Librivox – ‘acoustical liberation of books in the public domain’

Who says community service can’t be fun? After way too much procrastination, I have finally signed up to be a volunteer reader at Librivox, where the goal is to make audio versions of public domain books freely available. It’s quite a process. You have to make and upload a one-minute audio test which meets certain technical requirements and get it cleared by a Librivox administrator. Then they ask that before you try any solo reading you participate in some group readings to get a sense of how things work.

My brand-new Librivox page has two readings on it so far – one a ‘poem of the week’ contribution (they do a group read of one poem a week) and the other, a 1000-word segment of Giacomo Leopardi’s Complete Works, in translation. The latter is a small part of a much bigger group reading and won’t be available for general listening until the entire book is complete, in case you’re wondering. Both selections were totally random (although I do have a soft spot for Leopardi after making a videopoem based on one of his pieces way back when) and were based simply on what was up for grabs when I happened to be looking for something to read.

Now that my Helen in Egypt project is complete, I am looking for the next extended-reading poetry project, and will do it via Librivox. The question is, which public domain book of poetry should I go for? ‘Some Imagist Poets‘ caught my eye up at Project Gutenberg, mainly because it has Amy Lowell and H.D. in it. No idea who the others are, though, apart from Lawrence.

(cross-posted at Voice Alpha)

recruit actors to do the reading at poetry readings?

That’s what the UK’s Forward Arts Foundation did at their big poetry prize day in London last week, provoking much indignation among UK poets.

“On the way in to the event, a Forward Trustee told me that the origin of the actorly coup came from the premise that poets can’t read their work,” wrote a protesting blogger. She went on to characterize the evening as “a solemn, ponderous series of readings by a group of actors who made heavy weather of the poems.”

“If the motivation was doubt as to whether poets can read their own work well, that’s outdated,’ asserted another protesting blogger, adding that ‘one only has to go to a TS Eliot prize-giving or a major magazine launch to understand that most good poets are somewhere between competent and excellent at reading.” Am not sure I completely understood the rationale she then used to explain her position, but she went on to say that “most of the actors just didn’t inhabit the poems effectively. I think it was harder, hearing most of the poems for the first time and not knowing several of the poets’ work, to ‘get’ each poem than it usually is at readings. I don’t mean the ostensible subject, if any, but the motive force and the magical something that might make the listener/reader connect with the work.”

The Foundation’s response was, um, snarky: “The controversial decision to use actors to read the shortlisted poetry has provoked vigorous debate: some poets, publishers and bloggers insist that poetry should be read aloud only by its authors and no one else, while others reckon that a poem lives in the voices, ears and minds of the many, not the few,” it said on its website.

As my long-suffering readers know, I’m a big fan of the you learn way more about pretty much everything by reading other people’s poems to an audience or by having your poems read to you, than you do by reading your own poems to others school of thought. As such, I am very intrigued by this idea. Note that the actors provided their services free for the event.

Has anyone ever tried this? Asked an actor friend or friends to take the poet’s place at a reading? If not, do you think it might be a good idea to try, or a stinker? Why?

Meanwhile, here are some of the readings from the controversial Forward prize-giving event last week. There were three big winners – Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.

Best Collection – Michael Symmons Roberts (see him read on a different occasion here – jump to about 1:17 for the reading). At the prize-giving, actress Natascha McElhone read one of his poems, here. Roberts struck me as a competent reader, but I thought McElhone did a really fabulous job with her reading.

Best First Collection – Emily Berry. See her read here. Actress Helen McCrory read one of Berry’s poems at the prize-giving, here. An unfortunate stumble on the last line of the poem, but an otherwise engaging performance, I thought.

Best Single Poem – Nick MacKinnon. I couldn’t find any readings online by MacKinnon. His winning poem was read at the prize-giving by actor Samuel West, here – an excellent reading, in my judgment.

Very interested to hear others’ thoughts on all this. To close things out, here’s a great post from the Voice Alpha archives by Rachel Dacus (with discussion in the comments), on the advantages of having someone than the author read poems to an audience.

(Cross-posted at Voice Alpha. Hat tip Dave Bonta for pointing out the Forward story.)

poetry out loud website – The Poeio Project

(cross-posted from Voice Aplha)

This is just charming. The project author writes:

I don’t know all that much about poetry – but I found this book – or rather, it found me – I walk around town with it, along with my little camera. I ask people on the street or where ever I go if they would like to read a poem from the little book – to my pleasant surprise most say yes.

What I like best about this project is at the very end when people finish reading the poem, there is an expression on their faces – a look of something genuine, and, well, I don’t know, innocence maybe… something pure meeting the threads of the self-conscious.

It’s nice to see people trying hard, struggling a bit, reflecting in the moment and then seeing that transition from introspection clash reality.

I think this is why everyone enjoys some kind of poetry, it lifts you up and out – there’s no helping it..

The year-long project started in July and seems to be posting a reading a day on both You Tube and Vimeo. Reminiscent of How Pedestrian, another poetry out loud website we interviewed on Voice Alpha , but with its own unique approach. I don’t know exactly which book of poems forms the basis for the project, but I’m guessing it’s something Oxford Book Of English Verse-ish. Watch random passers-by obligingly read Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Gray, Blake, etc for the camera. And it’s true about people’s expressions when they look up after finishing their reading. Just delightful.

(all ‘poetry out loud websites’ featured on Voice Alpha)

trompes loude and clarioun & Chaucer interviewing Margaret Atwood

Yesterday I posted a terrific reading from the Knight’s Tale by UPenn Professor David Wallace at Voice Alpha, and today found this at Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog, one of my all-time favorite blogs.

In other news, I’m a ‘bits and bobs’ teaser at the Best American Poetry blog, where I start my blogging week this Sunday. It’s going to be poetry out loud, intensively, in all my posts throughout the week, so be warned…