Poetry Out Loud

Poetry Out Loud #6

  1. The Harlemans and Klyd & Linda Watkins 'Turn Me' (5:06)
  2. Klyd Watkins & Peter Harleman 'Anything You Do' (2:26)
  3. Klyd & Linda Watkins 'You Don't Know Me' (2:32)
  4. Klyd & Linda Watkins and The Harlemans 'Down To The River' (6:56)
  5. Linda Watkins 'Down To The Sea' (3:13)
  6. The Harlemans and Klyd & Linda Watkins 'Hello Morning' (1:49)
  7. The Harlemans 'A Pact' (1:17)
  8. Klyd & Linda Watkins and The Harlemans 'Ocean' (6:15)
  9. Peter Harleman 'White Horse' (4:23)

Total time 33:50
LP released by Out Loud Records, Madison, NJ, 1972

First issues of the Poetry Out Loud LP-series (published from 1969 to 1977) included sound poetry live recordings inspired by shamanism and beat poetry, though when reaching Number Six, Klyd Watkins and Peter Harleman had moved to studio recording with their wifes Linda and Patricia. For a short story of POL, please refer to previous post, Poetry Out Loud Number Ten. The omnipresent blue color on the cover of 'Number Six' possibly refers to the epiphany experienced by the Watkins when they first encountered the sea while visiting the Harlemans in New Jersey in 1972 (according to Volcanic Tongue). Two tracks on the B-side refers to this experience, 'Down To The Sea' and 'Ocean', the latter relentlessly delivered to summon the sound of waves on the shore. The sea element was possibly experienced as a baptism by the Watkins, hence the picture on the back. Other tracks include the usual elements found in Poetry Out Loud records: poetic homophony, repetition of words, congregational call-and-response singing, delay and reverb effects, hand drums. Track #2, 'Everything you do', for instance, is based on the convincing, obsessive repetition of the following words: Everything You Do Is A Prison. The album is a sound poetry gem with a hippie touch and shows the New Jersey rhapsodes on top form.

Notes by Continuo

David Keenan's introduction to Poetry Out Loud

Just got our hands on a still-sealed/unplayed crate full of these legendary, long out-of-print sides privately pressed by Peter and Patricia Harleman and Klyd and Linda Watkins 1969-1977 in order to document their wild experiments with vocal form. Across the space of these beautiful looking LPs, the two couples navigate the same kind of formless, disembodied zone that defined Jandek's unaccompanied vocal trilogy while touching on poles as temporally and spatially diverse as the associative poetry of Matthew Valentine, Jack Kerouac and Charles Olson, the wowing use of heavy delay/reverb associated with contemporary heads like The Skaters and Excepter, the slum-prose of The Fugs, Patti Smith and Lisa Suckdog and the sound poetry experiments of Henri Chopin, Bernard Heidsieck, Bob Cobbing, Brion Gysin and others associated with the legendary Revue Ou. That this was going on in almost complete seclusion somewhere in American throughout the 70s is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Recently there's been a comparative upsurge in interest in the work of the Watkins and the Harlemans, with rumours of reissues and box sets, but the LPs (all of which were originally pressed in runs of 1000, except Volume 1, of which only 500 were made) remain almost-impossible to source. It was back in 2000 that their influence first began to percolate into the underground, with Christina Carter of Charalambides uncovering a copy of Number Four in Austin's Sound Exchange. After having her ears blown she shared her find with Heather Leigh Murray who made contact with Klyd Watkins, who by that time was living in Nashville. After establishing common aesthetic ground the pair agreed to work together, leading to a brain-storming Charalambides show that took place in Nashville in 2001 featuring the trio of Tom Carter, Christina Carter and Heather Leigh Murray performing with Klyd Watkins on "Listen The Night" a Poetry Out Loud piece originally recorded back in 1971 for the Number Five LP.

The initial seeds for the Poetry Out Loud project were sown back in 1963, when Peter Harleman, then based in St. Louis, arrived in Nashville in a trip to visit his mother. Calling into Zibart's bookstore in search of paperbacks by Leroi Jones he got talking to the clerk, who happened to be Klyd Watkins. Klyd was excited to make contact with another soul that shared his passion for contemporary small-press poetry and immediately invited Peter back to his apartment to meet his wife Linda. Over the next few years the poets continued their friendship via the mail, swapping new works, journals and criticism and in 1965 Peter met and married another young poet, Patricia "Bebe" McGary. In 1965 the Watkins were living in rural Indiana, where Klyd taught high school English, while the Harlemans were based in St. Louis. During a visit to St Louis, Klyd and Peter had a conceptual bust-up over the relative merits and creative applicability of poet Charles Olson's concept of projective verse (something that Klyd, like many thinkers of the time, was immersed in) and Marshall McLuhan's concept of medium=message, an insight championed by Peter. Klyd recalled the conversation in a recent history of Poetry Out Loud: "Walking the streets of Saint Louis they had a heated argument, with Klyd championing Olson's formula for using the typewriter to capture the breath of impassioned speech as the most exciting mode of creating poetry, while Peter pointed out that another machine, the tape recorder, captured the human tongue far more directly. The harder Klyd argued for keeping poetry on the page, the more excited he became about being wrong. By the time the Watkins drove back to Indiana an alliance was formed to make poetry out loud."

The first Poetry Out Loud album was the result of four years of experimentation, with the couples working slowly towards abandoning text altogether in favour of the gush of pure intuitively-sourced sound. Recording sessions combining simultaneous musical and poetic improvisation birthed what they came to describe as "The Nashville Sound," a laminal assemblage of spoken word and song. The technology also advanced, with the players moving from a $30 deck to a $150 home recorder while working on the first LP and they briefly welcomed another couple into the fold, Toby and Ginny Tate. By 1970, the Watkins had moved to Kentucky and the Kentucky landscape was to have a huge influence on the rest of the POL series. But with the Harlemans now living in Kansas and the Tates in Atlanta, recording session were few and far between.

By the time of Number Two, the Harlemans were heavily involved in the exploration of American Indian poetry, immediately apparent on tracks like "I Am The Crow." From Number Two to Number Five the Watkins and the Harlemans contributed roughly half of every issue each, while welcoming occasional guests like Tony Cowan or legendary French sound-poet Bernard Heidsieck and his wife Francois Janicot (Number Three, Number Four, Number Five, Number Seven and Number Eight), a relationship that helped them maintain an umbilical connection to some kind of formal tradition. By the time of Volume Five the performers had once more upgraded their equipment and had also begun to record tracks "live" at various venues with a string of cuts taken from performances in bars, coffee houses, colleges and rock venues. By this point POL had a few hundred subscribers who bought the LP through the mail and they were even reviewed in Rolling Stone.

In 1972 the Watkins visited the Harlemans in New Jersey, providing an opportunity for the extended quartet recordings that make up much of Number Six. The Watkins had never seen the ocean before, an experience that inspired Number Six's massive "Ocean." Number Seven would be the last volume to feature all four performers vibrating together, with the Harlemans producing Number Eight and Nine alone and Number Ten being recorded in St. Louis in 1976-77 with Klyd working with the Harlemans as a trio. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful end to a remarkable adventure initiated by a group of artists who took the revolutionary edicts of radical 1960s poetry straight to their hearts. "These days we hear now and then of new fans who have continued to find Poetry Out Loud through the used record bins," Klyd reports. "Thirty years later, the world has not entirely forgotten Poetry Out Loud, just as it never entirely heard of it in the first place."

Presented in collaboration with Continuo