IF YOUR RECORD COLLECTION includes a poetry album, chances are it didn't come out in the last 40 years. Most likely it's part of the Caedmon Records poetry series from the 1950s and '60s, whose ubiquitous Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost releases are familiar to anyone who's spent time digging through thrift store record bins. And on the off chance you even have a poetry album in your record collection, it's probably not by a poet who's currently alive.
This is something Portland poet Jeff Alessandrelli is hoping to change. Teaming up with local poetry press Octopus Books and taking inspiration from the Caedmon series, Alessandrelli is starting Fonograf Editions, an all-vinyl label featuring living poets reading their work.
Kicking off the Fonograf catalog is legendary counterculture poet Eileen Myles, whose album Aloha/Irish Trees comes out this week. Myles' poems are conversational and brazen, layered things that come alive when read aloud. And Aloha/Irish Trees is a casual and welcoming affair: a no-pretenses, down-to-earth moment with one writer's work. In the recordings, Myles tosses pages to the floor, takes drinks, reads poems twice, gives introductions, swears when she messes up.
"The Caedmon ones—they sound very stately, they sound very dignified. You feel like you should put on a suit or comb your hair when you listen to one," Alessandrelli says. "And this is kind of the exact opposite. It's really like you're in the room. This is what she sounds like, and this is what a reading by her sounds like. It's not perfect, and it's not supposed to be perfect."
Alessandrelli plans to release two to three new albums each year—with the second Fonograf release, by Los Angeles poet and choreographer Harmony Holiday, coming out this summer—but he's unsure where it will all lead. "To a certain degree it's an untapped market," says Alessandrelli. "[We'll] just kind of start slow and hopefully there are people interested in it."
by Eileen Myles
Listening party, Fri May 13 at Mother Foucault's, 523 SE Morrison, 8 pm, free