Let’s Hear Irish Poets Speak; the need for more poetry audiobanks in Ireland

Since this plea was published at The Bogman’s Cannon, I have been notified that one Irish University has been creating a collection of audio poetry. This was brought to my attention via comments under the original posting. Please check out the Seamus Heaney Centre Digital Archive & The Queen’s University, Belfast, Archives as well

The Electronic Poetry Center (U.S) was founded in 1995. UBUWEB was founded by Kenneth Goldsmith in 1996, an audio archive housing avant-garde works including visual, concrete, and sound poetry, UBU also holds film files. PENNSound was founded in 2003. To date, one Irish University has made a step towards providing accessible poetry archives in Ireland. Poetry Ireland has not gone an inch toward increasing accessibility to Irish audio poetry. Why is this? Whatever way we choose to look at this situation, we can see that despite the tourist push on arts here. Ireland is one to two generations behind best practice in the area of accessibility to audio poetry. We focus on pushing a few poets (mainly to the American market) and beneath the colossus-like feet of the Yeats, the Muldoons, the Heaneys, and the presidential poets, the green shoots are strangled and lacking in sunlight. I try very hard to understand why the academic and poetic establishment has such a narrow and untrusting vision of contemporary poetry, and I cannot conclude but that it represents a ‘business’ approach to the arts. Conservative fears of being found out for this lack has promoted a culture of safety, a critique grounded in a narrowly defined ideology that has destroyed at least a generation of young writers. Some poetry audio does exist via the Seamus Heaney Centre, or maybe hidden in the pages of the Irish National Broadcaster’s site. Even then they can be found scattered about the corridors of Youtube. This thinly scraped and scrappy approach to poetry audio illuminates a lacklustre approach to the art which is just short of disrespect. 

Poetry readers and writers are poorly served by critics who do not understand form, managers who do not understand process, and overweening established poets who feel that they must stand between the reader and the work. The reader of poetry is distrusted or is considered immature in their encounter with the poem! There is a contemporary poetry and it is thriving but it lacks good infrastructure vis experimental spaces for emergent writers and the provision of audio spaces where we (the reader) can find poets like O’Driscoll or Ní Dhomhnaill speaking of their work and their interest in the process of creation. The fact that a new generation of emergent writers must await vehicles like Poetry Ireland Introductions to find an audience hints at a paternalistic approach to poetic works that see a few dominant poets stand between the reader and the work as if it were radioactive.

The Irish poetry audience like to go searching, hence they will go to where accessibility is respected, to UBUWEB, to PENNSound, to Jacket2, or to The Electronic Poetry Center. I suppose that the difference between these places and the half-assed Irish approach to providing good accessible infrastructure and experimental workspaces to Irish poets is that the nous necessary to set up spaces wherein poetry can grow and develop its audience is driven by the poets themselves who understand how to bring on the next generation rather than suppressing them! As an example of poorly thought out approaches to writerly encouragement, Poetry Ireland deleted its 12-year-old forum in 2013, taking with it space where poets peer-reviewed and experimented with form. There was no portability to the archives, and the remaining poets had to go in and copy everything to archive it elsewhere.

Here are some ideas regarding accessibility and archive that might interest working poets.

  1. An audio archive need not be complex. It involves the use of mp3 uploads, there are multiple types, like Soundcloud, Audioboom, and etc. The PENNsound Index is very simple but it allows wonderful access to lectures and readings. cf.  PENNsound Authors.
  2. Podcasts can be created using OS tech like Drupal, this example was sent by Mark Conroy.
  3. Instead of sending everything to private concerns like broadcasters, would it not be better to institute an archive where uploads that originate with broadcasters can be jointly housed and be entirely and properly attributed to their source?
  4. There is a need for experimental poetry spaces, both written and audio, as there is a need for a drop-in place like Kelly’s Writer’s House for talks and readings. Maybe what we need to see as readers and writers of poetry is passion for the form by those who purport to manage it.

There is a singular lack of cohesive thought given to platforming a generation of writers. There is a shabby merry-go-round approach to platforming the same six or seven poets as representative of Irish poetry internationally, it is embarrassing. The looming gap in how we present poetry here, especially to our disregard for women poets is wrong, really wrong. Half of the poets we push have been dead years. Recently on St. Patrick’s Day the same bunch of poets were pushed out to represent Irish writing. In my opinion, people will just stop listening as ossification sets in. The guardians of poetry do a generation of poets a disservice with their ego-trips and their lack of support to young poets, as my grandmother used to say “fur coat, no knickers”; we are all shop front, a tawdry mess. 

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