Poetry on the (digital) airwaves

Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein with PennSound equipment (photo by Mark Stehle)

On New Year’s Day 2005, when it seemed that everyone we knew either had or wanted an iPod, Penn English professors Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein introduced a new use for mp3 players. Transforming poetry readings into downloadable files, they created PennSound—an online archive of free poetry recordings, most of them “song-length singles.”

They started with about 1,500 recordings, but when I spoke to Filreis yesterday, he said that they’re now up to some 35,000. There’s other big news, too: Last Friday, PennSound Radio took to the airwaves, sending 24-hour streaming poetry content straight to iTunes and smartphone users, no mp3 downloads (or radios, for that matter) necessary.

“We just really wanted to put it out there,” Filreis told me. “We’ve been talking about it for some years. The only issue was whether we had the person-power to really keep it going.”

With a director and an associate director in place and “a lot of support from the smart people in IT at Penn,” Filreis said the new poetry stream allows listeners to “just tap a button on your smartphone, pipe it through the speakers on your car, and you’ve got yourself a radio station.”

It’s something an increasing number of commercial stations are now offering, but according to Filreis, PennSound Radio is the only one he’s found that broadcasts high-quality academic, cultural material.

The daily schedule includes rebroadcasts of series such as Live at the Writers House, Charles Bernstein’s Close Listening and Leonard Schwartz’s Cross-Cultural Poetics, as well as a curated selection of the team’s favorite performances. Here’s an example of the current rotation:

12:00–8:00 Poetry Mix
8:00 Live at the Writers House
9:00 Daily Selections (repeat)
10:00 PennSound Classics
11:00 Cross-Cultural Poetics

12:00 Featured Program: Ceptuetics Radio
1:00 PoemTalk at the Writers House
1:30 The Long Poem
2:00 Close Listening
3:00 Featured Program: In the American Tree
4:00 Featured Series: Mills College
5:00 Daily Selections
6:00 PennSound Classics
7:00 Into the Field
8:00 Featured Press: Belladonna*
9:00 Live at the Writers House
10:00 Poetry Mix
11:00 Jean Shepherd

To start listening right now in iTunes, click here. If you prefer to stream PennSound on your smartphone, Filreis recommends installing the TuneIn Radio app and searching for “PennSound Radio.”

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