Continuing with our spotlight on the videotapes in the Stanford University Archives (we’re coming to the end of it). Today’s feature (like last week’s) is nuggets extracted from a broader swath. In 1987, Sander Zulauf made a selection (on two tapes) of readings that took place between 1976 and 1985 at CCM, the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey – The First American Poetry Disc – An Introduction to Poetry, which featured over a dozen American poets, (most, if not all, of a decidedly academic bent – The undeniably stand-out reader/anomaly here was Allen (who, accompanied by Steven Taylor, appeared at the venue on the 20th of April, 1979). His performance of William Blake’s “Tyger” appears (starting approximately forty-three minutes in) on the first disc. Visual quality, it has to be noted, is poor (a hatching of horizontal lines appears on the video – the problem is somewhat ameliorated on the recordings that appear on the second disc, although they do still occasionally occur)
Allen’s contribution to the second tape (which begins approximately twenty-two minutes in) consists of two readings – “A Supermarket in California” and -“ten years later, (19)63, William Carlos Williams, on hearing of his death – a poem called “Death News”.
Allen explains: “I was in India and a student showed me a copy of Time magazine which said that Williams had died and I remember a visit that I had made with Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso to 9 Ridge Road, Rutherford, where Williams had his physicians practice, baby-doctor. And he received us. He knew my poetry (he knew “Howl” and had written a preface for it and for an earlier book (Empty Mirror) that I’d written in Paterson in (19)51, six years before), and he liked Gregory Corso’s poetry, and he loved Kerouac. And his wife, who was there, took Kerouac in the kitchen, and sipped a lot of wine, and talked about the time when (she) Florence Williams and her husband had been young in Vienna with beer-gardens and medical students. So this is an account of that time. We all sat in a sofa in the living room and enquired wise words from him (and Williams had had a stroke and was sticken by then). He looked at us young kids and pointed out through the window-curtains onto Main Street and said, “There’s a lot of bastards out there!” – (“Walking at night on asphalt campus/road by the German Instructor with Glasses/W.C.Williams is dead he said in accent…”…”…..What you wanted to be among the bastards out there”)
Other poets reading on the tape include Kenneth Burke (his poignant farewell to his late wife concludes the tape – “Her death leaves such a tangled aftergrowth/My God! I feel I have outlived us both”), James Wright, Louis Simpson, Donald Hall, and Ishmael Reed.