Poems for the People

Recent Episodes


Poems for the People was one of the first podcasts on the internet. Basically, as soon as Apple announced this new technology for streaming sound in any length, I thought: this would be a great way to experience poetry. You could store poems you like right on the iPod, hearing them again and again, and you could distribute them for free (since no one much pays for poetry these days). So the first episode launched in 2003, a Jim Simmerman poem, as I recall, to whom I dedicated my book. Since there were relatively few podcasts available on this new site called "iTunes," the show quickly cleared 10,000 followers. Alas, I never mastered the technology very well, and have continuously dumped all my subscribers through various feed reboots. Currently, it lives on Soundcloud and routes to iTunes, which keeps it simple, while stripping some features I'd like, such as having the images of the books in individual episodes. Win some. Lose some. Still, though I don't make time to do it as often as I'd like, reading these poems to you all is one of my very favorite things to do.


How do you select which poems to feature? 

I am surrounded by poetry books more or less wherever I go. In my office, in my bedroom, in my living room: books and journals lay about. There is usually a queue in my head of poems I'd like to read on the show, which I then promptly forget once I have enough time to record one. 

What equipment do you use?

I get this question rather often, from people who want to start their own podcasts. I've tried many things, but after Garageband, and external USB mics, and Podcast software, I've settled (for now) on reading into the mic on my Apple earbuds, directly into the laptop running Audacity. If I worry too much about the sound, I never finish an episode. 

Will you feature my book on the show? 

I'll certainly consider it. I like how the community around Poems for the People really feels like a community. People often find me on twitter and say something nice, like that they've been listening for 10 years. Once, a listener pulled the audio off one episode (without asking, which was fine) and made this cool video featuring Shakespeare's text, my voice, and his animations. Let a thousand flowers bloom! If you're a listener who has published some poems, or an editor who has done likewise, send me a copy of the book (my address in on the contact page) and if I see something that might work for the show, I'll share it with the people. 


From time to time, someone wonders whether I should be getting permission to read people's poems, but I think that's a terrible idea. If a poet publishes a book, like I have, or even an individual poem in a magazine, their very greatest hope is that readers will share it with one another, that they'll maybe even read it aloud to their friends. That's the stuff we dream about. Imagining that a poem one has published is a kind of intellectual property that one exercises dominion over is the grossest violation of the spirit of our common endeavor. But some people still think that way, so:

I am a professional educator and I record these poems on equipment owned by an educational institution for the purposes of educating 1) my students and 2) the general public about contemporary and historical verse. Copyright information (Title, Author, Publisher) is always included for works not in public domain. Episodes of Poems for the People are considered lectures given by a professor of English literature on the subject of the featured poem and are not meant to substitute for one's purchasing the book under discussion, obviously.