It’s been an exciting spring and summer for digital initiatives at the Poetry and Literature Center. Over the past few months, we’ve released streaming audio of 50 newly digitized recordings from the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, and we’ve aired the first full season of the PLC’s inaugural podcast series.
Today, we kick off our refreshed “Poetry of America” series, a collection of field recordings from contemporary American poets. Poets choose a singular poem written by another American poet from any period in the nation’s history, record themselves reading the poem, and then provide commentary that speaks to how the poem connects, deepens, or re-imagines a sense of the nation.
Each poet, along with their selected poem, speaks to different facets that come together to make up a larger American experience; and so, with each poem and approach, the contributions that make up “Poetry of America” together examine poetry’s connection to American history and argue for poetry’s role in helping us make sense of our complex identities.
With the five recordings we’ve launched today, you can hear and read for yourself:
“She wrote ground-breaking work, addressing subject matters of gender, work, sexual politics, social politics, marriage, and domesticity long before others. She developed a lyric that was both clear and complicated, ever-alive to eccentricities and shifts of American vernacular, sounding vowels and consonants alongside the intricate movements of the natural world.”
“Harryette Mullen oftentimes engages language as a kind of a plaything, but is always aware that it’s volatile, like somebody juggling nitroglycerin.”
“Brenda Hillman, as a poet-citizen of America’s ‘New World,’ reminds us that one of the functions of art is to disturb: to startle us out of the ossified, inflexible forms of the routine and conventional. In this, she has a particularly American genius. She Barnums up the language, coaxing from it boggling feats. She tells tall tales about the alphabet and electrons and stars.”
“I’m fascinated by the fact that Airea D. Matthews decided to set the poem as a text conversation, so that we’re moving back and forth between Anne Sexton and Tituba on separate columns, as they speak back and forth out of . . . what world? And the poem speaks into the future in this way, usthe text message form, which just seems like such an American thing to do, to kind of think forward into the future, but also into the past—speaking through Tituba, who happened to be the first person who died in the Salem Witch Trials.”
“One of this poem’s central intentions and gifts is the way it enacts and expands our sense of what and who we might mean when we say the word ‘we.’ She described poetry as ‘a liberative language, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves.’ The definition of liberation as connection—with not only the like but the unlike—was for Rich a foundational value. The same contract is at the core of any genuinely democratic self-governance, and at the core of a working literature, a working relationship, a working compassion.”
Keep checking back each month for new recordings and new voices in the “Poetry of America” series.