The subjects of the photograph accompanying yesterday's story about the party at the Folger Shakespeare Library were incorrectly identified. They were Grace Cavalieri and William Meredith.
"Poetry on the radio is nothing new," said Frances Howard. "During the Depression, my dad decided that what he really wanted to do was read poetry to all the farmers in South Dakota -- so he rented time on the local radio station and began reading his favorite poems. Other businessmen -- particularly other druggists -- told him, 'You're mad, Hubert Humphrey; do you think this will help your store?" But, you know, it did. People enjoyed it and responded to it, and the store became a kind of cultural center. He bought a lot of records; he never sold them, but he would play opera in the store, and people would flock in to hear it."
But if poetry on the radio is not new, poetry transmitted by satellite certainly is. The druggist's daughter and sister of Sen. Hubert Humprhey was one of the guests last night at a party held in the Folger Shakespeare Library to celebrate the first satellite transmission of a poetry program, "The Poem That Never Ends," by the Westar satellite. Called "Generations," the program, the first in a series of 26, featured poems dealing with family relations. Appropriately, the first poet to have his voice beamed into space was William Meredith, consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress.
"At last," said one of the guests at the $25-a-plate dinner, "we're getting poetry off the ground."
Former senator Eugene McCarthy had been scheduled to act as master of ceremonies, but was unable to attend. "I'm really happy he couldn't come," said poet and radio-TV producer Grace Cavalieri, who substituted for him. "He's always saying things like, 'let's turn off the television and look at the moon.'"
In Cavalieri's view, the thing for poets to do with the electronic media is not turn them off but use them. "It's really chaos out there," she said. "It's really a madhouse, because the engineers got there before us with the hardware -- and now we can penetrate 100 percent of all homes with open broadcasts and cable signals, but the problem is: What do we want to say? The future of all electronic programming is going to be in what they call software, the programming . . . We can give them poetry for software."
Alan Austin, who started it all 10 years ago with the idea of a poetry magazine on tape cassettes, noted, "It's easier to hear an American poet reading on West German radio than in Idaho or Tennessee or even in Washington, D.C."
He called that his search for new ways of presenting poetry began in Iowa City when he was part of an audience of 2,000 gathered to hear a reading by poet Robert Creeley. "It occurred to me that in 10 or 15 years his books would not sell 2,000 copies in the city, and I realized that the basic audience for American poetry is now an audience for poetry heard, not for books." His idea eventually grew into "Black Box," a poetry periodical delivered on cassettes, as well as the hour-long Watershed Tapes of poetry and the North American Poetry Network which prepares poetry programs for radio stations.
After 10 years, he finally has a soundproof studio for recording poets, but most of the 500 to 600 tapes in his archives were recorded at readings or in offices in downtown Washington that were not soundproofed.
"I remember," he said, "we once got a letter of complaint from a subscriber in Maine, who write. 'There must be something wrong; the tapes are so noisy.'
"We wrote back to him: 'There's nothing wrong with the tapes, friend. That's the way Washington sounds.'"