For months, Maine native Matt O'Donnell tried to memorize poetry on his way to work. Though he kept a notebook with his favorite poems in his car at all times, O'Donnell refrained from reading and driving; the safer option, he thought, was to play mix CDs of his favorite poets. "I searched online for audio of poets reading," O'Donnell writes, "but I couldn’t find most of them." The only answer was to record them himself.
With the help of fellow poet Camille Dungy, O'Donnell's hobby soon blossomed into an online audio archive with nonprofit status. Begun in 2005, From the Fishouse now features 600 poetry recordings and 200 question-and-answer sessions with featured readers. Unlike other online archives, Fishouse focuses on "emerging" poets who have one book or fewer published at the time of submission, which gives the collection a fresh, contemporary feel. Each reading is complemented by poets’ discussion of their own development and writing. Visitors to the site can listen to a poet read his or her own work, and then discuss the formal structure of their poetry.
Every two months, Fishouse grows by about 100 audio files. "We publish six to ten poets every other month," declares O'Donnell, "at an average of five poems per poet, plus an average of two or three Q&A segments per poet." A decade ago, generating this much content would have required a large staff or a recording studio, but Fishouse accomplishes the same speed and volume with digital recorders and a lot of stamps. "I box a recorder, cover letter, recording instructions, and a postage paid return mailer and drop it in the mail," O'Donnell explains. The rest is sound engineering, permissions, and an online release. The voluminous collection already includes work by Cate Marvin, Sean Singer, Tracy K. Smith, Dana Levin, Ravi Shankar and Matthea Harvey.
An audio gallery as ambitious as From the Fishouse requires a lot of upkeep, but the work is important. O'Donnell insists audio is fundamental to the appreciation of poetry, as "poets employ devices of sound to add meaning to their poems" and hearing a poem can prove more intimate than reading it on the page. As O'Donnell declares, "the sound of words, the experience of language, is a bodily experience."
Fishouse recordings on Poets.org include:
"Duende" by Tracy K. Smith
"Ars Poetica (cocoons)" by Dana Levin
"Q&A on Ars Poetica (cocoons)" by Dana Levin