The Listening Club

If you’re too busy to read, try the Listening Club.

‘Oh no, I haven’t finished reading my Book Club book.’ I’ve heard this lament more than once from friends who love reading but are pressed for time, juggling work and family. They spend more time driving children to sport or music lessons than they do sitting down with a book.

“It’s classic busy life syndrome; you are in a book club to keep up your reading and literary horizons, and you can’t find the time to finish the book.’ says Carol Jenkins. She is the founder of River Road Press which publishes audio CDs of contemporary Australian poetry. ‘I became addicted to audio poetry, but most of what I found was from the US. There was a real need to record Australian poets reading their own work.’

“I’ve always read vociferously, the year after I finished my B.Sc. I read 300 novels, you can do that if you don’t work long hours, don’t have children and don’t have a TV. But over the next decade I got a serious career, post-grad study, a house to renovated and a baby. My reading mix moved more to include much more poetry and short stories.

It was poetry that had the hook. It’s the ristretto of the literary world, a great potency and swift effect, in good poetry everything is heightened, language, meaning, even narrative. Then about three years ago I started listening to poetry on my Ipod, to get more out my time spent walking or driving. Really listening to the spoken word is a much underrated aspect of literacy.

‘So, I went looking for audio of Australian poetry, and there was a bit recorded in the 70’s hidden in the National Library but nothing available.

Morgan Smith from Gleebooks put it like this “

Carol Jenkins is a poetry lover who wanted to be able to listen to poetry on her iPod, so she just got out there and made these recordings.

‘One of my aims in producing the River Road Poetry Series was to provide a user friendly media for literature. The CDs each have somewhere around 35 to 40 minutes of poems, except for Susan Hampton’s fabulous verse novel The Kindly Ones which runs for 80 minutes

Though people might initially balk at the idea of analysing a collection of poems, they needn’t worry, whatever you can say about a novel, there is an equivalent in a poem. Poems have a storyline and an emotional message -the emotional content is usually the first thing that arrives -Often I find I’ve got the emotional impact way before I’ve even understood analytically what I’ve read. A good poem thrives on repetitive reading, it’s carried by the natural music of the poem.

Luke Davies told me he had been playing the same CD of someone reading John Donne in his car for months. Now imagine if you could hear John Donne reading John Donne. A buzz? That’s what I want, for people in the year 2308 to hear Luke Davies read Totem Poem and Judith Beveridge read “How to Love Bats”.

You can just listen to the poem and say how it make you think, what it inspires in you, how it makes you reflect on your own history . Or you can talk about the formal elements. In every poem there is a narrator, a form, like a sonnet, you might get a rhyme pattern, figurative language and, most importantly, a point. You can pick recurrent themes, references and layers of meanings.

The poet’s reading gives a lot more interpretative information, their intonation, accents and pitch, this all works to help the listener understand the poem.’

Australian poetry is thriving and the River Road Poetry Series is a great introduction to the best of it. Load them into your MP3 player and talk a walk, or listen to the CD while you’re in the car on the way to Book Club.