10.24.2005

more on those god damn poetry readings

Was taking a look over at the Contemporary Poetry Review in an article about John Ashbery:
One problem presented by the semi-professional need for poets to deliver recitations of their poems is that it must be assumed that they are the best interpreters, if not necessarily the most gifted performers, of their own works. One might delight in the thought of James Earl Jones intoning oneÂ’s poem from the podium to awed audiences, but it is usually a whinier, less assured voice that the audience finally encounters. It is unfortunate that the aural revelation of a poem is often one of foggy meandering and droning rather than the warm illumination that should be expected. One finds in scratchy old recordings of Pound reading from the Cantos a tidier (or at the least quite amusing) understanding of some of the last centuryÂ’s most imposing and sometimes nearly incomprehensible poems. Even an otherwise undemanding poem by a poet today will be muddled up in the reading. The poet very often recites with a slight trailing up at the end of the otherwise randomly broken line, in a pompous, breathy seriousness that hardly befits the slightness of the poetry itself.
Hell yes. Well put says I. Seriously what is with the monotone poet voice? One even encounters it in College workshops, where poets (some of them even talented) deliver their poems like they were reciting from the phone book. I guess it's an image thing. Emo, maybe?
They come to witness greatness, fame, and finally, the clarification, elucidation of the poems, the revelation from the oracle.
This is what I've been telling people for awhile now. The mark of a good reader is the ability to elucidate what's being read. To have the voice ride across the piece of literature, highlighting with ARTICULATION and INTONATION the gradients of meanincontaineded within the work.

Michael Harper, a well known poet and professor here at Brown is the best reader I've heard yet. When he reads one has the feeling of "getting it" a feeling not to often felt at your average poetry reading. If you haven't had the chance to listen to him, there's a short video of a reading he gave at UC Berkeley. By short I mean an hour. In class he tends to drag on for long tracts of time telling tales of the glory days with Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden and Brooks. Apparently he had some disagreements with ol' Allen Ginsberg about something. Should try to find out that was. Office hours?

1 comment:

Joshua said...

My biggest worry concerning poetry readings, or oral recitation of poems in general, is how it so regularly compares unfavorably to music. (For example, even mediocre folk music can sound good live.)

Harper is a damn good example of how it doesn't have to be that way though.

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