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
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.