Months ago, I wanted to make a podcast that incorporated different voices. Asking everyone to talk about their grandmothers would have dragged on, I thought. What you need, a friend told me, is an anchor. I have loved this poem for years. It's from a poet no one I know has ever heard of, typed in a $6 book from a small San Francisco press. What if I got my friends to read different parts?
That's what this is: A recording of everyone from an 82-year-old Southern lady to 17-year-old krumpers reading lines from one of my favorite poems. They complete each others' sentences. They mix together to produce a whole. Some I recorded in person. Others, over the phone or the Internet. One person was so nervous it took her one hour and a beer to read. Another finished his performance of all three lines in under a minute.
I asked every participant to pick about three lines they wanted to read. Some people got to say their lines a few times, but no one ever had a chance to hear their lines and later record. Not even me (believe me, it was tempting).
I imagined this project would work so differently. I needed way more people and time than I thought I would. But I am proud of what it became. In the months I spent recording, I learned so much about poetry. When I started, I thought there were 10 lines everyone would choose. One of these -- "made my home in the breakdown lane" was one of the last lines chosen. A line I hated -- "four monkeys and a garbage truck" was one of the first chosen. Taste, it turns out, is subjective.
I had even thought whoever records last will hate their lines, will be stuck with the worst words. But listening closely, I heard him say right before he read his line, "Oh, I love this. This line is great."
I learned about enjambment. Breaks really do change everything. A line like "reached the end of my patience when the moon walked through the door wearing my brand new sweater" had always seemed silly to me. When I heard a friend read "the moon walked through the door," I realized how much beauty was in between the sentence.
Poetry has always been a solo thing for me. Spending months reading poetry with people, talking the lines over and searching (always) for meaning, I found poetry to be totally brand new. People read lines with inflections I never would have considered. They found beauty in lines I had never noticed.
Eventually, the book fell apart. Too many people bent back its pages. An English teacher meticulously taped the pages back together again. Afterward, she read her lines. I should say now that every woman over 60 who read easily outperformed everyone else.
But, decide for yourself. After six months, here it is:
"I was so sad" by David Lerner, as read by like 50 people:
If the embed option doesn't work for you, you can also download the file: Here!