The Future of A Mouthful of Air
Mark McGuinness takes you behind the scenes of the podcast, with an update on what’s coming next for the show – and how you can help us connect more poets with more listeners.
Hello, it’s Mark , with an interlude between our usual episodes.
Today is a special episode, it is not only our 60th episode but it is also just over 2 years since we started the podcast. And that means we are entering a new phase of A Mouthful of Air.
So today I want to lift the curtain, take you behind the scenes, and tell you the story of how we started the show, how we got to this point, what we are going to do with it next – and how you can help us with our mission.
So back in 2021 I had been incubating the idea of a poetry podcast for several years, and I spoke to Mami, who is my business partner as well as my life partner, and we decided it was time to make it happen for real.
The idea for the show came from the mismatch between my own experience of poetry – as a magical and inexhaustible source of pleasure and inspiration – and the way most people seem to see it – as a minority interest, or an academic discipline, that has very little to do with the rest of life.
But as I say in Episode 1 of the podcast, it wasn’t always like this. Poetry used to be something we were all involved in, gathered round the fire in the evenings to listen to the bards and the storytellers. And there have always been, and always will be, popular poems and songs that are part of everyday life.
Even when it comes to books, there have been plenty of times when poetry was much more part of the mainstream of literary culture than it is now.
So I wanted to make a podcast that would open the door to the way I experience poetry, to see if other people would relate to it, and get the same kind of pleasure and sustenance from it that I do.
Now I had made a podcast before, and I knew what it takes to make a really professional show, and I knew that it is not cheap! But we wanted the highest possible production quality for the show – poetry is special, after all.
So we applied to Arts Council England for a National Lottery Project Grant.
It was the first time we had applied for public funding, but we thought it was a project that would provide a fair amount of public benefit – to poets, to their publishers, to poetry lovers and also to people who may not normally read poetry, but who would enjoy it if we presented it to them in a meaningful way.
So we spent several weeks preparing a very long application, and we were delighted when we received a letter from the Arts Council saying that we had been successful and that they were going to give us the money we had asked for.
The grant covered most of the production costs to launch the podcast and run it for two years. It meant we could hire an outstanding composer, Javier Weyler, who is an actual rock star, to create original music and soundscapes for the show. It meant we could engage Breaking Waves, Javier’s agency, to produce all the episodes. It meant we could engage my long-standing collaborator, the wonderful designer Irene Hoffman, to create a distinctive visual identity for the show.
It also helped us with web hosting and transcription and a load of other technical and admin stuff.
In return, Mami and I contributed the rest of the production costs and also our time working on the show.
And it worked!
We created a show we are really proud of. And not just us, we’ve had some amazing feedback.
We’ve just heard, for example, that for the second year running, Podcast Review, published by the Los Angeles Review of Books, has selected us as one of the Top 9 Podcasts for Poetry Lovers – and they have put us on the shelf alongside shows like The New Yorker Poetry Podcast, The Slowdown, The Poetry Exchange, and other shows that are the benchmark for poetry podcasting.
We’ve also been recommended in places like the newsletters of The Poetry Society and The Poetry School here in the UK.
And some of the best feedback has come from listeners who have told us the show has either opened the door to poetry, if it’s something they don’t normally read, or it has renewed their enthusiasm for an art form they already love.
One of my favourite responses to the show came from the coach and podcaster, Kay Lock Kolp, who wrote this in her newsletter:
“I have always run screaming from poetry, but I’ve learned so much from A Mouthful of Air. About form, and why poets write. I’ve also learned some profound lessons about myself and the power of human speech.”
Here’s another response, a Tweet from Dr Matt Morgan, who is an intensive care doctor as well as a successful author:
“Whilst I’ve loved poetry since being a kid, I didn’t think I was allowed into its world. Thank you Mark for opening the door to such an amazing place.”
So the magic is now happening for real. I have found a way to open the door to my experience of poetry, and people are walking through it and telling me they feel the same magic as I do. In its own small way, A Mouthful of Air is proving that poetry is not just for the inner circle, for the initiates and the academics.
And for me personally, the podcast is an absolute joy to create. The time I spend thinking and writing and talking about poems, and interviewing poets, is some of my absolute favourite time every month.
So this is what we have achieved so far. And in July we came to the end of the 2 year Arts Council project, of launching A Mouthful of Air and ensconcing it, to mix a metaphor, in the poetry landscape. Which means the Arts Council funding has now come to an end, and we are a fully independent podcast!
So before I go any further, Mami and I would like to say a big thank you to Arts Council England for their support and also their vote of confidence in the project right from at the beginning.
On a personal level, I would also like to say thank you to Mami, who was the very first person who believed in the show and agreed to support it.
Mami is a very experienced editor and writer. And you haven’t heard her on the show, but she has been incredibly helpful behind the scenes, as a strategic partner and a sounding board for my thinking.
So thank you Mami, domo arigatou gozaimashita!
And both of us would like to say a big thank you to you, for listening to the show and making it all worthwhile.
The basic point of the show is that I love poems and I want to share them with you. And that’s the magic of the show, that I can take a book down from the shelf behind me, and open it and read you a poem, and tell you about why I love it so much. And to know you are listening and enjoying, it really means the world.
So a big thank you from both of us!
OK that’s the story of Phase 1 of A Mouthful of Air.
And… we want to keep going. We love making the show, we are very encouraged that you like listening, so we want to continue. And today marks the official start of Phase 2 of the show.
And rest assured it will be the same show. You can keep listening and reading in all the usual places.
The format will remain the same, we think it’s working pretty well – alternating old and new poets, with me enthusing about classic poems I love, followed by episodes with contemporary poets.
We are making a few changes to how we deliver the show, so I want to fill you in on those, and also how, if you would like to, you can help us make the show a success, and connect more poets with more listeners.
So the first change is that for the time being at least, we will be releasing episodes monthly rather than every two weeks. So you will get the next episode a bit later in September, and after that there will be a new episode on the first Tuesday of every month. Apart from October! when it’s the first Thursday, because that’s National Poetry Day here in the UK.
The main reason for changing the schedule is that I have other things to write, and I really need to make time for those.
When I started A Mouthful of Air, I naively thought it wouldn’t take long to write and record and edit the episodes. But you know how it is, when you really love something, you want to do it properly, and perfectionism kicks in, so, especially for the classic poem episodes, I do a lot of research and thinking and writing before I start recording.
Which is great, because I absolutely love doing it, and I never want to compromise on the quality of the show. But it’s also squeezing the time I have available for my other writing.
For example, I am about 95% done on my own first poetry collection, so I want to devote some time to finishing that and finding a publisher for it.
I am also working on a book about poetry. It’s not exactly the book of the podcast, but it does relate very closely to some of the themes we’ve been exploring on the show. I would say it’s a book that complements the podcast. So I hope that if you like A Mouthful of Air, this book will be a great addition to the show. But only if I write it!
I’ve been working on it in between podcast episodes, but it’s been a bit stop-start. And it’s at the point where I need to put some sustained effort into it.
So that’s the main reason for the change of schedule, to free up time for my book writing. So I can bring you some books, as well as the podcast.
Another reason is that we are very ambitious for this podcast. We want to keep making it for many years to come, and we want to reach as many listeners as we can.
And it takes time and effort – also known as marketing! – to find them. So the second reason why we’re moving to a monthly schedule is so that Mami and I can spend more time on marketing the show and finding ways to reach that wider audience.
So I hope that makes sense in terms of the new schedule. I realise going from every two weeks to every month might look like we’re pulling back from the show and not making it such a priority, but really, it’s about making the show sustainable for the long term.
We very much see this as a marathon rather than a sprint. So we want to pace ourselves and give ourselves the best chance of producing the show for years to come.
And it may well be that we pick up the pace further down the line, maybe when I’ve got these books written and out of my system. But let’s see how we go for now.
So that’s what we are doing with the new phase of the show. We hope you will want to keep pace with us, to keep listening and deepening your appreciation of poetry.
And if you would like to help us make the show sustainable and bring more poems to life for more listeners, there are a couple of ways you can do that.
The first one is to help us find some more of those new listeners.
So right this moment, for instance, if you are listening on an Apple device, there’s something you can do in a couple of seconds, and that is to scroll down on the main podcast screen in the Apple Podcasts app, and swipe across the 5 stars – hopefully all the way across! – to give us a rating on Apple Podcasts.
You do not need to write a review, just swipe and that will be a signal to the little gremlins in the Apple algorithms that this is a show people love and they should consider putting it in front of more people.
So that’s one really quick thing that will help us find more listeners.
Other things you could do to help spread the word are: to tell your friends, or students or classmates or the people in your book group or whoever you think might enjoy the show.
You could follow us on social media and like and share our posts or even write a quick recommendation to your followers:
If you have a newsletter or blog or podcast or YouTube channel or another platform, and you think your readers or your audience would enjoy the show, please let them know about it.
Actually, if you have a podcast or a YouTube channel, and you think your audience would like to know more about poetry, and you would like me to come on your show as a guest, then do please reach out to me via the contact form.
I can come on your show, I can read some poems and talk about them. And you can ask me anything you like about poetry or about A Mouthful of Air, and I’ll be happy to talk about that.
OK so that’s the first way you could help us, is finding new listeners for the show.
The second way is to support the production of the show. As I say, we no longer have Arts Council funding, but do we still have the ongoing costs of making and marketing the show.
Every month, we pay for top notch audio production, for transcripts of the interviews, to make them accessible, fees for our guest poets, web hosting, social media scheduling and so on. And when it comes to marketing, we also pay for advertising and design.
And that’s not including the time we spend making the show. We’ve always done that for free and we’re happy to keep doing that.
And if you would like to help us lighten the financial load, by contributing to the costs of the show, that would be lovely.
You know, there have been moments, when I’ve been juggling my work on the show with running my business and my other responsibilities, when I’ve asked myself: is it really worthwhile putting so much time and effort, as well as money, into this?
I even thought about it over the summer, when I was out walking on the Welsh mountains. The end of the Arts Council project was a natural break, and it could have been a natural ending. I did wonder what it would be like to say, ‘OK that’s it, that’s the end of the podcast’.
But each time I ask myself this, I keep coming back to the same answer: A Mouthful of Air is special. It’s the place where I get to share poems with you. Every episode opens the door to clarity and connection. Sometimes it even feels like a magic portal.
And I want to keep that portal open. I want to keep the poets and the poems coming, and to share them with you, and for us to share them with lots of other listeners all around the world.
So if you would like to help keep that portal open, to support the show and make it sustainable for the long term, there are a couple of ways you can do this:
- If you go to ko-fi.com/amouthfulofair you can make a one-off donation to the show, or sign up to make a monthly contribution. There’s a suggested ‘buy us a coffee’ donation, but it can be whatever you like.
- The second way you can support the show financially is if you live in the UK or the US and you go to amouthfulofair.fm/bookshop then you will find the A Mouthful of Air Poetry Bookshop! This is a shop we’ve built on bookshop.org that exclusively sells books by poets who are featured on the podcast.
So if you listen to an episode and you enjoy the poem and you’d like to read the whole book that poem came from, you can order it from our bookshop, and we will receive 10% of the cover price. Not only that, a further 10% will go to supporting independent bookshops. So it’s a nice thing to do for the bookshop ecosystem as well as for the poets and the podcast.
If you would prefer to buy the book from Amazon, then we are also updating the links on our website to Amazon affiliate links, so if you visit the webpage with the show notes at amouthfulofair.fm and click on the Amazon link, then the show will earn a percentage of the cover price.
So those are the two big things you can do to help us make A Mouthful of Air sustainable for the long haul – tell people about the show, and/or support us financially, by making a donation, or buying books from our bookshop.
And both of these ways of helping are equally valuable to us. We do appreciate that this is a challenging time for a lot of people on the economic front, so the financial support option is obviously only for you if you have the means as well as the inclination. And if you want to help us by spreading the word that will be just as helpful and just as much appreciated.
I also want to make it clear that the podcast will continue to be free to listen to, it’s not going behind any kind of paywall. And if you choose to support us then you are helping to make it free for everyone to enjoy, which is a lovely thing to do.
OK that’s what I wanted to share with you today, in this interlude episode. But of course, it wouldn’t be A Mouthful of Air without a poem, would it?
So I’m going to finish by reading a very short poem by Emily Dickinson, about the power of the imagination – or in her word, ‘revery’ – to create something out of nothing:
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
A Mouthful of Air – the podcast
This is a transcript of an episode of A Mouthful of Air – a poetry podcast hosted by Mark McGuinness. New episodes are released every month.
You can have a full transcript of every new episode sent to you via email.
If you enjoy the show and you would like to help me connect more poets with listeners and readers, you can contribute to the show’s production costs at ko-fi.com/amouthfulofair
You can also support our poets and publishers, as well as the podcast, by buying their books in the Mouthful of Air bookshop, at amouthfulofair.fm/bookshop
A Mouthful of Air is produced by The 21st Century Creative, with support from Arts Council England via a National Lottery Project Grant.
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You can listen and subscribe to A Mouthful of Air on all the main podcast platforms
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