In Verse is a multi-media reporting project that combines poetry, photography and audio footage to create “documentary poems” for radio, the web, print and the iPhone. Poet Susan B.A. Somers-Willett and radio producer Lu Olkowski share their work and talk about poetry as a documentary medium.
In Verse was conceived of in November 2008 while the country was still reeling from the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression. They wanted to know how the crisis was affecting those who were struggling long before Wall Street’s collapse. In the spirit of the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Federal Writer’s Project, In Verse enlisted teams of poets, photographers, and radio producers to interview people living on the economic edge and to document their lives.
The first installment titled “Women of Troy” features the work of poet Susan B.A. Somers-Willett, photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally and radio journalist Lu Olkowski as they document the lives of young, working-class mothers in Troy, New York.
Labor historians have argued that Troy was the prototype for the industrialization of America and “the most important city during the Industrial Revolution.” Troy’s beginnings stand in stark contrast to its current social conditions. Now one-fifth of the population lives below the U.S. poverty line. It is a town where few opportunities exist—and those are typically in the form of low paying service jobs.
“This is some of the strongest multi-media work in recent memory.”
— Jay Allison, Executive Director, Atlantic Public Media
“What an extraordinary creation and collaboration. It is one of the most honest, artistic, hard-hitting, soul-shaking projects I’ve seen in a long time.”
— Davia Nelson, The Kitchen Sisters
“What surprised me most was hearing the finished audio. These poems find their fullest expression in the listening, in the hearing of the poets’ voices as they mix with the voices of their subjects. So, too, in the audio slideshows, do the photographers’ images seem to burst forth. I’m a print guy by nature. I like to hold a magazine or book in my hands. I like to see words on paper. But this project is alive in its enactment. It can’t be contained by the page. And, as a result, I feel like the artists engaged in this experiment have helped restore poetry to its true essence.”
— Ted Genoways, Editor, Virginia Quarterly Review
“This is why most of us went into public radio.”
— Jennifer Ferro, Asst. General Manager, KCRW, Los Angeles