Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


poetry out loud website – The Poeio Project

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 here 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)

Leave a comment

poetry out loud website: miPOradio – interview with Didi Menendez

(Didi Menendez is a Cuban-born American artist, publisher and author. Her publications have won the Pushcart Prize and have been recognized by Best American Poetry. She publishes MiPOesias and Poets and Artists and curates the poetry out loud website, miPOradio.)

Tell us about miPOradio.

miPOradio is a project all on its own. It has been around since 2005. I had the help of Birdie Jaworski in setting up the initial podcast’s rss feeds and interviewing some poetry personalities at the time that I was publishing including Ron Androla and David Lehman. She had the sound equipment to do this for me and we went into full production. Later I bought individual sound recording devices and sent them to several poets to record their poems for me. I sent one to Amy King, Ron Silliman, Gabriel Gudding (and a couple of others). Amy King lives in New York so she was able to use the little recording device to interview Daisy Fried, Annie Finch, Ron Padgett and Ron Silliman among others as well as record live readings for me. Most of these readings and interviews are still available for download for free at miporadio.posterous.com. That is where the problem came in. Where to store the audio. Placing large files on a server is not free. Even with the new opportunities today such as Posterous and Soundcloud, there are limitations as to how much free space you are allowed. After that there is a fee of some sort involved. The majority of the audio I have online is kept at Libsyn. There is a limit as to how much I am able to upload a month depending on the package purchased. I originally had a server for miPoradio and had several files uploaded there but I could not afford it any longer and started resorting to Posterous and my monthly quota with Libsyn.

Another problem is at the poet’s end. Not so much with recording devices because there are plenty of recording options already built in to computers, ipods, etc. that were not around in 2005. The problem is the actual recordings. Very few poets are able to deliver a good reading of their own work. Amazing but true. That is my biggest challenge with miPOradio. Not so much the technology (which I still run into problems with when I ask someone to record their work) but the actual outcome of the recording. Maybe some poet’s works should be read and not heard…. I will continue to offer the media of sound with my publications regardless of these obstacles. There is always a way around whatever situation presents itself.

Talk about the response to your different publishing initiatives. Have the sound initiatives had greater or lesser response than the others? Why do you think this is?

Most readers still prefer to read and not hear. To me what is most important is how the work is presented on the page/browser, than if the poet is able to do a good job reading of their work or not. Visuals are more important to me.

Is there a next level to which you plan to take your sound-related projects?

I was planning on leaving all the recordings of miPOradio to PENNSOUND. I already have several recordings there but the mandate on how a file is to be submitted to PENNSOUND became too much work for just one person to handle. I am not a University. I do not have monies dedicated to any of my publications. Everything I do is out of pocket, love, sweat and yes sometimes tears. So I fathom if I die, I will just let PENNSOUND figure out what to do with all of it if they are able to get to it. This is an official statement I just made here.

If you could wave a magic wand and have anything you wanted to fulfill a sound-related project, what would it be?

I don’t believe in magic wands. I believe in hard work and determination. Hopefully if there is such a thing as a magic wand it would allow me the energy and creativity needed to continue providing this venue.

What are we poets not doing with sound technology that we should be doing?

They are not listening to their own poems. The are not reading them out loud. They are not stopping in the periods. They are not pausing between stanzas. They are not reflecting emotion in their words. They are writing poems as big as a mountain and reading as if they were a mouse.


Readings Didi likes:

Emergent by William Stobb.
You painted your teeth read by Ron Androla.

Leave a comment

BAP poetry out loud posts

I blogged at the Best American Poetry blog Feb 27 thru March 5 and most posts were ‘poetry out loud’ posts. Just getting all the links into the record here:

Poetry out loud: Must-visit websites
Poetry out loud: Group reading
Poetry out loud: Page vs stage
Poetry out loud: Voice as organ of investigation
Poetry out loud: Audio chapbooks & other methods of poetry delivery
Poetry out loud: Singing poetry


poetry out loud website: How Pedestrian

(This is one of an occasional series of interviews focusing on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Katherine Leyton, founder of the online audio-video poetry journal, How Pedestrian.)

What made you start How Pedestrian?

I had been frustrated for years by the common misperception that poetry is boring, pretentious and/or simply beyond the average person’s understanding. My relationship with poetry has always been defined by pleasure – pure, spontaneous, unrestrained pleasure – and it has the potential to give each and every individual this. As I say over and over again in the project’s manifesto, I believe poetry should first and foremost interact with the reader on a gut level. No formal education required. I wanted more people to realize this, and I wanted, somewhat selfishly perhaps, to demand a wider audience for poetry.

Why did you settle on the current format?

The visual element of the project, of course, was the main idea. I wanted to bring poetry to people in pubs and streets and taxis around Toronto, capture it on video and post it online. However, the visual aspect of a poem itself is also very important, and I think to fully absorb a poem you need to actually read it; this is why I decided to post the work next to the video. I really wanted the viewer be able to read along.

I also thought it was essential to provide a biography of the poet, not only out of respect for him or her, but also because I believe it gives the viewer important context and, hopefully, inspires them to explore the poem or poet further.

What has the response been like?

The response has been wonderful! The enthusiasm with which pedestrians agree to read for me is astonishing. I would say that out of every ten people I ask to read a poem, nine say yes. When I started, I never expected a 90% response rate, which speaks of my own misperceptions about the way the Canadian public views poetry. People are willing and curious, they just might not be inspired to seek it out on their own – they need a push. Many of my readers want to discuss the poem or poet with me after they read, and almost all are fascinated by the project. Of course, certain contexts and/or groups of people are not as easy; the day I filmed the video for Haiku and High Finance week in the financial district, for example, I probably only had about a 40 percent success rate. Everyone was simply too busy. Nevertheless, getting hurried business types to read poetry during lunch hour was an immensely rewarding experience.

What are your main challenges?

Honestly—money and time. Working a full-time job and running this is exhausting, and the quality of the project suffers for it. Between selecting poetry, choosing a location, filming, researching and writing biographies, editing video, moderating comments, corresponding with contributors and doing promotion, I simply can’t do everything as well as I would like to. I have a number of incredible occasional volunteers, but no one that contributes in a regular, scheduled way. I also need better equipment – an external microphone, for example, and a camcorder light for shooting at night, but I literally just don’t have the extra cash to invest in such items.

What’s fun about it?

Almost everything, but above all else, the process of actually going out and filming people reading. This aspect is by far the most rewarding; I am continuously exploring wonderful new places and activities around Toronto for the project, while simultaneously meeting incredible people along the way. Among many others, I’ve had a priest, a Caribana queen and a man with a parrot on his shoulder read for the site, all in amazing locations. I often have those ‘aha’ moments while I’m out filming where I realize how much I love this city, and the people in it, and how grateful I am to be running a project that constantly reminds me of this.

Describe the hardware and software you use.

I use a Canon FS200 video camera for filming and Final Cut Pro 7 for editing.

Is there a next level to which you hope to take ‘How Pedestrian’?

Although I never want to lose the rough charm of the current HP videos, I do hope to eventually improve their quality, both through the use of a better camera and by bettering my video editing skills. I’m also planning to purchase an external microphone so that sound quality improves. Most importantly, I’d like to expand the number of contributors we have filming videos of pedestrians reading in various locations around the world. We’ve already had videos from India, Italy, Scotland, and the US, and I’d love to continue reaching more places and more people. In sum, How Pedestrian wants to take over the world.

What tips do you have for anyone reading a poem for an audience?

Do what feels right for you. The poem is yours now, even if you didn’t write it. Beyond that, just read loud and slow. Remembering to breathe is important.

What are your thoughts in general on the current state of the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience, in Canada and/or elsewhere?

I would say I generally find traditional poetry readings boring. In my opinion, the majority of your run-of-the-mill readings simply don’t add any value to the actual work, and I think that’s a key thing to consider when it comes to reading aloud for an audience. You need to add an extra element.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t feel qualified to make a general statment on the art of reading poetry alound in Toronto – I haven’t explored the scene enough. The Toronto Poetry Slam at the Drake Underground is an incredible event, and demonstrates just how dynamic and exciting poetry can be, but it’s a very specific type of poetry – it’s Spoken Word. I think there are a lot more ways we could make traditional poetry readings more entertaining. When I was studying in Edinburgh a few years ago, for example, there was a fantastic monthly poetry event called The Golden Hour; it involved musicians, poets, short story writers and artists all performing in one night. The atmosphere was always lively and light-hearted and fueled by wine. The audience didn’t take themselves seriously, and neither did the performers. Indeed, the audience performed as much as the performers did. I think Canada needs more of these – unrestrained, unscripted, anything-goes poetry events.


Katherine Leyton gets paid to write about porn & lust every weekday from 10 to 6. At night, she writes poetry. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in The Malahat Review, The Feathertale Review and Room. She is also the founder of How Pedestrian.


More interviews in this series.


poetry out loud: interview with ‘Linebreak’ editor

(This is one of an occasional series of interviews focusing on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Johnathon Williams, editor of the online audio poetry journal, Linebreak.)

Most online poetry sites with an audio aspect feature poets reading their own work aloud. Linebreak is highly unusual in that it is specifically predicated on readers reading other people’s work. Would you give us the background on how/why Linebreak developed in this direction?

It was mostly by accident. We’d intended to include audio from the very start, but when we began soliciting that initial batch of poems – before the website even existed – a few of the poets we accepted didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to record their work. The most obvious fix for that was to have someone else record those poems, and once we tried that, we knew immediately it should be a permanent fixture.

What is specifically beneficial/intriguing/productive about marrying voices to poems that the voice owners have not written?

The benefit is that performance is a form of interpretation, so that in hearing someone else read the poem you’re exposed to a new interpretation of it. It’s a little like hearing a cover of one of your favorite songs performed by a different band. A good cover can completely reinvent a song. It’s the same with poems.

As a weekly magazine, we also benefit by increasing the number of poets that we feature. We only publish 52 poems per year, so the weekly addition of a reader allows us to feature two poets at a time instead of one. There’s a benefit to the poets as well, in that it encourages a connection between two writers who might not have known each other. It’s been fun to watch our performers and writers become friends on Facebook, or write us to ask for each other’s email addresses.

Please describe the process of selecting Linebreak poems. To what extent does the fact that they will be vocalized on the site influence your choices? (E.g. are questions of length, format, the sonics of the poem itself, actively weighed?)

The audio portion doesn’t influence our selection process at all. I certainly don’t think about it when I’m reading submissions, and I’m pretty sure the other editors don’t, either. We have to fall in love with a poem as a written artifact first, before we even think about how it sounds out loud. As an online publication, we’re open to poems of all lengths.

Please describe the process of selecting your readers and the criteria you use in those selections.

Our first criteria is that all readers be poets themselves, with at least a couple of publications to their credit. We have a standing call for volunteer readers on our about page, and lots of the folks who read for us are pulled from those volunteers. Pairing a particular reader to a particular poem is sometimes deliberate — as when we asked Leon Stokesbury to read Seth Abramson’s “Cash at Folsom” — and sometimes coincidental. Sometimes it’s Monday afternoon and our update is due the next morning and the volunteer reader doesn’t come through and I find myself trolling through my Facebook chat list, randomly accosting any poet who happens to be online for some impromptu audio.

What tips do you have for anyone recording a poem for an audience?

First I’d say to get rid of your poet voice – that dreadful, droning affectation that’s become all too popular these days. (Hearing one of those always makes me think of that scene from The Golden Child where Eddie Murphy is in Tibet confronting the mystics: -“I, I, I, want the knife…. please.”) Your regular voice will do just fine. Other than that, you can do a lot worse than to simply slow down a little, and speak. A recording isn’t live, so there’s no pressure. You can always do another take if you need to.

Please describe the technical side of your audio operation. How do you receive sound files? Do you edit the audio at all? If so, to what extent? What software and equipment do you use?

We receive sound files through email, generally, or through a service like DropBox when the files are too large to be emailed. We tell our readers that files in WAV or AIFF format are preferred (those are uncompressed formats that give us the most leeway if we need to edit them), but a lot of people don’t know how to create those files, so we accept MP3s as well.

As far as editing goes, we edit most of the files that we receive at least a little. The most common edit is to remove the dead air at the beginning of a recording, or the shuffle and click of the recorder being turned off at the end. The second most common is removing background noise.

Our software workhorse is GarageBand, which comes bundled with all new Macs, and which I use for 90 percent of our editing. Occasionally I need something that’s more capable at removing background noise, and when that happens I use Audacity, a free program for both Macs and PCs.

On the hardware side, I have a Zoom H2 recorder, which is probably the best purchase we ever made. I’d recommend it for all poets. I use the Zoom to record audio for the site whenever I can, which is usually when a new poet happens to be visiting the local university, or when I’m at AWP.

Probably the most valid criticism you could make against Linebreak is the variance in our audio quality. There are weeks when we post studio-quality audio, and there are weeks when we post … something else. We have on occasion rejected recordings — or more commonly asked the reader to re-record something — but we hate to do that too often. My thought is that it’s better to err on the side of a greater variety in voices than to be too stringent about audio quality.

What sort of feedback do you get from poets on the readings of their poems? Does anyone ever object to the way their poem has been interpreted?

Usually, our poets love hearing their work read by another poet. No one has flat-out objected to a reading yet, but a few poets have grumbled a little about our choices. A more common problem is the rejection of a poem by a potential reader, although even that has happened only five or six times in the last three years. When that happens, we generally just send the reader a different poem.

If you could wave a magic wand and get a long-wished-for thing for Linebreak, what would it be?

My wish would be for the ability to make Linebreak and my own writing a full-time gig. Right now, I balance those with running my own web design and development shop, as well as being a husband and father.

What are your thoughts in general on the current state of the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience?

I think there’s a fascinating split between the academic side of poetry – those of us who came through MFA programs, and tend to focus on poetry as a written art – and the slam side. It’s fascinating because, in general, the academic folks tend to be better writers, in that they tend to be better read and more aware of the tradition they’re working in. But slam poets, by and large, are better performers. And by “better performers”, I mean they’re less likely to bore the audience to tears.

We’ve all been to poetry readings on the academic side where the reader could’ve been replaced by a robot and hardly anyone would’ve noticed. Sometimes I think that refusal to perform is a deliberate effort by some academic poets to separate themselves from slam poets. But it’s also true that many writers are introverts who are uncomfortable with the entire idea of performing. To those people, I’d simply remind them that, in the absence of performance, there’s absolutely no reason for public poetry readings to exist. Everyone in the audience is perfectly capable of reading the work by themselves. The only reason to invite the author to read it aloud is to hear it interpreted in a new way, in a voice other than the listener’s — in other words, to hear it performed.

Anything else we should have asked but forgot?

If I hadn’t taken so long to get these questions back to you, you could’ve asked about Linebreak‘s first book project, which went on sale on Jan. 26. Two Weeks is a digital anthology of contemporary poetry, released exclusively as an ebook and audio book.

The entire project was compiled, edited, designed, coded, and recorded in only 14 days. My co-editor and I took public submissions for the first week, then spent the second week editing and producing the book. We received more than 1,000 poems. In the end, we selected 58 of them, from poets such as Dorianne Laux, Bruce Bond, T.R. Hummer, and others. You can listen to samples and download it immediately on our website, or order it directly from Amazon.


Johnathon Williams is a writer, editor, and web developer living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His poems have appeared in The Morning News, Unsplendid, 42 Opus, and various print magazines that can’t be linked to. An essay he wrote about his personal relationship with zombie movies is required reading in university writing programs across the county. (Not really).


Johnathon at Whale Sound.
More interviews in this series.


poetry-aloud websites: Hans Ostrom’s You Tube channel

(This is part of an occasional series of interviews focusing on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Hans Ostrom, who has his own poetry You Tube channel.)

What is the mission statement for your You Tube channel?

I don’t have a mission-statement. Instead I simply state that the channel features the reading of poetry, mostly by others, with a few by me. As things have turned out, I think my mission is to present poems I value, work by poets I’ve liked for a long time (Langston Hughes, Karl Shapiro, and W.H. Auden are good examples), lesser known poems by well known poets (Auden’s “Roman Wall Blues), and lesser known poems (like some poems from the Sanskrit)–pretty much in that order. Early on I discovered that the Spoken Verse Channel from Tom O’Bedlam had presented terrific readings of the very famous canonical poems, and there’s no point competing, as it were, with Tom.

Why did you start your You Tube channel?

Really I was first interested in the technology: how to record a poem on the cheap at home, and how and whether to make accompanying slide-shows. I’m also just an advocate of poetry in general and think more people should read it and engage with it. Then I really got interested in the recording itself, how it changes how one reads a poem. I’ve recorded over 400 now, but I hate the early ones and still feel I’m not a good reader. The learning curve is steep.

What made you choose You Tube as a platform rather than a blog or website or other internet platform?

A website seemed too complicated (for me), and I already have a blog called Poet’s Musings, on which I post my own poems, others’ poetry, brief essays on poems, etc. You Tube seemed to provide access to a wide audience and a fairly easy way to upload videos.

How frequently do you post and how do you choose your readings?

For a while I was posting up to three poems a week, but I’ve backed off from that. I’ll probably settle on one a week. Because it takes a while to edit the sound, I’m always on the lookout for short poems, and so I’ve rediscovered how long a lot of contemporary poems are. I also don’t mind reading “chestnuts” that hip readers of poetry would deride–like Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” or a poem by Robert Service, “Ordinary Men.” I’m trying to appeal to a variety of audiences, and I don’t want the channel to be elitist.

What percentage of readings are your own poems and what percentage are other people’s poems?

Probably 10 per cent of the poems, at most, are mine.

What are the differences in approach, rewards and challenges that come into play when you read other people’s poems, as opposed to your own?

Well, you want to do the poem justice, and to try to stay out of its way, so to speak. I tend to hate my voice, and my recording technique’s not perfect, but at least I get the poem out there, and even if people don’t like my reading, per se, they may enjoy the poem. If that’s the case, then I’ve done my basic job. If they like the reading and the poem both, so much the better.

What are your plans/hopes for the You Tube channel? Is there a next level to which you hope to take it?

I’d like to experiment with the visuals. Now I either create a slide-show of what I think are apt images, or I use the poem itself (the text) as the images. I start with a visual of some sort on the “title” panel, then usually have an image of the poet. I think I’d like to play with that basic format. There is a huge temptation to use sound gimmicks like reverb, etc., but I learned early on to avoid those, so I don’t want to experiment too much with sound. I’d like to learn how to present the text of poems in a greater variety of ways. I also want to read poems by newer poets, up-and-coming poets, and so on. People just breaking in. I’ve done a few of those already, like “Under,” by Hannah Stephenson.

The following sites also feature people reading other people’s poems aloud. Please comment briefly on each. How do they differ from or resemble your own site?

1. I’m very much in tune with How Pedestrian insofar as I think poetry should be a part of the culture at large and not so remote. I like the common touch of this site.

2. I like Belly Up, too–nicely produced readings, not overly dramatic, letting the poems speak for themselves, as it were. Nice selection of poems, too.

3. Classic Poetry Out Loud: a good “Old School” site. I was a bit bemused by the reference to “poetry from the past,” as all poetry is, technically, from the past; but I get their drift. I’d compare this channel to that of Spoken Verse on Youtube, and I’d give a slight edge to Spoken Verse, whose readings (by “Tom O’Bedlam,” also British) are a bit less predictable. Blessings on CPOL, nonetheless: what a great resource.

4. Whale Sound is terrific. I like the selection of poems, and I like the woman’s voice. It made me realize how relatively few sites like these seem to be from women. There are a lot of women reading on Youtube, but most of them seem to be individual poets reading “to” the computer screen–or recordings of Sylvia Plath, et al. So that is very refreshing.

I think really only two things distinguish my site from these–one is that a site like Classic Poetry Out Loud is very professional, in a BBC kind of way, whereas I’m still an amateur reader trying to get more skillful at production, etc. Second, I make slide-shows that either use the text of a poem or use images suggested by the poem. So my site is probably less for the purist listener, who may wish only to hear the poem.

Hans Ostrom is Professor of African American Studies and English at the University of Puget Sound. Read more about him here and here.


poetry-aloud websites: Karsten Piper’s “Belly Up, it’s a Poetry Feed”

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Karsten Piper of Belly Up, it’s a Poetry Feed.

What is the mission statement for Belly Up?

The blurb at the bottom of the site reads:

Because a poem aloud is the rest of the poem on the page. Because I teach college writing and literature classes, many sections online, and want to grow a custom hoard of poems for students to hear read out loud. Because I’d rather be writing, myself, but don’t always, and reading aloud often makes me feel like doing the work again. And because you, friend, may discover something here that feeds your spirit or imagination a little bit.

That’s maybe more of an apologia than a mission statement, but it’s what I’ve got!

Why did you start Belly Up?

All the reasons in the previous answer, for sure.

Ever since I started teaching online about ten years ago, I’d had it in the back of my head to record a few poems each term and gradually fill my hard drive. I rarely got around to it, though. When a friend recommended People Reading Poems to me on Facebook last spring, I couldn’t shake how easy it would be to use a blog as my archive, and I started to think I might really enjoy it. Which I have!

Why else? Sometimes I get weary of hearing from students or others that there’s no good poetry these days, or that it’s all confusing, or that there’s no music in it, or whatever. I’ve never, ever won an argument with one of these folks except—sort of, once in a while—by finding a poem that grabs hold of them. So this is also me offering a little evidence to the contrary (Hey, that’s a good poem!)

How frequently do you post and how do you choose your readings?

I post three times a week, give or take.

The poems are a mix of my own lasting favorites, poems that have a place in one class or other that I’m teaching, and hits from whatever I’m reading at the time. Almost all of them are recent poems by living authors. That’s who I am, after all, a living poet who writes recent poems. And this is me doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me (Hey, you read that like you care!).

What percentage of readings are your own poems and what percentage are other people’s poems?

Let’s see, the score today is about 120/others to 1/me.

The time I read my own poem was last August, which marked five years since I left Minnesota and teaching for a sabbatical year in Scotland where I studied poetry-writing at the University of St. Andrews. That week in August was drenched with nostalgia for me anyway, so I read poems by our instructors on the course and a poem by each of the students on the course. We had worked very, very well together, the eleven of us, and I wasn’t about to be left out of the little mp3 reunion I’d fabricated.

What are the differences in approach, rewards and challenges that come into play when you read other people’s poems, as opposed to your own?

That’s a great question—I hadn’t thought about that before. My first thought was that I read other people’s poems more times to get a sense of the sounds, the pace, the movement of emotion or idea or story from the beginning of the poem to the end. Words I don’t know or don’t know how to say. But that’s not true at all. By the time I’m reading one of mine to an audience, I’ve spent a chunk of life with it that I almost never spend with someone else’s poem.

So honestly, I feel less pressure to “get it right” reading other people’s poems than I do my own. If the voice is the instrument that plays the poem, I go at other people’s poems with the half-trained, mostly-literate, semi-skilled gusto of a kid at the piano. And if my reading is clear and expressive and gives the poem with an amount of dignity, I’m well-satisfied.

As for rewards? I really like reading aloud, especially poems–it’s like coffee for me, makes me a little sharper in the head and softer in the heart . I understand the poems better having used my tongue, teeth, and ears to read them, too, not just my eyes and brain. I get to learn and try out words I might never have thought to use otherwise.

After I read and posted her poem, “My Beloved is Mine,” Heid Erdrich left this comment: “Out ego-surfing and found this. LOVE the way you read the poem. Who are you?” That was triple-gratifying. The compliment about my reading, of course. And then that she enjoyed her own poem anew because I’d read it. And the “Who are you?” suggests the connections with other poets and appreciators that can come from putting these recordings out there.

What are your plans/hopes for Belly Up? Is there a next level to which you hope to take it?

Of course, I think about thousands and thousands of visitors to the blog. Belly Up Nation! A Poetry Feed Army! Then I could live off of the revenue from ads for poetry workshop cruises and A Poetry Feed thong and mug sales.

Yep, I think about that. What I’d really like, though, would be that the site would include more communication and participation among the visitors and between them and me. Active comment threads, questions for an “Ask the Feed” feature, and definitely submissions of other people besides me reading poems they admire. I’d love to encourage some real interaction among my reader/listeners and that a lively community would be part of what characterizes the website.

The following sites also feature people reading other people’s poems aloud. Please comment briefly on each. How do they differ from or resemble your own site?

The similarities are stronger than the differences, I think. I think we all feel a generosity, something like: I’ve just been given something good, here let me pass that on to you. And gratitude, too, because what thanks a poet more than reading their poems with respect and life? (Except maybe a check, right? But I like to imagine that once in a while our listeners might go out and buy a book because of our publicity and links.) And I bet we all get a kick out of the process of reading, recording, and interacting with others about the poems. There’s a verve in each of these sites that comes from being close to something—part of something—we relish.

Having said that, I’m really, really enjoying the differences among the sites.

How Pedestrian is great! Videos of ordinary people caught in public places and asked to read a poem on video—and they do it! I love this. It’s entertaining, and the moments of awkward reading and making-sense-of-it on the fly totally disarm me. It would make my day to be at the science museum or gas station when these folks ambushed someone nearby to read—way better than getting caught in a College Gameday or Girls Gone Wild shoot. Plus, among these sites, How Pedestrian is probably doing the most to demonstrate that no one should be afraid of poetry—and then making sure a moment of fearlessness happens.

The fellow at Classic Poetry Aloud has created a very strong anthology of good, old poems. I’ll certainly be referring students to it in the future. He’s obviously more cautious about copyright than I am, though, since he only ever records works in the public domain. I, on the other hand, lean hard on the factors considered in determining fair use: specifically, that my use is entirely educational/nonprofit, that I use only a small portion of any whole publication, and that the effect of my recordings on the market for the work I’m using is almost certainly positive. I cite the source of each poem, and I link to the book for purchase. It’s my sincere hope that poets’ work will sell as a result of my posts. Encouragingly, about two dozen of the poets whose work I’ve read have communicated with me, and every one has been enthusiastic about the project.

Hans Ostrom’s YouTube channel and Whale Sound probably seem most like mine. If his channel and my blog passed each other in a strange city, they’d probably look at each other twice, furrow their brows, and walk on, wondering if it was possible to have a twin you never knew about. Of course, his twin was raised in a photo-rich environment, while mine is a little more conversational.

As for Belly Up and Whale Sound, no video, mostly living poets, one main reader. But you’ve thought of a couple of features I’m envious of. The group readings and the audio chapbooks are terrific ideas. They make good listening, which is plenty, but both of them also grow and enhance the listening in unusual ways. The group readings, by letting us hear how three different poets make sense and music out of each poem. And the chapbooks, by extending the reading of one poet’s work. That satisfies the urge we have for more after just hearing one good poem, as well as giving the words and sounds and ideas in more than one poem a chance to play off of each other. Furthermore, Nic, you’re unusually open and thoughtful about the process of reading aloud. On your various sites, you write about a lot of reading and performance issues many of us only think about. And more, too.

Karsten Piper lives in southwest Minnesota. He teaches English at Minnesota West Community & Technical College, especially enjoying his developmental and creative writing classes. A few years ago, he took a sabbatical year to study poetry-writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Since then, he has continued to write poems and send them off to be rejected or published by poetry magazines. Karsten blogs at Belly Up, It’s a Poetry Feed, which is also on Facebook.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers