Life in Lines is a podcast series created by Jenny Swann, of One Plum poem. Each podcast is a five-minute interview with a Nottingham person who has been asked to share, and speak about, their favourite poem. I went to visit Jenny to speak about Life in Lines and what inspired it.
“I had been listening to a few podcasts,” Jenny says, “and a lot of them were longer than I wanted or needed. I would just like something that was about five minutes long. Just something to perk the day up, give me something interesting to think about. But not having to find an hour to sit down and commit to it.” Although it wasn’t poetry podcasts she was listening to when she thought this, it was
a poetry podcast which got her thinking further.
“It was a programme with Alice Oswald on Radio 4,” she says. “They had picked one ode per day, and Alice Oswald was talking about ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats, and the programme was
about 40 minutes long. She was talking about when she came across it, what she liked about it, and
just talking about how the poem worked and what was going on in Keats’ life at the time.”
Jenny thought that Alice would then read the poem for people who’d become intrigued by what
she’d said but didn’t know the poem, or for those who would need their memories of the poem
refreshing. Instead, the programme ended there. “How could they assume that all of their listeners are going to remember that poem in sufficient detail,” remarks Jenny. “if they ever knew it in the first place. So I thought, no, this won’t do, we need to do it properly.”
It was the combination of feeling that podcasts were too much of commitment, and listening to this
programme about a poem which was then not read out which inspired Jenny to think that she’d like
to create these little podcasts asking people about a favourite poem of theirs and what it is they love
about it. But, crucially, then reading the poem.
Before recording anything at all, Jenny worried that people’s choices would lead to a line-up of dead,
white, Englishmen. “One of the most miraculous things,” says Jenny, “was how naturally all over the place the choices were. And international choices, not just off the school curriculum at all. Some quite obscure poems, some famous poems, some men, some women. It was lovely for me; it was a revelation to hear what had really gone deeply into people’s hearts and stuck with them.”
it’s about taking poetry seriously,not just using it as a commodity but listening to what it’s saying about how people live their lives.
This diverse selection of poems also meant that she was introduced to some poets and poems she
hadn’t heard of previously.“I discovered one new poet, and various new poems,” she says. “For instance the one that the founder of The Beestonian Matt Turpin picked, that particular Thomas Hardy poem I had never read before. I was thrilled to meet it. And then Henry Normal picked a poem by a Danish poet I had never even heard of.” Jenny is referring to the poet Piet Hein, who was also a mathematician and inventor. He created a new poetry form which he named ‘Gruks’ or ‘Grooks’. “I had never come across him or a Grook, or this particular Grook before. It was a lovely eye-opener for me.”
The first lot of podcasts were released to coincide with this year’s Nottingham Poetry Festival, with the next lot held back until National Poetry Day in October. Jenny also teamed up with UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature to help promote each podcast.
“I didn’t want this to be in any way a commercial enterprise,” says Jenny. “I wanted it to reach as many people who were interested in poetry, in Nottingham. Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website is pivotal and central to Nottingham’s literary community. all the people that I interviewed had a connection with Nottingham, not least the Sheriff. I defy anyone not to want to know what the Sheriff of Nottingham’s favourite poem is!”
Since releasing the podcasts, Jenny has received positive feedback. From comments on the NCoL website, and from the two people who run National Poetry Day, who she sent some of them to. The only tedious part, she tells me, was the issue of copyright for the chosen poems.
“If you use a poem that’s still in copyright you need to get permission from a copyright holder, and you need to pay them a fee,” Jenny explains. “And there was one wonderful poem all about the little people standing up to the powers that be and the rich, tyrannical people. And when I approached that copyright holder for permission, they quoted me hundreds of pounds, so I said ‘sorry, can’t do it. P.S. Have you read this poem? It’s about the little people not being intimidated by the money-bags.’ They wrote back, and the son of this particular poet said to the copyright administrators ‘You give them that poem free of charge!’ It was a lovely story, because it’s about taking poetry seriously,not just using it as a commodity but listening to what it’s saying about how people live their lives.”
You can listen to the Life in Lines podcast episodes on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/lifeinlinesnotts
JADE MOORE, POETRY EDITOR