“The Academic” read by Alexander

The stethoscope tells what everyone fears: 
You’re likely to go on living for years, 
With a nurse-maid waddle and a shop-girl simper, 
And the style of your prose growing limper and limper.

by Theodore Roethke

“The Academic” by Theodore Roethke, read by Alexander, circa 1978.

About the Reading

Some time in the mid seventies, while I was a doctoral student in the English Department at Michigan State University, I heard about a mini computer on campus that ran an experimental text-to-speech program called “Alexander.” Perhaps I heard about it in my “Computers in the Humanities” class. Perhaps I knew someone who offered to do a demo. Who knows. All I can remember is spending a pleasant Friday afternoon programming the software to recite Theodore Roethke’s brief, sardonic poem “The Academic” from his first book Open House (1941). It is a humorous send up of academic life, startlingly unlike the elegant free verse of his later work.

Using Alexander, I built the poem phoneme by phoneme, tweaking intonation and duration as best I could. I have searched the Internet for information about Alexander and found nothing, which makes me think it may have been an experimental Bell Labs’ project. Again: who knows. The cassette and the poem sat in a box in my attic for 40 plus years until I decided to digitize it before the last cassette tape player in the country died. Much thanks to my son-in-law, Justin Clark for cleaning up the sound with some digital magic.