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Nic Sebastian
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The end of my BAP blogging week! I've been following up on Thursday's post on poetry-delivery methods and, rather sadly, am abandoning the last poetry-out-loud post I had originally planned and will instead use this last post to share what I have found on e-books. I've been exploring Smashwords (thanks, Dave Bonta!), an e-book publishing site which will take your ready-for-publication Microsoft Word doc and convert it free into multiple e-book formats. You may then list and sell them at the Smashwords site, which in turn takes a percentage of all sales proceeds. (You may also list your e-books there as 'free' which is, of course, the preferred method of poetry delivery at Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks). As usual, I used my own poems as guinea pigs and trotted out the faithful chapbook baobab girl to be once again subjected to weird experiment. (Poor little chapbook - I am reminded of how my brothers would commandeer our Barbie dolls for brutish 'surgery' and to serve as witless victims of G.I. Joe ambush operations.) It's immediately apparent once you start looking that the central challenge for e-book publishing is achieving correct formatting, an issue which is doubly complicated for poetry. There has been much web-lament over e-book formatting for poetry, as noted in this post yesterday. However, at the basic poetry formatting level, I did not find conserving line breaks or stanza breaks to be an issue. The key really is in the formatting. The Smashwords style guide (master what it says, or you are wasting your time e-booking) specifically refers to poetry and to the need for line breaks versus stanza breaks. [Technical note: The key is in the difference between soft returns (line breaks) and hard returns (paragraph/stanza breaks). You must define exactly what you mean by a paragraph in the Word 'Styles' menu, and then use paragraph breaks for stanza breaks and soft returns for line breaks. In reformatting an existing document, the find & replace function will replace your 'hard return' line breaks with 'soft returns' (replace ^p with ^|).] Generally, then, no issues with line breaks and stanza breaks at the text size I worked with (Garamond 12). I enlarged the published text considerably through various e-readers and because my lines are relatively short, the font had to become ridiculously enormous before the lines spilled over and messed up the format. I can see how this would be an issue for poets who write in very long lines, though. The formatting is finicky work, but would definitely get easier with practice. I was reminded of html by all the tiny toggles in the background that can operate so catastrophically and sweepingly in the foreground if improperly applied. I worked an hour or so on the original document to reformat it according to the style guide, then uploaded it. Smashwords runs the doc through what it calls its 'meatgrinder', an automated process which converts it into seven different e-book formats - EPUB, MOBI, PDB, LRF, PDF, RTF... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Short post today, because I'm hoping you'll spend part of your BAP blog energy for the day checking out the wonderful reading performance below by Cin Salach, as well as that further down by Vachel Lindsay. Where does Cin Salach get the music from? How does she know what and where to sing? If you listen closely all the way through, you can hear that her voice is just like a bird poised on the edge of flight, on the edge of song, all the way through. It doesn't always take off, but it always just might. So lovely. Same questions about Vachel Lindsay's reading - what are the imperatives that guide this reading and push it in, and out, of song? Do you hear music when you write your poems? I certainly don't, but so wish I did, listening to these two. Vachel Lindsay reads The Chinese Nightingale at Penn Sound (14 min - poem text). (Hat tip to Voice Alpha contributor Kathleen Kirk for the Cin Salach link and to Peter Harter for the Vachel Lindsay link.) <><><> Nic's previous BAP blog posts 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 Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks has published four audio chapbooks so far. The original concept - which we thought pretty original for a chapbook at the time - was website-with-audio only. Each audio chapbook would have its own website, to which we would upload the poems as individual posts, each with its own audio, and that would be that. As we got feedback from readers, however, we realized that as a publisher a) we could do much more with the text and audio for very little extra effort and that b) we weren't asking the right question of the poetry consumer. In fact, we weren't asking poetry consumers anything at all - we were just telling them: poetry is best served in this manner. Website-with-audio, is what we said. But poetry is like steak, isn't it? Everyone wants it served in a particular way. Eventually we came to realize that what we should be asking, as a publisher, is: How do you like your poetry served? In the old days, it was tough and expensive and darned risky to serve up reading material in even one form - as just good old print-book. You had to invest in raw materials and skilled labor and work really hard at selling books to even recoup your expenses, let alone make a profit. These days, though, everything is just a click of the mouse away and publishing the same material in a whole variety of different formats doesn't cost you, as a publisher, anything but your time (which, if you are publishing poetry, you had better be donating ... I'm just sayin'). So. How do you like your poetry served? This is how we address that question at Whale Sound (titles & links at bottom of this post): Some people prefer the original online website format - text and audio available as individual posts on the website. Some people just want physical text - forget the audio and the online text. For those, there are two options. One is free - the PDF download. If you have a poetry-book budget and want a physical holdable BOOK in your hands, your best option is the book version, available at cost-price from Lulu, with no author/publisher mark-up. If you prefer to read from an e-reader, you can get a free PDF e-book download via Lulu, but we're still working on e-booking in general - formatting is a big challenge for poetry publication. Some people just want an audio chapbook they can listen to on their iPod. The MP3 download is for you, if you want free audio. If you'd like a CD you can put in a player and keep on your CD rack, buy the CD - again, available at cost-price from Lulu. In sum, at Whale Sound 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... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Recording other people's poems for Whale Sound several times a week, I have learned deep in my bones what I already knew at a far more superficial level in my head - that reading a poem with your voice for an audience is nothing like reading a poem in your head for yourself. Nothing like it. I used to think of 'voice' as an organ of transmission - after all, it's how we make ourselves heard, how we communicate our needs to those around us. It's counter-intuitive to think of the voice as a means of information collection, as an organ of investigation and evaluation. But I submit that voice is just that. It brings you information, in the same way your eyes and ears and nose do. I live this all the time at Whale Sound. At first, I accepted poems based on my assessment of the poem-as-page, rather than poem-as-voice. I might mutter a poem quietly to myself before deciding to accept it, but basically, my eyes and intellect made the decision, not my voice (and not, by extension, my body - more on that below). Mistake. Those of you who are editors know this: voice is your friend. Voice is the best-ever filter for an editor. Voice is relentless. It prods and pokes and unerringly finds weak spots. The text can't hide from voice the way it can from eyes and from the intellect. Voice tells you way more than whether or not the poet attempted to consider sound while composing. Voice tells you that the overall fabric of a poem isn't after all the rich brocade your eyes and intellect thought it was. A somewhat thin, fragile silk, perhaps...? (By the way, deploying your voice to assess a poem doesn't mean just muttering the poem under your breath to yourself. Nor does it mean enacting some high-drama stage performance. It means an honest-to-goodness voicing of the poem, lifting it off the page and into your body, trusting the text and its craft to carry the voice - as if you were reading it for an audience.) I've found that 95 percent of the time, voice thins out a poem and downgrades it. What your eyes and intellect thought was A+/wow material almost always ends up more like A- or B+ material once you apply the voice filter. Very occasionally, voice will give a matching A+ grade, but I've honestly never had voice give a higher grade. Let's say, as others have before, that the voice is a musical instrument and the poem its score. The poem controls and directs the voice - either well, or poorly. And how do you properly assess a score until it is actually performed by the instrument for which it was written? Some poems are perfectly constructed as scores for voice – they are in tune with the anatomy of the instrument they are written for, they trust the voice, and are both inspiring and liberating to perform. What makes a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I found this the other day at PoetCasting: Stage and Page Poetry now broadly falls into two categories. Some poets consider themselves performance poets, and their work is performed exclusively for the stage. They might read at open mike nights, poetry slams and other live events. Other poets write to be read, appearing in the pages of poetry journals, magazines, anthologies and collections. There has long been this duality in poetry. PoetCasting aims to bring together poets from all backgrounds to share the medium of the internet. Here poets can be read and heard in one place. On the heels of that, this observation from Linebreak's Johnathon Williams in his recent Voice Alpha interview: 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. We've skirted this topic at Voice Alpha. Check out the comments thread on this post, which in several places seems verily to bristle with barely-concealed hostility against the 'stage' side of the house. I think Johnathon makes an excellent point - "in the absence of performance, there’s absolutely no reason for public poetry readings to exist." (And let's be very clear about what constitutes performance - memorizing and delivering dramatic monologues on stage à la slam is performance; but so is active, engaged, skilful reading poetry aloud, from the page, for an audience.) And so we are back at the point with which I started this week lamenting: The poetry community - and of course, I really mean the 'page' poetry community - in general just doesn't seem to care about performing. There are exceptions of course, but overall there seems to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
How often do you read other people's poems (OPP) aloud for an audience? If you do, you know it's a rewarding experience that differs completely from reading your own poems aloud for an audience. I am obviously (given Whale Sound) a big proponent of reading OPP for an audience - I think the practice has enormous potential benefits for both the reader and the poet. It's a question we've addressed at length at Voice Alpha -- in this guest post by Rachel Dacus or this one by Kristin LaTour, for example (and if you have the patience, you can also hear me waffle on about the topic at Dave Bonta's Woodrat Podcast or J.P. Dancing Bear's Out of Our Minds radio show). The Whale Sound group reading series, premised on OPP principles (the author poet may participate upon invitation but may not instigate the group reading), offers three readings of one poem in a single post. The experience has been a novel one for me and it seems for many of the participating poets and readers. I share some comments from others further down in this post. As well as raising questions of 'ownership', I believe that the group readings helpfully emphasize that reading a poem for an audience is an act of creation in its own right. That the poem-as-voice is as much an independent artifact - aural, instead of visual - as the poem-as-text on which it is based. To talk of a 'right' or a 'wrong' reading is misplaced (as one commenter puts it below: "There are points in my own reading of the poem which I had previously thought of as errors, but which I now think of as variations.") Inside each poem-as-text - a fixed visual artifact - there are literally millions of potential aural artifacts, millions of versions of "that-poem-as-voice", as varied and individual as the number of readers who give their voice to the poem. As I've said before and will no doubt say again, I think one of the saddest things about the poetry community in general is the dreadfully short shrift we give to poem-as-voice, to poem-as-aural-artifact; to building and honing the skills needed to reify the poem as thing-of-aural-beauty. Some comments about the group reading experience from a few of those who have participated in Whale Sound group readings in one way or another so far: Donna Vorreyer I enjoyed having those moments of wrestling with the poem's meaning and syntax, as I do with any poem I read, but everything was tinged by the knowledge that I would be reading this poem aloud. It heightened my attention to sound in the poem, to phrasing - I started to think immediately about where the stresses may be, where the pauses may be, things I don't necessarily consider with every poem I read. It made me question whether this type of deep, sound-oriented reading could enhance my understanding of some poetry that I have traditionally found difficult to engage. Philip Quinlan... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Welcome to poetry out loud week at the BAP blog! Warm thanks to blog management for giving me such a great soapbox upon which to indulge my ongoing obsession with poem-as-voice. How did that obsession start? I've found that a good way to satisfy curiosity about a dynamic in the poetry community is to launch a Ten Questions series - a specific set of ten questions posed to a group of online poets. I've done four series so far (list in the left-hand sidebar here), but the one that started me off on poetry out loud was Ten Questions on Poetry & Technology. Specifically, Amy King's response to question No. 10, in which she said: "If every poet were to record just one book of poems that they loved for the rest of us to listen to, and not just their own poems, how excellent would that be?" The result of that thought was Whale Sound (more below) and a result of Whale Sound was Voice Alpha (even more below). As a warm-up Sunday post for this blogging week, I'd like to describe those two sites and recommend several other poetry-out-loud websites to you. (This is by no means an exhaustive list - please do add your own favorites to the mix via the comments.) Whale Sound - an audio poetry journal I started in August 2010 featuring my readings of contemporary web-active poets. I post about three readings a week, partly from submissions and partly from solicitations - audio only, with a link to text elsewhere. In addition to regular submissions, Whale Sound takes audio submissions and third-party submissions. Whale Sound also has a group reading series and an audio chapbooks publishing arm (I'll be writing more about both later this week) and is available as an iTunes podcast. Voice Alpha - companion site to Whale Sound and group blog dedicated to the discussion of anything related to reading poetry aloud for an audience. We (there are seven of us - check the contributor list in the right-hand sidebar) started it because there seem to be so few resources on the internet for anyone looking to build or hone their ‘reading poetry aloud’ skills. The poetry community in general does not seem greatly to value the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience (??), and nearly all the focus of existing online poetry-teaching and poetry-tradecraft seems to be on the writing of poems and their construction on the page. Which is all good, and important, but surely only Part 1 of constructing a poem. What about Part 2, construction of the poem-as-voice? What about developing good 'reading-as-performance' skills? Two posts at Voice Alpha that encapsulate much of the site's origins are here and here. And there's plenty of other material - a conversation with a reading coach; thoughts on what's better: reading or reciting your poems at a reading?; a place to send in a reading for friendly critique from 'Dear Voice Alpha'; or advice on basic recording... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 25, 2011