I sent the letter in the post below plus an appeal to write similar letters to fellow members at the National Council of the League of Canadian Poets, including the Maurice Mierau, League President. Maurice wrote back to say he agreed with me completely; Dymphny Dronyk, of Alberta, wrote back with this well-considered response (which she gave me permission to publish here.)
It’s a good letter Brian but before we paint ALL of CBC with one brush I’d just like to bring your attention to the possibility that regional CBC shows may do a better job than the national ones. CBC Alberta does a fantastic job of showcasing poetry and writers in general. I think poetry is probably featured precisely because it is, as you say, “soundbite friendly”.
1. When my book was published last year, I was interviewed by Allan Boss of CBC’s Alberta Anthology, for National Poetry Month coverage, not AA. This was his own initiative, not something either my publisher or I lobbied for. He worked with me for over three hours to beautifully produce five of my poems which were made available for broadcast on morning and afternoon (regional) drive shows as well as the weekend morning shows (provincial). Additionally, the poems were then made available for any of the national CBC shows to use and while it is apparently difficult to track exactly WHERE they get used I did hear from friends and relatives across the country that they’d heard me on the radio.
2. when our little publishing company, House of Blue Skies, published our Writing the Land – Alberta through its poets, last fall we once again were interviewed by various shows and featured on the provincial weekend morning show. CBC was at the launch in Calgary in November and asked at that time if we’d be interested in having our poets recorded for NPM. I confess I didn’t completely believe they would follow through on this idea… but happily, they did. 21 of our poets were recorded. Each poet got an archival cd of the recordings which we have permission to use on our websites. Not only did the recordings get aired for all of NPM, they were so well received that the weekend show continues to use them. By my calculation we still have six weeks left before the run is done. Granted, this may be a fluke, the luck of being in the right place at the right time with the right product. But it has been absolutely wonderful for all of us. Our poets are thrilled. And, for the record, not only the “big’ names were picked. A few first-time poets were among those chosen to be recorded. And again, the poems are available for use across Canada.
I’d be happy to send a letter to CBC from Alberta citing these examples are a very positive way to expand or enhance national coverage of poetry.
Perhaps poets who are interviewed could also be proactive and ASK to have a poem included in the program when they are interviewed?
I wonder if anyone else across Canada has examples like mine?
Hi Dymphny and all, That's good news ... and it comes to me as a very welcome surprise. Unfortunately, I don't listen to CBC Alberta. If it seems I painted the CBC with one brush, it's because of repeated experiences of a rather negative sort both with the national and the Quebec regional services. Some examples:
1. As I've said, the Poet of the Month feature on the CBC website never actually quotes a poem by the featured poet, as far as I can see (and I've seen a few).
2. There is this lengthy interview by Michael Enright of Don Domansky on the Sunday Edition where I listened in vain to hear Domansky read a poem;
3. Nina Bruck, a poet whose chapbook my little chapbook press published, was interviewed for CBC TV Arts Scene that on the Montreal regional news. A wonderful coup! Now the draw of this story is that Nina is 84 years old, and this is her first book. (Her daughter, Julie Bruck, you might be familiar with). In this exercise, Nina and I were separately interviewed; the arts reporter also had her record four poems (several repeated to get them right), of which less than a line made it on air. Instead the story focussed on her life, childhood, etc. and how wonderful it was to publish this book at this advanced age. Of course, it was great general publicity, and maybe I couldn't expect better from a TV arts report at the end of the news. But again, it seems symptomatic of a peculiar attitude endemic at the CBC...
4. The CBC, again to its credit, does have the CBC Literary Award, founded by Robert Weaver to whom they paid homage on this year's award program. However, the award programs themselves are always a strange affairs: here they fly the winners down at taxpayer's expense to the Montreal to be interviewed in person by Eleanor Wachtel, who pops a bottle of champagne with them (you can actually hear the bottle go *pop* on air), quotes the judges' praise and quizzes them along the lines of how it feels to have won this major award, what inspires them to write, etc... without actually having the authors read a line of their work. In the plus column (hmm) they do hire actresses at the going rate (i.e. hundreds of dollars) who do a rather histrionic job of reading 8-10 minute excerpts a couple of weeks later, but it seems to me it would be a lot simpler and more genuine to have the authors read at least some of their own work ... especially if they fly them down to their studios to begin with.
The assumption seems to be that most authors are incompetent readers of their own work, a questionable one given the success of Toronto's Harbourfront reading series and others like it ...
What I find annoying -- actually, infuriating -- about these examples is a focus on the trappings of literary success rather than the work itself. The subtext behind an example like the Domanski interview seems to be: "Poetry is too touchy-feely/hard to understand, so we won't look at his actual writing, but because he won this award, he obviously must be be important, so we'll talk to him..." In other words, we're really into culture, but let's not look at it. Poetry is inaccessible, so let it remain so. Let's reinforce the common mythology that poetry is incomprehensible, too much of a challenge for our poor listeners, etc.
Maybe those folks at the CBC are well-meaning, but they just don't get it.
Anyway, Dymphny, your positive experience does indeed suggest a more targeted approach. And I have one. Since it's the Domanski interview I'm concerned about -- and since that's already buried in the archives -- you can write the CBC about that interview at http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/contactus.html The interview took place on April 20, at 10 am. For comments about the Poet of the Month on the Words at Large website, you can write http://www.cbc.ca/contact/ Best, Brian
Thanks again, Brian. Interesting points all. It is too bad they can’t balance the human interest story equally with the work those humans have created. I always find it intriguing to hear poets read their own works, but I also know a far amount of poetry lovers who do NOT like to hear poetry. For the few poets who are too shy or not adept at elocution perhaps a professional reader would be the answer for the radio.
And me, always having to get the last word:
Hmmm...Poetry "lovers" who do NOT like to hear poetry are like parents who claim to love their children but insist that they be seen and not heard.
A friend of mine pointed out that the same Eleanor Wachtel above has had novelists read a good page or two of their work during an interview, and somehow that rings a bell with me. That makes me also recall that Jian Gomeshi on Q. had David McGimpsey read a poem from his latest book, SITCOM. Light entertainment, perhaps, but there you are. So I concede, I think I was painting our CBC with a rather broad brush. Nevertheless, I can only suggest: look at the BBC.
Ego of course likes to get the last word. Having an ego can be fun, but rather burdensome to carry around. Dymphny wrote back in response to my rejoinder above. I think this time I'll let her have the last word.
C’est vrai! But it everyone has a unique absorption level, same as our learning styles (auditory, kinesthetic, etc). And then there is the delivery. Some writers are absolutely brilliant performers and make a mediocre poem dance in our ears… but the opposite also happens… where brilliant words are choked by a perfunctory delivery. There is no “should” in all of this. One size never fits all. It’s just each to his/her own.
But I could imagine a radio producer who has had some bad experiences with interviewees who mutter and mumble or drone out their words like some sort of black funeral dirge cringing at the thought of how that makes “good radio”. An engaging radio interview is as much about the chemistry between both voices as it is about the subject matter. Good radio is a real art, IMHO.