Library of Congress: Rare Book and Special Collections Division Digitizes 40 Years of Poetry Project Sound Recordings
From a LC Blog Post:
On December 31, 2022, the Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections Division launched the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Audio Archive, which consists of 420 recordings from the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s in the Bowery. Founded in 1966 in New York City’s East Village, the Poetry Project has served as a place where poetry can be studied, performed, and experienced. After its founding, the Poetry Project quickly instituted programming that included weekly readings, workshops, lectures, memorials, and the Project’s annual New Year’s Day marathon readings. Many of these series and programs continue to this day, making the Poetry Project the oldest independent literary center in the United States.
Paul Blackburn, one of the founders, started the practice of recording the events and, as a result, the Library of Congress has a continuous 55-year audio and video record of the Poetry Project’s activities, as well as one of the largest post-World War II collections of recorded poetry in existence. In total, there are approximately 4,000 hours of recordings on a variety of media devices. The earliest recordings were captured on reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, followed by audiocassettes, DAT tapes, and VHS tapes.
The results are splendid. Library users may now listen to a Wednesday night reading in the early 2000s by Bernadette Mayer and John Ashbery, drawing from their books Another Smashed Pinecone and Your Name Here. Or a reading of “Heathens” by Amiri Baraka in 1994 on the eve of his 60th birthday, during which he asks, “Why do people think their poetry isn’t as powerful as businessmen?”. Or a 2002 reading by Ammiel Alcalay and Cecilia Vicuña to hear Alcalay reading from his book-length poem “From the Warring Factions” and Vicuña weaving between English and Spanish and singing the song her mother sang while sewing.
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