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The Library of Congress Is Uploading 75 Years of Poetry and Literature Recordings

Main reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress)
Main reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress)

Yesterday selections from the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress became available to stream online for the first time — the launch of a project digitizing some of their 2,000 recordings from the past 75 years of literature. “I think that reading poetry and prose on the page is important, but there’s nothing that can replace listening to literature read aloud, especially when it is read by the creator of the work,” Catalina Gomez, project manager for the process of putting the archive online, told Hyperallergic.

Robert Frost in 1941 (photograph by Fred Palumbo, via Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection)
Robert Frost in 1941 (photo by Fred Palumbo, via Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection) (click to enlarge)

Most of this material comes from literary events at the Library of Congress or was captured in its Jefferson Building recording studio. Since 1943, the library has hosted an annual Consultant in Poetry (since renamed the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry) — the first was Allen Tate, the current is Charles Wright — and these events and performances are coordinated under their direction. While the audio archive represents an incredible resource of contemporary American literature, most of it is found on magnetic tape reels that can only be listened to at the library. For yesterday’s launch, in honor of National Poetry Month, 50 recordings were made accessible online, with five added on a monthly basis going forward.

The material includes readings by former US Poet Laureates and Consultants Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as a 1971 lecture by Kurt Vonnegut, a 1984 talk by Ray Bradbury, a 1959 interview with Robert Frost, and readings by Audre Lorde and Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz. “I love when, in some of these sessions, the poet or writer pauses or makes himself or herself start a poem or an excerpt all over again,” Gomez said. “Those moments show how passionate authors and poets can be about the ways their work sounds.”

The Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature is available online at the Library of Congress.

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