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3D Poetry Collections in the Embrace of the Digital Age (Sound, Image, Network)

From Book to Playlist: How Open-Access Audio Archives are Renewing the Poetry Collection

Du livre à la playlist : comment les archives sonores de poésie en libre accès renouvellent le recueil poétique
Abigail Lang


Les archives sonores de poésie en libre accès changent la façon dont nous consommons et concevons la poésie. Cet article interroge la manière dont elles renouvellent notre rapport au recueil de poésie. Les archives sonores en ligne entretenant une ambition patrimoniale conservent les enregistrements de lectures de poésie dans leur intégralité : les poèmes y sont presque toujours lus dans un ordre qui n’est pas celui de l’ouvrage imprimé. Étant donné la capacité des poèmes à renouveler leur sens en fonction du contexte (une caractéristique que Neil Fraistat identifie comme le « paradigme pétrarquien »), de tels ensembles constituent des objets herméneutiques en eux-mêmes et en dialogue avec les ensembles imprimés. Pour tester cette hypothèse, je me tourne vers Louis Zukofsky, poète connu pour la structuration minutieuse de ses livres et l’attention radicale qu’il porte au son. En écoutant les enregistrements de deux lectures de 1972 et en consultant le programme d’une lecture de 1941 conservé dans les archives, je mets au jour une série de critères utilisés par les poètes pour composer leurs lectures. Je montre comment un poète peut remployer d’anciens poèmes dans des contextes renouvelés et constate, enfin, qu’aborder Zukofsky par l’écoute de ses audio-textes accentue la dimension lyrique de son œuvre. Par ailleurs, les deux lectures de 1972 mettent en avant le rôle curatorial joué par sa femme, Celia Zukofsky. En mettant en musique un ensemble de poèmes sélectionnés dans l’œuvre de son mari, elle crée une véritable playlist sur papier, comme pour rendre hommage à une nouvelle fonctionnalité née de la révolution des techniques d’enregistrement sonores (depuis la commercialisation de la cassette audio en 1963) et grâce à laquelle l’auditeur peut dorénavant créer ses propres anthologies. Sur les grandes plateformes d’archives en ligne telles que PennSound et UbuWeb, la playlist (ou liste de lecture) s’impose désormais comme un genre curatorial à part entière, artistes et critiques offrant en quelque sorte des visites guidées pour naviguer au sein d’une offre poétique pléthorique. Exploitant le désir largement répandu de collectionner des « favoris », de les partager avec d’autres et d’inciter ces autres à dresser leur propre liste en retour, la playlist présente indéniablement un grand potentiel critique, créatif et pédagogique.

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1Almost two decades ago, in 2003, at the annual meeting of the Society for Textual Scholarship (STS), Charles Bernstein put the following question to his audience:

Imagine for a moment that you had on the hard drive of your computer a score of MP3 files of poems by fifty of your favorite twentieth-century poets. I would bet that no matter how involved or committed any of you may be to twentieth-century poetry none of you have such a collection readily available. But with poetry’s coming digital presence you will, or anyway, you easily might. What would be the implications of such a collection? (Bernstein 2011, 113)

2At the time, Charles Bernstein and his colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, Al Filreis, were about to launch PennSound, an open-access digital archive committed to preserving existing audio archives and producing new recordings. Wondering about “the implications of such a collection” in his STS talk, Bernstein went on to imagine the consequences that the availability of free, downloadable sound files of individual poems via the Internet might have for teachers, readers, poets, scholars, and textual scholars. Two decades later, some of Bernstein’s projections are fully realized, others partly so, and some remain hypothetical. In the meantime, PennSound has become the largest repository for recorded poetry, holding over 40,000 audio files, 1,000 video files and totaling over 6 million downloads each year. Such figures call for a full assessment of the impact that online archives of recorded poetry are having on the way we consume and conceive of poetry. For the purpose of the present article, and by way of contribution, I will consider some of the ways these archives are changing our sense of the poetry collection.

  • 1 Unsurprisingly, some of the earliest scholars to address the poetry reading and audio archives were (...)

3The printed book is no longer the sole venue where we encounter poems, perhaps not even the main one, although it tends to remain the most authoritative format. Digital-native poets, for whom the convergence of media – the merging of print, broadcast, and online media in a single device – is a given, are now unlikely to dissociate text from sound and image. As exemplified by Instapoet Rupi Kaur, they conceive their compositions for a variety of outlets and with a strong sense of design. Long before the rise of the Internet, twentieth-century poets were keen to seize the possibilities offered by new printing and sound recording technologies, but it was not until the advent of freely accessible online repositories of poetry (such as UbuWeb, PennSound, or, to name only a few) and the massive digitization of archives that the scope of the phenomenon became manifest. Despite its growing sociological prominence and its profound effects on the genre, the poetry reading was only given due scholarly attention after these fleeting performances or haphazard recordings were properly digitized, identified, contextualized: in other words, turned into archives.1

Reading Sets As Alternative Poetry Collections

  • 2 See for instance: UbuWeb, PennSound, “The Listening Booth” – featuring selections from the Harvard (...)

4In digitizing recordings of poets reading their work in front of an audience, for a radio broadcast or a commercial record, the creators of online repositories must decide whether to offer entire sets or to segment them into individual poems or parts. Mainstream poetry websites catering to the general public – including poetry amateurs and high school students – typically present recordings of single poems read by the author, a actor or an amateur (, Poetry Foundation, Lyrik-line). Contextual information is generally minimal, identifying reader and date but offering no information concerning the circumstances of the reading. By contrast, online repositories with an archival and scholarly concern systematically preserve the set, even as they break it up into individual files.2 The reasons put forward by PennSound for doing so are practical (smaller files are easier to download and store) and pragmatic: listeners routinely downloading MP3s of songs will recognize MP3s of “song-length poems” cast as “singles” (Bernstein 2003). Some online archives retain the original media as standalone unit: the bulk of the recordings made at the Jack Kerouac School and now part of the Naropa University Digital Archives was stored on audio cassettes, and their files typically offer one side of a digitized tape. The item description for each file provides time stamps identifying poems (in readings), poets (in collective readings, roundtables or panels), or topics (in lectures and discussions), and a link to the file(s) containing the material that precedes or follows. Whatever presentation format they adopt, online repositories with an archival concern typically preserve the set while singling out the poem, and in doing so preserve the two decisive units of the poetry collection (instead of favoring one over the other), thus facilitating comparisons between print and recording. Online archives making single files freely downloadable encourage further creative and critical manipulation on the part of listeners.

5In his introduction to Poems in Their Place, Neil Fraistat urged critics to pay closer attention to what he proposed to call “contexture,” namely “the special qualities of the poetic collection as an organized book,” encouraging readers of poetry to take into account “the contextuality provided for each poem by the larger frame within which it is placed, the intertextuality among poems so placed, and the resultant texture of resonance and meanings” (Fraistat 1987, 3). In his historic overview of Western poetry, Fraistat identifies landmarks in “contextural poetics.” He singles out Callimachus (3rd century BC), who used “sophisticated techniques to unify his individual books” such as “structural symmetries as well as thematic and imagistic resonances among the poems;” Horace, who showed “how a recognizable narrative of love could emerge from a collection of discrete lyrics arranged in temporal sequence;” and Dante, whose La vita nuova became “the first fictive work blending prose with poetry to provide not only a connective narrative fabric between the poems but also a critical and ‘autobiographical’ commentary upon them” (Fraistat 1987, 5-6). Comparing “highly integrated ‘collections’ such as La vita nuova” with “loosely unified ‘long poems’ such as Hart Crane’s The Bridge” (Fraistat 1987, 6), Fraistat points to the thin line between a poetic aggregate and a long poem. But more suggestive for our topic is what he identifies as the “Petrarchan paradigm” (Fraistat 1987, 6). “[A]dding poems, deleting others, and revising the order of the contents,” Petrarch reorganized the Canzoniere – his arrangement of 366 lyrics – nine times. Against Dante’s “stable contexture,” Petrarch introduced time as a variable, devising a “strikingly flexible structural model in which – through a series of generically mixed short poems written on various subjects and at different times – a poet could maintain shifting, even contradictory, perspectives and, above all, an openness before experience” (Fraistat 1987, 6). As such, the “Petrarchan paradigm” offers a rich model to approach the poetry reading program and, particularly, the way poets compose their sets for public readings.

  • 3 “By ‘cubo-seriality’ I mean to identify the more discrete development that characterizes Reznikoff’ (...)

6Comparing a poet’s printed collections with online recordings yields a remarkable, and perhaps underestimated, result: they are consistently different. Poets rarely if ever read their poems in the order in which they are printed in book-form. If they arrange their poems in a specific order for publication – and the principles governing this order are as varied as their poetics –, why do they almost never retain this order when they read? Is it to invalidate the chosen order as provisional? Is it to suggest alternative circulations among the poems? Does their choice reflect a momentary preference and reconfiguration? Is it dictated by the context of the reading? Steve Evans vindicates the “set” as an “interpretable unit of publication” and considers it to be as “rich a hermeneutic object as a print publication” (Evans 2016). Fraistat’s call for “contextural poetics” engages us to attend to reading programs and the meaningful variations they play with the order of the printed text (Fraistat 1987, 4). Charles Bernstein demonstrated the hermeneutic value of a comparative contextural approach when listening to a 1984 reading by Charles Reznikoff. The experience led him to formulate a hypothesis about the “cubo-seriality”3 of the objectivist poet’s work. Noticing that the groupings of poems differed substantially from the printed text, Bernstein realized Reznikoff was mixing not only poems, but indeed stanzas, wrenched from poems across his oeuvre and placed into a strikingly non-chronological and non-thematic reading-program, thus demonstrating a radical understanding of the Petrarchan paradigm (Bernstein 1999, 204ff.). Indeed, Reznikoff’s painstakingly composed reading program offered Bernstein exceptional insight.

  • 4 The Zukofsky resources were edited by poet, scholar and archivist Danny Snelson, together with a st (...)

7Wondering what other meanings might arise from poets’ reshuffling of their poems from across their work for the purposes of a poetry reading, I propose to listen closely to a 1972 recorded reading by Louis Zukofsky, a poet renowned for his radical engagement with the sound of words, but whose audio archives have received comparatively little attention since they were made available on PennSound in 2008 (Fig. 1).4 Like Reznikoff, whose work he references in his 1931 manifesto-essay for Objectivist poetics, Zukofsky was a second-generation modernist working in the wake of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s Imagist and vers-librist revolutions. What can we learn from heeding the reading program and listening to the recorded reading of a poet known for the careful structuring of his books and the overall design of his oeuvre? How do these audio recordings change our sense of his work obtained from his printed collections?

Louis Zukofsky’s 1972 Reading at Bard College: A Close Listening

Figure 1: “Reading at Bard College, November 2, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.

Figure 1: “Reading at Bard College, November 2, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.

Source: Screenshot from PennSound resource,​pennsound/​x/​Zukofsky.php © PennSound, Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, The University of Pennsylvania.

8Zukofsky’s bound volumes, many of them hefty, stress the generic distinctiveness of each work, further emphasized by the alphabetical order instigated by their titles: “A” for “the poem of a life” (Zukofsky 2001, 228) in the tradition of the long poem “built on a plan” (Pound in Ahearn 1987, 78); All for the collected shorter poems; Bottom: On Shakespeare for a long critical prose work centering on Shakespeare’s plays and poetry; and Catullus for a complete homophonic translation of the Latin poet. Spanning the years 1954 to 1975, the extensive recordings made available by PennSound qualify this generic distinctiveness. In his public readings, Zukofsky happily intersperses short poems, passages from “A” and translations from Catullus. In two late readings, given at Bard College and Temple University in 1972 and offering exceptionally concerted programs, expansive commentaries, and good quality sound, Zukofsky even read prose fiction (Little: For Careenagers) and critical prose (Bottom: On Shakespeare). As he explained to filmmaker Richard O. Moore before reading from Bottom: “[T]o me Bottom: On Shakespeare is […] a long poem on a theme for the varying of its recurrence. Well, nobody looking at it will think of it as a poem because, obviously, it’s prose, but that is what it is to me” (Moore 1966, item 6). And reading at Bard College in November 1972, he made the same claim for the fictional prose of Little: “I’ve always worked at prose the way I work at poetry. I find no distinction except one seems to be a little longer getting there. This is chapter 11 from a novel called Little” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 9). Against the impression produced by his printed works, the poetry reading gave Zukofsky the opportunity to enact and vindicate his belief that, regardless of genre, the oeuvre is one.

9One of the earliest and most careful expressions of this belief that the “work is one” posits a form of unconscious autopoiesis fueled by rhythm:

Each writer writes
one long work whose beat he cannot
entirely be aware of. Recurrences
follow him, crib and drink from a
well that’s his cadence –
Like the sea fishing
Constantly fishing
Its own waters.
(“A”, 214)

10Zukofsky’s recorded readings not only smooth over generic differences by foregrounding the materiality of his timbre – the natural or biological dimension of the voice adapting to and mediated by the recording technology –, they also emphasize the artificial or biographical dimension of his voice, what Zukofsky called his “cadence” in “A”-12. Listening to Zukofsky’s recorded voice confirms the illuminating title Michael Palmer and David Levi Strauss gave their 1988 presentation on the poet: “Syntax as Music.”

11Zukofsky’s reading style further contributes to this feeling of unity. The poet reads carefully, slowly, distinctly: clearly, to use a notion he so valued in “Songs of Degrees” (Zukofsky 2011b, 145). He offers few anecdotes, no lengthy introductions, no insight or gloss as to a poem’s meaning, and only provides context – of a strictly formal and compositional nature – when he must, for instance when having to introduce the final polyvocal movement of “A”, eagerly resorting to a printed source as soon as he can: “[I]t’s difficult for me to read because I don’t like to explain what’s been done. But I shall have to in this case. It really is a performance, and it needs 5 performers, at least 5 voices. As I’ll explain by reading the preface” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 10).

12In that same 1972 reading at Bard College, Zukofsky reads “Song 22” with a slight lilt appropriate to the poem’s mock-classic mode of address: “To my wash-stand” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 3). Making up for the absence of punctuation, his voice sometimes clarifies syntactic groups but it does not emphasize meaning, humor, or irony. Reading his fiction, Zukofsky brings out the tone in the dialogues, but only faintly. He does not act them out. And when he reads from “A”-24, he raises or lowers his voice as cued by the font size, but only moderately so. Overall, the voice is restrained, more committed to auditory legibility than to dramatic accentuation, a vocal style emblematic of what Bernstein describes as the anti-spectacular, formalist approach to the poetry reading: “[T]o find the sound in the words, not in any extrinsic scenario or supplemental accompaniment” (Bernstein 1998, 11).

“[W]ords to be set to music”

  • 5 It occurs notably in the 1946 essay “Poetry / For my Son When He Can Read:” “[P]oetry which is ‘not (...)
  • 6 Except for a 1938 reading broadcast on WQXR, it is the earliest reading documented in the Zukofsky (...)
  • 7 The belief in the heuristic value of a chronology of works is reiterated in the “year by year” sect (...)

13And yet, Zukofsky never gave up on music entirely, never settled for “syntax as music” only. He retained a deep yearning for song, which is manifest in his early embrace and frequent reiteration of Dante’s definition of the poem as “words to be set to music” (Zukofsky 2001, 9).5 It figures prominently in the six-page program Zukofsky prepared for the talk and reading he gave at the YMHA in New York, on 23 January 1941. The care with which he conceived and typed out the program attests to the importance of an occasion which may not have been the first but must have been the most prestigious yet.6 Zukofsky appears keen to give an accurate overview of his work, listing his publications and introducing his objectivist poetics. Most striking is the fact that the poems are to be read in strict chronological order of composition, listed by year.7 While the program is composed of elliptic notes, the poet took the trouble of writing out a two-paragraph statement to be delivered after the introductory remarks and before the reading proper:

The poem = a completed action of one writing words to be set to music (more later). But try to think of a poem as Dante says further without anyone to speak or sing it, and you must see it functions apart from the passions and discussions of people. It’s on the page – a completed action – it’s over and yet acts, and as in music subsequent interpretations may help to bring out what’s there or fall short of it.
Tonight we want to get at the poems I'm going to read in the way I’ve described. And it’s up to you now to judge what values of good poetry are in them. These values are either there or not there. No matter how well I read I can’t improve what isn’t there. No matter how poorly I read I can’t destroy what is there, especially when you yourselves get a chance to look at the words. (Zukofsky 1941)

14Perhaps anticipating his inability to give an orotund reading, Zukofsky affirms his faith in writing’s ability to preserve the voice: the poem is entirely committed to the page and the quality of the oral rendition cannot affect the quality of the poem. Zukofsky’s emphasis on the Dantean term “action” implies that each reading revivifies the utterance committed to paper, a widely shared phonocentrist view. This faith sustains Zukofsky’s view of reading out loud as an act of reanimation of the past – a belief consistently reiterated from the 1920s to the 1970s. “Only speech transforms whatever skeleton remains of the past,” and the poet must “breathe upon it so that it lives as his music,” Zukofsky wrote in 1929, in his first published essay, devoted to Ezra Pound’s Cantos (Zukofsky 2001, 73). For Zukofsky, reading out loud is less an act of communication than one of reanimation and our principal access to the past. Although seeming to value score above performance, the YMHA note calls not only for performance but also for musical accompaniment: “words to be set to music.”

  • 8 It was Pound who had entreated modern poets to embark on projects of epic scope and compete with th (...)

15Zukofsky’s engagement with poetry as/and music, though he consistently reiterated it, was primarily speculative: a “wish or whim,” as he avowed in hindsight (L. and C. Zukofsky 1970, 7). Tellingly, it is cast in the form of a question at the outset of “A”: “Can / The design / Of the fugue / Be transferred / To poetry?” (“A” 38). Or, to give the question a more general turn, how was the twentieth-century poet to repair “the modern fault:” “the divorce of music from words” (L. and C. Zukofsky 2002, 421). In a 1930 letter to his mentor Ezra Pound, the 26-year-old Zukofsky voiced his anguish at being confined to the long poem and barred from the lyric: “[H]ow I wish again and again that I could still be writing short poems – be excited into a song or something as brief and essential <(!)> i.e. I’d rather be the troubadours (or one of them) than Dante […], one of Shakes’ Songs than any long poem ‘built on a plan’” (Zukofsky in Ahearn 1987, 78).8 Throughout his career, Zukofsky offered various answers to this overarching question and tried different ways of setting words to music, as demonstrated by the examination of his earliest and latest preserved reading-programs (i.e. 1941 and the 1970s). And as we shall see, meeting Celia Zukofsky – a trained musician and his future wife – in 1933 deepened Zukofsky’s understanding of music and allowed him to make his “wish and whim” come true in more ways than he could have foreseen. The 1941 program notes reveal that in the 1930s, Zukofsky’s strategy to repair the divorce of words and music was to compose each of the “29 Songs” from 55 Poems with a musical form in mind: he associates “Song 1 with jazz and the eighteenth-century pastoral; Song 8 with the madrigal, the sixteenth century, Dowland, Campion, and Lawes; Song 13 with the Latin ode, the plain-chant, melody in its simplest form. “Imitation” (or Song 17) includes a definition in an endnote: “Imitation: Mus. The repetition of a phrase or subject in another voice-part or in a different key” (Zukofsky 2011b, 50). Song 22 (“To my wash-stand”), whose subject is Adoration, requires a long, continuous, unbroken line of melody. No recording of the 1941 reading has survived but the program makes no provision for accompaniment or singing, and Zukofsky undoubtedly read the “Songs” the way he read them thirty years later: without music.

“Where to start?”

Figure 2 : “Reading at Temple University, October 16, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.

Figure 2 : “Reading at Temple University, October 16, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.

Source: Screenshot from PennSound resource,​pennsound/​x/​Zukofsky.php. © PennSound, Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, The University of Pennsylvania.

16At Temple University in October 1972, Zukofsky dramatized the composition of the reading program: “One wonders where to start [...]. One wonders where to begin but let me just begin. This goes back to about 1932 and is from a book called Autobiography. I’ll read six poems from that, which is largely valuable to me because my wife wrote the music for it, and that is Autobiography” (“Reading at Temple University,” item 1). The reading programs Zukofsky devised for Temple University (16 October 1972), and Bard College two weeks later (2 November 1972), are almost identical, therefore endorsed (Fig. 1 and 2). Zukofsky began by reading six older short poems whose composition dates range from the early 1930s to the early 1950s – some he had read at the YMHA in 1941 –, all of them featured in the recently published Autobiography (1970), a selection of poems made by Celia Zukofsky and accompanied by her musical settings. Making his own selection of six poems within his wife’s selection of eighteen, the poet starts with “To my wash-stand” (Song 22), a piece lauding the music of bathroom appliances that is emblematic of Zukofsky’s urban, working-class modernism: “Comes a song of / water from the right faucet and the left / […] Comes a flow which / if I have called a song / is a song / entirely in my head” (Zukofsky 2011b, 52; L. and C. Zukofsky 1970, 25-26). Song 21 also tunes in to the music of furniture, the “mercurial spirallings” of “the bed-spring” “[m]aking a body’s night a changeable singing” (Zukofsky 2011b, 51; L. and C. Zukofsky 1970, 35-36). Song 13 (“In that this happening”) picks up on Song 21’s relentless -ing line-endings and also foregrounds the “body.” Like the two following poems – “A Song for the Year’s End” and “Old” –, it is one of Zukofsky’s exemplary mind-twisters, its convoluted syntax and emphasis on sound challenging the reader to follow its ostensibly logic, even binary, assertions: “sorrow” and “kindness” (Song 13), “love” and “hate,” “cold” and “warm” (“Old”) – the latter echoing the earlier faucet “mixing hot and cold” in Song 21. “A Song for the Year’s End” threads the musical theme, celebrating Celia Zukofsky as “Daughter of music” (Zukofsky 2011b, 111). Deceptively simple but highly charged (with Dante’s Divine Comedy, Marx’s Capital and Henrik Anton Lorenz’s Theory of Electrons), Anew 29 (“Glad they were there”) and its “ovals” points back to Song 21’s washstand “whose washbowl is an oval” with “two / smaller ovals to left and right for soap” (Zukofsky 2011b, 93 and 52), the oval now revealed as the ellipsis described by orbiting electrons and celestial bodies. In other words, Zukofsky is here resorting to semantic, syntactic, rhetorical, and thematic resonances to weave a new contexture among old poems.

17After reading these six old poems made new by their recent republication (Autobiography), and re-motivated by the contexture they create for each other, Zukofsky read a chapter from Little, a novella à clef recounting his musical family’s life: he read chapter 4 at Temple University, and chapter 11 at Bard. He then read from “A”-24, the final movement of the long “poem of a life” he had begun in 1928. A pattern begins to emerge. Like Autobiography, “A”-24 is a collaboration, a selection made by Celia Zukofsky from her husband’s works – “Like the sea fishing / Constantly fishing / Its own waters” (“A”-12). Like Autobiography, “A”-24 combines text and score, making good on the Dantean definition of the poem as “words to be set to music,” while giving it an alternative realization. A 240-page score for four speaking voices set to the music of Händel’s Harpsicord Suites, “A”-24 was assembled by Celia Zukofsky by quoting from her husband’s major works in a polyvocal arrangement and presented as a gift to “L.Z.,” who promptly decided it would stand as the finale to “A” as a whole (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Celia Zukofsky’s “L.Z. Masque” (Louis Zukofsky,“A” [1978], 2011, p. 566).

Figure 3: Celia Zukofsky’s “L.Z. Masque” (Louis Zukofsky,“A” [1978], 2011, p. 566).

© New Directions. All Louis and Celia Zulofsky material copyright © Musical Observations, Inc. Used by permission.

  • 9 In “A Statement for Poetry” (1950), Zukofsky distinguished four possible renditions of poetry: “sou (...)

18In one of his rare prefatory remarks, Zukofsky points out how the two projects differ in terms of music: “[In “A”-24,] each character speaks in monologue. Speaks, that’s important. The words were never sung to the music, as of course they were in Autobiography – a totally different thing. Each voice should come through clearly” (“Reading at Temple University,” item 9).9 A performance of Autobiography took place at the Lincoln Center (New York City), on 31 March 1971, in which Zukofsky’s reading of all the poems was followed by a performance of Celia Zukofsky’s scores sung by professional singers, with Zukofsky reading out the autobiographical prose passages as interludes (Twitchell-Waas, “Readings and Recordings of LZ”). By setting to music these poems which Zukofsky had composed with specific musical forms in mind – as the 1941 reading program notes preserved in the archives reveal –, Celia Zukofsky made the poet’s “wish and whim” come true. And by composing “A”-24, she provided Louis Zukofsky with a concrete answer to the momentous question he had formulated in 1930. As the poet acknowledged at Bard College:

Back in 1927 when I first started “A” and surely before 1930, I had asked myself “can the design of the fugue be transferred to poetry?” It’s at the end of the 6th movement of “A.” And of course, people were interested to see if the matter of polyphony and counterpoint could be done in words. Well, you can never really do it in words. I found myself fortunate because my wife found an answer to that question. She surprised me by coming up with [“A”-24]. (“Reading at Bard College,” item 10)

“How to end?”

19Celia Zukofsky’s gift addressed yet another issue, by way of selection and composition. Echoing the question “where to start?” (opening the October 1972 reading at Temple University), the prefatory remarks to the November 1972 reading of “A”-24 pointed to another question nagging Zukofsky throughout the notebooks for his late work: “How to end?” (“A”-22 & 23 and “A”-24, holograph notes in spiral notebook): “I had always wondered how “A”-24 would end. Well, it’s ended. I have to catch up with it. I’m still writing 22 and then there’ll be 23 to do. […] I said this is the only way to end “A”, I know this is it” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 10). By relinquishing or sharing authorship over the final movement of his “poem of a life,” which had been four decades in the making, Zukofsky was symbolically handing over to the coming reader. And as a privileged and privy reader, Celia Zukofsky was mediating between author and reader, serving as a guide.

20That the end of “A” is tied up with his own death appears forcefully when Zukofsky voices his wish that “anybody who can get 5 performers together” perform “A”-24, giving the poet the opportunity to “attend [his] own requiem in this life” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 10). Two performances of “A”-24 were staged in June and November 1978 by an ensemble of Bay Area poets, including Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Kit Robinson, and Barrett Watten with Bob Perelman on piano, only weeks after Zukofsky’s death on 12 May 1978 (“Two Performances of “A”-24”). This testament-like moment in the reading at Bard College echoes its opening remarks. Indeed, Zukofsky’s inordinately long introduction had been prompted by the death of his friend and mentor Ezra Pound the previous day (1 November 1972). Rather than put the audience through “the usual rituals of standing for a moment of silence,” Zukofsky had suggested they read Pound to keep him present: “[H]e is always there when I read him, and I’m sure he will be there when you read him” (“Reading at Bard College,” item 1).

21Had Zukofsky favored closure above all else, he might have ended the reading with “A”-24 – the last, recapitulative movement of “A,” given a sepulchral dimension by his call for performance. Favoring the musical and collaborative thread, however, he went on to read from the complete homophonic translation from Catullus he had made with his wife. By reading two radically different translations of the same poem made in the 1940s and the 1960s, Zukofsky gave depth to his career, dramatizing its accomplishment over time. Reading his first translation of Catullus viii (Zukofsky 2011b, 88) at the YHMA in 1941, Zukofsky had introduced it as a translation “for its emotional impact and essential rhythm – i.e. no attempt is made to analyze the Latin meter to get an English equivalent which would hardly be an equivalent after all, without the Latin sounds” (Zukofsky 1941). That Zukofsky was already contemplating a homophonic translation of Catullus in 1941 and mentioning it in his reading speaks to the importance of this project, heightening the continuity and constructedness of his entire writing career:

Celia’s Catullus as much as mine… […] In any case, to continue with my interest in what the musical aspects of poetry can effect, there is this early version of Catullus (1940) and a much later one. I’ll read the very famous one beginning “Miser Catullus.” First version was this – then I tried to follow Catullus’s sound and I discovered a great deal doing that. I think he’s responsible not only for verse forms but so many musical forms that developed through the centuries after him, the oratorio for example was already in Catullus’s 64. (“Reading at Bard College,” item 11)

22Ending with Catullus symbolically accomplished the reunion of words and music, even when Zukofsky’s two concurrent translations of Carmine 8 embodied the modern divorce.

  • 10 As a gesture towards a greater acknowledgement of Celia Zukofsky’s presence in Louis Zukofsky’s wor (...)

23Listening to Zukofsky’s 1972 recorded readings and taking into account the reading programs themselves brings out criteria that poets consider when selecting and organizing their reading material. At both Bard College and Temple University, Zukofsky’s criteria appear chronological (starting with older work and moving on to more recent writing); topical (choosing old poems reissued in a recent publication); thematic (here centering on music and domestic collaboration); evaluative (selecting his more distinctive and daring works); and critical (summoning critical thinking on poetics by reading two translations of the same poem consecutively). Pound’s death could have prompted Zukofsky to make a last-minute change to his reading program – he might, for instance, have included a poem for or by Pound into the set. Instead, he chose to expand his opening remarks. By reading across genres and from works spanning fifty years of writing, Zukofsky powerfully conveyed a sense of the length of his career and the breadth of his accomplishment. Such a choice also made it clear that the work was one – regardless of genre – while introducing time as a variable in the composition. By repurposing old poems in renewed contextures, Zukofsky was also sounding the many ways that words can “be set to music:” syntax as music, words composed with musical forms in mind (“29 Songs”), words spoken to music (“A”-24), words sung to music (L. and C. Zukofsky 1970). And, more eloquently than in print, Zukofsky was carving out a role for Celia Zukofsky as collaborator and curator.10

  • 11 The “audiovisual litany” is the name Jonathan Sterne gives to “differences between hearing and seei (...)

24Approaching Zukofsky through his recorded readings – instead of his published collections – tilts his work decisively toward song. Based solely on his printed books, the reception of Zukofsky has hypertrophied “A” – the “long poem” and its structure, the critical engagement, the form to be held in the mind. But listening to Zukofsky, one discovers that the “poetic aggregate” dominates: the short piece becomes the standard and the song the auditory model (Fraistat 1987, 6). When excerpting from “A” for public readings, for instance, Zukofsky favored the less discursive, more song-like sections (“A”-24; “A”-9; “A”-11; “A”-7). His engagement with music together with his aspiration to “rather be the troubadours (or one of them) than Dante” already help make this perception manifest, but it is most vividly conveyed by the difference between listening and reading. Without falling prey to the “audiovisual litany”11 that Jonathan Sterne usefully debunked, one can safely say that a poem enters the mind and memory differently when it is heard or read, in ways that demand to be carefully pondered (Sterne 2003, 15).

Making Playlists: The Listener as Compiler and Curator

25Engaging with poetry through recordings rather than books restores the kinship between poems and songs. Their common lyric ancestry could not prevent their modern divorce, but sound recording technologies have generalized the anthologizing gesture at an unprecedented level and, since the advent of the audiotape, made it game-changingly available on the receiving end. In contrast to the comparatively authoritative and static print collection, the playlist appears democratic and mobile. As Bernstein anticipated, scholars, teachers, and amateurs are creating their own compilations for scholarly, pedagogical, and recreational uses. Some, like Cassandra Gillig, are putting them to creative use: in her 2013 album, Put me in Charge of Poetry Magazine (Fig. 4), she mashes up poetry recordings with pop songs, mixing Frank O’Hara with Drake, Dylan Thomas with Myley Cyrus, or Sylvia Plath with Eminem and Rihanna. The result is irreverent and funny; it is also perceptive and instructive since it questions our understanding of tone and rhythm as well as our expectations of genre and decorum.

Figure 4: Cassandra Gillig, Put Me in Charge of Poetry Magazine, Bandcamp, 2013.

Figure 4: Cassandra Gillig, Put Me in Charge of Poetry Magazine, Bandcamp, 2013.

Source: Screenshot from

  • 12 For insight into the curatorial process of guest editors, see the short videos of the “Poem-a-Day g (...)

26Co-Director of the PennSound Archive and scholar Chris Mustazza uses Gillig’s album in class, inviting students to reflect on “how music and poem come together to form something new” (Mustazza 2020). On large online repositories of recorded poetry, the poetry playlist has become an established genre with a curatorial function, offering guided tours by poets or scholars, much in the way Celia Zukofsky offered inroads into her husband’s work.12

  • 13 Metaphors and other rhetorical tropes based on parallelism function similarly in writing.

27In Duchamp Is My Lawyer, Kenneth Goldsmith traces the history of UbuWeb, “a pirate shadow library consisting of hundreds of thousands of freely downloadable avant-garde artifacts” that can be viewed as a playlist grown to mammoth size (Goldsmith 2020, 13). He recalls the motivations behind its creation and examines how artistic works are archived, consumed, and distributed online. Unlike official sites with institutional backing – which seek to serve the general public’s interest first –, UbuWeb identifies private pleasure as the driving impulse behind its colossal achievement: “I do it mostly for myself as an artist, as a curator, as a critic, as a fan, and as an educator,” Goldsmith lucidly acknowledges (Goldsmith 2020, 44). Historically “[n]amed for Alfred Jarry’s mischievous, foul-mouthed, Dadaist protagonist Ubu Roi,” UbuWeb began as a site for visual and concrete poetry, then rapidly extended its scope to sound poetry (Goldsmith 2020, 15). But Goldsmith “soon found [him]self unable to distinguish the difference between ‘sound poetry’ and ‘music’,” a confirmation of the unifying effect of media and its challenge to genre (Goldsmith 2020, 16). He consequently “dropped the term sound poetry and began referring […] to the section simply as Sound” (Goldsmith 2020, 15). Launched in 1996 – a year after Goldsmith started working as a DJ at WFMU, the longest-running listener-supported freeform radio station in the US –, UbuWeb was significantly shaped by the experience in both its form and content. There Goldsmith perfected the “art of segueing,” which performs both a creative and a critical function and blurs the distinction between the two: “I took the idea of free-form radio into UbuWeb – the art of segueing two songs of disparate styles into a single cohesive statement – which allowed me to reimagine the lineage of the traditional avant-garde as something less pure, more intuitive, and more playful” (Goldsmith 2020, 166). Echoing Lev Manovich’s contention that the cut and paste gesture is heir to the avant-garde collage (Manovich 2001), Goldsmith was reassessing the avant-garde with its own tool. As a result, medleys, playlists, and fans’ compilations – practices few art historians would claim as heuristic methods – became the heart of the project. Foregoing commentary, the “art of segueing” brings outs characteristics of two contiguous pieces by juxtaposition, engaging the auditor’s critical listening.13 The enormous cultural prestige that the DJ has acquired as “paradigmatic creative figure in contemporary culture” (Wershler 2017, 171) rests on this analytical ability to reveal unnoticed similarities between two consecutive tunes and to simultaneously demonstrate, in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s analysis, “individual ‘stylization’ and mastery of a canon” (Vaidhyanathan 2001, 125).

28Like any other large repository, UbuWeb cannot be embraced by a human mind, only navigated. Even Goldsmith, who “personally uploaded” nearly all the items on Ubu, can never know it all, constantly “discovering and rediscovering things [he] had no knowledge of or had forgotten about” (Goldsmith 2020, 323). Revealingly, UbuWeb started from a series of anthologies such as the eclectic Aspen magazine – which brought “several disciplines under a single curator” (Goldsmith 2020, 19) – and Giorno Poetry Systems (GPS) – which adapted the poetry anthology to the mass media era (Zurbrugg and Giorno 1994). Playlists, like anthologies, are “breadcrumbs”, enticing passers-by on a trodden path (Goldsmith 2020, 28, 292). In his coda to Duchamp is my Lawyer, Goldsmith champions human filtering against search-engines as a means to navigate the information overload:

At a time when algorithms increasingly determine which cultural artifacts we engage with and which we don’t, it’s important to seek out alternatives to these automated, money-driven tastemakers. An algorithm isn’t capable of a perverse sensibility, nor can it replicate the capriciousness of human taste. (Goldsmith 2020, 320)

29The shuffle function (which appeared with CDs) made it possible to “break up well-known sequences of songs, and de-familiariz[e] old records,” but it worked within a bounded set when human wish and whim is centrifugal and drift-prone (Goldsmith 2020, 319). Intent on preserving the serendipities that happen when “drifting through library stacks,” and perhaps reinventing Aby Warburg’s law of the good neighbor in the digital age, Goldsmith advocates the Situationist “dérive” – “an unplanned journey in which people let themselves be ‘drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’” (Goldsmith 2020, 321 and 320). Endorsing rating above ranking for the sake of eclecticism, Goldsmith also trusts care more than the cloud for conservation purposes: “Unpopular culture is preserved by people who love and cherish obscure artifacts” (Goldsmith 2020, 54). As dubious as Goldsmith’s endorsement of humanistic values may sound– coming from a provocateur who famously endorsed uncreative writing and plagiarism (Goldsmith 2011) –, it may well be sincere: “UbuWeb is a human-driven work of sorting, curating, and archiving. In the end, the impulse to collect and gather is the impulse to preserve what we love and want to share” (Goldsmith 2020, 323).

Figure 5 : “UbuWeb Top Tens,” UbuWeb, 2006-2022.

Figure 5 : “UbuWeb Top Tens,” UbuWeb, 2006-2022.

Source: Screenshot from​resources/​top_tens.html.

30From 2006 to 2017, Goldsmith asked 114 people or entities to make their top-ten list of items and provide as many entries into UbuWeb (Fig. 5). They were mostly visual artists, photographers, professors, filmmakers, curators, novelists, musicians, theorists, publishers, composers, rappers, art historians, graphic designers and gallery owners. Reading through these lists harbored on the UbuWeb “Top Tens” page provides a fascinatingly mediated portrait of Ubu. Bringing their own interests and background to the selection, each curator gives a singular perspective on the archive, shedding light on previously unremarked items and creating new connections within a list. Because these are to some extent “celebrity lists,” they also read like Chinese portraits, revealing the curators’ interests along the way.

31The bounded list form, limited to 10 items, encourages formal criteria of selection and rule-breaking while the existence of previous lists encourages curators to explore new themes and principles. Theorist Florian Cramer, for instance, offers four customized lists: “Top 7 of Ubuweb uncreative poetry from low-fi remediation;” “Top 10 of serendipity surprises when digging through UbuWeb;” “Avant-garde canon Top 4;” and “Mixed Feelings Top 8” (Cramer 2014). Journalist Juliet Jacques offers both her personal list and a special “December AIDS Awareness Month Picks” (Jacques 2013). Professor and Pennsound founder Al Filreis presents a selection of fifteen films, seven texts and thirteen sounds from the year 1960, which he was “avidly researching” and writing about at the time (Filreis 2012; 2007-2017). Rob Young, English writer and editor-at-large for The Wire magazine, thematizes his list around “Dreams and Journeys” (Young 2010). Curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Andy Dancer list “Ten Oulipian-inspired UbuWeb Resources,” while writer and musician Sasha Frere-Jones presents a list composed exclusively of women artists (Ulrich and Dancer 2009; Frere-Jones 2014). “After hours of aimless but enjoyable rummaging,” Sina Najafi, editor-in-chief of Cabinet magazine:

[D]ecided to employ the ultimate organizing principle – narcissism. This list is structured around my own life and comprises works I like from the four countries I’ve lived in. The ten items are chronological (Iran, UK, US, Sweden, and back to the US) and proportioned according to the time I spent in each place. I included Tacita Dean, who is exactly my age, not only because I like her work but because she went to a school across the street from mine in Canterbury, England. (Najafi 2009)

32Emblematic in this comment is the self-conscious negotiation between impulse and procedure, taste and rationalization. Memorable commentaries and striking criteria make the lists more engaging, offering insights into the curator’s interests, the list’s coherence, and the items’ relevance, and ultimately confirming a need for editing and content-curation. Unsurprisingly, among the most engaging lists are those provided by Goldsmith himself. In 2007, he had already provided a 13-item list for Dwight Garner’s “Living With Music” New York Times blog, luring the reader into listening to avant-garde and fringe material with the promise of “spicy,” “goofy,” “absolutely insane” and “unlistenable” passages (Garner 2007). His latest “Baedecker” – the appendix to Duchamp is my Lawyer – offers a 101-item list of some of his “favorite things” on UbuWeb, with a two-line description for each. The list is meant as “an invitation to you to explore the vastness of the site and find things that you might want to include on your own list” (Goldsmith 2020, 302).

33Tapping the widely-shared desire to collect, share, and create lists of favorites – a desire powerfully exploited by social media and mechanized into a compulsion to “like” and “share” –, the playlist clearly holds great creative, critical, and pedagogical potential. Assembling and vindicating playlists gives students the opportunity to browse actively and compose critically, offering them a hands-on segueing experience. At a time when content curators tend to supersede critics in several domains, playlists provide an opportunity to think critically and ethically about the meaning and value of what Goldsmith calls “re gestures,” i.e. “gestures – such as reblogging and retweeting – [that] have become cultural rites of cachet in and of themselves;” indeed “[s]orting and filtering – moving information– has become a site of cultural capital. Filtering is taste” (Goldsmith 2011, 299). Conscious of the less respectable impulses at work in the playlist (hoarding, prestige, narcissism), Goldsmith interrogates the responsibility of the anthologizer:

Such acts are often riddled with problematic subjectivities. Perhaps, then, the best way to view an anthology is through the lens of error. Rather than seeing an anthology as totemic, maybe it’s better to see it as a tenuous and unstable attempt to try to make sense of a field. At their best and most honest, anthologies mark the beginnings of future conversations. (Goldsmith 2021, 293)

34In other words, he rejects the authoritative status of anthologies while endowing them with heuristic and dialogic values.

  • 14 For a comprehensive list of these recordings, see Robert Creeley’s page on PennSound.
  • 15 Segue Series in 1986; Kelly Writers House in 2007; and SUNY Buffalo, 1995.

35While it harbors a page of “picks” quite similar to UbuWeb’s Top Ten, PennSound encourages more expansive critical responses to its audio archive, in the form of podcasts and commentaries. The twenty-seventh podcast in the PennSound podcasts series, for instance, features an anthology of “Eight Introductions to Robert Creeley” culled from PennSound’s many recordings of Creeley’s readings over the years,14 thus charting the evolving reception of his poems. In 2011, PennSound hosted two guest commentators, Brian Ang and Eric Baus, whose responses to the archives appeared in installments in Jacket2. Eric Baus supplied ten playlists and commentaries, each devoted to a different question. After exploring “the continuum between language, music, and other types of sound” (“Sonic thresholds”); “intimate address” (“Dear PennSound”); “ambiance and audience” (in “Hearing spaces”); and “the poem as index, bibliography, catalog, and list” (in “Index, bibliography, catalog, list”), Baus built his seventh playlist, entitled “Complete Works,” as a collection of rare recordings of authors reading the entirety of a book or chapbook (Baus 2011). In the case of Susan Howe’s Singularities, Baus pieced the complete recording together from separate live readings.15 While acknowledging the lasting authority of the printed book as well as its capacity to provide a common reference and shared ground for all readers, Baus’s collage also signals the numerous variations on the collection that are being afforded by sound recording technologies and new media in general, and by large open-access archives such as PennSound and UbuWeb in particular. Piecing together a home-made audiobook, a sonic harlequin of sorts, is a singular gesture of re-membering, and a fitting tribute to a poet who thinks of poetry as “Articulation of Sound Forms in Time” – to quote the title of the first poem in Howe’s Singularities (1990).


  • 16 Sharon Cameron’s brave attempt to read Dickinson fascicles “contexturally” comes to mind (Cameron 1 (...)

36How are online repositories of recorded poetry renewing the poetry collection? If we take the primary formal feature of the poetry collection to be the ordering of individual poems into a set, then the increasing availability of recorded – audio or video, native or digitized – poetry reading multiplies the contextures in which we encounter poems. As Bernstein anticipated, provided that it is archived as an audiotext – i.e. a stable recording that can be played back and paused –, and available for download, the poem takes on a renewed “integrity” and is “available to combine with other poems” (Bernstein 2011, 114). Organized in fresh combinations – by the author in the recorded poetry reading, by others in the case of the playlist –, poems take on new shades of meanings cast by their new neighbors. Such combinations renew the conversation among poems and may create different narratives or moods, as per the Petrarchan paradigm identified by Fraistat. Just as remediation makes media perceptible, renewed contextures draw attention to the very structuring of collections. That our attention typically focuses on the unit at the expense of the structure makes it hard to isolate and verbalize the myriad information stored non-discursively in sets by the sheer arrangement of parts.16 But playlisting, enabled and encouraged by the increasing availability of “singles,” affords a response in kind that is at once hands-on, performative, and dialogic. Playlisting materializes, externalizes, and re-socializes our otherwise mental, and often unconscious, engagement with the structural and permutational dimension of poetry collections, making palpable an overlooked dimension of reading as mental activity and cognitive experience. Playlisting’s heuristic and pedagogical potential is fueled by the common pleasure of the “guided tour,” as it invents a new path among existing items in order to share it with others. As a form, the playlist draws attention to sequencing and segueing, thus involving “play” in the sense of a “freedom or room for movement;” as a practice, it encourages a playful, dialogic, and possibly agonistic engagement with other sets and playlisters.

37In the poetry reading format, poets typically act as their own curators, offering an alternative tour of their work. By dramatizing his lifelong quest for a reconciliation of poetry and music in his 1972 readings at Bard College and Temple University, and by foregrounding her role as curator and composer, Louis Zukofsky casts his wife, Celia Zukofsky, as a kind of prototypical playlister. Poems in their own right, Autobiography and “A”-24 are also sophisticated paper playlists in which she set a selection from her husband’s work to music, achieving by the analog means of print and score what large online archives of recorded poetry and properly parsed audiotexts have now generalized: the democratization of the anthologizing gesture, and a new marriage of words and music through shared media and practices.

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Academy of American Poets. “Poem-a-Day Guest Editors in 2021.”,

Ahearn, Barry, ed. Pound/Zukofsky. Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky. New York: New Directions, 1987.

Ang, Brian. “‘PennSound & Politics’ on Jacket2, Ten Commentaries, October-December 2011.” PennSound, 2012,

Baus, Eric. “Notes on PennSound.” Jacket2, 2011,

Bernstein, Charles, editor. Close Listening. Poetry and the Performed Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Bernstein, Charles. “Making Audio Visible: Poetry’s Coming Digital presence” [2006]. In Attack of the Difficult Poems. Essays and Inventions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 107-119.

Bernstein, Charles. “PennSound Manifesto.” PennSound, 2003,

Bernstein, Charles. “Reznikoff‘s Nearness.” My Way: Speeches and Poems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 197-228.

Cameron, Sharon. Choosing Not Choosing. Dickinson’s Fascicles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Camlot, Jason. “Sound Pedagogy – Teaching the Audible Dimensions of Poetry: A Conversation (plus clips and sample syllabus) with Chris Mustazza.” The SPOKENWEBLOG, 25 September 2020,

Cramer, Florian. “Florian Cramer UbuWeb Top Ten variations.” UbuWeb, September 2014,

Creeley, Robert. PennSound, 2015, Audio recordings.

Davidson, Michael. “‘By ear, he sd’: Audio-Tapes and Contemporary Criticism.” Credences, vol. 1, no. 1, 1981, pp. 105-120,

“Eight Introductions to Robert Creeley.” PennSound podcasts, podcast 27, 13 min. 47,

Evans, Steve. “The Poetics of Phonotextuality. Timbre, Text, and Technology in Recorded Poetry.” Archives sonores de poésie Conference, 26 November 2016, Sorbonne Université, Paris. Conference Presentation.

Filreis, Al. “UbuWeb Top Thirty-Five, ‘1960,’ Selected by Al Filreis.” UbuWeb, March 2012,

Filreis, Al. “Why 1960?” 1960, 2007-2017,

Fraistat, Neil. “Introduction.” In Poems in Their Place. Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections [1987]. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011, pp. 3-17. (for an unpaginated online preview).

Frere-Jones, Sacha. “UbuWeb Top Ten Selected by Sacha Frere-Jones.” UbuWeb, January 2014,

Garner, Dwight. “Living With Music: A Playlist by Kenneth Goldsmith.” ArtsBeat: New York Times Blog, 14 November 2007,

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Goldsmith, Kenneth. Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in The Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Howe, Susan. Singularities. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1990.

Jacques, Juliet. “UbuWeb Top Ten Selected by Juliet Jacques.” UbuWeb, December 2013,

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Palmer, Michael, Ronald Johnson, and David Levi Strauss. “‘Syntax as Music,’ Presentation on Zukofsky at SPD, April 22, 1988.” PennSound, 1 hr. 47 min.33,

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Zukofsky, Louis. “A”-24. Holograph in spiral notebook, arranged by pica to indicate tempo and dynamics for voices. Louis Zukofsky Collection. Box 37, folder 14. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

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1 Unsurprisingly, some of the earliest scholars to address the poetry reading and audio archives were poets involved in creating such repositories (Bernstein 1998; Davidson 1981).

2 See for instance: UbuWeb, PennSound, “The Listening Booth” – featuring selections from the Harvard Woodberry Poetry Room –, and “SGW Reading Series” at SpokenWeb.

3 “By ‘cubo-seriality’ I mean to identify the more discrete development that characterizes Reznikoff’s work from that point in 1918 on – the permutation of briefly etched, identifiable details that don’t quite stand on their own” (Bernstein 1999, 21).

4 The Zukofsky resources were edited by poet, scholar and archivist Danny Snelson, together with a stimulating “Critical Guide to the Online Readings of/on Louis Zukofsky” (Snelson 2008).

5 It occurs notably in the 1946 essay “Poetry / For my Son When He Can Read:” “[P]oetry which is ‘nothing else but the completed action of writing words to be set to music’ – music being the one art that more than the others aims in its reach to speak to all men. Beside this definition of poetry, all other definitions of poetry would appear niggardly” (Zukofsky 2001, 9).

6 Except for a 1938 reading broadcast on WQXR, it is the earliest reading documented in the Zukofsky archives.

7 The belief in the heuristic value of a chronology of works is reiterated in the “year by year” section that Celia Zukofsky included in A Bibliography of Louis Zukofsky (C. Zukofsky 1969).

8 It was Pound who had entreated modern poets to embark on projects of epic scope and compete with the novel.

9 In “A Statement for Poetry” (1950), Zukofsky distinguished four possible renditions of poetry: “sound that is 1. Spoken […] 2. Declaimed […] 3. Intoned or Chanted […] 4. Sung (to a melody, i.e. a musical phrase or idea” (Zukofsky 2001, 22). He does not seem to have tried the third and fourth possibilities himself.

10 As a gesture towards a greater acknowledgement of Celia Zukofsky’s presence in Louis Zukofsky’s work, Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas compiled a most useful chronological list of her more public projects and contributions (Twitchell-Wass, “Celia Thaew Zukofsky (1913-1980)”). “Songs of Degrees,” Zukofsky’s 1953 Valentine poem for his wife, acknowledges the magnitude of her “care” (Zukofsky 2011b, 145).

11 The “audiovisual litany” is the name Jonathan Sterne gives to “differences between hearing and seeing […] often considered as biological, psychological, and physical facts, the implication being that they are a necessary starting point for the cultural analysis of sound” (Sterne 2003, 15). Sterne shows that the “supposed transhistorical phenomenological characteristics of hearing” and seeing are rooted in “religious prejudices […] embedded at the very center of Western intellectual history” (Sterne 2003, 14).

12 For insight into the curatorial process of guest editors, see the short videos of the “Poem-a-Day guest editors in 2021” web page (Academy of American Poets, Since 2018, the Academy of American poets has invited guest editors to curate a month of “Poem-a-Day,” a daily poetry series sharing previously unpublished poems by today’s poets on

13 Metaphors and other rhetorical tropes based on parallelism function similarly in writing.

14 For a comprehensive list of these recordings, see Robert Creeley’s page on PennSound.

15 Segue Series in 1986; Kelly Writers House in 2007; and SUNY Buffalo, 1995.

16 Sharon Cameron’s brave attempt to read Dickinson fascicles “contexturally” comes to mind (Cameron 1993).

17 All web references last accessed 1 September 2022.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: “Reading at Bard College, November 2, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.
Crédits Source: Screenshot from PennSound resource,​pennsound/​x/​Zukofsky.php © PennSound, Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, The University of Pennsylvania.
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Titre Figure 2 : “Reading at Temple University, October 16, 1972,” segmented and complete, PennSound, 2008.
Crédits Source: Screenshot from PennSound resource,​pennsound/​x/​Zukofsky.php. © PennSound, Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, The University of Pennsylvania.
Fichier image/png, 163k
Titre Figure 3: Celia Zukofsky’s “L.Z. Masque” (Louis Zukofsky,“A” [1978], 2011, p. 566).
Crédits © New Directions. All Louis and Celia Zulofsky material copyright © Musical Observations, Inc. Used by permission.
Fichier image/png, 354k
Titre Figure 4: Cassandra Gillig, Put Me in Charge of Poetry Magazine, Bandcamp, 2013.
Crédits Source: Screenshot from
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Titre Figure 5 : “UbuWeb Top Tens,” UbuWeb, 2006-2022.
Crédits Source: Screenshot from​resources/​top_tens.html.
Fichier image/jpeg, 306k
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Référence électronique

Abigail Lang, « From Book to Playlist: How Open-Access Audio Archives are Renewing the Poetry Collection »Sillages critiques [En ligne], 33 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 13 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Abigail Lang

Université Paris Cité (LARCA, UMR 8225)

Abigail Lang (abilang[at] is Associate Professor of North American literature and translation at Université Paris Cité and a member of LARCA. She specializes in modernist and contemporary poetry and poetics, focusing on the productive transfers between languages, cultures, and media. She is the author of La Conversation transatlantique. Les échanges franco-américains en poésie depuis 1968 (2021) and of several edited collections including Archives sonores de la poésie (2019) and Modernist Legacies. Trends and Faultlines in British Poetry Today (2015). With Vincent Broqua and Olivier Brossard, she is a co-organizer of the Poets & Critics program and the Double Change bilingual poetry series. With Michel Murat and Céline Pardo, she runs the Archives sonores de poésie project, which promotes scholarly attention to poetry in performance by assembling an online archive of poetry recordings in French. A translator of anglophone poetry into French, she is also the author of two books with Thalia Field, A Prank of George (2010) and Leave to Remain (2020).

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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