Last week”s announcement that a UK site called iPoetry was going to make poetry mp3″s available to iPod listeners for 50p a poem created a very small media buzz – that is to say, it hardly got a comment from the blogosphere. What little comment did get made was along the lines of this single sentence on the unsalability of poetry. Apparently, the little bit of the world that is paying attention believes that people won”t fork over 50p (about 97 cents) to own a copy of Richard Wilbur reading his own poetry, or slam diva Gayle Danley in performance. Still, iPoetry is counting on the popularity of the spoken word and poetry to make their “new” concept profitable for them, and intend to have over 1000 poems available for download by their October 1 launch.
If you don”t want to wait until October for iPoetry, though, you”ll find over 1500 poem audio files available to stream or download directly to your MP3 player at PENNsound. The project is directed by Charles Bernstein and Al Filreis at the University of Pennsylvania, who are committed to both cataloguing new performances of and about poetry and archiving existing ones. Thus you”ll find gems like this 1935 recording of Gertrude Stein reading A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson (with thanks to Bud Bloom Poetry where I found that particular pointer) or Allen Ginsberg singing selections from Blake”s Songs of Innocence mingling with poet Deborah Richards reading her work at a summer reading a few years back.
What is most entrancing about PENNsound – or, to be more explicit – about listening to poetry being read – is the dimension that sound adds to the experience. Listening to Stein”s reading of her “Valentine” awakens the lyrical quality of the sounds playing against each other in a way that seeing the words flat on the page (or printed on the screen) just can”t do. With 1500 audio files and growing, PENNsound is a reminder that some poetry is meant to be heard to be fully appreciated.