about Whale Sound

Whale Sound is an online audio poetry journal featuring readings by Nic Sebastian of the work of web-active contemporary poets. Its companion site, Voice Alpha, is a group blog focused on the art and science of reading poetry aloud to an audience. Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks began operating in November 2010 and has since published Handmade Boats by H.K. Hummel and Studies in Monogamy by Nicelle Davis. Cloud Studies by Christine Klocek-Lim is its third audio chapbook. Guidelines for audio chapbook submissions can be found here.
Nic’s process notes

Cloud Studies
Editing Cloud Studies
Reading Cloud Studies Aloud
Audio Chapbooks Evolution

Cloud Studies

As the audio chapbook process evolves, I find the choices I make in accepting manuscripts are very much connected to my own desire to keep learning, and (in addition to publishing some terrific poetry by web-active poets) are designed to provide me with challenges I think I need.

So, of the several submissions I received for the first Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks open submission period, Christine’s lovely manuscript stood out for being the only one in form. She had written a series of cloud sonnets during NaPoWriMo in 2009, starting out with the express idea of learning to manage the sonnet form. I loved this idea and promptly adopted it, with a slight variation. Most of the poetry I read on Whale Sound is free verse, with only the very occasional poem in form. The two previous audio chapbooks from Whale Sound were also free verse. So I knew that I had to take Christine’s manuscript and one of my goals in doing so was to understand more about reading aloud poetry in form — sonnets in particular. Add to that the beauty of her poems and the enormous appeal of her unifying theme (poems written based on or inspired by cloud forms – what’s not to like about that?!) and I was hooked.

We look to poetry for many different things. Before Cloud Studies, I had published Handmade Boats by Heather Hummel and Studies in Monogamy by Nicelle Davis, both free verse manuscripts which attracted me in different ways by the power of their imagery and their visceral/emotional, rather than traditional, approach to narration.  With both these chapbooks, I enjoyed the opportunity to work at ‘divining’ the poetic narratives emotionally, and using voice, through the dense imagistic richness of the poems.

With Christine’s Cloud Studies poems, the narrative in each poem is more traditionally straightforward, and what this gives the reader is a rich opportunity to enjoy the skillful ways she uses form and craft to serve those narratives and build out the ideas in the poem.  These are reflective, exploratory poems that serve as test-beds for both technical and intellectual/emotional investigation. They tackle a range of difficult themes – from love, grief and betrayal, to death and existential angst – with a fine sensibility and delicate language, all underpinned by Christine’s considerable technical skill as a poet.

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Editing Cloud Studies

Like Heather and Nicelle before her, Christine was a true delight to work with from an editing point of view.  I always think part of my job as an editor is to poke a bony figure at places in the poetic fabric I think are weak or fraying. What I want from an editee is honesty and clear-sightedness in his or her responses – either, hmm, yes, you’re right, that was a Band-Aid, a lazy moment, I can fix it; OR wait no, you have misread that, it’s not at all weak, it needs to stay like that because of x, y & z.  You don’t want to be in a fight to the death to change every comma, but neither do you want an editee who accepts everything you propose without question. Christine had the perfect balanced approach – took on board what she genuinely thought would improve things and pushed back cogently for the status quo when she genuinely thought that was the best formulation.

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Reading Cloud Studies Aloud

The challenge in reading the sonnets aloud, I found, lay with the iambic pentameter. Christine handles both rhyme and meter skillfully, and of course weaves in enough headless iambs, spondees, trochees or other iambic substitutions that one is not faced with a relentless strict iambic beat throughout, but still I found my first instinct was to sacrifice content to form and automatically underline the iambs – da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM – with my voice as they came up. It took me several takes at each sonnet to be able to step back from that — to purposefully connect first with meaning and emotional sense and to trust the text and my voice to take care of the meter and Christine’s wonderful slant, internal and end rhymes. I can hear places still where I did not fully succeed in this, but I did make some progress and thoroughly enjoyed both the exercise and the challenge.

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Audio Chapbooks Evolution

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks is offering some new options to the poetry consumer with the publication of Cloud Studies. The central question for the poetry consumer we have been asking as a publisher remains unchanged: How do you like your poetry served?

With this edition we’ve expanded the menu of options. As with previous audio chapbooks, you can:

1. Read each poem online as an individual post
2. Listen to each poem online as an individual unit
3. Download a free PDF of the whole chapbook
4. Download a free MP3 audio file of the whole chapbook

What’s new this time around? You can also:

5. Download a free e-book edition of Cloud Studies from Lulu
6. Purchase a print edition of Cloud Studies from Lulu ($4.90 + shipping – this is cost-price, no author/publisher mark-up)
7. Purchase an audio CD of Cloud Studies from Lulu ($5.50 + shipping – again, at cost-price, no author/publisher mark-up)

I had some back-and-forth with a friend when I came up with these options. My friend rolled his eyes and said: “But if you provide the whole chapbook as a free PDF, who will buy the printed book? If you provide the whole chapbook as a free MP3 file, who will buy the CD?” He said we would be better off offering a few poems free on the website as text and audio, which would entice people into buying the whole chapbook as book or CD.

I answered with a couple of questions: What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to sell books, or are we trying to get these poems read? At Whale Sound, we are trying to get the poems read. The number of people who buy the book is not the point. We don’t make money off sales, and we don’t want to. Lulu is a print-on-demand publisher, so there will not be — cannot be — piles of unsold chapbooks or unsold CDs that we have paid for, sadly gathering dust in some sad warehouse.

What matters to us is that the individual poetry consumer who prefers to read poetry from a book or an e-book reader held in their hands has the option to obtain these poems in those forms.  That the individual consumer who prefers to put a CD in a player to hear these poems can obtain these poems in that form. The question is not: Who will buy the book or the CD? The question is: Are we catering to people who prefer their poetry in printed books or e-books or as audio on a CD? In other words, are we delivering poetry in forms that maximize its chances of being read?

And of course, the great thing is that adding these additional delivery methods to the original website-with-audio concept is not a whole lot of extra work, believe it or not. I was and remain very surprised at how easy it is. The hardest work lies in producing the basic ‘raw’ material – the edited manuscript, the recorded poems and the cover art. Once that is done, all that remains is to repackage this same raw material in several different ways for different types of consumers. Online text, online audio; downloadable text, downloadable audio; print edition, e-book, CD edition. The technology that makes all these different packaging options easy is available to anyone and is both free and easy to use. For both Cloud Studies and Dark Refuge it took me less than an afternoon on the Lulu website to upload, design and publish the chapbooks. The CD was just as easy to put together. As was the e-book. Rocket science, this ain’t.

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3 Responses to “about Whale Sound”
  1. Dave Bonta says:

    Your inclusion of process notes here is yet another great idea. My only big criticism of this chapbook–and it’s still really minor!–is that you should have used pages rather than posts for the poems, since this theme nicely leaves out the metadata under the title for pages. It’s distracting to see “posted by Nic Sebastian” and a date stamp above each poem. If you want page-to-page navigation, it’s easy enough to put in with html.

    I can’t say enough about the readings and the poems. Really fine work!

    (Feel free to delete this comment. I could throw this in an email; I’m just being lazy.)

    • Good point! There are so many variations between themes and each one requires this or that tweak of basic material, as you know. This is a good one to bear in mind – thanks!

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