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May Swenson Papers (MSS111)


Scope and Contents

Administrative Information

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Material Toward Books

Manuscripts By Others

Personal Papers




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May Swenson Papers (MSS111), 1929-1998 | MSS Manuscripts

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Collection Overview

Title: May Swenson Papers (MSS111), 1929-1998Add to your cart.

Predominant Dates:1929-1998


Primary Creator: Swenson, May (1919-1989)

Extent: 224.0 Boxes

Languages: English

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The May Swenson Papers contain manuscript and editorial material toward most of her books including Another Animal (1954), A Cage of Spines (1958), To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems (1963), and Half Sun Half Sleep (1967). This material includes drafts of individual poems as well as letters to and from various editors, friends, and readers. Swenson’s correspondents include John Hall Wheelock, and Burroughs Mitchell, but the most fascinating portion of the May Swenson Papers is her correspondence with the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. The two were close friends and Washington University holds 268 of their letters written from 1950 to 1979, the year of Bishop’s death.

Collection Historical Note

Anna Thilda May "May" Swenson (May 28, 1913 – December 4, 1989) was an American poet and playwright. Born in Utah, Swenson grew up as the eldest of 10 children in a Mormon household where Swedish was spoken regularly and English was a second language. She received a B.S. from Utah State University in 1939 and taught poetry at as poet-in-residence at Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University and Utah State University. From 1959 to 1966, she worked as a manuscript reviewer at New Directions publishers. Swenson left New Directions Press in 1966 in an effort to focus completely on her own writing. She also served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death in 1989.

Her poems were published in Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, Carleton Miscellany, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Saturday Review, Parnassus and Poetry. She received much recognition for her work, including: Guggenheim fellowship (1959), Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship (1960), Ford Foundation grant (1964), Bollingen Prize for poetry (1981), and MacArthur Fellowship (1987).

Since her first collection of poems, Another Animal, was published by Scribner in 1954. Swenson's other collections of poems include A Cage of Spines (1958), To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems (1963), Half Sun Half Sleep (1967), Iconographs (1970), New & Selected Things Taking Place (1978), and In Other Words (1987). Posthumous collections of her work include The Love Poems (1991), Nature: Poems Old and New (1994), and May Out West (1996). She is also the author of three collections of poems for younger readers, including Poems to Solve (1966) and More Poems to Solve (1968); a collection of essays, The Contemporary Poet as Artist and Critic (1964); and a one-act play titled The Floor, which was produced in New York in the 1960s. As translator, she published Windows and Stones: Selected Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (1972), which received a medal of excellence from the International Poetry Forum.

Administrative Information

Repository: MSS Manuscripts

Access Restrictions: Open

Use Restrictions:

Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.

Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University.

If you wish to publish or license Special Collections materials, please contact Special Collections to inquire about copyright status at (314) 935-5495 or spec@wumail.wustl.edu. (Publish means quotation in whole or in part in seminar or term papers, theses or dissertations, journal articles, monographs, books, digital forms, photographs, images, dramatic presentations, transcriptions, or any other form prepared for a limited or general public.)

Acquisition Source: Gift and Purchase

Acquisition Method:

Accession number 1448. Laid in material, January 2, 1976

Accession number 1541. Gift of May Swenson, January 22, 1982

Accession number 1640. Purchase, November 5, 1984

Accession number 1646. Purchase from May Swenson, December 17, 1984

Accession number 1801. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, September 12, 1989

Accession number 1829. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, March 10, 1990

Accession number 1843. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, September 26, 1990

Accession number 1847. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, October 9, 1990

Accession number 1854. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, October 28, 1990

Accession number 1856. Gift of the Harry C. Smith, October 4, 1990

Accession number 1868. Gift of Diane Ackerman, March 6, 1991

Accession number 1869. Gift of Peggy Lockard, Pepper Publishing, March 6, 1991

Accession number 1876. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, May 2, 1991

Accession number 1885. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, June 11, 1991

Accession number 1918. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, June 28, 1991

Accession number 1927. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, August 7, 1991

Accession number 1935. Rozanne Knudson, October 21, 1991

Accession number 1936. Gift of Rozanne Knudson, December 30, 1991

Accession number 1948. Unknown, April 22, 1992

Accession number 1951. Gift of the Estate of May Swenson, July 27, 1992

Accession number 22750. Unknown, October 23, 2003

Accession number 22770. Unknown, October 23, 2003

Accession number 22780. Unknown

Accession number 22915. Purchase from Rozanne Knudson, October 13, 2003

Accession number 22942. Purchase from Carole Berglie, December 2, 1999

Accession number 22943. Unknown, Purchase

Accession number 22944. Estate of May Swenson, unknown

Accession number 23017. Unknown

Accession number 23018. Unknown

Accession number 23019. Unknown

Accession number 23020. Unknown

Accession number 23021. Unknown

Accession number 23029. Gift of Rozanne Knudson, November 3, 2003

Accession number 23035. Purchase from Rozanne Knudson, 2004

Accession number 23046. Rozanne Knudson, unknown

Accession number 23055. Unknown, September 8, 2004

Accession number 23056. Rozanne Knudson, unknown

Accession number 23070. Rozanne Knudson, January 2005

Accession number 23913. Gift of unknown, 2007

Accession number 23925. Gift of unknown, October 23, 2007

Accession number 23960. Purchase from the Estate of May Swenson, August 10, 2010

Accession number 2013.009. Purchase from Carole Berglie, January 1, 2013

Accession number MSS2016-015. Purchase from Carole Berglie, May 15, 2016

Preferred Citation: Name of the Collection, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Correspondence],
[Series 2: Manuscripts],
[Series 3: Material Toward Books],
[Series 4: Manuscripts By Others],
[Series 5: Personal Papers],
[Series 6: Ephemera],
[Series 7: Audiovisual],
[Series 8: Realia],

Series 7: AudiovisualAdd to your cart.
Audiovisual consists of photographs, slides, records, cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes, and film strips.
Sub-Series 7.1: Photographs, Box 216-220, Folders 5737-5761Add to your cart.
Box 216Add to your cart.
Folder 5737: Anca Vrbovska and unidentified photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5738: Belize, Chan Chich lodge photographsAdd to your cart.
Taken by Ann Benton.
Folder 5739: Camping trips photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5740: Florida, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. photographsAdd to your cart.
Box 216-217Add to your cart.
Folder 5741-5744: Miscellaneous photographsAdd to your cart.
Box 217Add to your cart.
Folder 5745: Pet photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5746: Photographs from the Jet Propulsion LaboratoryAdd to your cart.
Folder 5748-5751: Photographs of SwensonAdd to your cart.
Box 218Add to your cart.
Folder 5752: Photographs taken by SwensonAdd to your cart.
Folder 5753: Riverside, California and Tucson, Arizona photographsAdd to your cart.
Box 219Add to your cart.
Folder 5754-5756: Sea Cliff photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5757: Sea Cliff and gay parade photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5758: Sea Cliff and sailing photographsAdd to your cart.
Box 220Add to your cart.
Folder 5759: Sea Cliff. Delaware, and Los Angeles photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5760: Sea Cliff, New York, and Bethany Beach, Delaware photographsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5761: Swenson family photographsAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 7.2: Slides, Box 221, Folder 5762Add to your cart.
Box 221Add to your cart.
Folder 5762Add to your cart.

Bethany Beach, Delaware slides

Miscellaneous slides

Sea Cliff slides

Sea Cliff and Los Angeles slides

Sub-Series 7.3: Records, Box 222Add to your cart.
Box 222Add to your cart.
Item 1: The City and the Modern WriterAdd to your cart.
See also Film Strips.
Item 2: Choice Magazine ListeningAdd to your cart.
Item 3: Claudio SpiesAdd to your cart.
Item 4: I've Got to Know and Other PoemAdd to your cart.
Item 5: Lee Anderson: Yale Series of Recorded PoetsAdd to your cart.
Item 6: Meyers-Swenson: 4 SongsAdd to your cart.
Item 7: The Poetry and Voice of May SwensonAdd to your cart.
Item 8: Poetry, Song, and DramaAdd to your cart.
Also houses Records to Accompany Oral and Written Composition: A Unit-Lesson Approach, The Sound of Lettering, and Sounds of the Space Age.
Item 9: Poets of TomorrowAdd to your cart.
Item 10: Responding Records SequenceAdd to your cart.
Item 11: Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any NeedleAdd to your cart.
Item 12: Today's Poets: Their Poems - Their VoicesAdd to your cart.
Item 13: Treasury Of 100 Modern American PoetsAdd to your cart.
Item 14: Twelve Contemporary PoetsAdd to your cart.
Item 15: Voices 3: Teaching GuideAdd to your cart.
Item 16: The World In BooksAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 7.4: Cassette Tapes, Box 222Add to your cart.
Cassette Tapes is divided into three subseries: Tapes Numbered by Rozanne Knudson, Interviews with Swenson's Family, and Miscellaneous Tapes. Stored in Film and Media Archive vault.
Sub-Series 7.4.a: Tapes Numbered by Rozanne KnudsonAdd to your cart.
Consists of tapes made by Swenson. The titles supplied by Swenson have been kept. Also, includes a description of the tapes by Rozanne Knudson. The tapes have been kept in the number order supplied by Knudson.
Item 1: Tape 1: Mrs. Cash’s House, Summer, 1970Add to your cart.
May and I lived in Lethbridge, Canada, in July of 1970 and taught courses at the University of Lethbridge. May taught poetry writing. She had a small tape recorder and made sounds using things she found around the house we rented, Mrs. Cash’s house. May and Zan can be heard laughing on this tape. (three volumes)
Item 2: Tape 2: Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, 1970: JuneAdd to your cart.
Driving around the Catskills in June, 1969, we found a field where bobolinks and other birds were nesting. We returned to the field several years. On this tape May and Zan are talking about the birds we were watching.
Item 3: Tape 3: Boat-Tailed Grackles, Palm Beach, 1970: December 25Add to your cart.
We were camped in a park near Palm Beach, Florida. Zan’s is the first voice speaking: “I got the crested flycatcher.” May’s first words are “Sure does.” She sat with her binoculars at the lake’s edge, scanning the boats, people in them, and the sky for birds. I’m reading the paper. There are sounds of the breakfast table, and Zan says “Let’s take a little walk.”
Item 4: Tape 4A: Houseboat, Janet Snoring; Weird Bird (Slow Speed), “Electronic Sound,” Read Until “Firecrackers,” Boring Part – EraseAdd to your cart.

The houseboat, which we named the “Alice B,” was one we rented (in June, 1970) with two friends for a week on Lake Shuswap in British Columbia. This voyage is also the subject for May’s poem, “The Beauty of Head.”

May recorded Janet snoring but must have erased. The sounds on the “Snoring” side were made on a birdwalk along the shore. May says “Do you see that cormorant out there.” I say “Look at the pine tree closest to the water.” I was carrying a birding scope. Birds can be heard: gulls, warblers, robins, white-throated sparrows, eastern wood-peewees.

Near the end of this tape are sounds of a gannet colony we visited on St. Bonaventurs Island, Canada, summer of 1971 or 1972.

The other side of this tape was made in May’s office at 73 The Boulevard. (I can hear her office clock ticking.) May reads from her poem “Electronic Sound” and makes electronic sounds. She reads “Question” with electronic music make with whistling and radio sounds and then sped up. Firecracker sounds from Sea Cliff Beach end this tape.

Item 5: Tape 4B: Apollo 14 Moon Landing; May talking about her poetry and reading itAdd to your cart.

May recorded her practice for a reading, covering up her recording of the Apollo 14 landing. I would say this practice reading was in the early 1970’s. She speaks of her “latest book,” Iconographs, published in 1970. She reads “A Basin of Eggs,” “The Kite,” “Cause & Effect,” “All That Time,” “The Tall Figures of G.,” “The Wave and the Dune,” “On Handling Some Small Shells,” “A Yellow Circle,” “The Little Rapids,” “Cardinal Idograms,” “Hypnotist,” “The World Beautiful,” “The Charm Box,” “The Day Moon,” “Red Moonset,” “Satanic Form,” “A Loaf of Time,” “Bleeding” (May cut off part).

Nor is the other side the Apollo landing. Instead May is in her office in Sea Cliff making sounds using a radio and another tape recorder. She uses her sound makers energetically.

Item 6: Tape 5: Unsubdued Birds, April-May, 1974; Cat Cries, 1983Add to your cart.

“Unsubdued” is the name of the house at 13 Addy Road, Middlesex, Delaware. I was a 1/3 owner of the house, 1965-1983. May and I would spend a month or two in the house each spring and fall, starting in 1973 or 1974.

May says “Listen to the parula buzzing.” She would often sit on the porch recording sounds in the yard. Birds on this tape are towees, catbirds, blue jays, flickers, house wrens, white-eyes vireos, and others.

The tapes other side was made in 1983. Most of it is electronic sound, slow motion until at the end May is urging the cat, Dusty, to cry for the microphone.

Item 7: Tape 6: May Swenson reading, Los Angeles, 1978Add to your cart.
May is reading to a live audience in a bookstore. She introduced each poem and was nervous about it, saying “Ummm” often. But she rarely stumbles reading her poems. She reads: “Survey of the Whole,” “Teeth,” “After the Dentist,” “Looks,” “To Make a Play,” “At the Museum of Modern Art,” “Going to the Whitney,” “Notes Made in the Piazza San Marco,” The Willets,” “Her Management,” “Staying at Ed’s Place,” “Scroppo’s Dog,” “Overboard,” “Sleeping Overnight on the Shore,” “Fire Island,” “The Solar Corona,” “Baseball,” “Watching the Jets,” “October.”
Item 8: Tape 7: Harsh Assortment, 1979; MacDowell & E. 20th St., 1981; Clock & Coins, etc. in Studio at MacDowell Nov. 1979Add to your cart.
This is an entire tape of sounds, some mixed with music. E. 20th Street refers to a rented apartment that we lived in the winter of 1981.
Item 9: Tape 8: On Dorland – Fall; Dorland and Birds, 1980Add to your cart.
We lived in a primitive cabin a the Dorland Mountain Colony in California during the winter of 1980. On this tape are sounds of May’s moving around the cabin: bringing in wood, taking out ashes. May says “In the pine forests, etc.” Mechanical sounds are possible from a battery-operated radio. (There was no electricity.) The other side begins with birds: Cooper’s hawk, brown towee, house wren, gold finches. The cat calling was one of Mrs. Dorlands many cats. She was living in a cabin nearby during our stay.
Item 10: Tape 9: Birds of the World 1980; E. 20th Street Followed by Candy-Texas Accent,Add to your cart.

May had a record (the old 33 kind) named “Beautiful Singing Birds of the World” (or something like that). May taped it on her Wollensak recorder (a large, heavy machine used by professional) and then slowed down the tape, sped it up, and retaped those sounds. She also makes sounds here with pans. Zan and May are talking slow motion.

The other side is electronic sounds. May announced “The name of that piece is “Snowing, East 20th St., January 16, 1981.” There are also sounds of May’s doing the dishes. Next is a conversation/monologue with and by Candy, May’s friend, the Elizabeth Bishop bibliographer. May’s side of the conversation reveals what a good listener she was. She reveals her hatred for doctors; calls them “bastards.”

Item 11: Tape 7: Harsh Assortment, 1979; MacDowell & E. 20th St., 1981; Clock & Coins, etc. in Studio at MacDowell Nov. 1979Add to your cart.
This is an entire tape of sounds, some mixed with music. E. 20th Street refers to a rented apartment that we lived in the winter of 1981.
Item 12: Tape 10: Birds—Delaware; Firecrackers—Sea Cliff, 1981: July 4Add to your cart.
May and Zan talking on the porch in Delaware, on Addy Road. Lost of catbirds calling, peepers at night. At the end of this side of the tape are firecrackers from Sea Cliff Beach. The other side is nothing but fireworks on the beach. Our house in Sea Cliff at 73 The Boulevard overlooked the main beach. May had probably set her tape recorder outside, on the terrace.
Item 13: Tape 11: Hammer & Birds, 13 Addy Rd, 4/81; Peepers & Others, Saws, Drills, Deer Squeaks, etc.; 13 Addy Road; 4/81 (to 140 Shuttle)Add to your cart.

May recorded hammers as Zan’s brother was building an addition on the Delaware house. Bird sounds are towees, fish crows, laughing gulls, titmice, a downey woodpecker, others. May makes sounds in the foreground.

The other side is radio sounds, then TV announcing the landing of the shuttle Columbia. May was most interested in America’s space program. She followed launchings and landings the way some people follow sports. After the landing here she makes various sounds and the birds sing again.

Item 14: Tape 12: Bill Smith’s Tribute to Jo Miles Read by M.S., M.S. Reading Academy of American Poets – with T. Hecht, Oct. 23 ‘85; Cont.- Elka and Gennine, Beginning MS reading (Roethke Fest) April 1981Add to your cart.

(The tape recorder seems to be running slow)

In her office in Sea Cliffs May is practicing the tribute to poet Jo Miles. Then she practices a reading she did with Tony Hecht. She reads: “Hurricane at Sea,” “Too Late” (an unpublished poem), “That the Soul May Wax Plump,” “Feel Me,” “I Look at My Hand,” “Morning at Pt. Dume,” “Innards,” “The Cross Spider,” “Summerfall,” “The Lips of Spring” (unpublished).

The other side is a conversation with twins. I don’t know who they are. I think this was recorded on East 20th St. in the winter of 1981. May says about thought transfer between twins: “I don’t care to believe until it’s shown to me in greater evidence” May always evinced polite skepticism about things she couldn’t see.

May practices a reading she did at the Roethke Festival in Penn. She reads “Analysis of Baseball,” “Watching the Jests Lose at Shea,” “Feel Like a Bird,” “The Willets,” “A Couple,” “Horse and Swan Feeding,” “Rain at Wildwood,” “Old #1,” “Overboard,” “Painting the Gate,” “Still Turning,” “Feel Me.”

She reads with Phil Levine and Stephen Spender, I think.

Item 15: Tape 13: “Say Something” – Dusty & Other Sounds May 1983—Addy Rd.; “Birds on Sunday,” Addy Road, Bethany, May 15, 1983Add to your cart.

May says “Say something” over and over to Dusty, the cat. May whistles and makes huff-puff sounds, groans, and singing sounds. (In 1983 she didn’t have as much trouble with asthma as she did later.) She records Dusty’s eating. May is sniffling as she often did with her allergy.

On the other side May says “A little humid.” Sounds of blue jays, catbirds, cardinals, robins, grackles, pine warblers, bob whites, wood thrush, yellow-throated warblers. May asks Dusty “What you want.” Zan says “What you doing” to Dusty. May is twisting her bird-sound maker given to her by Elizabeth Bishop.

Item 16: Tape 14: Sea Cliff (Both Sides),, 1983: July 4Add to your cart.
May like pure sounds, for their own sake and to mix with other sounds on tapes she’d already made. Here are firecrackers and other noised from Sea Cliff Beach. In the middle of one side of the tape she blows a whistle in time with the explosions.
Item 17: Tape 15A: May Swenson reading her poems, Nov. 14, ’83; Sept. 10, ‘84,Add to your cart.

Reading from 1st Section of THINGS TAKING PLACE. Tape made in Studio at Library of Congress, Nov. 14, 1983. Sept. 10 ’84 Practice for Golden Rose Reading for New England Poetry Club.

May reads a large section of poems, then uses the other side to practice, in her office in Sea Cliff, for a reading she did in Cambridge, at the Harvard Faculty Club, where she was awarded the Golden Rose by the New England Poetry Club.

She reads: “Speed,” “Watching the Jets Play at Shea,” “Choosing Craft,” “The Willets,” “Women,” “The DNA Molecule,” “Feel Me,” “Cause & Effect,” “Fable for When There’s No Way Out,” “ All That Time,” “To Make a Play,” “Let Us Prepare,” “Stoney Beach,” “The Cross Spider,” “Distinguished…” (unpublished), “Strawberring,” “Three White Vases,” and “The Fluffy Stuff.”

Item 18: Tape 15B; No TitleAdd to your cart.

Side 1: 1st Piece – Electronic & Real Sounds – Good ; 2nd Asian Birds, Traffic Horns, Cat Cries, etc. Work this out – Too Cut Up. Re-recorded. Last Piece—“A Lecture on Whales” Sept. 6, 1983 ; Side 2: a. Real Sounds & Electronic—Chair Squeaks, Ice in Water, etc. OK ; b. Electronic & Kitchen Drain then cat, radiators, telephone, etc.

Most of Side 1 can hardly be heard. Only one section is dated. The others are probably from about this same time (1983). I judge this from the cat cries. The cat is Dusty, who lived with us from winter, 1983, until fall, 1984. May’s notes on the yellow scrap of paper in the tape are more interesting than the sounds themselves. She judges the first piece “Good.” Of the second she says “Too cut up.”

Item 19: Tape 16: May Swenson: Folger (partial) 2&3 October, 1984 ; May Swenson: National Public Radio MS interviewAdd to your cart.

May reads live from the Folger Library after a short introduction, 2 Oct. 1984. “So Long to the Moon;” “The Cross Spider;” Shuttle poems; her eclipse poem; “Southbound on the Freeway;” “Speed;” “All That Time;” “A Fixture;” “Boy in a Canoe;” “Dummy, 51…;” “Blood Test;” “Angels/Eagles;” “Feel Me.”

May’s interview includes her reading of “Southbound on the Freeway” and “The Pure Suit of Happiness.” Of interest is that the announcer gives May’s age as 65 and May doesn’t correct her. (May was 71.)

Item 20: Tape 17: In & Out the Window W 11th St.; A Palimpsest 4/84; Dusty Cries – Here and There Sounds on W. 11th St. NYC ’84 (good)Add to your cart.
In the winter of 1984 we rented an apartment (owned by Wm. Merwin’s then girlfriend) on west 11th St. May recorded street noises, sounds around the apartment, and her made-up sounds. She mixes in some lines of her poems, spoken by herself. Dusty cries only a few times.
Item 21: Tape 18: Sound on Sound, Discovery of Huff Puff, Coco Grove, Spring 1985 (Full) ; Miami Sirens 1985 (Full)Add to your cart.

In Coconut Grove we lived for two winters on Indiana Street, not far from the main street to a hospital. The bird singing is a caged bird belonging to a neighbor. The loon calls are off of a bird record or from TV. May is whistling at the neighbor’s dog.

The huff-puff pumping sound I think is the pump we used to blow up our air mattresses. May is taping here over old tape. There’s some parts of the Saturday opera, Boris G. End sounds are of red-bellied woodpecker.

Item 22: Tape 19: New Window Sea Cliff, July ‘85 ; Piledriver, S.C., June’65 (May means ’85)Add to your cart.

A replacement window was being put into May’s office in the 73 Boulevard house. May whistles and mixes other sounds: birds, bird whistles, huffs and puffs, birds from other tapes. After baby-crying sounds May says “It’s a short subject.” Window sounds stop, then trucks on the Boulevard, finches at the bird feeder can be heard.

“Piledriver” begins with birds from a record of beautiful birdsongs. The beach piledriver cuts back and forth among house and bird sounds, sound tapes and May’s noises in foreground.

Item 23: Tape 20: Mechanical Animals – 1, Jan ’85, Coco Grove; Mechanical Animals – 2, Jan ’85, Coconut GroveAdd to your cart.

Zan says “It’s moving.” All sorts of sounds: birds, things around the house, May’s whistling and saying “Whaw,” May’s voice making noises. There’s a background of taped birds, possibly from a record Bishop sent from Brazil in the 1950’s.

I can’t confirm from the sounds the date of 1985 on this tape. We were in Coconut Grove that winter and I can’t hear May’s office clock so probably this was made in Florida.

Item 24: Tape 21A: Crazy Quilt 6/85 ; Old Venice & Corkscrew Swamp Fla., April 1985/Oriole at Sea CliffAdd to your cart.

Racing cars, pile driving sounds. Must be several tapes playing at the same time in Sea Cliff. (I can hear the clock.) Tape ends with the oriole that came every year to the side yard at Sea Cliff. It would arrive in May and sing until later June. By July we’d see several oriole babies.

The Old Venice tape had no sounds of Old Venice, a small town where we went to see and hear Bachman’s sparrow and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Instead the tape begins with cardinals, jays, piledivers from the beach and then the oriole and finches. May is on the terrace watering flowers. I hear her watering can being set down.

The walk in Corkscrew Swamp, Florida, was on a raised boardwalk above the water. May says “Did you see the stork move in.” Zan says “No, they’re buzzards.” Distant sounds of ducks, egrets, etc. I tell May to get her prescription changed. May whispers “Let’s move on – the crowd is behind us.” She says “I just heard a hawk.” ( In the middle of the swamp can be heard a bit of Sea Cliff Beach sounds. May must be recording over a Sea Cliff tape.) Zan says “Now you can see the immature white ibis.”

Item 25: Tape 21B: Sound On-Off Indoor Outdoor S.C. 6/85 ; Arrival at 4th of July S.C. ‘85Add to your cart.

May is making sounds around the house, picking up sounds from the Boulevard, the beaches, from motor boats on L.I. Sound, from TV and from tapes made earlier. These she mixes with her huff puff sounds, her rolling marbles in a pan, and dishwashing sounds.

May had a collection of sound makers on her desk in Sea Cliff: marbles, bells, whistles, etc. In “Arrival” she uses them against a background of beach, Boulevard, water sounds, an airplane, and recorded music. Cat sounds on the terrace must be the roaming Boa and other neighborhood cats.

Item 26: Tape 22: Begins the Carpenter 1986 Coco ; Coconut Grove Sounds to S.C. 1986 About ½ Way Is Readathon C.W. Post readingAdd to your cart.

The hammering carpenter was probably the man who installed an alarm system in our rented house after it had been robbed as we slept one Saturday night in January, 1986. I think the bird sounds are from a walk we took through the Miami Zoo bird house. The Coconut Grove sounds are birds and cars on Indiana Street, May’s washing dished, scraping pans. There’s Spanish on the radio. The Sea Cliff part begins with the bottle and bells.

May practices in her S.C. office for a reading at C.W. Post College on Long Island. The firs two poems are being practiced for a Readathon given at a mid-Manhattan bookstore. May reads “Pigeon Woman,” “To the Statue,” “The Digital Wonder Watch,” “Innards,” “Said Mouth to Ear,” “Painting the Gate,” “On the Gulf,” “Distinguished Octogenarian Accepts an Award” (unpublished). “On the Gulf” was published under another name. The final poem is cut off.

Item 27: Tape 23: Strange Live and In Heat 1987; Squeak and Other Doodles 1-2-3, 1987, Ocean ViewAdd to your cart.
May is making sounds while our cat Blueberry is in heat and screaming. May whistles to Blueberry. May can be heard taking her asthma inhaler and going upstairs to the third floor. The fire signal from the local tower sounds at noon. (Often May took down raw sounds such as these, planning to make a piece with them later.) These two pieces use only the sounds that are happening at the time the recorder is on. “Squeak” is a contrast. May seems to be using altered sounds from machine to machine.
Item 28: Tape 24: Ocean View, Jan. ’87, Speak Piece For Big Machine ; Alien & I Ocean View, Del., March, 1987Add to your cart.
The sounds are blurry on both sides of this. The tape must have been used a lot. Soft, infrequent bell sounds and May’s electric typewriter may have been recorded from old tapes. “Alien and I” is called that because if the movie sounds recorded here from TV. May mixes her own squeaks with the movie.
Item 29: Tape 25: Werewolf & Young, O.V., Dec. 1988 ; The Other Side Ocean View 1989Add to your cart.
Both sides made in Ocean View, Delaware, at the house I built there in 1983. The squeak in May’s squeaking desk chair. She says “Oh, shit.” Playful sounds from around the house at 3 West Avenue. It was winter so doors weren’t open for outdoor sounds. The other side sounds like a continuation. There’s an empty place on the tape but then sound continues with squeaks.
Item 30: Tape 26: Park City ; San MarineAdd to your cart.

May’s practice reading for a Utah writers conference in Park City, I think in the spring of 1987 or ’88. She reads, with many comments: “Waterbird;” “Dummy, 51;” “A Thank-You Letter;” “Alternate Side Suspended;” “Third-Floor Walk Up;” “Fluffy Stuff;” “Summerfall;” “Morning at Pt. Dume;” “Saguaros Above Tucson;” “The Cross Spider;” “Pale Sun;” “A New Pair;” “Innards;” “Fit;” “Giraff.” May’s nose is running badly during this practice, a sign of her worsening allergy.

May practice fro her reading at the Anne Stanford Memorial Tribute in San Marion, California ( I think it was in 1988 or ’89). She read the work of Ann Stanford, who had been a good friend to May and to May’s poetry. May truly love Ann’s poems and believed they weren’t given enough attention by readers and critics.

Item 31: Tape 27: May Swenson Practice Reading for U. Wash Roethke Reading, 1989Add to your cart.
May’s practice reading, with comments, for the Roethke Reading at the University of Washington, May 25, 1989. She says she will be reading from NEW AND SELECTED and from IN OTHER WORDS. She sounds very tired during this practice. I think this was the last reading May gave: “October,” “From Sea Cliff, March 10,” the poem that begins “You swam out,” “All That Time,” “Daffodils” (part of “A City Garden in April”), “Waking from a Nap on the Beach,” “Rain at Wildwood,” “Cat and the Weather,” “Distance and a Certain Light,” “Southbound on the Freeway,” “Models of the Universe,” and “At Truro.”
Sub-Series 7.4.b: Interviews with Swenson's FamilyAdd to your cart.
Consists of interview of Swenson's brothers and sisters: Ruth Eyre, Beth Hall, San Swenson, George Swenson, and Margaret Woodbury. Titles from tapes have been used. The interviews were conducted by Mary Weaver.
Item 1: Interview with Ruth Eyre – sister of May Swenson; June 11, 1994; Logan, Utah; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Item 2: Interview with Beth Hall – sister of May Swenson; June 9, 1994; Payson, Utah ; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Beth’s husband, Jay Hall, speaks at the end of the tape.
Item 3: Interview with Dan Swenson – brother of May Swenson ; June 11, 1994; Logan, Utah ; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Item 4: Interview with George Swenson – brother of May Swenson; June 8, 1994; Provo, Utah ; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Item 5: Interview with Paul Swenson – brother of May Swenson; June 9, 1994; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Item 6: Interview with Margaret Woodbury – sister of May Swenson; May 31, 1994; Bell Harbor, NY ; Tape Copy #2Add to your cart.
Sub-Series 7.4.c: Miscellaneous TapesAdd to your cart.
Consists of miscellaneous tapes, many containing Swenson poems or readings. Titles from tapes have been used.
Item 1: Aaron Jay Kerns – America(n) (Day) DreamsAdd to your cart.

Side A: Aaron Jay Kernis, America(n) (Day) Dreams, 1984. Text by May Swenson. Musical elements, Karen Lykes, mezzo.

Side B: The cat, Dusty, in heat and other sounds by May.

Item 2: Beginnings in LiteratureAdd to your cart.

Side 1: The King of Mazy May; Painting the Gate; Tom and the Loose Tooth.

Side 2: from A Christmas Carol (Scenes 1 and 6); April Rain Song; Paul Revere’s Ride; The Corner; Life Doesn’t Frighten Me; Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865; Dust of Snow; Blue-Butterfly Day; Fireflies in the Garden.

Item 3: Early MorningsAdd to your cart.

Poems by May Swenson; Music of Lester Trimble; 4 Songs for Guitar & High Voice; William Matthews, Guitar; Frank Hoffmeister, Tenor; Premiere, Nov. 3, 1980.

Side A: By Morning; At Breakfast

Side B: Early Morning: Cape Cod; The Exchange

Item 4: From records in the Library of Congress: Today's Poets, 12 Contemporary Poets, and Treasury of 100 Modern PoetsAdd to your cart.
Item 5: Funeral of Anna May SwensonAdd to your cart.
Item 6: Interview with Sister Mary Aaron Davenport, 1968: June 2Add to your cart.

See also reel-to-reels and Series II,6 Interviews, Interview with Sister Mary Aaron Davenport.

Copies made from original reel-to-reel.

Item 7: Last Rites (4 poems by May Swenson), John Patrick Thomas, Night PracticeAdd to your cart.
Item 8Add to your cart.
Item 9: PoemsAdd to your cart.

Side 1: The Common Cormorant or Shag, Three Nuns, The Witch, The Middle of the Night, Bats, A Blessing, Jabberwocky, and July.

Side 2: And the days are not full enough, Worms and the Wind, Incident, The Cat and the Moon, What a Coincidence, Peas, In the Nigh, Was Worm, Buffalo Dusk, Dream Variation, The Old Man’s Song.

Item 10: Poems are Personal “They Speak in Many Voices”Add to your cart.
Item 11: StarscapesAdd to your cart.
Item 12: Tiger Balm, Annea Lockwood, 1970Add to your cart.
Practice reading beginning with a poem by E. Bishop.
Item 13: “Women, Women,” A FixtureAdd to your cart.

Side A: “Women, Women” sung by Elizabeth Holt Brown, soprano accompanies by Persis Vehar. 1. A Fixture by MS. 2. Resisting Each Other by A. Waldman. 3. Survival by B. Greenberg.

Tape received Feb. 1980. See letter 2/15/80 from Persis Vehar at Buffalo, NY. (Contained in within tape cover)

Item 14: The World of Books and Poets of TomorrowAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 7.5: CDs, Box 222Add to your cart.
Item 1: DimensionsAdd to your cart.
Includes Swenson's poem, A Fixture, set the music by Persis Vehar. Also includes brochure.
Item 2: RadioWest, Poet May SwensonAdd to your cart.
Item 3: The Second Madrigal: Voices of WomenAdd to your cart.
Includes Swenson's poem, Question, set the music by Yehudi Wyner. Also includes brochure.
Item 4: Truth BecomingAdd to your cart.
Inspired by the poetry of Swenson with music by Pamela J. Marshall.
Sub-Series 7.6: VHS tapes, Box 222Add to your cart.
Stored in Film and Media Archive vault.
Item 1: May Swenson: Poetry Is Alive & Well & Living in America, 1969.Add to your cart.
Item 2: Swenson family films, 1936-1938. Soundtrack made in 1989.Add to your cart.
Item 3: Swenson family films, ca. 1951-1959. Swenson's mother, father, brothers, and sisters appear. Swenson appears briefly holding up her book, A Cage of Spines in 1958 or 1959. Soundtrack made in 1989.Add to your cart.
Item 4: Swenson on T.V., Swenson in Poetry Is Alive & Well & Living in America, and Swenson's trip to Utah to receive an honorary Ph.D. from Utah State University and reading her poems to her family in the back yard, 1987.Add to your cart.
Sub-Series 7.7: Film Strips, Box 222Add to your cart.
Stored in Film and Media Archive vault.
Item 1: The City and the Modern WriterAdd to your cart.

See also Records.

Part I: The City: A Lens

Part II: Images and Impressions

Sub-Series 7.8: Reel-to-reels, Box 222Add to your cart.
Stored in Film and Media Archive vault.
Item 1: Interview with Sister Mary Aaron Davenport, 1968: June 2Add to your cart.

See also Cassette tapes and Series II,6 Interviews, Interview with Sister Mary Aaron Davenport.

Reel-to-reel removed from original box and placed in archival box, Original box retained.

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Correspondence],
[Series 2: Manuscripts],
[Series 3: Material Toward Books],
[Series 4: Manuscripts By Others],
[Series 5: Personal Papers],
[Series 6: Ephemera],
[Series 7: Audiovisual],
[Series 8: Realia],

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