New Robert Frost Recordings Now Available on PennSound
As part of my work to excavate, digitize, and contextualize one of the first poetry audio archives in US, The Speech Lab Recordings, I’m thrilled to announce a significant addition to the collection: new digitizations of previously unreleased Robert Frost recordings, made in the Speech Lab in 1933 and 1934.
These recordings, which may be the first recordings ever made of Frost, in one sense mark a departure from the aesthetic circumscription of the collection. Many of the poets who were recorded in Professors W. Cabell Greet and George W. Hibbitt’s Columbia University lab built for the study of American dialects operated in a modernist tradition of formal innovation. From the collection’s founding with the performance-forward, Dada-esque incantations of Vachel Lindsay through James Weldon Johnson’s Afro-Modernist scoring of speech sounds and Gertrude Stein’s proto-Language poetics, it’s clear that the editors favored a particular strain of modernism.
But while Frost is known for his use of and variation upon traditional forms and rhyme schemes, his poetics do bear affinities to those of the more formally innovative poets recorded in the series, most especially his interest in the aural properties of the poem. Frost writes, “What we do get in life and miss so often in literature is the sentence sounds that underlie the words,” and he continues that the sentence “must convey a meaning by sound” (The Robert Frost Reader: Poetry & Prose ed. Lathem and Thompson p. 295). These sentiments echo Vachel Lindsay’s thoughts on the “subterranean rhythms” of language and Stein’s exploration of the fissures between sound and meaning. (In fact, a newly discovered document at Amherst contains a collaboration poem authored by Frost and Lindsay.)