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This is poetry in the American produced and recorded by radio station KPFA in Berkeley California. Under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters poetry in the American is a series of 20 half hour broadcasts designed to increase your enjoyment of poetry. This is the first program in the series and as an introduction and outline and preview of the programs to follow it has been prepared by Anthony Ostrov who is director of the series. Here is Mr. Ostrov. Perhaps there is nothing so difficult to talk about as the use or value to us of poetry. It is something one comes to appreciate and understand only through the actual experience of poetry. It cannot be explained it can't be translated into other terms compared to other values or experience. It can only be asserted
but assertions about the value of poetry can be made. It is sometimes said that poetry is useful as social criticism. There can be no doubt that poetry has an important social value for the real poet in his poetry is a man who speaks his mind and has a mind to speak. Though society does not always have direct use for such a man History always has and poetry may be seen as part of history. In being one vital chronicle of the ideas and attitudes of the societies in which it has been produced. But it is such a chronicle only in curious ways for the value that makes poetry especially important to us like the value which makes human love most deeply important is not its worth as a reference or discipline or organizing force in the affairs of society.
But it's intensely personal worth it is the value of experience itself. What is important is not that poetry provides reflections of the ideas or ideals or conditions of moments of history but that it permits us to participate in them. To know what it was like to think them feel them believe them them. It permits us so to speak more or less direct experience of the mind of history. Of course poetry is a great deal more than this. We find there is an essential seriousness about life which cannot be dismissed. What do we know or think we know. What do we not know. What are the ways in which we know or do not know. The individual who pursues these problems and at one time or another all men do. Poetry provides most importantly not
answers. Though sometimes for some men it gives those two. But it provides what perhaps must simply be called companionship clearer definitions of problems than we can manage by ourselves and the reassurance that others have worked on them too. It is the community of men. In fact the community of all beings on which poetry insists and in the ultimate loneliness of the individual this sense of the ultimate community of men in the mutual experience of life is no small consolation. But poetry is more than this. It is an invigoration of our perceptions it is a charge to the imagination. It is a demand and an authority for life and in its powers for excitement as well as in its power for consolation. It is an indispensable kind of thing for a full human being. And yet we live in a time when poetry is more generally ignored in proportion to
the level of literacy of our world than ever before in modern history. Why is American poetry known to so few Americans. Many reasons may be offered. One is speed in the Russian press of all our affairs we don't have time for the kind of reflection any art requires. Another reason advanced is what seems a national penchant for escapism for the easiest kinds of entertainment. It does appear we've become a nation of spectators in considerable measure. And poetry is not a spectator sport. And of course still other reasons are the silly myths that have grown up around the art of poetry which would have us think of it as something over refined precious feminine. Out of this world. But all of these reasons if they are reasons for the current lack of audience for poetry account only for people not engaging themselves with it in the first place. Most people who have once really encountered poetry find it simple and natural to continue their
encounters through lifetimes and most people who do not read poetry are nonreaders simply because they never have read it or never have had occasion to pay its serious attention for whatever reason. At least that is the belief behind this series of broadcasts. So the purpose of these broadcasts will be mainly to read poems to try to provide for people who are not professionals of letters and encounter with American poetry that may be sufficient to show that it's worthwhile. It is accessible to everyone and above all that it is exciting and pleasurable and of course we hope that Constant Readers will also enjoy the program simply for the poems they contain. So much for point or purpose. Now for some of the kinds of things down on the series as I suggested a moment ago a great deal of reading of poems goes on. Reading poetry aloud and doing it well is no easy thing.
Some of the readings we've done are not altogether successful as might be expected with about one hundred fifty poems read over the whole series. But no program is without some very good reading. What is a good reading worth. Well I should like to play you tape recordings of a few poems read on the programs which follow this one and you may judge for yourself. Here is one taken from the program on American love poetry. It is a poem by Emily Dickinson known by its first line. I cannot live with you. The reading is by Miriam Ostroff. Here it is. I cannot live with you. It would be life. And life is over there behind the shelf the sexton keeps the key to putting up our life. His porcelain. Like a cup discarded of the housewife quaint or broken
a new or saves pleases old ones crack. I could not die with you for one must wait to shut the other's gaze down. You could not and I could I stand by and see you freeze without my right of frost death's privilege. Nor could I rise with you because your face would put out Jesus that new grace grow plain and foreign on my home sick guy. Except that you that he shone closer by. They judge us before you served heaven you know. Or so to. I could not because you saturated site and I had no more eyes for SAW did excellence as paradise and where you lost I would be there my name rang loudest on the
heavenly fame and where you saved and I condemned to be where you were not that self were held to me. So we must keep apart. You there. I hear with just the door ajar that oceans and prayer and that pale sustenance despair. No poem of course is written to be read or heard only once. Like a symphony or a painting or any work of art it must be viewed or listened to many times before its full wealth begins to come clear. But usually the fact of that wealth that a depth of statement and feeling is there for experience is apparent on first encounter. And that's why we're reading so
much work on this series. Different people will respond to different kinds of things. Our hope indeed almost Our conviction is that in the course of this series you will hear many poems you will want to hear again in that finally necessary way in which all poetry must at last be heard where the sound comes from a book in one's hand directly to one's own mind. Let me play another recording of the way the sound will come on these programs. Here's a very short poem from the program. An American war poetry. It is by Randall Jarell who is a contemporary and it's from World War 2. The poem is called The Death of the ball turret gunner. There isn't time to play for you. The discussion of this which takes place on the war poetry program so I perhaps should mention that a ball turret in case you didn't know it was a little bubble of glass slung on the bellies of bombers and in which a very small man could fit him self to operate the turret machine guns in case of attack by enemy fighters. That small man's occupation was perhaps as hazardous as anybody's in
the war. Here's a poem by Mr. Jerome as read by Robert Horan. The death of the ball turret gunner from my mother's SLI I fell into the state and I hunched in its belly till my wet fur from six miles from Earth loosed from its dream of life. I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighter when I died they washed me out of the turret. Of course in those four lines a great deal happens. Reflections of guilt and innocence and the monstrosity of war no doubt can only begin to appear on hearing it just once and with no comment at all in the program on war poetry in which this poem is read. There is considerable discussion of it
and also of several others by such poets as Robinson Jeffers Robert Frost Winfield Townley Scott Carl Shapiro and a few more. About a third of our programs are listed as conversations and they consist of discussions by two or three people of poems more or less related to certain themes or subjects war or death love social protest the American vision for example one on light verse. Originally our notion was simply to read and talk at random about several poems having only a somewhat arbitrary relation to each other hoping that the relation might give the poem some mutual illumination but mainly thinking of our subject as a device to permit choosing and reading and talking about some good poetry. But interesting things developed in some of the conversations. For example in the programme on love poetry something quite fascinating about the Puritan influence on what might be called The Private Life of our nation suddenly became apparent and irresistible. The title of
that Dickinson poem you heard a minute or two ago may suggest what came about. The title was I cannot live with you and titles of other poems on that program may complete the suggestion. Some of them were the stranger annihilation in morality meeting and passing the equal of breasts. You might guess at some of the developments in the program on American love poetry the war poems demonstrated even in one short broadcast early American attitudes toward the whole business of war. And these are extremely interesting. And so with a number of the conversations in the series but at the same time what became most dramatically evident over these several programs was the complete spending of human life in its vast variety and the extra national character of our American poetry as of all art. It takes I suppose the whole series to suggest that adequately. But here are two more poems
from the series to preview a little of that variety. The pointer By E. E. Cummings and the readings are from an entire program on his work given by Robert balut. We'll begin here with a sentence or two of Mr. Bellew introduction to these two poems. Our sense of Cumming's face often comes to us through his sympathetic portrayal of certain kinds of people. The person sketched in the next poem is simply an empty headed pretty girl. But because coming values if one has to make a choice. Openness and giving more than propriety or brain is able to view her with a gentle and tender irony. Goodbye Bette. Don't remember me pencil your eyes dayer and have a good time with the tall tight boys that to Baris keep your teeth snowy.
Stick to beer and lime web dock where you're meeting breasts are around have roses darling it's all I ask of you. About that when light fails and this sweet profound Paris Mo's with lovers too and too bound for themselves and passionately dust brings soft lay down the perfume of the world and just as smaller stars begin to house haven't you. You exactly pale and Cairo with mystic lips take twilight where I know proving to death that love is Sal and Sal. Cummings has a broad understanding of the half done half none suffering of those who obscure or lay face the mystery of existence.
It really must be nice never to have no imagination and never never to wonder about guys you used to know them slim hot Queens with damn next to nothing on tango on. I love how it tries to hold down the 50 bucks for a job with one for you and rock a cradle with the other. It must be nice never to have no doubts about why you put the ring on and watching your face grow old and tired to which you're married now and get red to washing things and dishes. And then never never really wonder. I mean about the smell
of babies and how you know the damn rents going to everything. Never never never to stand it no window because I can't sleep. Smoking sawdust cigarette in the middle of the night. All of these readings I've played have been of serious bottoms and poetry is all that serious but it may at the same time be playful. It may dance may sing. It's a great vehicle for wit of all sorts and of course it deals with pleasure as well as pain. It may be delightfully epigrammatic as in economics little plug a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man. Or in Robert Frost's verse the old dog barks backward
without getting up. I can remember when he was a pup. There are many such amusing terse verses in the series and there are many poems that are simply poems of rejoicing. Here for example is a reading from a conversation about poetry that seems especially good at seeing the things of this world. This is rather a long poem by Marianne Moore the steeplejack by Marianne Moore. Juror would have seen a reason for living in a town like this with eight stranded whales to look at with the sweet sea air coming in to your house on a fine day from water edged with waves as formal as the scales on a fish one by one in choose in three days. The seagulls keep flying back and forth
over the town clock or sailing around the lighthouse without moving the wings rising steadily with a slight quiver of the body or flock mewing where a sea the purple of the Peacocks neck is paled to greenish Azure as juror change the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and Guinea Gray. You can see a 25 pound lobster and fish nets arranged to dry. The oil in 5 ft and drum of the storm bends the salt marsh grass disturb stars in the sky and the star on the steeple. It is a privilege to see so much confusion disguised by what might seem austerity. The seaside flowers and trees are favored by the fog so that you have the tropics at first hand. The Trumpet Vine foxglove giant Snapdragon a south
pole glasses that has spots and stripes. Morning Glories gourds or moon binds trained on fishing twine at the back door. There are no Benyon Zz frangipani nor jackfruit trees nor an exotic serpent. Life ring lizard and snake skin for the foot or crocodile. But here they have cats not Cobras to keep down the rats. The diffident little new with white pin dots on black horizontal spaced out bends lives here yet there is nothing that ambition can buy or take away. A college student named Ambrose sits on the hillside with his not native books and hacked and sees boats at sea. Progress white and rigid as if in a groove. Liking an elegance of which the sauce is not bravado he knows by heart. The antique sugar bowl shaped summer
house of interlacing slats and the pitch of the church spire. Not true. From which a man in Scotland lets down a rope as a spider spins a thread. He might be part of a novel but on the sidewalk a sign says C.J. Poole steeplejack in black and white and one in red and white says Danger. The church portico has four fluted columns each a single piece of stone made modest or by a whitewash. This would be a fifth haven for waifs children animals prisoners and presidents who have repaid sin driven senators by not thinking about them. There are a schoolhouse a post office in a star fish houses and houses a three masted schooner on the stocks.
The hero the student the steeplejack each in his way is at home. It could not be dangerous to be living in a town like this. Of simple people who have a steeplejack placing dangerous signs by the church while he is killing the solid pointed star which on a steeple stands for hope. There isn't time here to preview any of the discussion of poems or commentary on them which I regret because there are some fine and some amusing moments but I would like to say a little about the way the series is organized and something about the participants. Over a third of the programs consist of discussions and readings poems carried on by two or three people. In these conversation
broadcast poems are sometimes discussed somewhat extensively though never in really great detail since even one poem to be discussed very thoroughly would require several half hour broadcasts. But there are considerable discussions of poems and other sex programmes or lecture recycles given by one person and consisting of discussions of a single poet and readings of some of his or her poems. Most of these are in the nature of sketches or profiles of the poets or their subjects Emily Dickinson Robert Frost Cummings Hart Crane TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens one of them is a sort of discovery program on a 19th century American poet who is almost totally unknown. Frederick Goddard Tuckerman the last five programs in the series are anthologies of readings where you get a lot of reading of poetry and very very brief comments on the poems read. None of the people involved in the series is a professional in radio broadcasting none had any experience at all in programmed broadcasting of
poetry. But all of them are people qualified by personal devotion to the world of letters. Seven of the participants teach Robert Maloof Richard during John Edwards. Don Geiger Robert Iran George marquis and I are all members of the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. Robert bluefish recently published a volume of his poems in England and is known in this country in England both for his poetry and his criticism. Don Geiger has also had a volume of poems published and has published a book of essays as well as a great deal of literary criticism. Robert Uren won the Yale younger poets Prize with his first volume of beginning and has been awarded the National Academy of Arts and Letters poetry award among other honors. Mr. Dering and Mr. Marquis are both young teachers of poetry in the oral interpretation of literature. Mr. Marquis In addition has had considerable professional experience in the theatre. John Edwards has published a book on Ezra Pound is presently working on a biography of that poet and he too has had his reviews and literary criticism in various national journals.
So these gentlemen are qualified by both interest and experience to talk about poetry. Other participants in the series might be called amateurs of letters in the best sense. They represent as it were the audience to whom the poet directs him self. People who read and care for poetry. Miss Eleanor McKinney is one of these. She is also a program director for station KPFA in Berkeley and has for sometime been an important force in California in encouraging the broadcast of poetry. Miriam Ostroff is another of the good amateurs. Her main experience has been in the theater but she's also appeared widely of late on the lecture platform reading and talking about poetry. Still another is Miss Winifred men who was a member of the actor's workshop in San Francisco. These are the people who have been involved in making poetry in the American. These and to others who must be mentioned Mr. Charles Levy who is announcer for the series and Mr. Robert Cronus who's been the engineer and whose talents have had a great deal to do with whatever success these programs may enjoy.
Of course none of the program succeeds in doing all we have wished. A few of the broadcasts do it time sink into the other room pedantry is we'd of like to avoid some of them suffered badly by being cut to meet the time limit set for each program. But I think all 19 of the programs to come have something of value to recommend them in spite of occasional lapses and in all of them there are the poems. Wherever a discussion bogs down or goes slightly astray our commentary becomes stilted or clumsy. There's always a poem to redeem the loss. We hope you'll find the series enjoyable. We hope it will give you a sense of the value of poetry you've not had before. Above all we hope you will listen to find out. I have taken time here to acknowledge all those who have worked so long and hard on this series because there is no time on any of the programs following this one. To do
that and I've had to describe the series a bit because it's important that the aim of these programs be understood but they not be thought of as academic in design as attempting to give a systematic history or professional critique of American poetry. The least we hope is that they will serve as a genuine invitation into that world of the ordinary become marvelous and the marvelous clear which is the world of poetry. Robert Frost has a short poem with which he prefaces his books and collections it is called the pastor spring and it is an invitation which has something to do with the way poetry works and it may serve as a suggestion of our smallest and at the same time most important hope for these programs. This is how Robert Frost invites. I'm going out to clean the pasture spring. I'll only stop to rake the leaves away and
wait to watch the water clear. I may I shan't be gone long. You come too. I'm going out to fetch little calf thats standing by the mother. It's so young it totters when she licks it with her tongue. I shan't be gone long. You come too. We hope that you will. Poetry in the American was produced and recorded by station KPFA in Berkeley under a grant from the educational television and radio center and is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the ne B Radio Network.
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Poetry and the American
Introductory program
Producing Organization
pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Introductory program by Anthony Ostroff, poet and teacher, and director of the series.
Series Description
Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Performer: Ostroff, Miriam Virginia
Performer: Horan, Robert, 1922-
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Ostroff, Anthony, 1923-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-12-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:02
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Chicago: “Poetry and the American; Introductory program,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
MLA: “Poetry and the American; Introductory program.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 28, 2024. <>.
APA: Poetry and the American; Introductory program. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from