Poets and Poetry as Agents of Change, 1957-1977, a selection of archive interviews available online, has been introduced and curated by Joseph Coulson, former Great Books Foundation president.
“Listening to Studs Terkel interview a poet is to realize that the power and music of poetry occupy a special place in the range of Terkel’s intellectual and emotional interests. He listens with great relish as poets read their poems, occasionally joining in the recitation, and reacts to the work with a rare combination of wonder and insight.
“Importantly, he draws out the poet with an easy grace so that listeners can better understand the relationship between the artist’s imagination, the craft of poetry, and the poet’s historical moment.
“This selection of interviews spans a twenty-year period that signifies a monumental shift in the social and political content of North American poetry, focusing in large part on poets who did much of their work outside the academy. Terkel examines both the poetry and the lives of the poets, exploring with each artist the boundaries of poetic expression and shedding light on the poet’s role as observer, social critic, and agent of change.
“Starting in the late 1950’s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and proprietor of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, takes up the question of Beat poetry, its origin and point of view. Ferlinghetti, having published Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and having been absolved of obscenity charges by the California Supreme Court, spars with Terkel over the question of literary “point of view,” a concept that the Beat poets consider hopelessly “hung up.” The Beat writer rejects “timeclock civilization,” eschews classification, and is suspicious, as Groucho Marx would say, of any institution that would have a Beat writer as a member.