Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Memories of Recorded Poetry

I flipped through the vinyl albums at the library,
the sleeves in plastic covers.
I often checked out records from the library, many of
my favorite albums I first encountered by checking them out
from a public library. This Year's Model, Pure Pop
for Now People, More Songs about Buildings and Food,
Surrealistic Pillow, Bringing it All Back Home, I heard all these
the first time because libraries offered vinyl albums to borrow.
I also borrowed comedy albums, this was how I first heard
the Firesign Theatre's Giant Rat of Sumatra album, also
Proctor and Bergman's TV or not TV. I could name other music or comedy LPs
that I checked out, but I'm thinking now of the albums of spoken poetry,
the label Caedmon, I remember they came in volumes, a series,
the covers were earth tones or mustard, I seem to remember a drawing of
sheaves of wheat. The were compilation albums, different poets.
I probably checked them out methodically,
and listened to them one by one in order, though I don't really remember
doing that. But I remember listening to them, hearing them.
I played them on the record player my parents got me from Sears
when I was around eleven years old and started buying records
on a regular basis. I was surprised, maybe disappointed, to hear
how Robert Bly sounded. To my mind, at age 16, his voice didn't sound
what I thought a poet would sound like. What was I expecting?
Also, hearing John Ashbery for the first time--he was another one
who didn't sound poetical or something to me. Not that I was reading
tons of either poet, just things I saw in anthologies, my beloved
blue Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry edited by Richard Ellmann,
and Donald Hall's Contemporary penguin anthology, along with Mark Strand's
paperback anthology. Donald Hall's was in that Penguin poetry series
with the great geometric designs, like cool wallpaper. I should start
collecting those, I almost was for a while, I remember especially the Shelley
paperback, with those red figures. I wasn't disappointed
to hear Allen Ginsberg read "Who Be Kind to," I loved that one,
listened to it over and over. I'd already heard him read, I think,
unless I'm getting the chronology mixed up,
on the Clash's "Combat Rock" LP, he read along with the Clash
on the track "Ghetto Defendant." I probably heard the Caedmon LP first.
I still like that Ginsberg poem ("Who Be Kind to") a lot. I was really fascinated
with Sylvia Plath's readings, though. I remember telling someone--maybe it was
the professor whose office I stood in reminiscing about these Caedmon albums,
or it could have been someone else--how I found Plath's voice on these recordings
to be both scary and comforting, at the same time. I loved hearing her read
"Stopped Dead" especially, and "The Applicant," I remember thinking those
were especially creepy and compelling. I checked books out of the library, too,
of course, and one of my favorites was Plath's Winter Trees, I loved the black and white silvery cover with the dead trees on it, and the endpapers were this funereal lavender, and the poems themselves had this imagery that really connected with
the images I found floating through my head already, charged with morbid emotions
and sweeter ones too, all mixed together, a summery dawn feeling involved also
with adolescent feelings about cemeteries and what they're for. Another poet
I loved hearing was e.e. cummings, he sounded very high-class to me, and read so
slowly. Of course, one thing led to another and I started reading more and more poetry and listening to more and more recorded poetry. What really stands out, though, is when I was going through some emotional distress a few years later I lay in bed under the covers with the lights off listening to a cassette tape that I'd made of Louis Simpson reading his poetry. Somehow the fact that he'd said he'd written poetry after having had a nervous breakdown and couldn't write prose made me believe that he had somehow recorded these poems while he was recovering from that breakdown, that he was still feeling the effects of this experience, and something about his sensitive, sardonic voice made me feel that this was the case, and so it was comforting to listen to him read...

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