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Feb 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm

In Verse: an experiment in documentary poetry, photography and radio

With Susan B.A. Somers-Willett and Lu Olkowski


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

90 min

Billie Jean Hill is a single mother to one son. Photo by Brenda Ann Kenneally

Susan B.A. Somers-Willett is the author of two books of poetry, Quiver and Roam, and a book of criticism, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. Her honors include the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize and the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award. Raised in New Orleans, she teaches English and Creative Writing at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Lu Olkowski is a contributing producer to Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen. Her work has also been heard on All Things Considered, Day to Day, Radio Lab, This American Life and Weekend America. She has been honored by the American Women in Radio & Television; the literary magazine The Missouri Review and the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Prior to a career in public radio, Lu was a creative director at Nickelodeon where she led a team of producers in exploring new ways of storytelling by using emerging technologies.

In Verse is produced through the generous funding of Public Radio Maker’s Quest 2.0, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated. This project is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In Verse was created in partnership with the Virginia Quarterly Review and originally aired on Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.


Feb 28, 2010
7:30 pm – 9:30 pm


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States
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