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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ottawa Poetry Podcast

Thanks to Transpoetry, Ottawa now has 12 local author’s poems on over 800 buses. It is estimated that 170,000 transit riders will have the opportunity to read poems every day. Over 600 poems were submitted for consideration – a staggering amount. But what of the remaining 588 poems not chosen? The whole scenario reminded me of the memorable dialogue that Dustin Hoffman’s character had in the 1967 movie, The Graduate. Substitute ‘podcasting’ for ‘plastics’.

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Yes, sir.
Are you listening?
Yes, I am.

The next evolution of poetry is online via podcasting. Podcasting is the distribution of audio files over the internet using either RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom syndication for listening on mobile devices (i.e. the ubiquitous iPod) and on computers. Anyone with internet access can subscribe to the content of that feed. According to’s definition, “Podcasters' websites also may offer direct download of their files, but the subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download or real-time streaming.”

Podcasting's essence is about creating content for an audience that wants to listen when they want, where they want, and how they want. The benefits are tangible. There is the ablility to hear what the poet sounds like, how the poem originally was envisioned by the author, and the opportunity for individuals to provide feedback like they currently do in the blogosphere.

Normally, I would not place technology and poetry in the same sentence. However, there is always room for exploring new uses of technology. I have often heard that poetry is best read aloud, not just read silently. Podcasting is a perfect medium that allows the public to hear the poet's own voice, their cadence and rhythms.

Really, there is nothing new to the concept of listening to poetry online in one form or another. Perhaps the origin of the podcast model can be traced to John Giorno’s hugely successful Dial-A-Poem project in New York. A search on reveals that “starting in January 1969 with 10 telephone lines it ran for five months, during which time 1,112,337 calls were received.” That was then. Consider the potential figures when taking into account the global online audience.

Before last month, I knew next to nothing of podcasting. So I teamed up with someone who does. Enter Charles Hodgson of Currently he has helped support the Ottawa International Writers Festival organize their own podcast at Hearing of this promotional site, I pitched Charles the idea of having an online presence for Ottawa’s poets. Willing to help out, he immediately created “The Ottawa Poetry Podcast: Poems Read by the Poets of Canada’s Capital” on

Charles Hodgeson’s increasingly successful website, has 2500 listeners and counting. Charles combined his talent of finding a medium for delivering his recorded stories about chosen words and delivering the content in such a way that it can be downloaded and listened to in a number of ways. The best news is that it is currently costing him only $5(US) a month to do so. This option currently gives 100mb of storage per month with unmetered bandwidth usage.

The next step was to get a couple of poets willing to get their poems heard. First up on this new podcast is Stephen Rowntree, a local blogger. He sees podcasting as beneficial in that it allows the podcaster subscriber to simulaneously to put a voice to his words. “It makes the poetry reading a more intimate interaction with the poet’s words and voice,” he says. Rowntree finds the whole podcasting idea intriguing in that this technology - a medium by nature places a distance between people’s interaction – can also bring people closer together, since the origin of poetry is rooted in the oral tradition.

The online world can additionally listen to Max Middle, an emerging poet experimenting with visual and sound poetry with fascinating results. Are there other poets interested in being heard? No doubt. Ottawa-area poets should send an email to for details on getting their poems podcasted. Are you listening?
This column appeared in a modified form in the Ottawa Citizen March 26, 2006.


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