Here's a letter by Archibald McLeish, former Poet Laureate of the United States (1939-43.) The letter was sent to James Angleton, who was co-editor with Reed Whittemore on Furioso, one of the first literary magazines in the country:
"To make a new magazine of poetry is to do this only if the new magazine of poetry is made a part of a new way of coming to the minds and thoughts of men who now have no mind and no thought for poetry. One such way is radio. The situation of radio is the situation of poetry backwards. If poetry is an art without an audience, radio is an audience without an art. A great many people of the kind a writer must reach if he is to feel himself alive among other men are parts of this audience. They are waiters and watchers and listener, but nothing is given them to see or hear - nothing or very little. If means might be found to bring together in a magazine or in some other form of common publication a group of poets, and if this group of poets might be brought to study radio as they might once have studied the stage, it is not impossible that an audience might be found. It has already been proved that a certain audience for verse on the air exists. No one has yet discovered the limits of that audience because no one has yet explored the limits of verse on the air. I think it was in this way we came to talk of radio, having begun by talking of your new magazine for poetry. Perhaps you will consider whether you agree and whether any such possibility is open to us."
It would be dishonest to ignore my favorite subject and the passion that has fulfilled my life for 32 years -- poetry on the radio. “The Poet and the Poem” was begun because I was able to work with a core staff putting a new FM station on the air in Washington DC in 1977. We went on air with Sterling Brown’s poetry and Duke Ellington’s “A Train.” I don’t know how people can get poetry on the air unless they start a station! At least not then. Now audio is everywhere; thanks to computer downloads. At WPFW. for 20 years I had the great pleasure of listening to all kinds of poets, every week “live” on air…drunks, taxi drivers, grandmothers, prizefighters and laureates. Everybody had a poem. I also hosted “Dial-A-Poem” that took poems as call-ins, no delay bleeps, and that was scary for me as well as the FCC. “The Poet and the Poem” prevailed, and in 1997 moved to the Library of Congress where it’s still thriving there, recorded for national distribution. Someday I will write a book but until then, everyone asks me “who was the most difficult” etc. Allen Ginsberg growled at everything I said. Finally I stopped the tape, "Allen, I don't know why anybody would want to stay in a room with you for an hour." He started cooperating. We became friends. Joseph Brodsky began every sentence with “NO! Nyet!” I edited out all the 'NO's" and the tape was a great interview (with a separate reel of “NO's.) A.R.Ammons arrived empty-handed for a one hour poetry reading. He was my idol from the time of , Tape for the Turn of the Year, (1968)"…when you are nothing/you can say/ and du/anything. “ Not long after, WS Merlin came in the same way. Booknaked . Fast thinking Henry Taylor tackled a disastrous moment with virtuosity and improvisation. We were” live” on- air buried deep into poetry. There was a phone on the table between us used for programs with call-in shows. Somehow while Henry was reading, some wires got crossed in the engineer’s booth and all the messages from people buzzing open the front door of the station came on air.”Hey,let me in.” “Do you have a cigarette.” Hey it’s cold out here.” Henry stopped everything and took the calls and braided them into his poem. It was a high moment for language, with poetry by a great narrative voice mixing in with people on the street . So many rich memories.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, is Tuesday, April 21. This month premieres an important documentary on “The Poet and the Poem,” April 15. Our documentary features Poems by a Holocaust survivor, Hilda Stern Cohen (1924-1997) (WORDS BURNING WITHIN ME, Dryad Press, 2008.) Hilde" Stern survived the Łódź Ghetto and Auschwitz. After liberation, in Austria, waiting for her visa to the USA, she wrote poetry and her remembrances of the camp. The faded notebooks were first discovered by her husband, Dr. Werner V. Cohen, after Hilda’s death in Baltimore in 1997. After her death! Precious accounts of her life in Auschwitz, before and beyond, never seen before!
This is one of Hilda’s poems that will be heard on public radio this month. This poem was written in the safety of her Baltimore home in 1949. This, as well as other poems on the show, has been set to music by William Gilcher.
A gauze of dust, borne on the warm fresh wind,
curtains a window raised from memory;
dry grass stalks whisper, where the cattails bend,
of winter rooms that long imprisoned me.
I must get out! Blow all the dust away,
let wind sweep in to freshen every room.
may what was shallow find new depths, and may
what long stood empty fill now to the brim.
-- (Translated by Lane Jennings.)
I am told that radio waves go on forever.
A few photos now, another gift from my friend Dan Murano:
These photos are from the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris. It is dedicated to the memory of those deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during WWII.