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A series of podcast guests.

Tour de blogosphere: The Small Machine Talks, an Ottawa poetry podcast

By Jamie MacPherson on May 21, 2020

Welcome to another edition of Tour de blogosphere, the long-running series in which Apartment613 features our favourite local blogs and podcasts made in Ottawa.


A series of podcast guests.

In four years, 58 episodes, and 5,200 plays, the Small Machine Talks, an Ottawa poetry podcast hosted by local poets Amanda Earl and a.m. kozak (Aaron) has interviewed 27 local poets, seven poets from elsewhere, a photographer, a playwright, and musicians. Aaron and Amanda have had conversations about current reads, literary events, the craft of writing and more, delivered with great care for you and our city. Just press play. This is their story.

Ottawa-based poet Amanda Earl. Photo provided.

From Bar Robo to Episode One

In spring 2016, Amanda and Aaron discussed poetry at Bar Robo, which had hosted literary events such as the Sawdust Reading Series. Amanda shared her idea for a local podcast that would cover the literary scene with a focus on poetry, and Aaron was enthusiastic.

Amanda enlisted her husband Charles Earl for tech support. Friend and poet Rob Thomas provided recording tips. Amanda and Charles spent some of their own money on equipment and a portion of sales from AngelHousePress on must-haves. Meanwhile, Amanda and Aaron worked on show topics and format. The first episode aired on July 12, 2016, wherein the hosts discussed past readings and future ones of interest. A great conversation, but “a bit rambly,” Amanda noted.

Co-host Amanda Earl’s bookcase. Photo provided.

Influences

Poet and organizer Jennifer Pederson, who Amanda describes as “an incredible writer and singer,” helped create the show’s intro and outro, which came from William Carlos Williams’ essay A poem is a small machine made of words. “Talks” from an Anne Carson book was added to the end. Room Magazine, Fainting Couch Feminists, and Lit Mag Love were influential too, as was Amanda’s health crisis in 2009. “Radio was a way to make me feel less lonely. It’s good to know there are voices out there, especially the kindreds…”

On learning and change

Amanda is a “firm believer in constant improvement, as opposed to perfection the first time.” In four years, Amanda has discovered she enjoys interviewing people. She wants to ensure the podcast is relevant and entertaining for listeners. Aaron and Amanda have conducted interviews at Amanda’s place, in bars, and at festivals, and even while walking.

The people

Poets whose work has intrigued Amanda and Aaron are invited to the show so the hosts and listeners can both learn more about their writing process and appreciate their work. Amanda explains: “Intimacy is part of the podcast’s aesthetic, I think. Through conversation, we end up going places we might not have gone. No one is relaxed at first. But during the show, we all get a little less stiff and self-conscious.”

The hosts have met countless interesting writers, including Jamaal Jackson Rogers, an Ottawa-area spoken word artist, educator and activist who spoke about his focus on mentoring young people. His vision and passion are contagious.

AngelHousePress

Amanda runs AngelHousePress. The podcast is part of the press’s mandate “to continue the conversation about art and literature and engage with the community of writers, artists and readers to showcase voices that receive less attention by mainstream CanLit, whether it is a micro-press publisher who publishes handmade chapbooks in limited editions, or an artist who creates work that can’t be pinned down by a label, poets who haven’t won prizes or appeared in best of anthologies.”

It’s an outward-looking, inclusive entity and movement that Amanda is just one part of. “I’m in the background, operating the small machine that drives it forward, but I want it to be more than just a short, chubby old broad in her fifties in the background, while at the same time, I get a kick out of being that old broad and being able to make good things happen.”

Sharing aesthetics and values, the podcast and AHP fit together perfectly. Both highlight “raw talent, ragged edges, and rebels.” Both showcase the unknown, the not well-known, and works not always showcased in mainstream CanLit.

Five years old

The show will soon turn five years old. It’s covered micropress publishers and poets, such as Cameron Anstee of Apt. 9 Press and Dessa Bayrock of Post Ghost Press; couples who are poets, such as Anita Dolman and James Moran or Conyer Clayton and Nathanaël Larochette; a book club episode with Fiona Mitchell and Helen Robertson; and short interviews with a bunch of poets at the VERSeFest after party at the Fox and Feather. Amanda is pleased her idea “has turned into something meaningful and entertaining.” She’s grateful to listeners, participants, publishers and organizers.

COVID-19 has affected the show, but hasn’t stopped it. Amanda has been recording solo episodes and posting ones that feature audio recordings by poets. Coming soon is an episode on the poetic elements of music. Similar episodes about film and art may follow.

You can bring this important conversation into your home via their website, from Soundcloud, iTunes or most podcast apps. To get notifications about new episodes, like their Facebook page and follow Amanda Earl on Twitter.


Amanda Earl is an Ottawa writer, visual poet, editor, and publisher. She’s the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Her books are Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014, available through Invisible Publishing), Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl (Coming Together, 2014) and A World of Yes (DevilHouse, 2015). Her latest chapbook is Lament: Doll (Ethel Zine & Micropress, 2020). For more information, visit AmandaEarl.com or connect with Amanda on Twitter.