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Folklore and Poetry on the Folklife Today Podcast

Two women sit across a table from one another. One hands a wax cylinder to the other.

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (l.) receives a recording cylinder from American Folklife Center reference librarian Judith Gray. Gray is AFC’s expert on our thousands of Native American cylinder recordings. The meeting occurred during Harjo’s visit to the American Folklife Center, July 15, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Season 3, Episode 5 the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.

In this episode, which we release at the close of National Poetry Month, John Fenn and I, along with several guests, look at some of the poetic treasures and poetry projects of the American Folklife Center. As usual, I’ll use this blog post to direct you to fuller audio and video of the items we mentioned in the podcast, and to give you more background on the topic.

But first:

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Our first visit in the episode is with Anne Holmes, a colleague from the Library’s Literary Initiatives Division, whose web page you can find here. In it, we discuss our first Native American Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, and her signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words.”

Head and shoulders portrait of M.L. Smoker.

Poet M.L. Smoker is featured in the “Living Nations, Living Words” collection, and on the Folklife Today podcast.

“Living Nations, Living Words” was inspired by Harjo’s visit to the American Folklife Center to hear some of the recordings we safeguard of Native American speech and music. Harjo was inspired to curate a poetry collection consisting of audio recordings of Native American poets reading their own works, and to place them in a geographic context via a Story Map. We’re proud to say that the collection is part of the American Folklife Center archive.

You can find the “Living Nations, Living Words” project homepage at this link.

You can explore the “Living Nations, Living Words” StoryMap at this link.

You can browse the “Living Nations, Living Words” collection at this link.

In the podcast, we also hear one of the poems from this collection, M.L. Smoker’s moving reading of her own poem “The Book of the Missing, Murdered and Indigenous – Chapter 1.” You can find that poem’s page at this link.

Our second guest on the podcast is our own folklife specialist Michelle Stefano, who coordinated a poetry slam in our Summer Jams series back in June, 2019.  Michelle tells us about the poetry organization Split This Rock, which you can find on the web here.

We also talk about some of Langston Hughes’s connections to the American Folklife Center, which you can read about at this blog post.

Of course, we also discuss the poetry slam itself, which was titled Rhyming the Archive, and which is online as a video at this link.

A woman speaks into a microphone.

Marjan Naderi reads a poem at the “Rhyming the Archive” poetry slam at the Library of Congress, June 8, 2019. Photo by Stephen Winick.

Also as part of that segment, we hear Marjan Naderi’s poem “The Lessons My Mother Taught Me While Cooking Dinner.” Find Marjan Naderi’s web page here.

The third guest to visit us is Kerry Ward of the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project. Kerry introduces VHP and discusses VHP’s November, 2019, Occupational Poetry Panel, which brought together four Veteran poets to perform their work, with our own John Fenn as moderator. The entire panel is online as a video, which you can find at this link.

The poetic highlight of that segment is the fisher poet Meezie Hermansen’s poem “Tools of the Trade.” Dr. Hermansen is a veterinarian when she isn’t fishing or performing poetry, and her professional veterinary page can be found here.

Meezie Hermansen also has an entry at the fisher poets archive “In the Tote,” which you can access here.

Five people sit in a row on stage. The person in the center is speaking and the others are watching her.

Fisher poet Meezie Hermansen speaks on an occupational poetry panel during the Veterans History Project “Veteran Art Showcase” week, November 6, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.
Note: Privacy and publicity rights for individuals depicted may apply.

The final segment of the podcast is about a cowboy poem in our collections, “Colorado Morton’s Last Ride,” also known more simply as “Colorado Morton’s Ride.” We tell the fascinating story of how this poem came to be written by the Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Leonard Bacon and the masterful Montana horse-wrangler Rivers Browne. It involves a Major-General in the India Staff Corps of the British Army, a Public Information Officer for the Farm Security Administration during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, two Library of Congress folklorists, and a grad school nervous breakdown!  Because this segment was based on a previous blog post, you can find links to the full audio, the collection, and all manner of other goodies at that one link–which is here!

There’s also a bonus episode containing the full audio of the poem at this link.

And a bonus blog post with Bacon and Browne’s original text of the poem, at this link.

As always, thanks for listening, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!

The Green Book and African American Travel with Candacy Taylor on the Folklife Today Podcast

Season 3, Episode 4 of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! In this episode, John Fenn and I interview Candacy Taylor, whose latest project is documenting sites associated with the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Taylor discusses the dangers inherent in travel for Black people during an era where racial discrimination was legal and open racism was common. She fills us in on the origins of the Green Book. We discuss sites such as Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans, where owner Leah Chase slapped the hand of President Barack Obama for adding hot sauce to her famous gumbo, and where she fed a young Michael Jackson her signature sweet potato pie. We also discuss the historic Hampton House, a Jewish-owned hotel in Miami, where a young boxer named Cassius Clay met Malcolm X and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and where Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced his most famous speech.

American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress Launches Podcast ‘America Works’

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is delighted to announce a new podcast:  “America Works.” It is based on our Occupational Folklife Project collection, and tells fascinating stories of American workers. You can listen to a trailer for this exciting new series in the player below: Listen and Subscribe to “America Works” […]

Homegrown at Home and Home Archive Challenge on the Folklife Today Podcast

Episode 19 of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 7) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.  As usual, I’ll use this blog post to direct you to fuller audio and video of the items we mentioned in the podcast, […]

Getting Inspired from Home on the Folklife Today Podcast!

Episode eighteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 6) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher. It’s the first episode of the podcast that we’ve created from our homes, while unable to return to our offices or studio in the Library of Congress due to the social distancing measures imposed by Covid-19.  In the episode, John Fenn and I talk to three AFC staff members, Allina Migoni, Michelle Stefano, and Maya Lerman, about folklife collections and items that have been inspiring to them in this strange and difficult time.  We also talk about some of the materials that have been inspiring us. As usual, there are lots of audio excerpts from tunes, songs, and interviews in AFC collections.

Podcast: Episode 17, on Transcribing Lomax with By the People, is Ready for Listening!

Episode seventeen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 5) is ready for listening! In the episode, John Fenn and Stephen Winick talk about a campaign called “The Man Who Recorded the World: On The Road with Alan Lomax.” It’s an effort to crowdsource transcriptions Alan Lomax’s fascinating field notes. Through this campaign, you can help out the Library of Congress and music fans worldwide by increasing access to Lomax’s field notes through transcribing and reviewing pages. Anyone can get involved at the link provided in the blog. The podcast and blog feature music from throughout Lomax’s career as well as descriptions of his notes.

Podcast: Part 2 of Winter Songs!

Episode 16 of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 4) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on itunes, or with your usual podcatcher. Get Your Podcast Here! We’re also happy to announce that we’re now available on Stitcher as well–use this link here! In the episode, […]

Podcast: Episode 14, on “The Dodger,” is Ready for Listening

Episode Fourteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 2) is ready for listening! The episode presents a deep dive into a single song, known either as “The Candidate’s a Dodger” or simply as “The Dodger.” In the episode, Thea Austen, Jennifer Cutting, and I look at the classic folksong , discussing the song’s meanings in oral tradition, its use by Aaron Copland as an art song, and its involvement in political controversy in the 1930s, when Charles Seeger first published it. We examine the song’s history and lay out new evidence about its relationships to other folksongs and to a musical theater song from 1840s England. We also discuss the possibility that Charles Seeger, a founder of ethnomusicology and a pioneering federal folklorist, was himself a “dodger!” The episode includes performances by folksingers Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Peggy Seeger, as well as baritone Thomas Hampson, and five field recordings from the Library of Congress.