Joseph Langland reads from Wheel of Summer (Dial Press, 1963), poems translated and later published in Poetry from the Russian Underground (Harper & Row, 1973), poems published in The Massachusetts Review (please see works cited for exact issues) and some poems unpublished.



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Introducer - unknown


This evening, Joseph Langland reads. Mr. Langland was born in Spring Grove, Minnesota, and attended the public schools of Minnesota and Iowa, attended the State University of Iowa. He has taught at the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington, the San Francisco Poetry Center, and so forth. He has been a professor of English at the University of Wyoming, and he is presently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts. And he has been associated with the Massachusetts Review as a member of its editorial board. His publications: For Harold, a collection of memorial poems for a younger brother killed in World War II and published in Germany in 1945, The Green Town, which was published in 1956 by Scribner’s and nominated for the National Book Award in Poetry in 1957, and The Wheel of Summer published in 1963 by Dial Press, and winner of the Melville Kane Poetry Award. He has also published two anthologies, Poet's Choice, co-edited with Paul Engle, published in 1952, and The Short Story, published in 1956 and co-edited with James B. Hall, published by Macmillan. He has forthcoming a volume, a small volume called Adley Stevenson, which is to be published in Iowa City by the Stonewall Press, and is, will contain one long memorial poem and two lyrics. And also a larger volume, to appear perhaps next year, called Songs and Half-Songs. His poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, and have appeared in such journals as Poetry Chicago, Hudson Review, Chicago Review, Paris Review, London Magazine, Nation, and so forth. He has written lyrics for songs by Morton Gould, Phillip Esantzen, Elliot Schwartz, and also lyrics and music for folksongs. He has been recorded by FolkWays Scholastic Records, reading eight of his poems, and he has held a number of grants. In 1953-54 he was, he held a Ford Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities, in 1955 and 56, an Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Fellowship, and in 1966, or last year, rather, a National Council of Arts Grant in Poetry, and in this period, he gave a series of readings at universities throughout Europe, in Glasgow, London, Sussex, Munich, Oslo, and University College in Dublin. Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Joseph Langland.






Joseph Langland


So much of that sounds irrelevant. So I will begin by reading a poem which was really written in answer to a critic. I've written two poems in answers to critics. And this is one of them. I call it "Desperate Equations."




Reads "Desperate Equations"


Joseph Langland


Then I would like to go to, from that to a newer poem, one which I call "Natures."




Reads "Natures"


Joseph Langland


And I'd like to just simply move from that to a poem which is called, "Dandelion." It's a poem that, well, the daughter of a famous poet likes it very much, and she recently said so, and so consequently I'm very fond of it at the moment. I think this is a kind of procedure among artists. They tend to like very much, at least for a little while, something that someone else likes. It's a poem which I say partially for my wife, it's a poem of affection, but I wouldn't just simply say "for" my wife, it's for all of you, too. "Dandelion."




Reads "Dandelion."


Joseph Langland


I visited once a grotto in the southern coast of Italy, the Amalfi Grotto, and its typical of a whole series of such places. It's completely enclosed. You enter it...well actually, I was there a year ago, and it's a little disappointing, because, to sort of accommodate the tourist trade, they've blown out a little section of the wall, and they've hung a flapping canvas cloth over it. But eleven years ago this wasn't so, and you descend in an elevator into this inner room, and it's an absolutely magic place, it's explained to you, for instance, that about sixteen feet under the level of the sea, the Tyrrenian Sea, there's a large hole in the cave, and the sunlight, particularly in the morning, you come there about 11 in the morning, it's a good time, the sun filters down these sixteen feet and through this huge hole and then comes up inside the cafe. And the effect of this is absolutely eerie because it's completely enclosed, it's like darkness, but you get in there, and you adjust, and everything is just luminous with light, water, everything. You pick up, and you dip your hands in water and pick them up, you know, drops of water fall from you fingers from the orb-blades that splash, the orb is simply just a whole splash of light that goes up, like that. It's magic, see. And I want to believe in the magic, but in this sense I want to believe in this way in poetry. We shouldn't, I think, just simply deceive ourselves, we can talk about what is, but somehow it's a responsibility to do a little bit more than what is, and so I've written this poem, and of course it's about the Amalfi Grotto, it's about our own behaviour, an attitude toward many things, and it's also, for me, a poem about poetry. "The Amalfi Grotto."




Reads "The Amalfi Grotto"


Joseph Langland


I would go from that to a poem for my brother. I call the poem "War." This was a brother who was killed in the Philippines in World War II. I was in Europe at the time. I wrote thirty poems, at least, for him, following this. And finally I wrote this poem. This was...about eleven years afterwards when I got to this poem. And with this poem I knew I was, I was through writing those poems. It's also a poem that's had a very curious history. The history of poems is something that's difficult to predict. I was in Germany at the time, I suppose the next German soldier I met I would have shot. But this poem has been seen, or was seen a few years ago by a former infantry officer in the German Army, who at that moment was a captive at Stalingrad. He's come into the United States now and teaches music in an American university, not the one I'm in. And so he set it to music. And so it's a strange irony. I started the whole sequence, see, but, see art pays no attention to that kind of enmity whatsoever. And so it's been set to music by a former infantry officer in the German army. Also, just this past week, actually two days ago, I got a notice it's been published in a Japanese anthology, and it's been translated into Italian, and so all the axis powers have translated it, and then somehow, I don't, still don't know how, it found its way after the Hungarian Revolution into Budapest in '56, and got translated there, I understand a very poor translation into Hungarian, but nevertheless it's happened. This is just part of its history. And other things have been happening to it strangely like this. I just mention this because, see, at a certain point the thing is out of your control completely, and you sort of are, I feel a bit humbled by what happens to them, and the uses that people put these things to. I wrote poems in all sorts of forms for my brother, and I finally, there're some subjects...well, I'd heard William Carlos Williams give a reading at the Lexington Y in New York City in 1954, and so I said, okay, I was still dealing with the same poem, and I was in an apartment up in 96th Street, and it was a very foggy night coming home, and I heard all these great foghorns coming off over the lower bay, over Manhattan and so forth. And I wrote another poem, "A Seachange for Harold," which I'm not going to read, except just the beginning.




Reads beginning of "A Seachange for Harold"


Joseph Langland


Well that's, I wrote that thing first, and then I came back to this other poem, in which I just said, okay I'll put it down the way it was, but there's some subjects that by their very nature you can't do much about. Except, of course, the whole dry feeling associated with it led me to all kinds of selections. If there seem to be an excess of family in the poem, I just simply say I am one of nine children.




Reads "War"


Joseph Langland


I would go from that to some poems I'm trying to write now. Some of these poems are songs, and I've been writing music for them, also, but, and this is such a song. I call it "A Hard Song to Sing," and it's really about the contemporary condition of war and civil rights problems which threaten to just overwhelm the United States. And almost the entire poem is monosyllabic, but it just seemed like it had to be that way. So. I...and actually, the tune that goes with this thing is...well, I know for instance that I could come in right on pitch on it. I once fell in love with--I don't have absolute pitch, but I fell in love with a song by Edward Grieg, and all I have to do is remember this song and I can always begin singing in A flat. But, it's, sometimes I think that maybe this is what I mean by being so right with your subject that you finally say the right thing about it. Somehow the resonance, just the resonance of the idea set up in my body brings me in on pitch, see. Well, I'll just read it.


Joseph Langland


"The clear, cold night"...oh I'll sing, I'll sing the one stanza.




Sings "A Hard Song to Sing"


Joseph Langland


And it repeats itself in various ways, the melody varies.




Reads "A Hard Song to Sing"


Joseph Langland


I...when I spent some time in Europe, among other people I met Ralph Ellison. And he and his wife, Fanny, and my wife, Judy, and I, we spent several very fine noons on a beach of a small Italian fishing town, and ever since then I've been trying to write a poem for him. He's been relatively silent, at least, he's not taken a very aggressive role in the whole civil rights movement, although he has published significant essays in that whole thing. Many of you will know his great novel The Invisible Man. And I've written a poem, I call it "An Open Letter to Ralph Ellison," I'm reading it, I have to send it to him. I have not sent it out to be published anywhere, either. You probably do know he used to be a jazz player, he played the trumpet, he was a photographer and so forth and he did live in some sort of cellar that he had brilliantly lit for a while, but in The Invisible Man there are aspects of this kind of background, too. So I just wanted to address--I started writing him a letter. And then I got interested in writing in the letter and quit the letter and wrote the poem instead, but that's the way it'd be. It was "Dear Ralph," you know but just, now the poem begins, "Ralph..."




Reads "An Open Letter to Ralph Ellison"


Joseph Langland


Well, I will move from that to a poem on Thoreau. Actually, I'm doing a whole book of these things. But one...actually, the first time I ever went to Walden Pond, things turned out like an art farm. There were certain people there, and I met people in certain sequences, and of course I've told all sorts of people that, when they write poetry, you know, just to say that this is the way it happened, or this is the way it was, you know, that's no guarantee that it will be art at all. But in this case, something else had happened, see, Thoreau himself plays influence and just simply organized, you know, a hundred years later, certain people who would be there. And this happened just this way, and so I, almost to defend myself against all the things I'd ever said to people, I called the poem, "How It, So Help Me, Was." And that's the title of the poem. I end with a, the blue-grey twilight, because it was 1963, and it was, or '62 when I went there, and it was, you know, a hundred years after the war between the North and the South in the United States, the blue and the grey. And I felt that whole shadow, and even, in a curious way, it's on the west end of the pond, actually, I'd gone swimming in it, it's illegal, but then the shadow was coming off the hill and it was just sort of beginning to cover, to cover me, and it was a blue-grey shadow, you see, I'm not making that up. And, but...I suppose that's a kind of selection you take out of what is made available to you at a certain point. So "How It, So Help me, Was."




Reads "How It, So Help Me, Was"


Joseph Langland


[Aside] That's a little poem he's written that's on the hearth there, about the smoke rising.


Joseph Langland


I know at a time like this I keep thinking all the time in poetry, you know, what does it mean in poetry to somehow keep alive, keep the whole body open, and I wanted to write a poem about that. I call this one "Still to be Man." Because sort of in an animal way, we have to be able to continue to take in all sorts of things.




Reads "Still to be Man"


Joseph Langland


[Aside] I can remember when I was, the morning I was trying to write this poem because I was home alone, I stepped out the kitchen door and as I stepped out I felt I didn't even have to land on the earth itself, I would just step out into the air.




Continues reading "Still to be Man"


Joseph Langland


Last year, I spent with my family a half a year in Rome, and I got acquainted with a certain kind of syndrome among some of the Roman women. They sort of get trapped, in a society which seems free and easy and open, there's an extreme conservatism. For instance, I know, well, a person who teaches art in an American university, he and his wife were adopting some children in Italy a few years ago, and he could not have children and she could. It was proved by tests in this country, and they went to adopt two children in Italy. But you cannot adopt children in Italy on this basis because by law, no man in Italy can be sterile. [Laughter] And this is a law. And so they had to go to Naples and be tested all over again, officially, by a doctor in Naples, and a lawyer had to follow this, and they discovered after the tests that she was sterile and she was not, and they got this all certified and they adopted the children and they now have them and are living happily with them. But there's some, there's another side to this coin, too. And so, we lived next to a high school called the church, or the school of the Adorazione, and I'd see this women, you know, they're so beautiful when they're young, and then when they get married they start dressing in black and start cooking spaghetti and having children, and something awful happens, and then their husbands lose interest in them and then they have to find other lovers and then, you know, it's an awful thing. [Laughter] It's "La Donna a Roma, an Odyssey."




Reads "La Donna a Roma, an Odyssey"


Joseph Langland


Well then, another kind of thing that happens in our society, I think it happens to many people, I've been writing a series of half-songs. I call them half-songs, they're at half-pitch, half-singing pitch, where we talk and we don't talk together. You know, we say something and someone answers and it goes, you know, we keep going past each other. And so I've written a poem that, it has two separate parts, both parts rhyme all the way but you won't hear this at all, I was talking about that with the class here, today, it may be aesthetically valid for myself alone. And it's one, it's called "Not Quite a Conversation: A Half-Song," and the first part is called "He and Her." You see, "he" is the noun and "her" is the object. And the next part is called, "She and Him." "She" is the noun and "him" is the object. And they're talking. Or, we're talking about them. And so, in a sense they should be printed facing each other on the page, and I can't read them together, so I have to read first "He and Her," then I might, they talk back and forth to each other all the way through the poem. "He and Her."




Reads "He and Her"


Joseph Langland


And the other, "She and Him." As I say, it rhymes all the way, and triad by triad it answers.




Reads "She and Him."


Joseph Langland


I guess we take a break in the program.




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Joseph Langland


And, I will read just one or two of these. And once again, I make no particular claim as to the validity of this, and probably in the long run it’s not even a fruitful thing. All my grandparents were born in Norway, my name is Langeland. You know, they dropped the 'e' and called it Langland. And I have been back there a couple of times, I might go again this summer and work with a Norwegian poet, Paul Brekke, and maybe another one, on some translations from the Norwegian. I don't know much Norwegian, he knows a lot of English. [Laughter] But when I was going through there a year ago, I got two, two poems. First this one, "Singing in Late Summer." When my father died they played a folksong, "Den store hvide Flok," "The Great White Host," at his funeral. And I'd sort of shipped my children off to jobs, I had, you know, I had a fourteen-year-old boy working on a ranch in Wyoming, and a twelve-year-old son working on a farm in Iowa, and a daughter who'd gone off to work in [inaudible] who was what, fifteen, sixteen, to a hotel in Switzerland, and my wife was in Provincetown, painting, and I was at home writing. Which is what I wanted to do all the time, in any case. "Singing in Late Summer."




Reads "Singing in Late Summer"


Joseph Langland


And then, traveling through Norway, all these rivers, you know, they just...they're tumbling all over, rushing everywhere, and falling off the tops of mountains, you know, it just seemed endless, going from Oslo to Bergen and Trondheim and down to Oslo and so forth. Or down to the Island of Store along the west coast of Norway. And so, I was thinking of a phrase I'd heard an old, an older woman in my own area say about the younger generation. She would always say, "[inaudible phrase in Norwegian.]" And so I saw these rivers, and every time I saw them I kept saying, "[inaudible phrase in Norwegian.]" [Laughter] And so then I started thinking of all of these Norwegian immigrants that just came, you know, more of them over here than there are over I, it's about the rivers, it's called "Norwegian Rivers," and it's about the people, the younger people, and it's about the immigrants, and the older immigrants, everything like that, I guess.




Reads "Norwegian Rivers"


Joseph Langland


Well, there's several like that. But I want to do some other things, so I'll just leave them alone. I' know, I'm translating from the Russian, and no pretense about it, I have two great friends, Thomas Axel, who was press agent for Imre Nagy for eleven days, before, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, and then he escaped to Austria. He teaches at my university, he's a very fine poet, he used to be a director of theatre in Budapest, of the State Theatre. And then Laszlo Ticosz, he teaches in the German-Russian department at the university. They both, for years, have been collecting from the underground poems by relatively unknown poets, student poets and so forth, from Russia, and they have a magnificent collection of these things. They give me, absolutely literal cribbed translations, and then I work with them, and there're some magnificent things coming, and I'm as certain as I stand here that the moment these things are sent into a publisher, not because of what I'm doing, but because of the nature of the thing, that it'll be just snapped up. This is relative, totally fresh new material, no one else has it, they have, through their own channels in the underground, they are being fed this. And so I find it very exciting, and as I said to someone today, I have to sort of take it through my own experience, which included...I won't say poverty, that's not the right word, but absolutely no money, not poverty because we could milk the cow and, you know, raise the garden vegetables and shear our sheep and make our own blankets and, you know, we had food, clothing, and shelter. And then the war in Europe, and I was in well, concentration camps, I wasn't in them, but I was, at Nordhausen, I sort of participated in the burial of five thousand people in one day in open trenches, and was with a headquarters unit a few days after and captured Buchenwald, and it...I won't say it's these things that pulled together, I was in Weimar when it was turned over to the Russians, I remember going out of there, you know, it was half the German population in their carts going toward Eisenach, to the west, and the Russian cavalry coming in, meeting it from the east...lots of things, but so that's simply what this material comes through, and so I have some sympathy for it. This is a poem "Drowning," by a person named Sergey Chudakov.




Reads "Drowning" by Sergey Chudakov


Joseph Langland


[Aside--after the line "Bright as a storied tower," Langland adds:] See, in the original it says "Bright as a house"




Continues reading "Drowning" by Sergey Chudakov


Joseph Langland


This is "The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad" by Joseph Brodsky.




Reads "The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad" by Joseph Brodsky


Joseph Langland


See the poem says, "lie musicians, lawyers, businessmen, and revolutionaries." I'm very certain in this case that, you know, I felt great when I thought of saying it in this other way. Makes it better.




Continues reading "The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad" by Brodsky


Joseph Langland


For instance, the original translation was that this whole thing is "one hour by foot FROM the nearest bus stop." And as far as I'm concerned, saying "to" is apt, a crucial difference, "and the crooked faces of the plywood," see, "are one hour by foot TO the nearest bus stop." Wanted the whole sense that they might all get up and walk and haunt us, see, coming the other way. Here's a poem about conditions by Artyemy Mikhailov. These names maybe just be relatively anonymous, although some of them are among the friends that have been defending Sinyavsky and Daniel. His idea about conditions. And it was a pretty rigid, stiff poem and I had to try to get movement in it and so forth. And it's whole, if, if you've, if your dearest friend has not been trapped and dragged to a camp, if, if, if, the entire way through.




Reads “Conditions” by Artyemy Mikahilov


Joseph Langland


Here once again, there's so many of these, I just, here's one in the older style but it's one that's full of an elegant, lyric despair, "Now that I know," by Vladimir Kovshin.




Reads "Now that I Know" by Vladimir Kovshin


Joseph Langland


This is a poem called "After the War," by Gleb Garbovsky. I just completed this this previous weekend, these I'm reading from now.




Reads "After the War" by Gleb Garbovsky


Joseph Langland


Incidentally, I used the phrase "called back" because that's on Emily Dickinson's tomb in Amherst, Massachusetts. Just an example of how you get your own little allegiance and locality into something else.




Continues reading "After the War" by Gleb Garbovsky


Joseph Langland


Here's one, "Keeping up with the Humanskys." It's a poem about keeping up with the Joneses. [Laughter] I had a lieutenant in the army who said his name was Humansky, and he said his, that man, I'll never forget it because he said that means "son of the fields" but I've been called worse names. I remember him saying that. And so I...Son of the fields, I thought, that's great, you know, I was looking for a Russian name that would be like the Joneses, only this is like the serfs, son of the fields, of the soil. Couldn't be better. "Keeping up with the Humanskys." So, see, that's my good luck out of a little piece of experience that came to me when I needed it.




Reads "Keeping up with the Humanskys"


Joseph Langland


Then there's one about a march from Russia to Siberia. And, "Etape". There's no title in the original, there's a footnote, which was, these were sent to Axel and Ticosz from Russia, this poem. Neither the name nor the fate of its author is known. The phrase "Marching in Etape" originates from the nineteenth century. One stretch of the Long March from Russia to Siberia was called Etape, and it was in a ballad stanza form, so that's the way I did it. It's...little old style, but.




Reads "Etape"


Joseph Langland


Then "The Garbage Collector," a poem that...




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Reads "The Garbage Collector”. Recording begins suddenly mid-sentence, continuing from first CD of this reading.




Loud laughter follows the line, "But even the young kids launch from their mother's breast with a cosmological finger"


Joseph Langland


[Aside, in middle of poem] --I'm very proud of that too, because you know in the old Renaissance things there's always these, an infinitely wise Christ Child, you know, at the mother's breast but his eyes are looking out elsewhere, and he's pointing like this, you know, and it's, so I thought, you know, that's not quite the translation but it's mine. But even, "But even the young kids launch from their mother's breast with a cosmological finger..." [Continues reading poem]


Joseph Langland


Well, these are, you know, poems out of new, unknown--




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Joseph Langland


I've sort of been threatening to sing something, and the trouble is, I' I...I wouldn't play the piano if there were one here, and I don't play the guitar, and if I play this thing, it's locked stuff, I'm tied to it, and, I haven't played this tape that's accompanying me, you know, for at least three weeks, and I haven't sung a note since I left Amherst, except the notes I sang here, so, that's all right. These are songs of all sorts. So this is my accompaniment. I hope it works, if it doesn't I'll just stop it.




Plays recorded track of piano accompaniment.


Joseph Langland


Listen here, just a song called "All the Lovers that You Ever Knew."




Sings "All the Lovers that You Ever Knew"


Joseph Langland


This next is a song called "Alone the Evening Falls on Me." Sometimes I wonder, just trying to remember it here, whether I'm supposed to start singing now, and I'll get to the end of the song and I won't have accompaniment for the last dance." [Laughter]




Sings "Alone the Evening Falls on Me"


Joseph Langland


This is a song called "Jump on my Back." It's about Iowa and Wyoming. But since Wyoming didn't work, I had to say Idaho. [Laughter]




Sings "Jump on my Back"


Joseph Langland


This next one is called "A Hiroshima Lullaby." There's an infinitely sad story. In Hiroshima when the bomb fell, in 1945, there was a little girl, Sadako Sasaki, two years old, some of you may know of her. She was a mile and a half from the centre of the blast and apparently unharmed. She was a very gay and popular girl, and her classmates loved her. And she was in the sixth grade or the equivalent, age twelve, in Hiroshima, Hiroshima, however you pronounce it. And she developed leukemia, which is of course, as many of you know, a latent effect of many people exposed to radiation, so she was, after all, a victim. And she, well she finally became so ill she had to go to the hospital. And her friends came to visit her. And among other things, they told her, and that she knew, that there's an old Japanese legend about herons. I've been writing poem about herons and cranes and I have some in my book, one on a sandhill crane, and I told some people today that I'm going to the University of Oregon in June to speak in their summer Academy of the Arts, and I heard of a person who works in wildlife out in Oregon, and so because of the poem about the crane he's invited me to visit his wildlife refuge, about two or three hours east of Eugene, where he has a refuge among other things for sandhill cranes, you know these water birds are simple. And so I'm going to visit him. I look forward to it. Not because of a poem, see, it's nice. And so, Sadako Sasaki in the hospital, she heard that if you fold a thousand paper cranes in this Japanese folding technique, this will protect your health and save you. So she started folding them. And the tale has two sides. She reached 964 and she died. Her classmates were so, at the centre so involved they completed the thousand, they formed them in a chain. They went around gathering the equivalent of pennies, around Japan, and when they got enough they asked a sculptor from Tokyo to make a statue of this girl, and so he made a statue'll surely see pictures of this if you haven't. It's a young, twelve year-old girl, you know, still with a girl's body, she's standing up like this....and she stands in the Peace Park in Hiroshima now. And over her, made out of gold, the folded crane. And so, I wanted to write a poem for her. And so just using the fifth in the bass, and then using the five notes, black keys, I wrote a little ballad and I'll probably sing one stanza maybe, and then read the rest.




Plays and sings "A Hiroshima Lullaby"




Reads the continuation of "A Hiroshima Lullaby"


Joseph Langland


I wanted to write a civil rights song, something that you could march to in Madison Square Garden. And that's, you know, it's a marching song. That's like that.




Sings ["I long to walk in the promised land"]




Langland stops tape player with recording of piano accompaniment.


Joseph Langland


Well, there are a lot more of these songs and I'm just going to stop the tape at this time because...I haven't even begun reading you my favourite poems, [Laughter] and I know it's about to end but maybe, maybe I can read for fifteen minutes or so. If you have to go, just get up and go. But. When I was in Italy in 1954, I read in Marcus Cunliffe's The Literature of the United States, "New York is the intellectual centre of the United States." That made my blood boil [Laughter] because it's a marketplace, so I just simply took his own book, The Literature of the United States, took all his authors, and lined them up, and all the places where they were born, where they grew up, and where they wrote from, and sent them the chart, which proves, out of his own book, that in literature, creative ideas, there have been three great centers and then two subordinate ones. New England, the Midwest, and the South, and then as subordinate ones, they're the West Coast, and then the mid-Atlantic, New York area. That's in literature. And we got in an argument...the result of it all was that I invited him to come and teach at my university. So he came and he gave an address, and in one of his speeches he said, “Americans are overly given to haruspicating and scrying”. Well, you know, when someone comes out of England and says, gives, delivers a lecture to an American audience and says that, among other things you have to look up the words [Laughter.]..and, I looked them up and I discovered "haruspicating," the Haruspects were Roman and Etruscan pagan priests who examined the entrails of sacrificial animals to predict natural phenomena and the future. So I started thinking about that. I grew up on a general farm, we had about a hundred pigs, two hundred sheep, a hundred head of cattle, twenty milk cows, a thousand chickens, about one hundred turkeys, twelve goats, you know, anywhere from twenty to fifty cats, and all sorts of wild animals, and I had seen bulls gored to death, I had seen flocks of sheep driven over limestone cliffs by dogs, I'd seen hawks that'd ripped little lambs and chickens, I'd seen skunks that had eaten them up, I'd butchered all of these things, I'd castrated, you know, I myself have castrated maybe three thousand pigs, and [Laughter.], I thought okay. In fact, some of you may know that "The Wheel of Summer," the title poem, is about the castration of one hundred pigs, by three teenage boys, and as I was introduced in England once, he said it's probably the most distinguished poem in English about the castration of a hundred pigs. [Laughter] But I started thinking about all of this and I thought, well, okay, I have a philosophy of life too, and it's been based with the whole business of producing food for you. You know, that's the end of it, the end of it all. And I participated in an awful lot of killing and...routine, way of life. And you know, if you eat meat, well you too. So I said, well okay, I've been haruspicating for a long time. And I gradually went up from age six to age eighteen, and meantime I achieved some kind of maturity, and I'm going to write my own poems. So I wrote all these poems, and the titles are, you know, like "Sacrifice of a Rainbow Trout," "Sacrifice of My Pet Lamb," but I'm going to read you the ultimate titles, which aren't in the book. Just running from age six on up to age eighteen, or when we got all old enough and we all went off to the war, as the last poem said. But these say, you know, that's what these poems are really about.


Joseph Langland


"The Clarity of Innocence: Sacrifice of a Trout." The Loss of Early Innocence: Sacrifice of My Pet Lamb." "The Plunder of Idealism: Sacrifice of the Golden Owl." "The Sickle among the Flowers"...I quit making the equation..."The Sickle Among the Flowers," "The Decline of Heroic Voices," that's the goring to death of a bull, "The Suffocations of Love," that's the killing a pet chick by over-affection, "The Attritions of Man," "The Unhousing of Beneficent God," "The Seeming, the Necessary and Beneficial Perversions of Love"--that's my sacrifice of a gunnysack of cats--"The Subtleties of Violent Revenge: Sacrifice of an old Sow," "The Sweet Solace of Evil," "The Absurdities of Fact," "The Pitfalls of Group Action: Sacrifice of a Flock of Sheep"--they ran over this cliff, twelve of them died at once, and people say you shouldn't write villanelles, but that's the way sheep act, so I wrote a villanelle, you know, they repeat. "The Catechism of Human Culpability"--that's Eric, a suicide of a man--"The Oddities of Affection," "The Sacred Violence of Purity," "The Bounties of Natural Law," "The Winter of the Cold War: Sacrifice of a Grey Wolf," "The Decline of Natural Instincts: Sacrifice of Three Wild Geese," "The Tyranny of Fixed Ideas"--that's a sacrifice of a red squirrel, "A Dream of the Ultimate Holocaust: Sacrifice of a Hill of Ants," and "The Warfare of the Sensuous Past: Sacrifice of My Aunt Marie." And then it all culminates in the longer narrative poem, "The Wheel of Summer." Which is just simply coming to maturity as a man. Well I'll, I'll read a few of these. "Sacrifice of a Rainbow Trout" has no music but I oftentimes start singing when I'm reading it, but I'm not going to now, I've done that.


Joseph Langland


"Suddenly"--this is six years old, you know.




Reads "Sacrifice of a Rainbow Trout"


Joseph Langland


I'll skip the lamb and read the owl. I wanted to just talk--"We strung our wind-up rooster dead on a post"--see, it can't be any flatter than that.




Reads "Sacrifice of the Golden Owl"


Joseph Langland


I'll read the one of the neighbours. No one can live on a, in a farm area without seeing over a period of years, people lose fingers, toes, arms, legs, in various ways. It's...I was on a reading tour, actually, when Kennedy was killed. And I was actually in an auditorium about to start reading these poems, when it was cancelled, because of the announced death of the president. I couldn't have read them, but I didn't know what I was going to do. I was just sitting there, and five minutes from starting time. But this is "Sacrifice of my Neighbours."




Reads "Sacrifice of my Neighbours"




After the line, "One lost his hand in the corn shredder" - Langland adds, "That was my brother."


Joseph Langland


"Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats," I read it in New York City, I didn't know that the officers of the Society for the Friends of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were sitting in the audience. After I went back to Amherst I got a letter from them, saying that every year there are twenty-five million unwanted pets born in the United States [Laughter] and we secure funds to get the females spayed and the males castrated, and your poem, "The Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats" is perfect for our purposes for our annual appeal, and, could we...[Laughter.]..could we use it, please. I thought, my God, you know, I just, I read this poem, like all of these things out of a great affection, and this is the thing, you'll have to forgive me but this is what occurred to me, you know. I just had this great affectionate perception of the whole thing, and now they wanted to turn it into a kind of contraceptive. [Laughter] And...and then I thought, well, okay, what can I do at this point? And so, showing this charming little picture, you know, it's a dog, and a little puppy dog, little kid and laying their heads against each other and saying "Annual Appeal," and on the back of it was my "Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats," and...I, you know, when I travel around the United States even now, I often like wonder in what town did I do in this poor little male cat or this female, you know, cooperating in one way or another, it's like, you know, I have to refuse to pay your don't know what you're maiming at a certain point. But that's an example.


Joseph Langland


I wanted to start from the most ordinary thing and see how I could carry it, and this is the "Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats."




Reads "Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats"


Joseph Langland


One hard poem about the old sow, which is, says something about this world.




Reads "Sacrifice of an Old Sow"


Joseph Langland


Well that's the way we do it. Then one, pretty hard poem, too, it's about Eric, but it's really about us, and then I'll read the squirrel poem, and then leave these alone. That...okay, actually this, I had in mind an uncle, a favourite uncle. Very talented, frustrated.




Reads "The Catechism of Human Culpability"


Joseph Langland


Alright, and then the squirrel. Actually, I...last week, I had a letter from some fellow in Kansas, I never, of course I don't know him at all. He wants to set the thing to music, I don't know what he's going to do with it, but...he plays the guitar, and so I said, fine. And just about anybody who gets caught in a rut...I must say that after this I'm going to read one little ballad on Adlai Stevens, but...




Reads "The Tyranny of Fixed Ideas"




Some distortion in tape for approximately next thirty seconds.


Joseph Langland


Little ballad for Stevens, and I don't have it with me, but I know it. The state tree, bird, and flower of Illinois is the oak, the cardinal, and the violet. That's green, red, and violet. It struck me, that's half a rainbow. That seemed like Adlai Stevens' life. A great theoretical life, unfinished, has to be completed by someone else. I asked, what's the other half, they're yellow, orange, and blue, and his home at Libertyville, Illinois, you can't improve on that for the title, "Libertyville," it has a river the Des Plaines River, that's before it enters the Chicago drainage system, it's a nice blue stream out of the Wisconsin woods, that's blue, the sky is blue, the light by day is orange, and by night yellow. That's the full rainbow. "There's a fountain in the wood"'s called "Libertyville," and past that, a little epigraph about the state tree, bird, and flower of Illinois, and I wanted to, for the schoolchildren of Illinois...




Reads "Libertyville"




Applause concludes reading.






Works Cited

Langland, Joseph. Poetry from the Russian Underground. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

---. The Wheel of Summer. New York: The Dial Press, 1963.

---. Selected Poems. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991. Google Books Preview, February 12, 2010: <>.

---. “For Ralph Ellison: Then and Now”. The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 40, No. 4 (Winter, 1999/2000), pp. 614-416. February 12, 2010. <>.

---. “How It, so Help Me, Was”. The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 4, No. 1, (Autumn, 1962), pp.53-54. February 12, 2010. <>.

---. “Norwegian Rivers”. The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 16, No. 3 (Summer, 1975), pp. 567-568. February 12, 2010. <>.

“Joseph Langland: Poet, Teacher, Friend”. Luther College Archives: Biography. Iowa, 2010. January 4, 2010. <>.

“Joseph Langland To Read At Next SG Poetry Night”. The Gazette. Friday, March 1, 1968: page 8. <



Transcript and part of Print Catalogue by Rachel Kyne.

Print Catalogue, Research, Intro and Edits by Celyn Harding-Jones.

Joseph Langland at SGWU, 1968

Catalog numberI006-11-126
Sound qualityVery Good
SpeakersIntroducer unknown, Joseph Langland
VenueArt Gallery, 9 p.m.
DateMarch 8, 1968

Supplemental Material


00:06- Unknown introducer introduces Joseph Langland. , long memorial poem, lyric poems, Songs and Half-Songs , poetry anthologies, Poetry Chicago, Hudson Review, Chicago Review, Paris Review, London Magazine, Nation magazine, song lyrics, Morton Gould, Phillip Esantzen, Elliot Schwartz, folk songs, Folkway Scholastic Records, grants, 1953-4 Ford Faculty Fellowship in Humanities, 1955 and 1956 Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Fellowship, 1966 National Council of Arts Grant in Poetry, readings at universities in Europe, Glasgow, London, Sussex, Munich, Oslo, University College in Dublin.]

03:19- Joseph Langland introduces “Desperate Equations”.

03:47- Reads “Desperate Equations”.

04:33- Introduces “Natures”.

04:44- Reads “Natures”.

06:54- Introduces “Dandelion”.

07:40- Reads “Dandelion”.

09:26- Introduces “The Amalfi Grotto”.

11:38- Reads “The Amalfi Grotto”.

12:53- Introduces “War” and “A Seachange for Harold”.

16:22- Reads beginning of “A Seachange for Harold”.

16:40- Introduces “War”.

17:15- Reads “War”.

18:43- Introduces “A Hard Song to Sing”.

20:24- Sings “A Hard Song to Sing”.

21:48- Introduces “An Open Letter to Ralph Ellison”.

23:16- Reads “An Open Letter to Ralph Ellison”.

27:02- Introduces “How It, So Help Me, Was”.

29:04- Reads “How It, So Help Me, Was”.

32:10- Introduces “Still to be Man”.

32:44- Reads “Still to be Man”.’

32:51- Interrupts with explanation.

33:04- Continues reading “Still to be Man”.

34:10- Introduces “La Donna a Roma, an Odyssey”.

36:12- Reads “La Donna a Roma, an Odyssey”.

37:24- Introduces “He and Her”.

38:44- Reads “Not Quite a Conversation: A Half-Song, part 1: He and Her”.

39:60- Introduces “She and Him”.

39:47- Reads “Not Quite a Conversation: A Half-Song, part 2: She and Him”

40:59- Langland announces break.

41:25- Introduces second part of reading and “Singing in Late Summer”.

43:03- Reads “Singing in Late Summer”.

44:17- Introduces “Norwegian Rivers”.

45:22- Reads “Norwegian Rivers”.

48:08- Introduces “Drowning” by Sergey Chudakov.

51:23- Reads “Drowning” by Sergey Cuchadakov.

52:06- Reads “The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad” by Joseph Brodsky.

52:32- Interrupts reading with explanation.

52:47- Continues reading “The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad” by Joseph Bordsky.

54:03- Explains “The Jewish Cemetery in Leningrad” translations, introduces first line “Conditions” by Artyemy Mikhailov.

55:01- Reads first line “Conditions” by Artyemy Mikhailov.

56:07- Introduces “Now that I Know” by Vladimir Kovshin.

56:21- Reads “Now that I Know” by Vladimir Kovshin.

57:01- Introduces “After the War” by Gleb Garbovsky.

57:11- Reads “After the War” by Gleb Garbovsky.

58:54- Interrupts reading with explanation.

59:08- Continues reading “After the War” by Gleb Garbovsky.

59:27- Introduces “Keeping up with the Humansky’s”.

01:00:06- Reads “Keeping up with the Humansky’s”.

01:01:33- Introduces “Etape”.

01:02:07- Reads “Etape”.

01:03:57- Begins to Introduce “The Garbage Collector”, but recording ends suddenly.

01:04:03- Reads “The Garbage Collector”.

01:04:30- Interrupts poem with explanation, then continues reading.  

01:06:17- Plays recorded piano accompaniment.

01:06:36- Sings “All the Lovers that You Ever Knew”.

01:08:02- Introduces “Alone the Evening Falls on Me”.

01:08:31- Sings “Alone the Evening Falls on Me”.

01:10:23- Introduces “Jump on my Back”.

01:10:44- Sings “Jump on my Back”.

01:11:25- Introduces “A Hiroshima Lullaby”.

01:15:03- Plays and Sings “A Hiroshima Lullaby”.

01:16:49- Introduces first line “I long to walk in the promised land”,

01:17:15- Sings first line “I long to walk in the promised land”.

01:18:00- Introduces The Wheel of Summer (Dial Press, 1963).

01:22:37- Reads poem titles from The Wheel of Summer.

01:24:46- Reads “Sacrifice of a Rainbow Trout”.

01:25:41- Introduces “Sacrifice of a Golden Owl”.

01:25:52- Reads “Sacrifice of a Golden Owl”.

01:27:39- Introduces “Sacrifice of my Neighbors”.

01:28:20- Reads “Sacrifice of my Neighbors”.

01:31:01- Introduces “Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats”.

01:33:13- Reads “Sacrifice of the Gunny-Sack of Cats”.

01:36:22- Introduces “Sacrifice of an Old Sow”.

01:36:31- Reads “Sacrifice of an Old Sow”.

01:37:48- Introduces “The Catechism of Human Culpability”.

01:38:18- Reads “The Catechism of Human Culpability”.

01:41:08- Introduces “The Tyranny of Fixed Ideas”.

01:41:47- Reads “The Tyranny of Fixed Ideas”.

01:44:24- Introduces “Libertyville”.

01:45:27- Reads “Libertyville”.