Poetry, Podcasting, and the Problem of Audience

This summer, we were joined by a cohort of three stellar interns, each of whom contributed their diverse talents and interests to the Poetry in America team. 

Read below to hear from Brieanna (Brie) Martin, a junior at Harvard College. Brie, an English concentrator, spent her summer learning audio-editing skills and combing through hours of footage from the past three years to create the Poetry in America podcast, currently in production. Be on the lookout for our Podcast, launching in 2017.

Why is it that we consume and talk about movies, music, TV, drawings, cartoons, novels, and all different types of content that challenge us in day to day life, but that we reserve poetry for the classroom? Are these other media reaching us in ways that contemporary poetry publications or conventional educational content is not? How can we make conversations about American poetry interesting and accessible to curious people, and how can we help them get their hands on the poems themselves?

In asking myself these questions over a summer of developing podcasts for Poetry in America, I thought the answer began with format. Some of the best contemporary poetry comes to audiences through rap and music, taking advantage of our natural love of sound and tone. Hearing a poem read aloud captures some of music’s appeal, but lends the words on the page the rhythm of everyday speech. What’s the best way to get audio recordings of poetry to reach the most people possible? Perhaps the answer lies in podcasting–an up and coming medium that is inexpensive to produce and free to download, its popularity increasing with people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of education– a medium for the niche-oriented and for lovers of a good story.


What if poetry content was something that everyone could easily follow without taking notes, a succession of complex ideas that unfolded themselves to the listener intuitively?”

How long will someone listen to a close reading, even if it’s a discussion between two interested readers? I crafted podcasts in around eight minute stand-alone chunks– long enough to develop a topic, but punchy enough to sustain attention. They’re serialized, paired thematically, and constructed to flow one into another to hook the listener into a full set of conversations.

But what makes literary content welcoming? What makes a podcast seem immediately like other content you tune into? To me, it seemed that it’s about finding music that appeals to who we’d like to be addressing, about pacing the content, about the tone of voice introducing what we’re offering to people. I held production quality to an extremely high standard because what’s not easy to listen to doesn’t get heard.

But is all of that enough? Is it enough to change the way conversations about poems are marketed? Or is there something inherent in literary content that keeps people away?

What if poetry content was something that everyone could easily follow without taking notes, a succession of complex ideas that unfolded themselves to the listener intuitively? What if there were voiceovers to slow things down or repeat certain lines, to explain allusions, to clarify or elucidate or add points and just to make listeners feel like someone is there listening alongside them? What if the order of an audio close reading were crafted for the listener, ideas were rearranged, points reorganized into a story that changed the way we think about a poem or posture or image?

Because when it comes down to it, people passively concerned about poetry’s narrow audience simply aren’t putting in the work that producers of other media are putting in to reach a wider market. ”

We’d like to know–if you could have it any way, how would you choose to experience poetry in the 21st century?