Martin Spinelli
Abstract for MLA 2000 Poetry Panel

Listening for the Edit: The Digital Potential and Pitfalls in Webcast Poetry Programs

Almost all webcast poetry programs (audio magazines or presentations of poetry and poetic discussion available for listening through the web) are thoroughly indebted to the production aesthetic of radio: discursive, linear, and (in all senses of the word) utterly analog. Formal exploration has been seriously outpaced by technological development. The popular webcast program Go Poetry is perhaps the most complete example of this analog aesthetic both in format and in its related selection of poetry: Go Poetry sounds extremely similar to NPR's literary program Fresh Air both in its effort to present host and author having an apparently normal conversation in which readings naturally occur, and in the poetry itself which is usually highly narrative or designed to describe a scene or engender a generic sentiment. Described in a single word the aesthetic shared by Go Poetry and Fresh Air is "transparency;" through these programs both the media of radio and the web aspire to exist as neutral and resistance-free conduits by which poetry and poetic discourse is delivered. While there is a small amount of logic in this mode of presentation concerning Fresh Air (it is produced on tape which lends itself toto a certain amount of linearity) there is no functional justification for the repetition of this approach on digitally edited web programs.

Through a comparison of the webcast poetry programs LINEbreak and Go Poetry with programs like Violet Enlightens, ENGAGED and the forthcoming Radio Radio, this talk promotes the development of programs more aesthetically in tune with today's most interesting poetry: programs that are aware of themselves as mediated through their delivery and conscious of themselves as existing within a medium that does not rest at zero degree of interference. I will describe a method of presentation that does not aspire to a general transparency or a "seamlessness" around the particular instant of the edit, but seeks to explore the aesthetic potential of two (or more) pieces of voice butting up against each other in what might be considered a very unnatural way. In the wake of this description I will begin a theorization of the minutia of audio editing, of the splices that occur every twenty seconds in an average program. My aim is to develop an aesthetic of the "spangled" edit as opposed to the seamless one, an aesthetic that celebrates, rather than buries, the characteristics of digital production. This, contrary to radio's reigning marketing-speak which idealizes an intellectually impoverished audience, proffers more respect for its listeners who know that both webcast and radio programs are highly crafted and "produced" entities. Such an aesthetic attempts to work with this media literacy in interesting ways (both fulfilling and thwarting the expectations it generates). This is editing that treats the seam as a moment of opportunity rather than anxiety.

I will conclude by providing audio examples of seamless and spangled editing, and then illustrate the decision-making process in both these approaches to editing and how they can be used to convey or effect meaning at an extra-lexical level.