Poetry Month, Day 9*: James Arthur Recommends The Knox Writers’ House Recording Project

April 9, 2013

One of my favorite websites right now is The Knox Writers’ House Recording Project, an audio archive of contemporary American writers reading their work. The readings have been recorded by three former Knox College students, and are indexed geographically, city by city. The students—Emily Oliver, Sam Conrad, and Bryce Parsons-Twesten—began the project under the mentorship of Knox College faculty poet Monica Berlin. At first Oliver and her friends recorded writers living in the Midwest, but now they’ve added recordings from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and California. The idea, according to the project’s website, is “to help cities listen to themselves, to understand how place influences art, and how that art changes depending on origin, on audience, on influence.”

Something unusual about this archive is that most of the writers have been recorded not at a podium, addressing a large audience—but instead, sitting in their own offices, living rooms, and kitchens, speaking softly into a microphone. These are intimate recordings, and the intimacy comes across. A few pieces I especially love are Jericho Brown’s “Track 1: Lush Life,” Joanie Mackowski’s “Song for Dancing,” and Kwame Dawes’s rendition of his poem “Still Born,” which begins with a spiritual. I also think you should check out the recording of my wife Shannon Robinson reading her brilliant story “Miscarriages,”—not a very objective recommendation, of course! But I’m not the only person who thinks “Miscarriages” is great; it won Nimrod’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize and was recently anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest.

Oliver, Conrad, and Parsons-Twesten sometimes interview their subjects, too. Many of the interviewed writers speak unequivocally about their sense of belonging somewhere and drawing inspiration from that place. But Carl Phillips, talking about St. Louis, says “I seem to be living in St. Louis, MO. Why? Because, I was offered a temporary job here 17, 18 years ago, that was supposed to last just for three years, and suddenly, I was transformed into a professor, which I never planned on being. … So I seem to be, right now, a full time St. Louisan, but I don’t feel like one. I’ve always felt like a tourist here.”

For the next few weeks, the Knox Writers’ House is marking National Poetry Month with a celebration of James Wright, a poet who himself had a famously fertile, imaginative relationship to place. Here’s Chris Green reading James Wright’s “

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James Arthur

*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.

James Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, and The American Poetry Review. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Stegner Fellowship, a Discovery/The Nation Prize, and a residency at the Amy Clampitt House. He is currently a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts in Princeton. His first book, Charms Against Lightning, is available through Copper Canyon Press.

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