You know, I’ve been seeking this recorded poetry thing—especially an audio production that’s more than just a capturing of the reading, more than just the poet’s voice—for approximately thirty-five years, and I haven’t been coming up with much. Part of this is no doubt my own fault. All those years living in the north woods and wanting to move to the city to experience Culture, once I got to Minneapolis in 1984 I found that little of it was interesting and almost none of it affordable. I remained isolated. Also, I think I need art to be kept at a distance. I prefer recordings to concerts. I like to be far enough removed that I don’t have to deal with the artist’s vanity and ego or their misogyny or their tendency to chew with their mouth open. I’d rather just look at what they did, read their books, listen to someone else perform their music (if we’re thinking of dead white guys with violins), make the proper sounds of appreciation and everyone’s happy (primarily, I’m happy).…The embellished poetry, I think it’s been around…maybe part of the gallery scene, part of installations and collaborations, maybe popping up from time to time in campus art departments—I think it’s been around as a performance art but not as a recorded art. Maybe it’s not the sort of thing you hear in clubs, not commercial enough to attract the record industry. Maybe it’s not fun. Maybe it’s something that happened in some cities but not all of them, and was therefore easy to miss. Maybe it’s not really what people want to hear (the poet is speaking and when someone speaks it’s normal to stop and listen—is this something you’re going to dance to or sing along with or play in the background as you study for finals?). I’m sure poets have been accompanied by musicians long before we had a recording technology. So, where is it? Where are the journals and critics? Where are the how-to books? Where are the collected treasuries? Where is that special shelf in the library? Where is that overflowing spot in my record collection?
I started recording my own compositions in the spring of 1996 and managed to keep it a fairly anonymous and secret affair until last year. A fellow artist/poet/noisemaker (he’s also a sculptor and filmmaker) said he was posting a few of his songs on soundcloud.com and that I should check it out. I did.
And that’s where I first started running into the kind of poetry I’d been looking for. Like everything else on the internet, I don’t have time for it. It’s a shame. I don’t have time to do the searches and check all the leads.…A year ago there were dozens of poetry and spoken word groups at SoundCloud. Today there are over one hundred. Too many of the groups are specialty items for a single artist’s self-promotion. They tend not to attract much attention.…The majority are hip hop, which to my ear is an overly rigid form of poetry. Too much of the spoken word is just a clip from a film or old television show laid on top of a techno beat (I mean “techno” in its most generic sense of electronic dance music). Still, I’ve found several groups that feature original poetry and creative sound compositions.
The gem at SoundCloud is Air to Hear, moderated by UK poet Mark Goodwin. He’s been working very hard to spearhead an artistic revolution. I can’t keep up. Every couple months I go back to his home page and find several more links to new projects he’s working on. Air to Hear is his passion and seems to be the largest and most successful of his poetry groups. It now has almost two hundred tracks by over seventy-five artists. The diversity of styles of poetry and music should keep you listening way past your bedtime. There are traditional poets with traditional music, ambient backgrounds, static and noise, field recordings. There are poets speaking languages I don’t understand. There are soundtracks I might not want to understand. There are poets I don’t understand speaking my own language. There are rantings and bedtime stories and love poems and tales of sorrow and confusion. There is gibberish and profundity. There are people just taking their first steps in a new medium and others who sound slick enough to be heard on the radio. Basically, Air to Hear is an ever growing audio anthology. Like any good editor, Mark has been very active in seeking out new works and soliciting poets and musicians to submit Air to Hear.
It saddens me that I’m not forty years younger with enough spare time to explore every promising lead at SoundCloud. Specifically, I’d like to follow up with almost every single artist posting in Air to Hear. Mark thinks that our time has come. Speaking as a fan more than as an artist, I hope he’s right. I’d like to hear this stuff coming out of someone else’s earbuds.