Ron Padgett and Andrei Codrescu recall a night in 1968, when fellow poet Kenneth Koch was assassinated, or so it seemed, during a reading at St. Mark's Church in New York City.
Here's a five-minute segment from Passing Stranger, a sound-rich chronicle of poets and poetry associated with the East Village from 1950 - present. Narrated by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Passing Stranger contains site-specific poetry, interviews, archival recordings and music by John Zorn.
Passing Stranger exists as an audio tour you can listen to while wandering through the East Village at your leisure, and an interactive website, where you can virtually stroll around the neighborhood and flip through pictures of the luminaries and locations featured within, from the comfort of... wherever.
Passing Stranger is produced by Pejk Malinovski, with support from The Poetry Foundation. Website design is by Zeega.
Read an interview with Pejk about working with Jim Jarmusch, and the something/nothing in particular dynamic, Behind the Scenes.
Pejk Malinovski is a freelance radio producer, sound artist and poet. His documentaries have aired on PRI, National Danish Radio and BBC; his sound pieces have been shown in museums and galleries. In 2012 he launched Passing Stranger, an audio walking tour of the East Village's poetry history. He was also the co-creator and host of Thirdear, an online audio magazine and he continues to edit and translate books for Forlaget Basilisk, a poet-run publishing house in Copenhagen.
Take the full virutal Passing Stranger tour, and download the podcast here.
Hear a couple Third Coast award-winning stories by Pejk, and check out his Wikipedia page! (Especially if you can read Danish.)
Find out more about Zeega, the peeps/engine behind the Passing Stranger's interactive website.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Pejk Malinovski
Passing Stranger was a long time in the making, we hear. What was your original inspiration for the project?
I became interested in the New York School poets on a trip to New York in 1997. I met John Ashbery on this trip and subsequently translated his poetry and that of his friends Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, into Danish. I was drawn to the exuberance, colloquialism and edginess of these poets, their deep knowledge of and complete disregard for tradition, their indifference to conventional ideas of high and low culture. This breath of fresh air blew all the way across the Atlantic.
Later I started reading a whole group of poets who were inspired by these writers - Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Ted Berrigan, Anne Waldman. I moved to New York, and found myself in the East Village, where many of those poets still live and give readings. As I got to know more about the neighborhood and some of the poets, the idea of the audio tour slowly took form.
Curtis Fox, a great radio producer and mentor was working with the Poetry Foundation at the time. We brought the idea to them and they liked it, and so provided funding to develop the project and build the website.
You're a published poet yourself - did you approach it more from a poet's or producer's sensibility? Is there a difference between the two?
Good question. I think I approached it with both sensibilities, but I do think there is a difference. I interviewed Ashbery about his poetry once and in his reluctance to "explain" anything he quoted the painter Barnett Newman who said "Birds don't make good ornithologists". I think my outsider status (resident alien) made it easier for me to wear the ornithologist cap, but in general I'm also very reluctant to analyze or in any way reduce poetry. I hope I managed to just provide anecdotes and background information about the poets and the neighborhood and leave the poems to speak for themselves. Also, my own poetry is quite different from much of the poetry in the tour - it's more conceptual. I use Google searches and appropriation in my work, which is less common among the poets featured in the tour.
You've built a website that offers a simulation of the Passing Stranger walking tour. Talk about how and why you added the interactive dimension, and how this enhances the experience beyond just listening.
I wasn't actually super ambitious with the website at the get-go. I just imagined a clickable map with some kind of pop-up audio player. But I also happened to be friends with the amazing folks behind Zeega, Jesse Shapins, James Burns and Kara Oehler, and once they got onboard things got a little more interesting. I forget who came up with the idea of the "video stills", but I think that's what really makes the online version worthwhile. Should I explain this? (Ed: Yes, please!) For most of the stops there is a video, which usually shows the house where the poet lived, or something that the poet wrote about. A simple video, shot on a tripod, with random people walking through the frame. The idea is that someone in Australia who's visiting the site, will get a feeling of walking the streets, that same feeling of randomness, that anything can happen.
When I shot those videos I tried to really film nothing in particular, which turned out to be hard. Put up a video camera in the east village, hit record and you're bound to film something in particular. Anselm Berrigan told me he recognized one of his old neighbors in the video from 101 St. Marks. You can see her if you let the video run for about 4 minutes, she's a pretty colorful character.
But all in all the website activity is kept pretty minimal, the focus being on the listening experience.
Besides the obvious, what's experientially different about following the tour online, and actually walking it?
I guess the difference is that while walking the tour in the neighborhood, anything really can happen. Like Hettie Jones could walk out of her building, just as you hear her reading a poem about her kitchen sink. Or you might make eye contact with a passing stranger as you listen to the Whitman line "Passing stranger, you do not know how longingly I look upon you..."
You worked with a lot of "famous" people to make this project. Can you share a memorable or surprising moment or two?
I think one of the highlights was recording the script with Jim Jarmusch. He studied poetry with Kenneth Koch at Colombia in the 70's and he knows many of the poets featured in the tour, so he was my dream narrator. Having him in the studio saying "You gotta direct me, I don't know what I'm doing" was kind of a surreal moment. I was nervous about whether he'd be able to actually pull it off, reading a 49-page script cold. But he was amazing, and kept repeating lines over and over until he felt it was right - he was a total perfectionist. We took one smoking break during the almost 4-hour session, in which entertained me and Curtis with anecdotes of shooting guns with William Burroughs. He does an impeccable Burroughs imitation.
Now that you've dug into interactive documentary media, are you tempted to bring some of these extra dimensions to subsequent radio stories, or does 'just audio' still suffice?
I'm always very inspired by documentary films. Working on my latest project, Poetry, Texas I shot about 12 hours of video footage, which I still hope to make some kind of film out of. A big inspiration for that was watching Sherman's March, one of my favorite documentaries, by Ross McElwee
I'm also very excited about all the possibilities of location-based audio experiences. The smartphone revolution enables us to bring the listener to where the stories actually take place. Narrative becoming a path through a landscape, geography becoming your editor. On a professional level there are great opportunities for independent radio producers to work with museums, local cultural organizations, historical societies.