Bees’ Knees Special Editions: Nic Sebastian of Whale Sound

How did you come up with the idea to publish Audio Chapbooks? Did it have anything to do with the fact that your voice is smooth as chocolate?

The audio chapbook idea flowed naturally from the original Whale Sound concept. I very much enjoy reading the individual poems that are the main content at <em>Whale Sound</em>, but not long after starting the site I did begin to feel the urge to engage in greater depth and at greater length with individual poets’ work. Audio chapbooks give me that engagement and they also let me fulfill a separate (but related) urge to be an editor. To take solid individual work that still could respond to some shaping, testing, arranging, and to produce a whole multi-faceted ‘new’ thing out of that is a really exciting process. In a way, it’s a parallel exercise to interpreting a poem with your voice – you take someone’s work and test, shape, arrange it with your voice and your self, to make it a ‘new’ thing. A ‘smooth as chocolate’ voice is a nice thing to have (!) but poetry reading is so much more than the sound of a voice, as I noted in this post recently.

How has reading other poets poems helped you as a writer?
I started Whale Sound at the end of August 2010 and all through September, October, November and up until about 10 days ago, I didn’t write a word on my own account, mostly because of the demanding time and emotional commitment the project demanded. I wasn’t worried, though, because I knew – I still know – that the active reading and voicing I do of other people’s poems on a daily basis at Whale Sound is like a daily dose of seeds and fertilizer. In huge variety. Sooner or later it would/it will start coming out. And sure enough, in the last 10 days or so, I have started to write again. And they are very different poems to me from the pre-Whale Sound poems I used to write – how they are sparked, the techniques I use to pull them together, the level of confidence I feel in the writing, and the poetic assertions and evidence I bring to the process – all this has changed qualitatively. It’s a great feeling!

You have a wonderful sense of inflection. What advice would you give to poets about reading their own poems aloud?

I think many years of reading aloud to my two sons and writing stories for them which I then read aloud gave me lots of practice. Little children are the most demanding audience there is – you have to be <em>inside</em> what you are reading when you read to them. They simply <em>expect </em>connection and just get bored if they don’t get it, and that is some of the best training, I think. For poets who are interested in ways to improve their own poetry reading skills (and we all have something new to learn in this regard, every day!), I’d say, check out Voice Alpha – it’s a group blog founded as a companion to Whale Sound, and focuses on anything related to the art and science of reading poetry aloud.  It even has a new poetry writing advice column for anyone who is looking for help with their poetry reading skills!

You seem to have a soft spot for lyric poetry. What is it about this form that you enjoy? What would you say to those who believe lyric poetry is a dying art?

I do, don’t I? I tend to write rather in the lyrical direction myself and am naturally attracted to that style, which I call ‘round sound’ (don’t ask me why). And people tend to submit to <em>Whale Sound</em> in that same vein, after they have heard me reading, so it can become a bit circular if one doesn’t watch out. I do work hard to make sure I get in other kinds of sound – ‘cubed’ or ‘triangle’ sound, for example! – in the work that I solicit myself. As for lyricism dying out – nah! Not as long as there are humans around – it’s hard-wired into us, I think.

I love how <em>Whale Sound</em> turns poetry into performance; performance (for me) is such an essential part of poetry and its tradition. What do you feel poets have to gain from hearing their words spoken by someone else?

A whole heap! I love this guest-post by Rachel Dacus at Voice Alpha, where she really sums up the tremendous benefits we get from both reading others’ work and hearing others read our work.  I honestly don’t have anything to add to her excellent summation.

I found many of your lovely poems online. I enjoyed reading \”the party\ on Anit- and \”The Olive Farmer\” on Valparaiso Poetry Review, and of course your chapbook “baobab girl.” You seem to be an advocate for online publishing. What about the online world makes you its champion?

I am! Firstly because of its great accessibility and huge reach, but also because with online publishing it’s so easy to take the money out of poetry. Poetry sits very uneasily in the traditional commercial publishing paradigm. Everyone agrees you can’t make money out of poetry, but, somehow, everywhere you look, someone seems to be trying. Paper and ink are wonderful, and definitely have their own joys and rewards, but with straight online publishing, you get away from the actual cost of such physicalities and you don’t have to talk about recouping your expenses and/or making a profit in the traditional money-based sense. There are no price tags and you can just do it straight-out because you love doing it and learning all the lessons it brings you every day, whether those lessons are about poetry-reading, poetry-writing, poetry-editing, poetry-publishing or just plain old interacting with terrific online poets like you, Nicelle!

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