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Poetry to the People

PennSound offers free access to more than 1,500 digital poetry recordings.

SAS Frontiers
April 2008

Rock, pop, jazz...poetry? Thanks to PennSound, Ezra Pound, Adrienne Rich and William Carlos Williams can now fill their own play list on your iPod. A project of Penn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW), PennSound has been giving the world free access to the largest collection of poetry sound files on the Internet since January 2005. Founded and directed by Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English and CPCW director, and Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English, the archive offers for downloading more than 1,500 digital recordings of poems.

The project is about preservation as well as distribution, as poetry sound recordings are often at risk of deteriorating if they are not converted or copied. Bernstein explains, “The beauty of PennSound is that in the course of preserving these recordings, we are also making available a treasure trove of wonderful poetry performances that we believe will attract a whole new generation to poetry as a performance art."

In just three years, the collection, its popularity and impact have grown exponentially. "PennSound's sound files have been downloaded 15 million times in the last year alone,” Filreis says. “That's not just hits to the web site; that's downloads. I think the project has already had an impact on the way poets and others in the poetics world (critics, teachers, students) think and talk about the sound of poetry, which is, after all, its most fundamental quality."

Click here to access the PennSound poetry archives.