Mark Goodwin

When I first began posting my work at soundcloud.com—I think this was in April, 2011—I quickly learned that the way to find people who interested me and who might want to hear what I was doing was to join groups. When I began to search for poetry groups Mark Goodwin’s Air to Hear was the richest and most promising.

This is where I first encountered Mark’s recorded poetry. My initial impression, aside from liking his writing, was that his readings were a little stilted and over-enunciated and that the sounds (we have to hear them more as audio construct than as music in the conventional sense) were not entirely connected to the reading but just floating in the background.

Partly this had to do with it being my first encounter with other artists doing the type of work that I’d been doing but with an entirely different aesthetic and intellectual agenda. We aren’t doing Poetronica or Hip Hop, there is no unifying style, no fashion, no conformity. We’re almost all working on our own in the isolation of our own homes, almost working in a void, each of us developing our own approach to the medium. We’ve drifted as a natural extension of recording readings of our poetry or we’ve heard the idea of mixing poetry and sound or music but have heard few examples, so what each of us comes up with tends to be idiosyncratic.

Partly it had to do with an American tradition of poetry reading versus a UK tradition. I’ve heard other UK writers since then with a similarly exaggerated enunciation, a precision of locution I cannot imagine coming from an American mouth. I have no way of connecting this to a social situation, no way of understanding how the style of reading developed.…Too much of what I’ve heard in the United States tends to veer toward a lecturn/pulpit pomposity, toward a soapbox self-righteousness, or toward an overly sincere, heartstrings kind of prepared group confessional simultaneously whining and manipulative…or like someone is just reading it off the page with an almost total lack of expression.

To a lesser extent, I think this also had to do with Mark testing the possibilities of the medium and feeling a little self-conscious with the whole operation. I think if you’re singing a pop song you listen to whether or not you’re doing it well but you don’t question the process itself. When you’re close to creating a new medium (we aren’t, but it’s uncommon enough that it sometimes feels that we are) you just have to stand back from your work and just wonder what the hell you’re doing.

Over the past two years I’ve heard well over seventy-five of his recordings—I’ve listened to most of them several times, both to get more out of them and just for the simple pleasure of hearing them. I think the change has been subtle but I’ve been hearing a level of comfort in his more recent posts, which I assume are more recent recordings (though I could be wrong). And, to my ear, it seems the sounds are more a part of the composition and less mere background. I think Mark has always had it in mind to make a complete composition but now it seems that there’s a better glue being used. On the piece he just posted this week the words and sounds are almost inseparable. Not that the words are an inferior work without the sounds, but they would now be an entirely different work.

How to Fix the Poet

On soundcloud.com there is a mad scientist of a science fiction poet named Bryant O’Hara. His work is genuinely experimental, each recording an opportunity to explore both technology and theme. I’ve mentioned him here before. I hope to post many more of his recordings in years to come.

This weekend he put up Sym-Bionic, a roller coaster ride of pitch shifting dystopia. (I’m giving you a link to the page so you can read along if you like.) It becomes more frightening the deeper he goes. Knowing that, “We have the technology to smile” does not bring a smile to my sagging face.

He wrote the line, “We can rebuild a poet barely alive/into a socially acceptable unit”, which I am momentarily taking as an antidote to a piece I posted a couple weeks ago (a babbling ad lib indicating that “there’s no poet like a dead poet”). It would be nice to think that Bryant was trying to repair my ills, helping me bask in my own ego-centric glory, but I think he has something bigger in mind…what a poet might have to go through to become that socially acceptable unit. After hearing this you might be content as a pariah.

This is my recording:

(In checking my links I find that you’ll be directed to the new SoundCloud interface. If you’re not a soundclouder the main thing you’ll notice is that the comments are cut off at a single line, even though my comment on Bryant’s track went on at length. This might be good for you but for those of us who network on SoundCloud it’s a serious problem. The past two articles posted here, by Mark Goodwin and myself, address the changes to the site.)

SoundCloud not SoundClown

It is painfully ironic that the only way I could have discovered others making digitally produced audio poetry was via SoundCloud. It was because of my finding a community of poetry listeners that I became motivated to develop my own practice as a sound-artist-poet, indeed it is through SoundCloud that I discovered that practice. It was because of SoundCloud, and the way I could receive and leave comments on others’ work, that I was able to learn so much, and also pass on to others some of what I know about poetry and poetics. Only through SoundCloud and being able to make the SoundCloud group ‘air to hear’ was I able to seek and collect the work of other sound-artist-poets.

All this work is now in jeopardy. My work of seeking and encouraging depends on being able to leave substantial comments. I’ve been a community poet since the late 90s, someone who encourages others to speak and write creatively – SoundCloud was the only online ‘place’ that I felt I could carry out that kind of work. All that now seems likely to go. Even if I can choose to carry on using the classic SoundCloud interface I will not be able to leave informative, critically constructive and encouraging comments on others’ tracks, unless they too choose the old way. If I now find some young in-experienced poet in some corner of our world dabbling with sound who only needs a couple of careful critical comments about their work, plus a good dose of ‘good-on-you’ and ‘keep-at’, and perhaps an invitation to contribute to ‘air to hear’ …. well … I just can’t do that anymore. ‘air to hear’ depends on expansive comment boxes.

It is painfully ironic that so much has begun to be so suddenly ended. It’s as if careful and loving parents have been seduced overnight, by Hades perhaps; and now those parents are hungry and forgetful, so that all they reared is left to waste … as they follow their new gleaming god.

Behind every cloud there is a silver-sonic lining.

Behind every clown, in the depths of every clown,
beneath the mask of hilarity, there is sadness
and even dark anguish.

SoundCloud not SoundClown.