FRANK STANFORD AUDIO ARCHIVE OVER AT THIRD MAN BOOKS WENT LIVE TODAY!
From curator AB GORHAM'S phenomenal introduction to the Archive:
I am telling you what I saw what I see what I will see
what you saw what you see what you will see 11952-11953
A work that asks for more than one reader to carry its load is a work that will inevitably build a community. The first time that I read Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, my first impulse was to share the poem with someone else. In awe of its manic cadence and its capacity for burst-fire dream sequences, I called on others to churn my initial bewilderment into pure fancy of this lodestar’s almost feral beauty. Many poems inspire enthusiasts and imitations, but Battlefield’s bonanza of characters, settings, dialects, and long, tangled narrative threads, fired in an onslaught of unpunctuated language have spawned a movement, founded in performance, that celebrates the work.
The Stanford Literary Festivals in Fayetteville, Arkansas materialize this performative impulse and oh my what it’s like to hear Dear Reader begin their performance and embrace the accents, the slang, the Omniscient’s audacities of nicknames and sex and someone cutting a fart. The readings are exhibitions of stamina and verve meant to last as long as the scheduled event and then live on as literary legend. These occasions are powerful not only for the pleasure of hearing an epic orated into the atmosphere, but also, from a more practical standpoint, because it is nearly impossible to keep the entirety of this poem in one’s head. Even to track the narrative(s) does not account for Francis Gildart’s clairvoyance which blends dizzingly into the lives and encounters of Battlefield’s characters as they maneuver through the American South in the outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement. To be sure, there is something essential about these temporal tributes, often accompanied by literary discussions. Their existence demonstrates this poem’s ability to outdistance its subject(ive) matter that drifts into the realm of NSFW, its litany of the Old Southern dialect now considered archaic, wrong, but nevertheless a record of a specific time, place, and approach to humanity.
Eight years ago, on a road trip from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Montana to visit our families, my husband and I read my Lost Roads’ 2000 edition of Battlefield aloud through Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and finally, through the final miles into Montana. Our tongues and jaws grew tired, our mouths drying up, our stomachs queasy from taking our eyes off of the horizon and pushing air out again and again. Back in Alabama after winter break, it became clear that a way for me to salute Stanford’s poem would be to organize a more permanent arrangement. So, I asked others to record themselves reading a portion of the poem, and then collected those readings in a sort of audio archive. This community of enthusiasts was built word-of-mouth from a selection of my Alabama cohort, eventually compiling a list of 30 poets, writers, and Stanford friends to create a collaborative reading experience that would live on the internet and perpetuate its audience long after the reading festivals or conferences ended.
In order to fully realize this project, I first needed to get permission from CD Wright with hopes that she would also be willing to read an excerpt. I have been an admirer of CD’s work since reading Deepstep Come Shining in an undergraduate class on verse novels at The University of Montana. The moment I finished Wright’s book I sat down to hand write her a letter explaining how her book had effectively changed my nascent poet’s mind about what a poem could be and do. And she wrote me back! A postcard arrived with an unsettling image on the front of a young girl standing beside a child’s playhouse—the scene sepia-toned and surrounded by fog. This is still one of my most prized possessions. Throughout the process of arranging readers and finding a place interested in publishing this archive, CD was continuously encouraging and always willing to play along. And just like that, a tribute to Stanford also became a way for me to share my reverence for Wright’s work—both her writing, and her interests, by continuing the lineage of publishing Stanford.
...i skip to the last paragraph...
I am forever indebted to, and wholly grateful for, all thirty participants that read for this project. I know that despite the pure delight of reading Stanford’s words, the text is challenging to even the nimblest of orators. Thank you thank you to Susan Scarlata at Lost Roads for her support, to Forrest Gander for his generosity, kindness, and fruitful guidance through this process, to Third Man Books for providing the space for this monstrosity and for their technical prowess, and to Chet Weiss for his vision and his shared enthusiasm for the work. To my husband, Danilo ‘J Thomas who has endured my editing and my fretting with patience and love, thank you. I would like to dedicate this project to CD Wright, whose voice skillfully, assuredly handles Stanford’s language, whose recording is so perfectly imperfect, and who fielded my questions and requests for re-recording with grace and a sense of humor. I sure wish she could have heard these bards croon.