My post on difficult poetry and poetry readings spawned an interesting discussion. Both Laura and Bev felt there was a strong connection between hearing a poem and understanding it, which is interesting considering how difficult it can be to grasp the meaning of a poem on first listen. Bev wrote,
The speaking is what makes it come alive for me. If I don’t understand a poem, I read it aloud two or three times. Btw, when I was working on my graduate degree in Eng. lit, I was assigned to the university’s writing tutorial services. I used to work with students who were having problems with their essays. I frequently had students bring in a poem they were supposed to write about. They wouldn’t know what to say because they didn’t understand the poem. I think they thought I’d explain it to them. Instead, I’d make them read it to me at least a couple of times — sometimes more. The first time was usually quite pathetic. Subsequent attempts were usually much better. After a couple of readings, we’d sit and discuss the poem – and most times, they’d already be starting to get the meaning. I liken the process to talking to your dog about your problems. You already know the answer, but you just have to hear it.
Ivy Alvarez stressed the importance of warming up before giving a public performance.
I think if poets are going to read their work aloud, they should practise being heard, otherwise what’s the point?
I know there’s plenty to think about while a person’s up on stage [nerves, do I gotta go pee, is my time up, why are they looking at me funny, have I got all my poems, hey, he’s cute, random thoughts like that] but that’s why one has to warm-up beforehand.
I can’t help thinking that poets who give lackluster readings are just being lazy — unless, as Marly suggested, they are deliberately affecting “a toneless, mechanical sort of reading,” stemming from a “desire for the inaccessible.” Just because I’ve written a poem doesn’t mean I automatically know the best way to read it right off the bat. I thought it might be fun to record myself in three different stages of comprehension of a given poem, using the most recent thing I’ve written. If I’d saved a recording of every take, this would’ve been close to an hour long and about as exciting as listening to a guitarist practice the same riff over and over.
Probably no one will ever accuse me of a lack of enthusiasm for poetry. But you can have too much of a good thing, creating a sort of enthusiasma that makes normal breathing difficult. That’s a line I hope never to cross. But I think I may have gone a little too far with this particular recording adventure, mixing in a harmonica (my very inadequate rendering of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight for the Blind”). You can listen to the results on the poem’s new page at shadow cabinet.
By the way, in case anyone was wondering, the poem was not autobiographical. (You’ll notice I included it in the Masque section of shadow cabinet.) I chose it for this reading exercise mainly because it was short, without thinking that I’ll probably want to revise it at some point. Well, if I do, I’ll simply erase these recordings and make new ones, I guess.
Speaking of evolution, Happy Darwin Day, y’all.