American Poetry and Radio Counterculture
by Lisa Hollenbach
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Pub Date 12 May 2023 | Archive Date 12 May 2023
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press
LITERARY CRITICISM / MEDIA STUDIES
Poetry FM is the first book to explore the dynamic relationship between post-1945 poetry and radio in the United States. Contrary to assumptions about the decline of literary radio production in the television age, the transformation of the broadcasting industry after World War II changed writers’ engagement with radio in ways that impacted both the experimental development of FM radio and the oral, performative emphasis of postwar poetry.
Lisa Hollenbach traces the history of Pacifica Radio—founded in 1946, the nation’s first listener-supported public radio network—through the 1970s: from the radical pacifists and poets who founded Pacifica after the war; to the San Francisco Renaissance, Beat, and New York poets who helped define the countercultural sound of Pacifica stations KPFA and WBAI in the 1950s and 1960s; to the feminist poets and activists who seized Pacifica’s frequencies in the 1970s. In the poems and recorded broadcasts of writers like Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Spicer, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Bernadette Mayer, and Susan Howe, one finds a recurring ambivalence about the technics and poetics of reception. Through tropes of static noise, censorship, and inaudibility as well as voice, sound, and signal, these radiopoetic works suggest new ways of listening to the sounds and silences of Cold War American culture.
“Engaging, engrossing, and exuberantly readable, Lisa Hollenbach’s Poetry FM plumbs a largely unexamined archive to brilliantly illuminate postwar poetics, redefining our understanding of the ‘FM Revolution’ by demonstrating how Pacifica Radio enabled new poetic-political collectives and counter-publics.”—Debra Rae Cohen, coeditor, Broadcasting Modernism
“This book is a major contribution to the field, given it argues convincingly for the politics, culture, and technologies of postwar alternative radio as a force that informed and shaped a range of experimental and radical poetries from the 1940s through the 1980s.”—Daniel Kane, author, All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s
Average rating from 2 members
In the age of the internet (and before that, television), radio was the form of mainstream media. Like our media today, it shaped the way people viewed the world. In this account of the airways post-World War II, we focus on poetry and the dawn of FM.
Focusing mostly on the 1950s-1960s, Lisa Hollenbach lays out a history of radio poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Susan Howe, and several others, their impact on society, and the struggles they such as censorship and politics. Naturally, there's a focus on the Cold War era as well.
I can't say I was engaged from start to finish, but I definitely found the book informative. I learned a lot and it's a section of history I've never given much thought to. I was impressed that I did know some of the names mentioned here. Given it's under 300 pages, it's not a taxing read yet doesn't feel like it's leaving out large sums of information.
Thanks to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for providing me with a free digital ARC to read and review!
Poetry FM by Lisa Hollenbach highlights an aspect of post-WWII US poetry that I had never considered: the symbiotic relationship between poetry and radio, namely FM free form radio. She does this by focusing on two Pacifica Radio stations, one in the San Francisco area and one in New York.
The Introduction immediately drew me in, it was a very good history of how FM radio came to be and how it grew in scope and popularity. While attention was given to the subject of the book, poetry, it showed how every step along the way was essential to its moment in time, from educational programming to classical music to the advent of AOR and the growth of the many niches we know today. As part of cultural programming, poetry played a part, though initially the written poems were still considered the best form while broadcasting was simply a means to getting them out there.
It is with the Beat writers that we begin to see the relationship between not just poetry and radio, but life in general and the radio. It provided space for experimentation and for marginalized groups to have a voice. The Pacifica Radio stations became home to cutting edge culture, ideas, and literary works, placing itself at the center of the censorship battle(s) with Ginsberg's Howl.
I had never given it much thought but I remember, vaguely, listening to poetry periodically on the radio when I was young, like pre and early teens, which would have been the 60s and early 70s. No doubt depending where I lived at the time, with LA and DC having significantly different cultural environments than Louisiana and Alaska. But it was something that caught my attention when I heard it but didn't notice it fading from prominence (to the extent it was) as I grew older. It wasn't until poetry slams I attended later that I got caught up again in the power of poetry being read and listened to.
While quite accessible this is a dense work, not in the sense of having to figure out what is being presented but in the amount of (very interesting) information there is. If you want to take breaks from reading I would suggest going online and listening to some of the wonderful broadcasts on Internet Archive from Pacifica Rado. I will be exploring that archive for a long time. Anyone with an interest in poetry will find something here to pique their interest.
Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.