An Interview with Seán Street, author of 'The Poetry of Radio: The Colour of Sound'

To tie-in with the paperback release of his popular book, The Poetry of Radio: The Colour of Sound, author Seán Street discusses the vision behind it and why 'anyone interested in the poetry of the everyday human voice' will find this to be an enjoyable read...

A manuscript is a large undertaking, what was your vision upon starting The Poetry of Radio and do you believe you have achieved your goals?

Seán: I've worked in radio all my life, and what continues to fascinate me about the medium is its potential for imaginative partnerships between the maker and the listener. I'm also a poet, and I'm aware – as all poets are – of the presence of sound and image transmitted through words. That was the link, the common denominator if you like, that got me started and enabled me to make this journey. I hope I've demonstrated the connection in the book; we are all, as human beings, transmitters and receivers, so electronic media becomes as it were a metaphor for communication at a broader level.

What do you hope resonates with the reader?

Seán: I'd like to think that I've made a case for radio and audio as a unique and poetic medium. By that I don't necessarily mean this book is about elitist concepts of cultural broadcasting, but more a celebration of the human imagination, and how sound can feed that imaginative response. I hope the book will suggest that there is a world of developing sound communication – be it traditional radio or download – that is something other than news, popular music and utility, that has the capacity to open the mind – what T.S. Eliot called 'The auditory imagination'. I've been lucky enough to talk with many friends who are also among the most respected creative programme makers in radio, in the process of writing the book, including Piers Plowright, Alan Hall from the UK, Kaye Mortley, Michael Ladd and Robyn Ravlich from Australia, Chris Brookes from Canada and Edwin Brys from Belgium, among many others. So there's a lot of collective wisdom passed on here!

Who are the intended audience?

Seán: From the start I wanted this book to find its way into the hands of a cross-section of creative people: students and academics interested in radio, sound and literature and the potential connections between these areas. I also have great admiration for radio programme makers, and in particular those producers working on creative features and documentaries around the world. The radio feature has always fascinated me as a hybrid between journalism, drama and poetry, and I'd like to think I've celebrated the genre and some of its most significant makers in this book. It's also a celebration of human communication at every level. There are important chapters in the book about the poetry of vernacular speech; when everyday thought becomes passionate for whatever reason, language turns incandescent, and cadence, rhythm and word combine to create a poetry. It comes from a long tradition of orality that is unconsciously part of us as humans; just as the first poems were spoken before they were written, so it is, when we are roused to joy, anger or sorry, our speech takes on a new power and colour. So I hope anyone interested in the poetry of the everyday human voice will also find something of interest here.

What makes this book different from similar titles on the market?

Seán: Much in this book has evolved from my own personal perspective as a writer and broadcaster over forty years in radio. I've shared some wonderful experiences with some of the best radio producers in the world, and there's a reflection of that personal experience in these pages. It's a book I've been thinking about – and wanting to write – for a very long time; in the end, it's the bringing together of two lifelong passions – the idea of poetry and the idea of radio/sound, that perhaps makes this somewhat different from other texts about radio.

Can you summarize the book’s key message?

: There's something profound in communication through sound, it goes beyond words, beyond the euphony of music even to a deeper level, and it has something to do with the range of colour within the sonic rainbow. In the book, there's the metaphor of a bell, moving from the clamour and attack of the strike, through its decay and fade to a place of silence. But where does that silence begin? Certainly there comes a point where sound is no longer humanly audible, but when does it actually end? That's moving us into philosophy and even the spiritual dimension, so a bell is a good metaphor for the journey into the human condition that is in essence the poetry of radio.


Find out more about The Poetry of Radio: The Colour of Sound...


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