As far as mainstream media is concerned, poetry is dying. However, the determined rise of the Oubliette podcast has proved that there is an audience determined to keep poetry alive. Dan Davies puts an ear to his computer and checks the meter.
“I’m not a poet, I’m a film maker by trade but I like messing around with audio tech-ing,” claims podcast producer Richard Wood as we sup our tea. “Basically I’ve been into podcasting for years, I’ve just been trying to find the content and people to work with. I’ve worked with Matt Nunn on other projects – and he’s a published poet. Matt brought George Ttoouli in with him – who’s also published and works for the Poetry Society in London. Together we came up with the idea of Oubliette.”
An Oubliette is a type of medieval dungeon dug into the ground (FYI there’s one at Warwick Castle). The name derives from the French ‘oublier’ to forget. “It’s basically a hole where you put things to forget about!” laughs Richard. The name also encapsulates the niche of the podcast. Away from the commercial pressures of the outside world, it’s now easier to dig your own hole and though it’s tough to leave, people can be thrown into it with you.
I’m sent to Coventry – literally – as Richard is making the final cuts to episode four. I wanted to see this pit of poetic podding. When I arrive I’m surprised to find that Richard’s studio is simply a G4 laptop.
“All you really need is a computer with an internet connection. For a recording device you can use either an inbuilt microphone, i-pod or even your phone… The software is straightforward – you can download it for free. Also software such as Audacity, iCast, CastBlaster, have been developed by podcasters. I use GarageBand for the Mac. When thinking about the content and editing, you’ve got to consider who’s listening and think about their attention spans. A good edit can go a long way.”
The live content of the cast is down to Richard taking his studio/laptop to poetry gigs and editing down their favourites for the show. The act of breaking out into the poetry circuit has also had a co-promotional effect. Performers are told that their work might make the next cut and a local following has grown. What has also emerged within the content is a specific West Midlands voice.
“I think it is something unique to Oubliette, to keep the talent within their region. You don’t have to go to a big city to be spotted. We can bring you to the world.”
Though there are a few poetry podcasts out there, they mostly concentrate solely on performance. Oubliette is unique in that the show is in a loose magazine format. Here you can hear reviews, live performances, listings, net updates and a bit of history all in a friendly 13-15 minute burst.
“We keep as close to free conversation as possible. We have a sit down and have a chat about what’s going on. I’ll have my naïve side, George will have his established views and knowledge, and Matt brings in the comedy and one liners. We want the audience to feel part of it, we hope to have more of a rapport with them through using the comments pages and getting them to interact.”
Episode four is set to be more interactive than ever, featuring the first review of spoken word on a CD sent to the boys by Frank Burton and a Skype interview with a poet from Washington, who discovered Oubliette through their myspace site.
As a parting treat, Richard gives me a sneak preview of the next episode. I find out a bit about how GarageBand works and offer some EQ advice. To really see it in action we need to record something, so I offer myself up for interview. We have a quick chat and I even recite some of my own poetry. I could make it onto episode five, fingers crossed I get tossed in.