenn faculty as Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

On March 2nd of this year she and translator Dick Davis took part in a lunchtime event at our own Kelly Writers House on Persian Literature in Translation, which is available in video and audio form. Later that day, the two stepped into the Wexler Studio for a bilingual reading, with Shams reading in Farsi and Davis sharing his translations in English. In total, the pair read ten poems including "Mashhad," "Three Years Later," "Never to Fall Asleep," "Ash and Mist," "In Search of a Homeland," "Home," and "Persecution."

You can listen to both of these recordings on PennSound's Fatemeh Shams author page, and we look forward to hosting more work from our colleague in the future.

Congratulations to Griffin Prize Short-Lister Hoa Nguyen

Posted 4/11/2017 (link)

Today, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry announced the international and Canadian shortlists for the 2017 Griffin Prize and among the very worthy nominees was PennSound poet How Nguyen for her Wave Books release Violet Energy Ingots. Here's the judges' citation in full:

"Hoa Nguyen's poems tread delicately but firmly between the linear demands of narrative and syntax on the one hand and between registers of speech and forms of address on the other. There are spaces for breath, and asides hovering in parentheses. There are also the slippages in language, in the slide from, say 'staring' through 'starving' and 'starring' to 'scarring'. Everything is at once tangential yet surprisingly direct. This is where the pleasure and depth reside: in the off balancing of the language and its pure, uncalculated tone. What are the poems about? Many things, often simple and direct, like food, or sex, or rivers, or sickness. The poems are packed with fine precisions and particulars. But there is politics too, sometimes startlingly straight as in the poem about Andrew Jackson or sharp-edged as in 'Screaming'. Violet Energy Ingots is a fully mature work in that it is confident of both its voice and its readers' alertness. It makes its own space. It demands it and holds it."

You can listen to a sampling of Nguyen's poetry on her PennSound author page, which is home to a 2016 reading from the St. Bonaventure Visiting Poets Series showcasing selections from Red Juice, four individual tracks from PoetryPolitic (a project undertaken by Wave Books in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election), and a 2010 reading as part of the Chapter and Verse Series in Philadelphia.

PoemTalk 111: two by Naomi Replansky

Posted 4/24/2017 (link)

We recently released the latest episode in the PoemTalk Podcast series (#111 altogether) in which two poems by Naomi Replansky — "In Syrup, In Syrup" and "Ring Song" — are the focus of the discussion. The panel for this program included host Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein, who recently conducted a lengthy interview with the poet, as well as Ron Silliman and Rachel Zolf.

After providing some bibliographical context for the poems and tracking their revision history in his introduction on the PoemTalk blog, Filreis offers some caveats for listeners: "historical knowledge of the ins and outs, ups and downs, of the literary left of the 1940s and 1950s (and specifically of the communist left) helps somewhat to make sense of Replansky's choice to convey irony through radical ideas in controlled poetic forms — Mother Goose-ish rhymed couplets ('Ring Song') and metrically tight two-stressed unrhymed couplets ('In Syrup'). So in this discussion there is some talk, which some listeners will find arcane, about the state of radical ideologies and poetics at various points in the life of these two poems as they have moved through the decades." You can read more — and both listen to and watch this special episode — on Jacket2.

PoemTalk is a co-production of PennSound, the Kelly Writers House, Jacket2 and the Poetry Foundation. If you're interested in more information on the series or want to hear our archives of previous episodes, please visit the PoemTalk blog, and don't forget that you can subscribe to the series through the iTunes music store.

John Richetti Reads Yeats, Pope (2017)

Posted 4/26/2017 (link)

We were very lucky to have the one and only John Richetti — UPenn professor emeritus, British Lit specialist, and velvet-throated performer — join us early last month for yet another recording session for our PennSound Classics page.

This time around, he recorded two large blocks of material. The first is a rather extensive survey of the work of William Butler Yeats, with forty-two titles read in total, including "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "September 1913," "Easter 1916," "Sailing to Byzantium," "Leda and the Swan," and "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop," along with many more.

Next, he read Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock,", and this is actually the second time he's read the poem for us, joining a earlier rendition from almost exactly twelve years prior, which allows for the interesting potential of comparing performances.

These new sessions, as impressive as they are in their own right, merely scratch the surface of the work that Richetti has recorded for us over the past dozen years. You'll find all of these on both his own author page and the PennSound Classics page. As always, we're grateful to John for sharing his ample gifts with us and look forward to his next session.

In Memoriam: Vito Acconci (1940-2017)

Posted 4/28/2017 (link)

Sadly, this week and month come to an end with the news of another creative titan lost: Vito Acconci, poet, performer, and architect, who passed away today at the age of seventy-seven. Even with short notice, his death has created a stir, with MoMA observing that "NYC has lost a legend," Jerry Saltz mourning "our mystical man in black," and ARTnews hailing Acconci's "poetic, menacing work [that] forms bedrock of performance and video art."

Before his prodigious career branched out to other modes and media, Acconci started as a poet, notably co-editing the legendary journal 0 To 9 with his sister-in-law Bernadette Mayer. Around the same time, he appeared on the influential 1969 audio anthology Tape Poems (edited by Eduardo Costa and John Perreault), starting the album off with a short untitled piece. Thanks to the efforts of Patrick Durgin, we're grateful to be able to present the entire record for your listening pleasure. We're also proud to be able to present Acconci's contribution to a 2009 Segue Series symposium on "Poetry and Architecture" curated by Trace Peterson that also featured Robert Kocik and Benjamin Aranda. You can watch video and listen to audio from that event here.

We send our condolences to Acconci's family, friends and fans worldwide, and encourage you to commemorate his life and work in the same way that we will: by reconnecting with his captivating work.