Sound and Light: A Quick Tour of Recorded Poetry Archives


I’ve always found the idea of the archive startling. This is to distinguish the archive from the library in a crucial way—the archive being a preservation of ephemera: letters, ledgers, and other bureaucratic documents; marginalia, fragments, and chit-chat. This is in contrast to the library’s ordered rows of lovingly bound volumes, objects materially and commercially deemed memorable, whose memory is automated by the machinery that distributed it in the first place. The archive is memory compelled, memory deliberated, held onto, preserved like a kind of wildlife—memory forced into being.

There is a politics to this, but there is also an aesthetics—the after-effect of the force of the archive is a kind of ghosting: it hints too uncannily at history reified, at history returned to the present. The voice is physically indexed, it leaves a residue in a way it simply can’t in the ordination of the library. Nowhere can one feel this than in the archives of poetry read aloud, that most ephemeral event. In this short post, I wanted to share some of the marvelous archives of poetry readings that are available. Perhaps many of these places will be familiar to you, but here they are gathered in one place, in a brief recognition of the important work put toward the preservation of the reading. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.