Moore on Vinyl

Marianne Moore
listening to playback of her recording in Caedmon’s studio in New York,
1956.  From the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Moore
XII:28:07, 2006.7542.

Did you know June is Audio Book Month?  I had no idea, but I’m a late adopter: it took a 13-hour drive to Charleston last summer for me to realize the crucial niche audio-lit fills in one’s sanity cultural life.  In any case, it turns out that even a collection as historic as the Rosenbach’s has some surprises from the analog era.

A little history here: audio books weren’t really viable products until the production of LP records in 1948.  Spoken-word recordings were produced on shorter formats before then, but those records only allowed a few minutes of play time.  The smaller, finer grooves of vinyl LP records allowed for at least 40 minutes of play (20 minutes per side)–enough for a suite of poems, some short stories, or a novel recorded in parts.  The first big breakthrough in spoken-word LP records came with Dylan Thomas’s 1952 recording of his story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a surprise hit for Caedmon Records that did much to popularize their label, Thomas’s Christmas tale, and spoken-word LPs in general (for more on that recording, this page from the Audio Publisher’s Association will give you the full story). 

In more recent times fiction and non-fiction have claimed the lion’s share of the audio book market but poetry has a longer history of audio production going back to Edison’s recital of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the first phonograph.  Poetry is fun to read but it begs to be heard, especially in the author’s own voice.  Record producers were quick to exploit the LP format to produce full-length records of poets reading from their works.  Marianne Moore, whose archive is a mainstay of the Rosenbach’s collection, was among the vanguard of modern poets whose work entered the audio age.  A 1950 LP published by Soundmark Records titled Pleasure Dome: Audible Modern Poetry Read By Its Creators featured Moore reading her “In Distrust of Merits” alongside poems written and read by Dylan Thomas, Ogden Nash, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams.  Moore’s clear, measured, warm voice gives nuance to the text and its rhythm.  Give it a listen: you can find it today along the digital frontiers for audio books, such as ITunes and Spotify

Here’s some more vinyl from Moore’s own record collection:

The Library of Congress’s Recording Laboratory recorded Moore’s small selection of poems here in 1949, eventually publishing them as part of a multi-volume LP set of modern poets reading their work.  From the Marianne Moore Library, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Moore recorded the first session for this record in June 1954.  Marianne Moore Reading Her Poems and Fables from La Fontaine, Caedmon, 1955.  From the Marianne Moore Library, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 
Poet and audiophile Lee Anderson recorded hundreds of English and American poets reading their work for the Library of Congress and the Yale Collection of Historic Sound Recordings.  He recorded Moore in 1951.  Later that decade, Yale produced a series of LPs from this collection, choosing George Platt Lynes’s iconic portrait of Moore for the sleeve of her record.  From the Marianne Moore Library, the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 
Spoken Arts published a treasury of American poets beginning in 1969, which included Moore, as did this later record.  From The Marianne Moore Library, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

If only there were some event satisfying to audiophiles at the Rosenbach where you could hear more mind-blowing literature read aloud!  A free event, with dozens of enthusiastic, skilled readers.  Something, let’s say, in June–perhaps June 16

Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.