Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bringing Poetic Vision to the Blind

Bringing Poetic Vision to the Blind

By Doug Holder

A friend of mine the novelist Paul Steven Stone, submitted a poetry collection I wrote “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel” ( Cervena Barva Press) to Robert Pierson, the director of the Olive W. Lacy Recording Studio at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass. On a late April day, I drove out to the school, a sprawling and bucolic campus in the middle of a congested semi-urban area.

Pierson met me at the studio that is housed with the entire Braille and Talking Book Library on the school grounds.. The building includes a large warehouse for audio books that are shipped across the state and to the National Library Service for the Blind, which is under the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. According to information that was sent to me the studio and the library were founded:

“on the belief that people who are visually impaired or print disabled must have access to as many materials that are available in the public libraries as possible. Therefore the studio produces recreational and informational readings to augment the Perkins Braille collection. The books range from novels, biographies and poetry, to children’s books and poetry.”

Because the library basically services Massachusetts residents, they look for local authors. The books submitted are viewed by a committee or panel, and if the members feel the book is worthy both for its general interest and the quality of its writing—they will record them on digital flash drives. Usually trained narrators read the books, but on rarer occasions the actual author does.

Before my seminal session I was handed a packet by Pierson that explained some of the finer points of reading. There was a discussion of the use of well-appointed pauses, how to animate your voice so you won’t talk in a dry monotone, how to take on a female voice if you are a male and vice-a-versa.

The narrator sits in a sound proof booth and reads from his work, while the monitor is outside the booth, working a computer, and watching for errors in speech, background noise, etc….

Pierson has worked as studio director for the past 14 years, and evidently has a passion for his work. He said the program is funded by the state, and in spite of the dire financial straits of late, their funding has not been cut.

Some of the titles that have or will be recorded are: Bunker Hill Community College professor Luke Salisbury’s novel “The Cleveland Indian,” “Shock” by Kitty Dukakis, “The Sins of the Father” by Ronald Kessler, “How to Train a Rock” by Paul Steven Stone, and many others.

The library and studio is presided over by Director Kim Charlson. Charlson, a nationally and internatinally recognized library director for the blind, told me that the library has over 110,000 titles in audio,and Braille. She proudly reported that the library was voted best library in the nation for the blind in 2008. I asked her how many Somerville residents use the library, and she told me that she has a list of 175.

Charlson lost her vision at 11, and has been living a full and active life ever since. She said one of the biggest challenges for her is to get people to take advantage of the services they offer. " For every one person we serve, eight to ten are not served." I asked her if any Somerville authors have been recorded for the library, and she came up with former Somerville resident Steve Almond, author of "Candyfreak" as well as other titles.

Charlson said audio books are more popular than Braille, and that like any library she has to be on top of the latest cutting edge technology.

After speaking with Charlson I went back to the recording studio. I heard my voice on a playback on a practice audio. I noted its clean and pristine quality—so unlike recordings of my work in the past. I left feeling good about my work and the chance for it to do some good in this world.

***Perkins School for the Blind‎175 North Beacon Street, Watertown, MA 02472(617) 924-3434‎ – (617) 972-7285‎ Perkins accepts charitable donations.

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