Featured resources

From "Down To Write You This Poem Sat" at the Oakville Gallery

  1. Charles Bernstein, "Phone Poem" (2011) (1:30): MP3
  2. Caroline Bergvall, "Love song: 'The Not Tale (funeral)' from Shorter Caucer Tales (2006): MP3
  3. Christian Bôk, excerpt from Eunoia, from Chapter "I" for Dick Higgins (2009) (1:38):  MP3
  4. Tonya Foster, Nocturne II (0:40) (2010) MP3
  5. Ted Greenwald, "The Pears are the Pears" (2005) (0:29): MP3
  6. Susan Howe, Thorow, III (3:13) (1998):  MP3
  7. Tan Lin, "¼ : 1 foot" (2005) (1:16): MP3
  8. Steve McCaffery, "Cappuccino" (1995) (2:35): MP3
  9. Tracie Morris, From "Slave Sho to Video aka Black but Beautiful" (2002) (3:40): MP3
  10. Julie Patton, "Scribbling thru the Times" (2016) (5:12): MP3
  11. Tom Raworth, "Errory" (c. 1975) (2:08): MP3
  12. Jerome Rothenberg, from "The First Horse Song of Frank Mitchell: 4-Voice Version" (c. 1975) (3:30): MP3
  13. Cecilia Vicuna, "When This Language Disappeared" (2009) (1:30): MP3
  1. Guillaume Apollinaire, "Le Pont Mirabeau" (1913) (1:14): MP3
  2. Amiri Baraka, "Black Dada Nihilismus" (1964) (4:02):  MP3
  3. Louise Bennett, "Colonization in Reverse" (1983) (1:09): MP3
  4. Sterling Brown, "Old Lem " (c. 1950s) (2:06):  MP3
  5. John Clare, "Vowelless Letter" (1849) performed by Charles Bernstein (2:54): MP3
  6. Velimir Khlebnikov, "Incantation by Laughter" (1910), tr. and performed by Bernstein (:28)  MP3
  7. Harry Partch, from Barstow (part 1), performed by Bernstein (1968) (1:11): MP3
  8. Leslie Scalapino, "Can’t’ is ‘Night’" (2007) (3:19): MP3
  9. Kurt Schwitters, "Ur Sonata: Largo" performed by Ernst Scwhitter (1922-1932) ( (3:12): MP3
  10. Gertrude Stein, If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso (1934-35) (3:42): MP3
  11. William Carlos Willliams, "The Defective Record" (1942) (0:28): MP3
  12. Hannah Weiner, from Clairvoyant Journal, performed by Weiner, Sharon Mattlin & Rochelle Kraut (2001) (6:12): MP3

Selected by Charles Bernstein (read more about his choices here)

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Bernstein and Yarmolinsky's 'Blind Witness: Three American Operas'

Posted 12/6/2023

Today we're highlighting Charles Bernstein and Ben Yarmolinsky's multimedia operatic collaborations, collected in the 2008 volume Blind Witness: Three American Operas (Factory School). 

In conjunction with the publication of Blind Witness, PennSound launched a new author page for Yarmolinsky, hosting complete recordings of all three operas, as well as videos from the Blind Witness book launch at Medicine Show, in the spring of 2008.

Originally written and performed over three decades ago, this trio of vernacular operas — Blind Witness News (1990), The Subject (1991) and The Lenny Paschen Show (1992) — are perhaps even more pointed critiques of American society in the present: we still a nation obsessed with the news, violence, celebrity, and our own inner workings. However, in these works, we discover a memento of simpler times, before our slipping headlong down a postmodern precipice, and through that trace we are capable of marking tremendous differences. The nightly newscast so wonderfully parodied in Blind Witness News (with its anonymized news team of Jill Johns, Jack James, Jane Jones and John Jacks) seems quaint in comparison to myriad channels of 24-hour news, yet the same hollow tropes remain. Likewise, Jenny Midnight's psychoanalysis has a human (if sometimes sinister) touch in the age of a faceless psycho-pharmaceutical industry. And, to paraphrase Jean Baudrillard, the Morton Downey Jr-esque Lenny Paschen exists to distract us from the fact that most contemporary television is equally outrageous, equally offensive, equally artificed.

Social commentary notwithstanding, the operas also provide immeasurable pleasures, starting with the uncanny juxtaposition between Yarmolinsky's lush classical melodies and accompaniments, and Bernstein's oft-hilarious libretti. Writing about his contributions in the preface to Blind Witness, Yarmolinsky observes that "These three operas (if they are operas) from the early 1990s represent my ideas about how contemporary American English ought to be sung. There is a consistent attempt in the text-setting to follow the rhythms and cadences of our language as it is spoken." He continues, "Although I collaborated on the scenarios, suggested some verse forms, occasionally asked for slight changes to the original text, and sometimes asked for a second verse or a refrain, ultimately, the music was evoked by the words."

As for what Bernstein brings to the table, we have the poet's continued fascination with "authentic" speech (as delivered through television, advertisements, etc.) and common mythologies, seen in contemporaneous collections such as 1994's Dark City. In passages such as Lenny's abrasive monologue, Jack and Jane's opening fugue of news-speak, or John Jack's rendering of abstract sports arcana, we witness Bernstein's great joy in manipulating the conventions of everyday language and, can't help but enjoy it. At the same time, amidst this savage lampooning of a candy-colored culture, we also find sympathetic and world-weary characters — particularly Jenny Midnight — and this touch of empathy makes our experience that much richer.

PennSound's Ben Yarmolinsky author page also includes the composer's 1995 appearance on LINEbreak, where he discusses his opera Anita, inspired by the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings. Click here for a truly unique listening experience.

Paul Dutton: 'Oralizations' (2005)

Posted 12/4/2023

Today we're highlighting a recent addition to the PennSound author page of Canadian author and sound artist Paul DuttonOralizations, a 2005 CD release on Montréal-based label Ambiances Magnétiques. Running nearly seventy minutes, this album presents"works spanning Dutton's more than thirty years of bursting the bonds of convention, testing the extremes of voice and verbalization, and blurring the borders between literature and music," neatly summarized as "richly textured multiphonic vocal virtuosity, laced with rasps, rumbles, honks, howls, and wheezes, featured in freely improvised and formally structured solos, with flights of verbal invention added into the mix."

Reviewing the album in Vital, Dolf Mulder emphasizes the hybrid nature of the work: "The pieces on his new CD range from english spoken poems to pieces mixed of speech and sound, to pure soundpoetry. Verbal, non-verbal or anything in between, Dutton in all pieces is interested in the sound qualities of his voice performance." He continues, "Dutton himself defines the spectrum he covers as ranging from speech to music. So in his vision the border between literature and music is a gradual one," before concluding that Oralizations is "music that has to be seen to be believed!"

PennSound's Paul Dutton author page, houses solo recordings from 1979–2001, as well as links to our Four Horsemen page and other collaborations, and a series of useful links to external resources. First created in 2005, our Dutton page was one of our earliest author pages, but its materials continue to surprise us. Click here to start exploring Oralizations.

Mad Mammoth Monster Poetry Readings: Ginsberg, Lamantia, McClure, Meltzer, Welch, Wieners, Whalen

Posted 12/1/2023

Today we revisit a collection of recordings from the Mad Mammoth Monster Poetry Readings, which were convened by Auerhann Press in San Francisco on August 29, 1963. They include brief but very exciting sets by a total of seven noteworthy Bay Area poets, many of whom had been published by the press. Because we have no context clues to establish the reading order we're presenting these tracks in alphabetical order. Clicking on each poet's name will take you directly to their poem(s).

First up we have Allen Ginsberg, who read "Patna-Benares Express" and "May 22 [1962] Calcutta," followed by Philip Lamantia, who read "Rest in Peace, Al Capone" and "All Hail Pope John XXIII." Michael McClure read from Dark Brown and Ghost Tantras, while David Meltzer read several short pieces: "Baby's Hands," "Rain Poems," "Nerve Root Poem," "Two Poems to My Wife," and "Poem for Lew Welch." For his own set, Welch  read from Hermit Poems, while John Wieners read "A Poem for Cocksuckers" and "A Poem for the Old Man." Finally, we have Philip Whalen bringing our new recordings to a close with an excerpt from "The Art of Literature."

It's a fascinating snapshot of the Bay Area's poetry scene at that time as the late Beat Generation heyday slowly started to give way to the burgeoning Summer of Love ethos. To listen to any of the individual poets listed above, just click their names to be taken to their PennSound author pages.

Want to read more? Visit the PennSound Daily archive.