‘Whale Sound’ hiatus

It’s been a terrific year at Whale Sound but it’s time to take a break. Going forward, we may occasionally solicit a poem for reading, but we will not be accepting submissions for the foreseeable future. Activity on this blog and on Facebook/Twitter activity will slow down as well.

A few highlights from the Whale Sound year:

- Whale Sound started up a year and one month ago in August 2010
– Published readings of poems by 212 poets
– Published 7 audio chapbooks in multiple formats – website, e-book, PDF and print – most of them free
– Coordinated and participated in 8 group readings
– Established Voice Alpha, a group blog focusing on the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience (I will continue to post here occasionally and hope my fellow contributors will do the same)
– Collaborated on two videopoem tryptich projects with film-maker Swoon – Night Vision and Propolis (the latter also with Kathy MacTavish)
– Established videpoetry channels on You Tube and Vimeo (videpoetry is an area that continues to fascinate us and we will continue to post at these channels)

Meanwhile, these are the 20 Whale Sound posts receiving the most listener clicks – check them out!

  1. If You Were A Bird‘ by Aditi Machado
  2. Infinity‘ by Tess Kincaid
  3. [a group of jellyfish is called a ‘smack.’ a group of lapwings is called a ‘deceit.’] by Chella Courington
  4. Something Brighter Than Pity‘ by Carolina Ebeid
  5. A Different Leaving‘ by Terresa Wellborn
  6. A Week Before You Die, You Are Singing’ by Erin Elizabeth Smith
  7. Sometimes I Still Dream About Their Pink Bodies‘ by Kelli Russell Agodon
  8. Lament‘ by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  9. The Trains‘ by Adele Kenny
  10. A Bigfoot Poem‘ by Dave Bonta
  11. Group reading: ‘The Slender Scent’ by James Robison
  12. Ode to Drunkenness and Other Criminal Activities‘ by Rebecca Loudon
  13. At Ruby’s Diner‘ by Sherry O’Keefe
  14. Sink or Float [quick fix witch]‘ by Juliet Cook
  15. How To Fall In Love‘ by Susan Elbe
  16. The Way Back‘ by Kathleen Kirk
  17. In Which Christina Imagines That Different Types Of Alcohol Are Men And She Is Seeing Them All‘ by Christina Olson
  18. For The Woman On The Boulevard‘ by Emma Trelles
  19. Group reading: ‘Acceptance is to her a phenomenon’ by Ann Bogle
  20. About a Fish‘ by Ana Božičević

‘Handmade Boats’ now in e-book and print


The very first Whale Sound Audio Chapbook was Heather Hummel’s Handmade Boats, published way back in November 2010 (you can read Heather’s and my process notes here).

At that time, I was focused setting up a publication as a website-with-text-and-audio. Adding free PDF download and free audio download seemed to make perfect sense and was easy to do. But it wasn’t until a couple of chapbooks later that I was comfortable enough with Lulu’s POD site to offer a print version and a CD version. We also offered a Lulu e-book version, but that was really just a fancy PDF download. It wasn’t until the 5th and 6th chapbooks that I was comfortable enough with Smashwords e-book publishing to offer an honest-to-God genuine ePUB download. (The Kindle – aka MOBI – version at Smashwords is still sub-par, unfortunately – it’s those hanging indents you can’t do, Kindle!)

We’ve come all that way since Handmade Boats was first published as website-text-audio-PDF-download, and, what with one thing and another, it’s only now that Heather and I have focused on packaging Handmade Boats as an as ePUB file and as a print edition. As usual, the e-version is free, and the print edition available at cost-price from Lulu ($4.98 plus shipping in this instance).

We had to look for new artwork for the e-book and print versions, since the website cover art had limited permission on it. We were thrilled when U.K. photographer Paul Hurst gave us permission to use his lovely work as cover art.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out this awesomely eerie video by Swoon. It’s made from ‘On Edward Hopper’s Automat‘, one of the Handmade Boats poems.

new audio chapbook: ‘Cloud Studies’ by Christine Klocek-Lim

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks is delighted to announce the publication of its third audio chapbook, Cloud Studies, a sonnet sequence by Christine Klocek-Lim.

This one has been every bit as rewarding and just as much fun to work on as the first two. These are reflective, exploratory poems that serve as test-beds for both technical and intellectual/emotional investigation. They tackle a range of difficult themes – from love, grief and betrayal, to death and existential angst – with a fine sensibility and delicate language, all underpinned by Christine’s considerable technical skill as a poet.

Read Christine’s process notes here.

Read Nic’s process notes here.

Audio Chapbooks Evolution

And there’s so much new with the audio chapbook format!

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks is offering some new options to the poetry consumer with the publication of Cloud Studies. The central question for the poetry consumer we have been asking as a publisher remains unchanged: How do you like your poetry served?

With this edition we’ve expanded the menu of options. As with previous audio chapbooks, you can:

1. Read each poem online as an individual post
2. Listen to each poem online as an individual unit
3. Download a free PDF of the whole chapbook
4. Download a free MP3 audio file of the whole chapbook

What’s new this time around? You can also:

5. Purchase a print edition of Cloud Studies from Lulu ($4.90 + shipping – this is cost-price, no author/publisher mark-up)
6. Purchase an audio CD of Cloud Studies from Lulu ($5.50 + shipping – again, at cost-price, no author/publisher mark-up)
7. Purchase an e-book edition of Cloud Studies from Lulu ($0.99 – cost-price)

I had some back-and-forth with a friend when I came up with these options. My friend said:  “But if you provide the whole chapbook as a free PDF, who will buy the printed book? If you provide the whole chapbook as a free MP3 file, who will buy the CD?”

I answered with a couple of questions: Wait – what are we trying to do here? Are we trying to sell books, or are we trying to get these poems read? At Whale Sound, we are trying to get the poems read. The number of people who buy the book are not the point. We don’t make money off sales, and we don’t want to. And since Lulu is a print-on-demand publisher, there will not be — cannot be — piles of unsold chapbooks sadly gathering dust in some warehouse.

What matters to us is that the individual poetry consumer who prefers to read poetry from a book or an e-reader in their hands has the option to obtain these poems in those forms.  That the individual consumer who prefers to put a CD in a player to hear these poems can obtain these poems in that form. The question is not: Who will buy the book or the e-book or the CD? The question is: Are we catering to people who prefer their poetry in printed books or e-books or their poetry audio as a CD? In other words, are we delivering poetry in forms that maximize its chances of being read?

Adding these delivery methods is not a whole lot of extra work, believe it or not. I was and remain very surprised at how easy it is. The hardest work lies in producing the basic ‘raw’ material – the edited manuscript, the recorded poems and the cover art. Once that is done, all that remains is to repackage this same raw material in several different ways for different types of consumers. Online text, online audio; downloadable text, downloadable audio; print edition, e-book, CD edition. The technology that makes all these different packaging options easy is available to anyone and is both free and easy to use. Once Christine and I were comfortable with the manuscript and cover art, for example, it took me less than an afternoon on the Lulu website to upload, design and publish the chapbook, of which we both ordered preview copies that same afternoon. The CD was just as easy to put together. As was the e-book. Rocket science, this ain’t.

Whale Sound poet interview – Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

1. Please comment on the following:a. The experience of hearing your poem on Whale Sound (WS). 

Absolutely breathtaking. Nic’s voice is simply beautiful, crystalline, and so attentive to the lyrical quality of language. It serves up the phonic echo in such a lilt. All oral renditions are lovely to witness, including poetry recast and recomposed into song. This happened when Vanessa Fernandez, an unbelievably talented singer, gave her original take on one of my poems years ago. Poetry already harbors its own musicality, but when a musician successfully takes it to another level through an elevated vocalization, it’s a beautiful act of creation. It’s as if the muses stayed around to watch, and rained down an ineffable light, beyond its natural position or speech. Having read my own poems, I’ll freely admit I’m not the sort of poet who expects the singular, immutable reading. I actually like delivering the utterance in as many ways as possible to underscore the notion that texts travel, all the time evolving a new expression or rendering or interpretation. Ezekiel Black of Pismire just published a reading which he calls the Google Voice – I had to call long-distance to record the poem. There’s a strange, alluring energy to the electrical noise of the hum or crackle, its gritty rasp of technology. It’s a brilliant rawness, the same shellac with our hasty recording of Vanessa’s live performance of “Caramelized Love” on 98.7FM, a superb radio station in Singapore. We had such short notice, the sound engineer spending a great deal of time on the noise reduction – we eventually included both that guitar-accompanied track and the sleek studio original because we so enjoyed the slippage, the difference, the translation that happens in a work of art.

The vignette that Nic read inhabits the fine space between the prose poem and microfiction. There’s constantly a jostling between the lyric and the narrative within it, the same thing with its other 23 installments, all of which have just been published as a chapbook by Silkworms Ink, huge thanks to editors Jon Ware and James Harringman who were an absolute joy to work with. Clearly, this isn’t syllable count verse or a villanelle with its rhyming refrains, forms where there’s some discernible pattern in line and stress, however muddy or haphazard. This makes it even more rewarding to look at the prosodic elements in Nic’s reading, how deeply complex and buried any metrical variation may be, and how the image-making is reproduced through sonics.

b. The WS decision to focus only on web-active poets.

An interesting angle that prizes the medium. I’m more familiar with the making of books, with most of my life’s work appearing in print. I grew up in the age of rotary dial telephones after all. When I started college, the university was just outfitting its computer workrooms, and very few people owned a personal computer. The web with its multiple platforms has been extremely liberating for the author, who now enjoys a greater degree of self-sufficiency in making public his or her writerly voice. Important and meaningful relationships are being built in ways that were simply not possible before.

c. The WS third-party submissions policy.

It creates a community of shared joys. I always like hearing about what another writer is reading. So it’s great that poets are nominating their favorite poems for a reading. Web-active and living poets aside, I would so love a feature section where Nic reads some thickly lyrical material from the canon, reviving its old-world charm. Like Ezra Pound’s alliterative verse in “The Seafarer”. Or Baudelaire’s pantoum “Harmonie du Soir”, translated by Lord Alfred Douglas, replete with an ab-ab rhyme scheme. That would be awesome.

2. What does WS do well?

That Nic Sebastian is its premise and brand. It’s ace! I remember thinking what a novel idea, to have a really gifted reader take on such a tall order, to read such a diverse array of poetic material crafted by such different writers. To have all those textual energies – borne of such different sensibilities – regain a centre through one performer’s reading is just wonderful to behold, and to experience. I’ve just been invited by the National Book Development Council of Singapore to speak at this year’s Young Writer’s Seminar as well as the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and I’ll make sure to give Whale Sound a big shout-out.

3. What could WS do better?

I’d say the next step is putting together a book of these recordings, over and above the audio chapbooks already being made. Such a collection reminds me of the monumental work, Poetry On Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006). Of course, for Whale Sound, it would be an inversion, more like 98 Poems Read by Nic Sebastian. In her preface, Rebekah Presson Mosby writes of “trends and movements in English language poetry over the past century and a half or so”, as well as “how the style of reading poetry has changed, how technology has influenced the way poetry is performed and, of course, how new technologies have changed the sound of the recorded voice.” I think Whale Sound is doing something that’s already a part of this evolution. And it’ll be lovely to have a documenting of it, of this relationship between text as word and text as sound.

4. Anything else you’d like to say about the WS experience?

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Fred Moten in his essay “Sound in Florescence”. Here goes a bit of his scholarly rumination: “Words don’t go there: this implies a difference between words and sounds; it suggests that words are somehow constrained by their implicit reduction to the meanings they carry – meanings inadequate to or detached from the objects or states of affairs they would envelop. What’s also implied is an absence of inflection; a loss of mobility, slippage, bend; a missing accent or affect; the impossibility of a slur or crack and the excess – rather than loss – of meaning they imply. Where do words go? Are they the inadequate and residual traces of a ritual performance that is lost in the absence of the recording?” For Whale Sound, the text is offered another ritual presence unto itself. And that can only bode for it a bit more of that rich feeling, the feeling of the performative and the celebratory.

<><><>

About Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé.

Desmond’s poem on Whale Sound: Vignette 016

More Whale Sound poet interviews

Whale Sound poet interview – Adele Kenny

1. Please comment on the following:

a. The experience of hearing your poem on Whale Sound (WS):My maternal grandmother’s family came from England, and I’ve been especially close to that part of my ancestry all my life. Hearing “The Trains” in Nic’s British voice was like hearing the poem the way it sounds “inside.” Never having heard anyone read one of my poems before, I was very pleasantly startled by Nic’s pauses and modulations in places I hadn’t placed them in my own readings of the work. Nic’s interpretation of the poem introduces a quiet aesthetic and a haunting quality that complements and enhances the content. (If only I could read so beautifully!)

b. The WS decision to focus only on web-active poets: While this approach may be, to some extent, limiting, and necessarily excludes poets who are not web-active, the current approach does offer a new kind of web presence for poets whose work appears online. The “playing field” is different, and in my reckoning, vital and refreshing.

c. The WS third-party submissions policy: This is a rare and generous approach to submissions — a wider entryway than typically found in print and online poetry journals.

2. What does WS do well? The quality of the poems and their great variety are superb. WS has also created a community of poets and listeners who come together online to share, comment, and hear one another’s work read by one perfect voice.

3. What could WS do better? Keeping up with the volume of poetry has been a challenge at times (I’m sure for Nic too). As already planned, moving to one poem per day will make a difference for those who wish to savor the readings in “single file.”

4. Anything else you’d like to say about the WS experience? I’m grateful! Thank you, Nic, for including me!

About Adele Kenny.
Adele’s poem on Whale Sound: The Trains
More Whale Sound poet interviews

Whale Sound audio chapbook: ‘Handmade Boats’ by H. K. Hummel

Whale Sound is very happy to announce the publication of the audio chapbook Handmade Boats by H.K. Hummel. Please go over and have a look-listen!

Here are some process notes from the poet and the editor:

Heather’s experience: I have the habit of tinkering with poems for decades. The poems in Handmade Boats have been in metamorphosis for some time. All that is to say that working back and forth with Nic Sebastian as we did the final shaping of Handmade Boats for Whale Sound was both pleasurable and surprising, because the poems underwent subtle new transformations that I didn’t anticipate.

When I sat down at my desk each morning with a cup of tea, I looked forward to the penetrating questions I’d find in my email inbox. I’d tinker, she’d question, and we’d continue taking turns like that as we fine-tuned the pages. She tucked into the work with such insight it felt as if she was inside the poems with me. At moments, it seemed like we were in one of those plexiglass aquarium tubes where people can walk through and watch hammerhead sharks swimming overhead and on all sides. While I am used to being in the imaginative space of the poem by myself as I watch blue whales and toucans darting past, I don’t know that I’ve ever been in that artistic flow with another person.

As the narrative arc of the chapbook fell into place, the different poems’ narrators began to speak in chorus. I am in love with characters of Handmade Boats–the bagpiper, the bartender and the rubber boot man; I am close to the woman stranded on an island, the girl trapped in the ‘Automat’ and the women bathing in the mineral pools. The characters make up a small town now, a town filled with mythological figures and edged in wilderness.

Listening to the recordings of the poetry is a rare treat for me. The vocal performance reveals the everyday music that exists in our speaking life. Exploring the collection with Nic Sebastian as she gave her skillful voicing to the poems was like participating in a thrilling old-fashioned radio-theater program.

Nic’s experience: I knew as soon as I started reading her chapbook manuscript that Heather’s would be Whale Sound’s first audio chapbook. Knew it with my body rather than my head – with a visceral, physical reaction that I’m sure is familiar to every editor. A reaction based purely and immediately on the words and images presented – before I began to intellectualize about the ideas and themes that ran in her work.

There were basic initial things I knew easily and right away about the manuscript with just eyes & brain: the core work was solid and beautiful, and all that was required to tighten the poems up was the tweaking of a few words or lines here and there, the elimination of a stanza or two.

The deeper story that connected them I did not – could not – know until I had voiced the poems. Very early on, I made draft recordings – nothing good enough to share with Heather, but enough to get me into the skin of the poems (or get the poems into the skin of me). It was making these recordings, and listening to them, that brought me information, not just about the actual sound of the poems and their rhythm, but also about the bigger story – the emotional journey on record, the cross-tracking and cross-hitting themes and memes running through the poems. This in turn gave me very specific ideas about poem order, poem inclusion and poem titling.

It sounds like hocus-pocus, but this really was substantive information voice brought to the process for me. At one point, Heather suggested adding three new poems to the group and asked whether I thought they would work in the group. I said (feeling very lame in my response) that they looked like good additions on the face of it, but I could not really tell until I had voiced the poems. And when I did, I knew quite certainly – and quickly – that two were good additions, while the third was best left to another collection.

I’ve said previously that voice is an organ of investigation – a sense like touch or sight that brings you information – and believe that all the more strongly after this experience.

I’ve loved working with Heather – much enjoyed her maturity and range as an artist, her openness as a human being and the vibrant exchanges we have had as author and editor – and am honored to have had even a small role in bringing these wonderful poems of hers to a wider audience. Thank you, Heather!

Interview with Whale Sound poet – Allan Peterson

1. Please comment on the following:

a. The experience of hearing your poem on Whale Sound (WS):The sound of your exceptional voice reading my poem from five years ago brought it to life again, revived and incantatory. I was struck smiling as I listened. Your reading gave the poem the sense of gravity I felt it had when I wrote it.

b. The WS decision to focus only on web-active poets: Choosing to focus on web-active poets, WS is helping to even the field between print and the web’s boisterous vitality. Print is necessarily a more restricted audience. As an editor, WS is exercising the vital function of giving some recognition to writers that might be lost in the welter.

More is More, after all, but finding the gems is sometimes harder with the whole world readily at hand.

c. The WS third-party submissions policy: It’s a quite a generous thing and rather extraordinary for an editor to open the process up like that. I think anyone would be pleased to have their work recommended and be given the ability to recommend deserving work in turn.

2. What does WS do well? What WS does well is its revival of previously published work, giving poems another life and a wider audience, and having a beautiful resident voice.

3. What could WS do better? I appreciate that the poems are archived, but, from a reader standpoint, I had hoped poems would stay up longer. As an editor, such a rapid turnover must be hard to manage, given the expanding activities of said editor. I know that you’re cutting the postings from two to one a day, but with a blog and now audio chapbooks, that’s still a monumental schedule, is it not? How will you have time for your next five projects? (Editor’s note: You mean like Voice Alpha?? It’s been grueling, but it’s work I enjoy and I’m beginning to find the rhythm and pace needed to keep it all going. The Whale Sound postings go down to one per weekday next week, which will ease things a lot.)

About Allan Peterson.
Allan’s poem on Whale Sound: Self Knowledge
More Whale Sound poet interviews