After Decades Hidden, An Audio Release

This week marks the first audio appearance of eight previously unreleased and nearly unknown conversations with essential poets of our time: Robert Pinsky, Lucille Clifton, Edward Hirsch, Muriel Rukeyser, James Merrill, Eamon Grennan, William Matthews and Paul Muldoon. These recordings, which can be found on, serve as an audio companion to Poetry in Person: Twenty-Five Years of Conversation with America's Poets, published by Knopf in 2010, and called (by the Washington Post) "one of the best books you will ever read on how poems are actually made." Here is a little history of their unusual existence.

The recordings were made during seminars at the New School in Greenwich Village, where from 1973 until her retirement in 1997 Pearl London hosted Nobel Laureates, U.S. Poets Laureate, and National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. She asked each poet to bring in a fresh manuscript and drafts of the very poems they were writing at the time, and she used this material as the foundation of a discussion about the making of the poem, from influence to editing--from vision to revision.

Soon after London's death in 2002, three cardboard boxes were discovered hidden in a closet in her home near Washington Square Park. The cassette tapes found inside represented nearly twenty-five years of these historic classroom visits. Their existence surprised almost everyone who'd known London and her classes. As I started editing the sessions into book form, I realized that sometimes, by necessity, part of the spontaneity and humor of the conversations had to be left on the cutting room floor. So, too, some of connective tissue between passages had been removed in favor of including as many highlights as possible.

These recordings, 30 to 60 minutes each, restore what had to be edited out and offer an even more intimate portrait of eight key poets. Constituting volume one of the series, these sessions were chosen for the poets' variety of styles, approaches and concerns. Robert Pinsky reads the "Want Bone" and discusses the effect of his upbringing on his poetry; Lucille Clifton talks about being discovered as a poet; James Merrill talks about the significance of the the autobiographic "I" in his work; Muriel Rukeyser talks in vivid detail about how recovering from eye surgery influenced her work, and on and on. My hope is that these recordings will give the listener something of the flavor of the seminars, as well as offering as-yet-unheard, and often stunningly frank and moving accounts of, the poetry of our time.

In the weeks to come, I'll be blogging a series of eight posts that highlight clips from these recordings. My focus in tomorrow's post will be on American poetry, and future posts will reveal the poets speaking about metaphor, form, abstraction, and more. I hope you enjoy.