Rebekah Presson Mosby ('Poetry On Record')
'Musing For The Record'
Shout! Factory enters the literary world with the release of a four-disc deluxe audio boxed set, 'Poetry On Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888 – 2006).' Compiled by editor and author Rebekah Presson Mosby, this comprehensive set, complete with a 68 page color booklet, includes recordings of 128 poems read by the original authors, from a historic recording of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson to a recent reading by up-and-coming young poet Jonathan Lamfers.
For centuries poets have commented on the human condition and its endless meanings. Just reading a poem can inspire laughter or tears, even anger. 'Poetry On Record' allows the listener to hear a poem read the way the poet intended, with the poet’s own reflection, intention and power behind every spoken word. Mosby draws upon poetry archives from all over the country to bring a cross section of unique voices in this comprehensive audio anthology, beginning with recordings made by Thomas Edison himself.
Ranging from the classics to the contemporary, from Romanticism to hip-hop, from narrative to epic and back, 'Poetry On Record' offers some of English language’s best poets: Tennyson and Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Dorothy Parker, Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg, Erica Jong, and California Poet Laureate Al Young (who also contributes an essay), Luis Rodriquez and Rita Dove and more. This audio compilation demonstrates how trends and movements in poetry have evolved over the last 125 years, as well as how technology has influenced the way poetry is performed.
Chatting recently with Rebekah, and taking it from the top, it's been said that you 'stumbled' into your current profession at age thirty. So I was wondering what you were doing before poetry and the arts became your life?
"My undergraduate degree is in Dramatic Literature. After graduating from Berkeley, I decided to give acting a go. As I would be working for little or nothing in the theater at night I got it in my head that I should have a steady day job. I decided to go to beauty college so I could support myself (I never did anything with my hair or make-up and don’t know why I made this choice)."
"I quickly discovered that being a hairdresser is like anything else—if you want to make a go at it, you have to devote yourself and I was not devoted to hairdressing (though I was reasonably good at it)."
"In the few years after college I worked as a hostess, waitress, hairdresser and, of course, an actress."
"Then one day, I met a rock roadie who invited me to tour with the Rolling Stones. I would drive from concert to concert and he would sell T-shirts. I crashed my car going to meet him and he quickly lost interest. Meanwhile, I was “rescued” by a man I would marry six months later. He was finishing his engineering degree at Oklahoma University so, to pass the time, I got a job as a retail store manager in the Sooner Fashion Mall."
"When he graduated, we moved to Kansas City where I started taking graduate classes in writing, mainly playwriting. One of my courses (in short fiction) was with the poet David Ray, who was the editor of New Letters magazine and the founder of the syndicated radio literature program, New Letters on the Air. At his invitation, I volunteered to help out with the radio program. Two weeks after volunteering, the producer quit and there I was."
"This was entirely an OJT situation. I knew nothing about radio or about contemporary poetry but I did know an opportunity when I saw one so I applied myself. The volunteer job led to part time paid work, then to a position at the NPR affiliate, KCUR FM, then to free-lancing for the Cultural Desk at NPR and eventually to Rhino Records, Sourcebooks and now, Shout! Factory."
And just what is it about poetry that has drawn you in hook, line and sinker? "Poetry is perfect for the modern world and our short attention spans. Gwendolyn Brooks called poetry “life distilled” and her tiny, powerful poem, “We Real Cool” is a perfect example of that. In 22 words, she is able to convey a great deal of information about the lives of the seven young pool players at the “Golden Shovel” and to get the reader emotionally involved with them. Poetry is the only place in literature where this can happen. The other thing that appeals to me about poetry is the performance aspect. I know it’s a terrible confession, but I like listening to poetry better than reading it. When you listen, you are connected to the poet, the poem and the history of the art form and that can be amazingly compelling. When I read poems, I often read them out loud to myself."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you or your collective works, but was thinking of buying the new 'Poetry On Record' box-set, how would you yourself describe what they were to expect? "A five hour whirlwind tour through the history of recording, the history of poetry since the mid-1900s and the history of poetry performance. There is a taste of everything here: different recording equipment, different ways of approaching the microphone and different schools of poetry as well as a variety of subject matter. The book gives solid track information about the recordings and brief biographies of the poets. My essay and Al Young’s essay help to put the whole thing in perspective."
"Although the great poets and the great poems are represented, this is not intended to be a judgment on the best of the best, rather a reasonably thorough introduction to recorded poetry."
This new collection entitled 'Poetry On Record' is an expanded and revised edition of the now out-of-print 'In Their Own Voices.' So, why was this done in this fashion and not created as a whole other new entity of its own? "Largely because 'In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry' is out-of-print. I thought about starting from scratch but after listening, realized that most of that collection is very worth having around and that the best thing was to revise it. But there are many revisions. For example, the first disc has ten additional poets. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Edgar Lee Masters, James Weldon Johnson, Carl Sandburg, H.D., T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Parker, Sterling Brown and Elizabeth Bishop are all new. That’s hardly a rehash of the old stuff!"
"On disc four, there are ten poets younger than Li-Young Lee, who was the youngest poet on In Their Own Voices. The tweaking on discs two and three is more subtle, but there. Keep in mind that there were 80 poets on 'In Their Own Voices' and 98 on 'Poetry on Record'."
You have been quoted as saying, "If there was ever a time when the world needed poetry, this is it." Please explain this statement further. "Everywhere I go, I meet people who are experiencing a level of anxiety and even fear that I can’t recall in my lifetime. (And I’m old enough to remember Viet Nam.) Even at the merriest of parties, there is an acknowledgement of depression over the state of the world and the suffering of so many (Iraq, Darfur, Katrina, the tsunami, gas prices—the list is long)."
"While I am not naïve enough to think poets know the answers to what troubles us, I do believe that the best of them have extraordinary insight into the hearts of men and women and that their words can lead us to some level of understanding of the human condition. That, in turn, can give us comfort and help us through these dark times."
Your prior box-set 'Poetry Speaks' featured 42 “historical” (dead) poets reading their work on three CDs tucked inside a coffee table book. Where did the inspiration for such a unique collection first come to mind?"The initial impulse came from Sourcebooks publisher, Dominique Raccah. The concept of coffee table books combined with audio is her, very successful innovation and she calls it “media fusion.” All the details of the book: the decision to stick with dead poets, the poets, the poems and the audio chosen were the result of many intense conversations between my co-editor, Elise Paschen, Dominique and me. We also solicited opinions from an advisory board and from the many living poets who wrote tributes to the poets featured."
"By the way, very few people know that I wrote the narration that is read by Charles Osgood on the discs."
Having interviewed more than 350 contemporary poets and writers as the host and producer of the syndicated radio literature series 'New Letters on the Air' (1983-1995), I'm wondering what one of your many stand-out moments was from that time period? "I’ll tell you about Allan Ginsberg. My New Letters colleague, Bob Stewart and I went to Lawrence, Kansas to interview Ginsberg. We were talking about the obscenity trial against Howl (which he won, of course) and he suddenly became very agitated and started talking about a recent case of censorship on the radio. It seems that he’d heard about his poem “Birdbrain” being cut off mid-sentence on an NPR affiliate. I mentioned that I’d featured “Birdbrain” on New Letters on the Air recently. (This was not usual, but I’d decided to produce a show that used old recordings. I thought the poem was safe because—while it was sexually suggestive—it used none of the “seven dirty words.”)"
"Anyway, it turned out that he WAS talking about New Letters on the Air! Until Allen told me, I knew nothing about this incident (the station hadn’t contacted me). Parts of this interview were later published in Harper’s magazine."
Is there anything about you, away from poetry and the arts that you could pay mention to here that would show a different side to you, perhaps? "Sure, lots. I play golf. That’s my current obsession. I play alone, with my husband and with a group of old ladies, all of whom kick my butt. But I’m better this year."
Although this might be a hard question to answer, but do you have a personal favorite when it comes to poets and works of poetry therein? "Don’t get me started. I really, truly don’t have a favorite. There are at least 20 tracks that absolutely fill me with delight and joy every time I listen. I’ll name one that takes me back to my theater days, “Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller. It’s King Lear meets Oedipus Rex and a brilliant retelling of the story of how one must be blind before one can see."
What do you have lined-up next that we can all look forward to? "Sorry, but I’m not just sworn to secrecy — I signed a secrecy contract! But it’s way, way cool! I can tell you that I will spend the fall in Paris (three months) and that I will teach radio writing at Colgate University next year."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Well, I like the integration implications. My husband is black and I’m white and I suppose that makes us a penguin of sorts."
Thanx again for doing this for us today, and we wish you all the best for the future "You are welcome. All the best to you as well."
“The Road Not Taken” - Robert Frost
“Résumé” - Dorothy Parker
“The Secret Of My Endurance” - Charles Bukowski
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