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Poets Pressing Record(s)

Harmony Holiday 

Privacy is dead and the word itself sounds a lot like poetry if you don’t listen for the overthrown delta the v makes between ripples and vowels, between voyeurs and those who look away. Poetry is obsessed with our most intimate resurrections and dances on the confused remains of our privacy. I say these things because they sound and feel alive with my own private and even obscure to me truth, when I’m not thinking about you or even what the words do literally mean, and I just need them, to accuse one another of not doing enough and battle like semi-minstreled tapdancers trading codes like fads: fast and one-at-a-time mining meaning for all of its variations even when they have to stare one another down awkwardly with their arms crossed while their eyes flood and trust something so personal it is automatically public like birth mimics the imagination.

But can you hear me thinking, because all great poets and improvisers will have you thinking like, or as, them, will make you feel like you are listening to them think, gathered in the benevolent folds of their rhythm and hypnotized before the reason even enters your consciousness like a fraternal echo, you will have been wooed into their thought process and resistance never enters your mind and the work is a success if you are able to adapt without a fuss and love it like a nameless identity that’s always been within you, activated by love. Like when Frank O’Hara takes you with him on his banal/sublime lunch break or for a drink and after the first glass of vodka you can accept just about anything, even your own mysteriousness and you don’t want it to end and you can hear the city loving him for the way he turns language into utter experience, the way he puts an end to vicariousness, invents a new mode of transport and teleport, a new form of intimacy that transcends spacetime, a meditation in and of.

Now that fifty years have spun themselves around O’Hara’s rivet and like a bland pavane, beyond determinism, those years have teased us out of lust for the familiar voice he lends our hearts, and though it’s still just as relevant, his work, his Personism, the human mind no longer readily thinks in such wholesome shapes, nor shivers with such dogged commitment to letting the nerves do as they will and must; we have a harder time being attentive to the associative thinking of poets because a very shallow brand of associative thinking has become our common pathology and our bonds form and reform around our ability to think like tabloid news so that the duende that poems like his could arouse in us is often muffled by our will to remain casual in the face of any and all contrasting aesthetics. The Internet, Facebook, Twitter, these panopticons and the ghettos that form within them have altered the way we hear poems and any language at all in our mind’s ear, in our heart’s mind we’re distracted by a kind of flippant relationship with inspiration and sensory information.

Nevertheless, reading O’Hara and those on his level is like having your milk and your Mary Jane delivered together and I don’t even drink cow’s milk but I believe in the pristine of the 50s and all those glass jars made our inhibitions glamorous, from the point of view of television reruns in the 80s, from the point of view of the rugged and the clean being so well matched in a time of decay and decadence—but who else? Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka, the Beats and the Blacks and the Imagists and Futurists and the Surrealists and the Lyricists and the Jazz Heads and the Nameless, all have some important part in rendering today’s reading a form of listening the way it has been with people like O’Hara and Amiri since the 1960s.

Except now that we live these more inevitably multi-dimensional lives in rhythms that make our intake of language flippant and disinterested at times, we have a greater responsibility to enact the things we imagine when we’re lucid, to turn our thoughts into visible, audible, so versatile they’re not always tangible, things, to make them objects without objectifying them they way only poetry aloud can. To rescue ourselves from the blasé we fall into when we believe access is the same as experience. Just because we can listen to a ton of music whenever we want to doesn’t mean we know how to find the one rare sound that might alter our vibration for the better without true devotion, that kinda thing. We can now allow our literature to speak directly to and through us in new ways so that we have no excuse to pretend it aloof and intentionally inaccessible or stodgy or afraid of the very adventure of which it is borne, but first we have to seek it out in these forms, we need to know what to look for. We now have the tools to strengthen the union between the casual and the sublime or between the mundane and the sublime, the union that allows audiences who don’t normally engage with poetry, to stumble upon it like the lines: It’s 12:20 in New York a Friday. We can take poems with us in new ways, the poems themselves are newly mobile, we can listen to them while driving or while running, directly press the words against our hungry beleaguered eardrums during most any quotidian activity and this means we should translate our work into the formats that make that possible unabashedly, so that the ways in which O’Hara and Amiri Baraka and Helene Johnson and Sterling Brown and so many others take us on voyages can be acoustic as much as imaginative conditions, toward a more honest engagement with some of our last hopes for meaningful privacy: poetry and poetics.

In the 1960s Motown Records created its Black Forum imprint, releasing LPs which contained everything from speeches to rants to poems, featuring prominent voices within the African Diaspora. This was an indispensable accent to the label’s constant flow of beautiful but formulaic pop hits, this was where the quiet desperation behind those strict routines went to express itself with no frills. In addition to Black Forum individual artists created labels for the release of oratory and poetics, such Amiri Baraka’s Jihad and Sun Ra’s El Saturn. And collectives invented new ways to transmit recorded poetics as in John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem. Today Folkways Records and collectives of archivists like the people at UbuWeb exist to consolidate the archives of some of these past efforts, however despite the huge leaps we’ve enjoyed in recording technology, we’ve yet to come together and create a new recording label devoted to poetry, poetics, oratory, and literature and spoken arts at large, one that builds a bridge between the archival and the new. For a while it seemed like all recorded recitation would have to take on the airs of slam poetry to gain public appreciation, but today it is clear from the ways we listen as well as the ways that electronic musicians sample poetry, poetics, any raw unadorned spoken language they can get their hands on and lay over or under or through a beat, that there is a deep unacknowledged or at least unexpressed longing for a new kind of listening to and with literature.

Mythscience Records will direct this currently aimless momentum toward just that by releasing and re-issuing poetry, poetics, and ultimately all forms of literature that is rendered beautiful and meaningful in new ways when carried through the human voice. The releases and re-issues will arrive in audio formats from LPs to CDs, that challenge poets and writers to work in multiple mediums, to be the translators of their own manuscripts into recorded sound and music, as well challenging writers to collaborate with musicians in many cases to make the albums more than just exact recitations of written text. We will collaborate with DJs to create remixed and recontextualized versions of the original albums writers create, and take these to the dance floor or to listening parties or use them as scores for short films, etc. We will make all of our albums and their remixed versions available in both digital and analog formats, from the cloud to the addictive crackle of vinyl, we feel it is time to go beyond the staleness of the audiobook format when it comes to listening to poetry and literature at large, to intervene on the insecurity disguised as elitism that stops us from creating high quality sound recordings of the texts of our dreams. In addition, with the shambles that many aspects of the print publishing world are in, we see this as a means of re-introducing audiences to out-of-print works that should be re-printed or at the very least experienced by readers and listeners.

We will record albums documenting such texts and release the books with the liner notes. In these cases we will find highly skilled orators to render the recordings, artists such as Yasiin Bey and Daniel Dumile, people with voices who will draw listeners as well as do justice to the work on the page. Sometimes the simplest pivot in consciousness or imaginative power can dispel a stagnancy we weren’t even ready to name prior to said shift; this is the pivot Mythscience Records will enact for the literary world and all who cherish its fruits, not because we buy into the rampant anxiety suggesting that print will soon be scarce, but because we know that avid readers are avid listeners, that the intimacy of listening to poetry on a record made beautiful with the intention of being listened to as a kind of music or a kind of full experience of a written text, might rouse our sluggish attention spans in such a way that we remember how to handle and demand and crave forms of privacy that we’re driving into obsolescence in the name of gossip and information. Let listening to poetry replace the vampiric hunger for access to other people’s secrets and lies and associative prisons that we now deem “information.”


A selection of songs from the arkive curated by Harmony Holiday is available to download at (we urge you to donate generously). To listen and learn of the first LPs lined up for release look/listen here.

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