But in the context of the Kelowna summer institute which I recently attended, “Poetry On and Off the Page,” McGurl’s various mentions of literary tape recording have been standing out for me. One of these appears to be an error – he discusses the early 1930s work of Harvard classicist Millman Parry’s in recording Balkan oral storytelling as his having “traipsed about the Yugoslavian countryside recording the living vestiges of its ancient illiterate storytelling tradition on audiotape” (231). Harvard’s Parry collection indicates that Parry had used the recently developed aluminum recording disc. Magnetic audio tape, a much more accurate, portable, potentially marketable and less expensive medium, didn’t – as I mentioned in my previous post – become available outside of Germany until after the Second World War.
McGurl uses the work of Parry and his student Albert Lord in a chapter titled “Our Phonocentrism” to explain the rise of interest in the 1960s in the oral delivery and oral composition of poetry. In his 1960 book The Singer of Tales Lord had declared that the traditional “oral poem is not composed for but in performance” (231). Novelist Ken Kesey is recalled by fellow writer Ken Babbs to have aimed during their schoolbus-named-‘Further’ tour in 1964 to have aimed “to take acid and stay up all night and rap out novels and tape record them. Then we started talking about getting the movie cameras and filming it. So we were very swiftly going from a novel on a page to novels on audio-tape to novels on film” (211). McGurl includes both the Lord and Babbs quotations in explaining the 1960s quest for “vocal presence” in literature,