Poetry Made Accessible

Richard and Ann Burke recall, with humor, that Richard literally awoke one night several years ago with middle-of-the-night inspiration to produce a radio show for WFIU (the public radio station at Indiana University Bloomington) about poetry and poets. Poets' Corner, which borrows its name from Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner, evolved on WFIU in 1990 and 1991 and, according to the Burkes, the show will be reborn in 1996. From the start, Richard, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, and Ann, who teaches English as a second language to international students at IU's Center for English Language Training, agreed that their radio segments should involve the humanities but be "quick and to the point and something of value." To that end, they developed the less-than three-minute Poets' Corner segments. They acknowledge that they were influenced by the informative brevity of WFIU's A Moment of Science and the guessing-game fun of the popular show Ether Game, which invites listeners to play along and challenges their intellects.

Researching each poet carefully, Ann and Richard offer in their naratives biographical information to make the profiled poet more accessible to the listener and several lines of poetry to bring the work itself to life. Equally important to the Poets' Corner creators is introducing each segment with a reference to popular culture to give the poetry a contemporary connection. For example, without revealing the poet's name, the Burkes begin one segment with a humorous reference to the popular movie Bull Durham and, more specifically, they recount a memorable scene in which the movie's main character, Annie Savoy, reads poetry to a shackled rookie baseball pitcher. The fact that Walt Whitman is not identified until later in the segment gives listeners time to recall both the movie and the poetry. Ultimately, the Burkes hope to communicate to listeners that "poetry speaks to moments in your life and that [these moments] can be meaningfully expressed."

Both are convinced that because poetry is written to be heard, it translates more effectively into short, direct radio segments than do the works of playwrights or novelists, whose "snippets" are often not as memorable or recognizable to the average listener. Ann and Richard are aware that their narratives should challenge listeners, yet not embarass or frustrate those who cannot remember poets' names or are unaware of their works. Constantly attempting to draw people in, Richard suggests that perhaps the show will indirectly encourage people to attend poetry readings or do further research. Ann agrees, stating, "I would like people to listen and say, 'I would like to read more of this poetry.'"

--Mary Cox Barclay