By P. Scott Cunningham, co-founder and director of O, Miami Poetry Festival
The idea of making recordings of poets reading their work is as old as records themselves. Ezra Pound, Vachel Lindsay, T.S. Eliot, and many others poets put voice-to-vinyl in the early days of the technology; Sylvia Plath’s voice has survived thanks to the BBC; and these days there is an incredible trove of digital poetry recordings available online, thanks to places like Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room and the non-profit project From the Fishouse.
But there’s nothing like a piece of vinyl – something you can hold and flip and that has that inimitable “warm” sound that records possess. Unfortunately, making vinyl records is more expensive than making digital recordings, so it’s rare to find poets on vinyl these days.
The idea to make a poetry record was provided to us by Jared McKay of local rock label Discosoma Records in the lead-up to the inaugural O, Miami Poetry Festival (created with Knight Foundation) in 2011. We were standing at an outdoor concert, discussing possible collaborations, and he said, “Why don’t we make a poetry record?” So we did.
“The Little Haiti Tapes” is a limited-edition, seven-inch record featuring poets Tracy K. Smith and Gabrielle Calvocoressi. It was recorded on April 1, 2011 at Honor Roll Studios in Little Haiti and mastered in Baltimore by sound artist Danny Meltzer. The cover was designed by Miami-artist Nicolas Lobo, who lives in Little Haiti and whose work is included in the permanent collection at MAM. Lobo also hand-painted every single cover (with various kinds of swirls that recall the early days of NYC graffiti), making the series more like an artist-multiple than an edition.
An added bonus was that just as the record was finishing production, Tracy won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book, Life on Mars (Graywolf Press), from which the poems on the record come from. I remember running downstairs (my office is in the same building as Discosoma’s) when I found out, and telling Jared, “Uh, that record project just changed a little bit.”
“The Little Haiti Tapes” is on sale now via Discosoma’s website for $25. I know that’s a little expensive for some people, but consider that each one is essentially an original Nic Lobo with a record inside of it. In a world of cheap goods, this record was hand-made at every step of its production, without compromise and with fair compensation, and we’re really proud of it both as a cultural object and as a unique listening experience. It’s something you’ll geek out over forever…just don’t leave it out in the sun.