What if you could identify the applause in every recording in the PennSound archive? With that information, you might ask who receives the most applause, which poems by a given author are most likely to spur an audience response, and which venues lend themselves to the warmest reception. In the following we present our initial work toward using machine learning to answer just such questions.
The poetry phonotext is at least as old as the earliest mechanical reproductions of sound. In 1860, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s attempts to capture the human voice with his phonautograph – a machine meant to record sounds visually, yet not to play them back – offer up two instances of poetic recitation: the first – “Au clair de la lune / mon ami Pierrot / prête moi—” – from the French folk song, “Au Clair de la Lune;” and the second – “S’il faut qu’à ce rival Hédelmone infidèle / Ait remis ce bandeau! Dans leur rage cruelle / Nos l
In the 2009 essay "Hearing Voices," Charles Bernstein writes that “a poet’s reading of her or his own work has an entirely different authority" from that of other readers. Bernstein assures his readers that his assertion is not "just another way of fetishizing the author and the author's voice" but rather a way of acknowledging that "the archive of recordings, as well as the live performance, of contemporary poems is almost exclusively composed of poets giving voice to their own work" (142).
As readers, writers, students, teachers, or scholars of poetry, many of us have 'first-encounter' stories — hearing Poet X read for the first time; copying neglected Caedmon LPs in the library basement; borrowing a thrice-dubbed cassette of the Black Box Magazine or New Wilderness Audiographics; exploring the personal collection of a generous friend, poet, or teacher. In the days before the web, one might infer the performativity of David Antin, Jerry Rothenberg, Charles Olson, Anne Waldman, or Amiri Baraka through books like Technicians of the Sacred or Open Poetry or envision the scene of a raucous Beat coffeehouse reading, poet jamming with a jazz quintet — but recordings could be scarce. In place of the pleasurable frustration involved in sounding out a Futurist or Dada poem from its suggestive but underdetermined visual text — the reader seeking to hear a poem in 2015 will search online archives like PennSound or Ubuweb.