To my mind, one of the best things the internet has done for poetry is to provide heretofore unprecedented access to the poet’s voice. Sites like ubuweb, PennSound, and Archive of the Now invite us to take our poetry in through the ear. The advent of the short clip, or poem “single” (as Charles Bernstein calls it) makes it so easy to sample a poet’s work, or even to compare different performances of the same poem.
This is a monumental change. Many of us remember how precious recordings of poets used to seem: passing around bootlegged cassette tapes of the 1965 Berkeley Poetry conference or of Spicer’s Vancouver lectures; cherishing the limited (but precious!) Caedmon catalog, John Gielgud reading T. S. Eliot, Stein’s few portraits, etc. Filching covertly from archives.
Thanks to Paul Blackburn (who died on Sept 13, 45 years ago) and many others, there were lots of recordings floating around in those analog days, the problem was how to get your hands on them. I wont ever forget finding a dusty old reel-to-reel spool, not even in a box, moldering away in my late colleague Burt Hatlen’s bottom desk drawer. On that fragile tangle of shiny brown tape was a reading Robert Duncan gave in Orono, Maine in 1971. As a legendary talker, Duncan’s is a case in which the “audio oeuvre” is arguably as important as the printed page. Through his recordings we can experience the humor and charm of his uniquely syncretic mind, which can sometimes come off as rather solemn in print.
Recently it seems that the Poetry Foundation has really upped its audio game. I have been a guest on PoetryNow (I love the cool Pegasus/Headphones icon for this series) and Poetry Off the Shelf, but those are just two of a longer list of audio offerings to be found there. There’s also Poem of the Day, Poem Talk, Essential American Poets, and a few others. Time to stop by and have a listen!
If you’d like to listen to my poem “Orbit Music” on PoetryNow (4 minutes).
If you’d like to listen to my comments on The Inner Life in the Age of Social Media on Poetry Off the Shelf (16 minutes).