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Rec Room: Austin Allen: Voices & Visions

November 9, 2009

Austin_Allen-small.jpg I wouldn’t normally recommend literature-related videos over the literature itself, but I can’t resist making an exception for Voices & Visions. An ’80s-era educational series about famous American poets, it has a wonderfully vintage classroom feel—watching the episodes, you can almost smell the lead of freshly sharpened pencils and hear a rickety old VCR plugging away—yet it’s also a genuinely useful primer on the work of everyone from Walt Whitman to Sylvia Plath. Especially fun are the interviews with such literary notables as Mark Strand, Helen Vendler, Harold Bloom, and the late James Merrill, all of whom would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to book these days. My favorite moments in the series: Bloom rocketing into the rhetorical stratosphere while discussing Whitman; the hokey, yet evocative animations in the William Carlos Williams episode; and Merrill, the charming old aesthete, sighing about one of Wallace Stevens’s poems: “Well, for me it’s like the 23rd Psalm.” For the true poetry lover, it does not get any better than this.

And yes, if you actually still own a rickety old VCR, you can find the VHS cassette tapes on Amazon—although you’ll have to shell out a lot for the full set, since these days they really are vintage items.

Bio: Austin Allen is an intern at Guernica. Read his last recommendation “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1385/rec_room_austin_allen_the_litt/.

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