Elaborate Versionings: Characteristics of Emergent Performance in Three Print/Oral/Aural Poets

Kenneth Sherwood
2006 Oral Tradition  
From Page to Performance The significant influence of oral literature, song, and vernacular speech forms on nineteenth-and twentieth-century American literature is generally recognized by scholars, teachers, and editors. The authoritative, four-volume American Poetry series published by the Library of America serves as an index of this consensus, with sections on anonymous ballads, blues lyrics, popular song, Native American poetry (song and narrative), folk songs, and spirituals. 2 These and
more » ... uals. 2 These and other popular teaching anthologies that represent poems from oral contexts effectively subsume the poems within an economy in which they are appreciated, taught, and analyzed as though they were originally written, literary texts-according minimal attention to the mechanisms of transposition (from performance to print). 3 1 To listen to the four performances described in this article, visit the eCompanion at www.oraltradition.org. 2 A brief list of American writers from the vast catalogue of oral/literate crosspollinations would have to include: Walt Whitman, seen as an originator of distinctively American poetry, who drew upon contemporary speech forms and the Old Testament; Ezra Pound, who studied and translated the troubadour poetry of Provence (as did his apprentice, Paul Blackburn); Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, and James Weldon Johnson (among other poets associated with the Harlem Renaissance), who drew upon vernacular oral genres, blues lyrics, and African American sermons, as did writers associated with the Beats, like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg; Jerome Rothenberg, Ann Waldman, and others associated with Ethnopoetics, who translated and incorporated elements of the traditional poetries of the Americas into their writing. 3 The texts have been collected, transcripted, translated, and edited. In this highly respected anthology, print sources are indicated in the notes; typical of academic and general-interest literary collections, it omits detailed contextual information about performance.
doi:10.1353/ort.2006.0019 fatcat:ntzf7u6uevczzjptpgtu5i7lxe