audio training – down with the page

I have to admit I’m not good at hearing poems. I prefer to see them.

If I am presented with poem audio, I immediately look around for poem text.


I’ve subscribed to Poetry Foundation’s Poem Of The Day feed, which just sends you a little audio player to click a play button on and that’s all you get (unless you want to click all the way back to the Poetry Foundation website and hunt down that text, goshdarn it.)

It’s not easy, and each time I am well aware that there’s a monumental mental cheat going on, whereby my traitor head transcribes what my ears hear into something text-like that my inner eye can still ‘see.’

We’ll get there, though.

Whale Sound

I have read others’ work for different publications (here and here, for example), in addition to reading my own work for different publications (e.g. here and here).

Reading other peoples’ work aloud is the most tender and respectful, and also the most careful, way to engage with it, I find.

So here’s my new idea.

It’s going to start slowly. I’ve decided I will only read and record poems that sing to me. To me. Not my stuff, though – yours.

There will be a link to text if the poems are available online, but I won’t be posting any text. Just voice.

I’ll be out looking for those poems. So don’t be surprised to hear from me soon, asking if you would let me record and post that brilliant piece of yours that ran in Magazine X last week.

a magazine for your ears?

I love this. The Drum: A Literary Magazine for Your Ears.

The amazing thing about it? No text!

One of the questions in the recently-completed Ten Questions on Poets & Technology series was: “Technology is enabling poets today to take poetry off the page in ways that were previously inconceivable. Either comment on [videopoem X] or provide a link to and comments on a different piece of work that uses technology to take the poem off the page.”

Some respondents – most? – answered in so many words, with varying degrees of emphasis: No. Poetry belongs on the page. Poetry is text.

I’m a slave to text myself. It’s almost impossible for me to grasp a poem (intellectually, emotionally, dare I say aurally) without seeing it on a page. I can’t conceive of composing without writing, without the visual affirmation of text on a page.

One respondent, however – Rik Roots, who answered the Ten Questions on his own blog – pointed out that poetry pre-dates text by a long way, that writing itself is just another technological advancement poetry has wrapped itself around.

Rik’s response pulled me up short and made me ask – what am I missing? What does this enslavement to text mean for the way I experience poetry?

Lots of poetry journals have audio. But audio and text. Or, (in some cases), audio and video.

But what about just audio?

What would it be like to hear, instead of read, a whole issue of a poetry journal?

(This ties in somehow sorta to Amy King‘s technology idea.)

la tierra del olvido

I must have dreamt about Colombia last night, because I woke up with this song in my head. From waaay back, when we would drink gallons of aguardiente and dance (on the bar for choice) until 3 am. Dancing vallenatos among others, by Carlos Vives for choice. La Tierra del Olvido, title track from his album of the same name, was a gigantic hit back then:

Where are you now, Carlos?

(And you, Luis Fernando?)


Woohoo! Soundzine has accepted two of my poems for its April 2008 edition. This is a very cool sound-focused publication started by Salli Shepherd and Charles Musser, two amazing poets I first encountered through PFFA and then at The Gazebo. There’s no stopping these two!

About Soundzine:

Soundzine is an online journal for the spoken word. Poetry and stories can be traced at least as far back as Homer, who recited his epics by torch or firelight. It was born and flourished in the milieu of the cadences, inflections and stresses of the human voice. We’re not presumptuous enough to think we’ll revolutionize the world of literature by turning to the roots of things, which is the real meaning of “radical,” but we do think that the modern digital world offers an opportunity to enrich and enliven an art that has waned of late.

Go, guys!

Sounding Off

Frabjous or what – I get to have my own page at the Adroitly Placed Word! Humble thanks to John Vick for all his fine work celebrating the importance of sound (and of accent, heh) in poetry.

A quick semi-related plug here for the Soundzine — a new sound-based magazine started by Charles Musser and Salli Shepherd. They are always looking for submissions, so get recording and send them in.

(Wonder if they accept blog-posted recordings for publication…?)


Well, I recorded the passage from An Essay on Criticism, the bit that begins: Expression is the dress of thought. (Full text here.) Not easy to read and I had to do it about five hundred and seventy-five times and still flubbed the last part, sorry. At that point, after so many tries, I just couldn’t face going all the way back. Best line is the wounded snake line in heptameter.

Bonus item: A great bit from Pope’s Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot:

Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu’d, I said,
Tie up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead.
The dog-star rages! nay ’tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
They rave, recite, and madden round the land

Who knew they had NaPo back then?!


Trying out metrical reading on A Sound Blog. The stuff I find I really want to read is not BV at all (yay for anapests and Annabel Lee and The Destruction of Sennacherib!) so here’s a compromise — Marvell (in IT, thanks, Harry), because Marvell is mostly fun (he’s the one with the lady raving over entrails in a cave. With horrid care, no less.)

I’m mulling over a passage in heroic couplets (thanks, Harry) – from Pope’s Essay on Criticism – that I may record and put up later. Or not.  

I have to say that some of that old BV stuff (Milton, Keats, Shelley, anyone?) is seriously unenthralling. At the moment.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

by William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give –yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Mammoths and Pinsky

I smell a mammith. Olert the troops!

Whale Child is writing a play, he says. Or rather, typing it on my laptop. That’s the opening line. I love the way he spells words aloud to himself as he writes, enunciating each consonant and vowel half a dozen times on a rising pitch as if he were Robert Pinsky, or a piano-tuner. (Was I writing plays – or anything, for that matter – when I was six?)

I’ve been listening to him (Pinsky, not Whale Child) read some of his stuff online. Not very satisfying – he seems to go exaggeratedly for enunciation over pretty much everything else, which makes the overall experience slow, and really rather painful. Check the readings out here and see what you think.