The new website PoetrySpeaks is aiming to serve as a social networking hub and online marketplace for poets. Visitors are greeted with a sleek, jukebox-style display of poet portraiture and an unpretentious atmosphere. And it's immediately clear that PoetrySpeaks casts a wide net: among the home page's collage of clickable poet heads, spoken word poet Kevin Coval appears next to William Butler Yeats.
Click on your poet of choice, be it a hipster or an Irishman, and you'll be taken to a web page that includes a list of audio (and maybe even video) recordings. And here's where things get interesting. As with iTunes, you can preview each recorded poem then decide if you want to spend 99 cents to download it ($1.99 for a video version). The site is, quite literally, banking on your interest in poetry.
Will the iTunes model work for poetry? Site creator Dominique Raccah certainly thinks so. She told the Wall Street Journal that "Poetry has a marketing problem. This is a solution." Her publishing company, Sourcebooks (which is also backing the site) has a history of applying out-of-the-box techniques to market the art. It produced two popular poetry anthologies, Poetry Speaks and Poetry Speaks to Children, by bringing the texts to life--pairing the books with CDs of the anthologized poets reading their work.
Another interesting aspect of PoetrySpeaks is a section called YourMic, whereby anyone can upload an audio or video recording of a poem and share it with the site's online community. Take a look at "Price of Retribution" by 15-year-old Emanuel Vinson of Chicago. YourMic poets can't yet market their work, but Raccah hopes that the site will evolve to include a self-publishing capability.
To help build a community, all PoetrySpeaks visitors are encouraged to create free profiles whereby they can share their favorite poets and poems and show off their own work. Members can also rate and review each other's work. And the site is wired into social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and that other stuff that gets confusing for those of us over thirty.
The poems available on PoetrySpeaks are currently limited to those that Sourcebooks owns the rights to, along with a few publishers that the site has signed agreements with (Tupelo Press, Marick Press and Naxos Audiobooks), but the site is planning to grow. It's a new business model for an old art form, and any lover of poetry should be interested in seeing how the combination works.