There’s a certain magic to poetry read aloud, and if it is recited by the writer, listeners gain insights into the work that are difficult to come by any other way.
It is only fitting, therefore, that the George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room would kick off the celebration of its 90th anniversary next week with online readings by such contemporary greats as Sonia Sanchez, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Anne Boyer, and Claudia Rankine. And that the special collection, one of the earliest and largest audio-visual archives for literary sound recordings in the country, will look back on its nine decades by making some of its first recordings — of the poet T.S. Eliot reading his own work — available to the general public on Friday (March 19).
“We are immensely grateful to the T.S. Eliot estate for so generously granting us permission to make Eliot’s earliest known poetry recording available for the first time in more than half a century,” said Christina Davis, curator of the poetry room. That recording of Eliot 1910, A.M. 1911, Litt.D. ’47, reading “The Hollow Men” and “Gerontion,” dates back to the poet’s Charles Eliot Norton lectures in 1932–33, when the Woodberry collection had just been launched.
Created by recording pioneer Frederick C. Packard Jr., who used a variety of studios on campus, the two-poem recital was originally released on Packard’s Harvard Vocarium label in 1933 and later compiled onto a long-playing disc in 1951. Along with a recording of a complete live reading Eliot gave at Sanders Theatre in 1947, it will be accessible on the University’s In Focus page starting tomorrow, in advance of World Poetry Week. (Both recordings will also ultimately be made available via the HOLLIS online catalog and the Poetry Room’s online Listening Booth.)
“I am delighted that T.S. Eliot’s Harvard readings are being released to mark the 90th anniversary of the Woodberry Poetry Room, not only because of the relative rarity of recordings of Eliot reading his work, but because they were recorded at his old college, which he continued to think of with such affection throughout his life,” said Clare Reihill, trustee of the T.S. Eliot estate.