‘Tuning In’ by Dominic Fisher

Tuning in to The Poetry Place on West Wilts Radio

‘Is there anybody alive out there?’ Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen

Yes Bruce, I’m happy to say there is. Not least there are those of us tuning in to The Poetry Place on West Wilts Radio at 4pm on the last Sunday of every month (links below and here).

This is how, at the end of September, I came to sit down at a poetry gig I shared with Julia Deakin and several open mic-ers, and heard them and myself coming from the other side of the mic. The fact I was at home in front of our stereo system didn’t make it any less strange. I was both out there and in there in more than one respect. But Dawn Gorman, who presents The Poetry Place with Peter O’Grady, did an excellent job of turning our recordings into a real poetry event, and the strangeness of being both on the radio reading poems and in front of it listening soon abated. You can hear how I got on by following the link.

Dawn had invited me to take part because Deborah Harvey and I had been due to read at Dawn’s Words and Ears event at The Swan in Bradford on Avon (in Wiltshire in the UK) in March. And of course March was just when we went into lockdown because of Covid. The transition from a live poetry event in a pub to an online one is interesting, and provides food for thought. I certainly miss live poetry events, yet at the same time, poetry does seem to be an almost uniquely transferable art form. So I was interested to know how Dawn and Peter had gone about it. Making my recording for Dawn was also thought-provoking and instructive. So what follows is an interview with Dawn preceded by observations of mine on making recordings of poems.

Recording equipment

Smart phone with a voice recording app installed. If there isn’t one on your phone already, search in your phone’s app store for ‘voice recorder free.’ I chose Voice Recorder (I know) on the recommendation of a young person who does lots of this. It comes with ads which you can pay to lose, but they’re not intrusive. It’s a doddle to use and the quality is good. Other apps just as good are probably available.

How to record

Find a room with no telephone, cat, dog, child, or budgie, and ideally away from a main road and with plenty of soft furnishings so you don’t sound as if you’re recording in a stair well. Hold or position the phone securely about six inches / fifteen centimetres from your mouth. Press the button. Speak your lovely poem(s). Stop the recording. Panic slightly while you search for where the recording is, then share e.g. to your Google Drive or similar, or in an email to yourself. As it will be in MP3 format, unless it’s very long it should email without any problems.

Other wisdom

  • practise reading, quite a lot. This applies whether online, recorded, or live. It’s amazing how many readers don’t do enough practice
  • if only in note form, script a briefintroduction to your poem (you don’t have to stick to it)
  • avoid rustling papers
  • make sure you can be heard however self-conscious you may feel. Some of your listeners have imperfect ears, a bad connection, or a combination of these
  • the first recording will probably be a bit rubbish. It will take several goes
  • time yourself, have a glass of water handy, avoid alcohol and citrus fruit until you’re done

An interview with Dawn Gorman

DF: Could you tell us how the idea for The Poetry Place came about?

DG: Towards the end of 2019, Peter O’Grady and I heard that a new community radio station, West Wilts Radio, was starting up in Bradford on Avon, and we floated the idea of a poetry programme to them. They were very encouraging and we decided to go for it, even though neither of us had any experience in radio production. Peter calls himself an ‘apprentice poet’. He started to write poetry late in life and over the past eight years has developed his interest through workshops, open mic events and peer group collaborations. In an earlier career, I was a newspaper and magazine journalist, but I’ve always been a poet too – I have three poetry pamphlets, with a fourth, a collaboration with Rosie Jackson, just published by Hedgehog Poetry Press  – and now work with poetry with the elderly and in therapeutic settings, run aural history community projects and am a poetry workshop leader and mentor. So for me, the opportunity to work on the show was a natural extension of my poetry and community interests, and there seemed to be a good tie-in with my monthly poetry reading and open mic series Words & Ears, which I’ve been running in various incarnations in Bradford on Avon since 1996.

DF: So when exactly did the station start up, and when did you and Peter get involved?

DG: The station broadcast its first show last November, and the first monthly episode of The Poetry Place went out on January 26th this year. Peter and I had planned for each show to feature an interview with a local poet, recorded by one of the station’s team, Stash Huchrak, plus poetry news and views, but we only got two of those out before lockdown.

DF: Did you think that might be the end of it?

DG: To be honest, we did, as obviously recording interviews in a studio was suddenly impossible. However, we were asked to put together a special show for Easter, and I asked some of my lovely poetry contacts if they could record themselves reading an uplifting poem or two on their phones. We were amazed by the positive response – 10 poets took part, and the readings were fabulous. Luis Angel, a nightclub DJ with a suddenly blank diary, stepped in to help stitch everything together.

DF: And having realised then that the show could go on, how’s it working now?

DG: Guest poets record readings for us, delivered as if at a live event, with just a brief, pre-recorded introduction and final comments from me. It was brilliant to be able to offer poets this platform to air their work, as lockdown had wiped out their calendar of planned live readings – Wendy Klein even chose to launch her latest pamphlet, Let Battle Commence, with us Other guest poets so far have included Jonathan Edwards, Claire Crowther, Lesley Saunders, Jean Atkin, Martyn Crucefix – and you, of course. And it’s been great to offer poets originally booked to perform at Words & Ears the chance to step (surprisingly seamlessly) into this alternative medium. Peter has taken over the production element, and we’ve introduced a pre-recorded open mic feature (open to all, and advertised via social media etc) which is proving really popular – and liberating, because people don’t have to get themselves to Bradford on Avon. The standard has been phenomenal, with lots of different styles and themes, although nature poetry does seem to have dominated, reflecting, I think, the heightened focus on the natural world during lockdown.

DF: What sort of audience is the programme getting?

DG: It’s growing rapidly as word spreads about the show. We’ve been really surprised and delighted that, as we broadcast online, listeners include not only people in our local poetry community, but also across the UK, Europe, and even America. That’s very exciting, and feedback has been excellent. In fact The Poetry Place is West Wilts Radio’s most listened to programme.

DF: It strikes me that The Poetry Place and The Blue Nib have quite a lot in common, though one is a UK community radio production and the other a Dublin-based publisher; both are positively encouraging of new and emerging writers, both are global in reach and outlook, and are forging networks in response to the present crisis. Would you encourage Blue Nib contributors and readers to get in touch?

DG: Absolutely! I look forward to hearing from them.

Links and contact:

The Poetry Place previous editions: https://westwiltsradio.com/shows/the-poetry-place/

West Wilts Radio: https://westwiltsradio.com/

The Poetry Place email: [email protected]

Dawn Gorman’s website: www.dawngorman.co.uk  

Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen: https://youtu.be/MtrOYsNCPmg 

About the contributor

Dominic Fisher
Dominic Fisher has been widely published in magazines and his poems have been broadcast on BBC Radio. In 2018 he was the winner of the Bristol Poetry Prize, and his collection The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead was published by The Blue Nib in March 2019.

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