Maya Angelou gave a “mystical, magical, musical and lyrical” performance at 92Y in 1971. It was a powerful night. She read her poetry, sang a little, and told some stories. Today, we’re releasing this recording for the first time. Listen to it at 92Y On Demand.
Maya Angelou’s Writers-at-Work Interview for The Paris Review took place at 92Y on January 11, 1988. “A large audience, predominantly women, was on hand, filling indeed every seat, with standees in the back,” wrote George Plimpton.
Halfway through the interview, Plimpton asked, “If you had to endow a writer with the most necessary pieces of equipment, other than, of course, yellow legal pads, what would these be?”
Angelou’s response: "Ears. Ears. To hear the language. But there’s no one piece of equipment that is most necessary. Courage, first."
Between 1963 and 1991, British-born American writer Denise Levertov — recipient of the prestigious Robert Frost medal, a Guggenheim fellow, and one of my all-time favorite poets — gave several spectacular readings at the 92nd Street Y in New York, the recordings of which have been slumbering away in the institution’s vault. In this second installment of my partnership with the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92Y — following Susan Sontag’s wide-ranging lecture on the project of literature — I’ve selected six of Levertov’s poetry readings to bring back to life.
But this is a double delight: I asked Montreal-based artist Ohara Hale — one of the most original and bewitching illustrators working today, and an enchanting musician — to respond to Levertov’s poems in the style of her singular visual haikus, creating one piece of art for each recording. The resulting three-way labor of love, months in the making, is a celebration of poetry, comics, and the cross-pollination of the arts — please enjoy.
75 at 75: James Shapiro on Tom Stoppard
A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, James Shapiro writes about Tom Stoppard’s reading from several of his plays: Night and Day, Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, and, in particular, Cahoot’s Macbeth. It was recorded live at 92Y on March 27, 2001.
When I was sixteen I saw my brother act in a summer-stock production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and was hooked on Stoppard. When I got home I picked up a copy of Hamlet, which wasn’t taught in my high school. Encountering the two plays in that order left me with a nagging sense, one that I’ve never quite shaken, that Shakespeare owed more to Stoppard than the other way around.
Poet Marianne Moore threw out the first pitch at the opening of the 1968 baseball season at Yankee Stadium. From her poem “Baseball and Writing”:
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
a fever in the victim—
pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Mark Ford writes about a reading by James Schuyler. It was recorded live at 92Y on November 20, 1989. Ford makes his 92Y debut on Thursday night, reading with John Ashbery. It was Ashbery who shared the stage with Schuyler that night in 1989.
Today is the last day to take advantage of our special National Poetry Month offer of $7.50 tickets—and not just to Ford/Ashbery (April 3), but also to Derek Walcott (April 9) and Michael Ondaatje (April 28).In his introduction [to a Schuyler reading the year before], Ashbery confessed to feeling a little “jealous” of his friend’s poetry: “He makes sense, dammit, and he manages to do so without falsifying or simplifying the daunting complexity of life as we are living it today.”
Nearly all of Schuyler’s poems develop a delicate mediation between his memories and his experience of the present; often those memories revolve around friends, many of whom would have been present in the audience that night. One can’t overestimate the importance of friendship to his life and poetry, and it must have been moving for all those who had helped him through so many difficulties over so many decades to see him appearing in public and receiving rapturous applause both before he opened his mouth and then after he said his gruff “Thank you” and sat down.
Audio: Elizabeth Bishop in 1974
To kick off National Poetry Month—and continue our celebration of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th-anniversary season—here’s an offer too good to refuse: $7.50 tickets to upcoming appearances by John Ashbery (April 3), Derek Walcott (April 9) and Michael Ondaatje (April 28). We like to think it’s National Poetry Month all year round at 92Y, but this special offer is only good till March 31st—so get your tickets today!
All month long we’ll be uploading new recording-response pairs to our “75 at 75” virtual anthology, starting with Forrest Gander on Marianne Moore and Megan Marshall on Elizabeth Bishop, who reads from “Efforts of Affection”—her memoir of Moore.
After Moore’s death in 1972, Bishop drafted [“Efforts of Affection”] and read from it on several occasions. When I listened to the Y’s recording of Bishop’s 1974 reading, I understood why she had never “finished” the essay, never published it. Her reading stops short of the story she told our class and several other anecdotes that reveal more complicated feelings for her subject than she may have wished to expose to an audience—whether in an auditorium or at home in arm chairs. What this recording does capture, as almost no other Bishop recording does, is the congenial storytelling voice I heard on several magical occasions, the vivid personality activated in the company of friends, in this case a friend conjured from the past. Listen as the audience begins to catch her jokes and Miss Bishop warms to the response. There she is, giving us
… life itself,
life and the memory of it so compressed
they’ve turned into each other.
Marianne Moore’s poems are more wonderful on the page than they are at this reading. But the reading gives us what feels like a very real experience of her person, of the motion of her mind, of her animated voice and of the vast range of her associations. To me, it is precious. It’s as close as I will come to meeting her.
From “Norwegian Wood” to “Under Milk Wood:” How Dylan Thomas Inspired the Beatles’ Greatest Hits
It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years since the Beatles made their U.S. debut and changed music forever. As we gear up to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Fab Four’s debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 6, a name that keeps coming up as we read about John, Paul, Ringo and George is Dylan Thomas. Did you know the iconic poet was one of the main sources of inspiration for the Beatles? The “Under Milk Wood” author has a few anniversaries of his own to celebrate—October will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth and 62 years ago today, Thomas gave a reading at 92Y. (He also debuted “Under Milk Wood” at 92Y.) Below are the surprising connections shared between the Beatles and Thomas.
Can you imagine a world without John Lennon’s songs? According to Paul McCartney, Thomas was the reason John Lennon began songwriting. “I am sure that the main influence on both [Bob] Dylan and John was Dylan Thomas. That’s why Bob’s not Bob Zimmerman—his real name. We all used to like Dylan Thomas. I read him a lot. I think that John started writing because of him.”
Even the Beatles’ mastermind producer, George Martin, was obsessed with the Welsh poet. In 1989, he conceived, composed, arranged and produced a musical version of “Under Milk Wood,” featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce and Tom Jones.
The album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which many believe to be the greatest album cover of all time, also has a smattering of Thomas. Artist Peter Blake added the poet’s face to the group of people featured on the cover at the request of Lennon.
Blake was a huge fan of Thomas’ himself. He debuted an exhibit of illustrations based on “Under Milk Wood” at the National Museum of Cardiff last November—a project that took 28 years to complete.
You can listen to Dylan Thomas’s debut performance of “Under Milk Wood” at 92Y here.
The Beatles, of course, can be heard here, there and everywhere. Thanks to Dylan Thomas, that is.
From the Poetry Center Archive: Discovering Lucille Cliftonboysi don’t promise you nothingbut thiswhat you pawni will redeemwhat you steali will concealmy private silence toyour public guiltis all i gotToday we share a recording from Lucille Clifton, who first read at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center on April 28, 1969, as one of the “Discovery” contest’s earliest winners. The poems she read that night were, as she said, of “people, places and things perhaps we all know.” Some were untitled and “all of them short … you might think after a point you might be hearing one long poem, which may be true.” Her first book, Good Times, which includes work presented that night, was published later that fall.For the past six decades, the “Discovery” competition has launched the career of many of America’s most prominent poets, including John Ashbery, Rosanna Warren, and Susan Mitchell—all final judges of this year’s competition. Four winners are awarded a reading at the Poetry Center, publication in Boston Review and a cash prize. The submission deadline is Friday, January 24, at 5 pm. For guidelines, and to apply, visit 92y.org/Discovery.
A special project for 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, 75 at 75 invites authors to listen to a recording from our archive and write a personal response. Here, Helen Vendler writes about a recording of Wallace Stevens reading from his work. It was recorded at 92Y on November 6, 1954. “To think a voice gone forever—and then to find some living traces of it still!” Vendler has written. “I feel for Stevens a relation of kinship I have felt with only two other people—and an almost familial warmth filled my soul as I heard him speak again.”
Vendler, our most renowned poetry critic, returns to 92Y on Wednesday, November 20, for her annual lecture. This year’s topic is Wordsworth.
A champion of contemporary poets, too, Vendler has long praised Jorie Graham, whose 92Y reading last month is now available on our Poetry Center Online: “Graham risks everything, and perhaps cannot always keep the several parts from flying apart—but the wildness of the risk is itself exhilarating to encounter,” Vendler has written. “No good poet can stand still, and to read under Graham’s powerful impetus is to have one’s consciousness, like molten glass, pulled into unforeseen—and sometimes almost unbearable—shapes.”