Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

Multiple readings of the same poem

3 Comments

Dick Jones, Kate Fitzpatrick and I tackle The Slender Scent by James Robison, sent in to Whale Sound as an audio submission by Kate.

Listen here.

Thanks to James for letting us read his poem!

Author: Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

3 thoughts on “Multiple readings of the same poem

  1. Pingback: Group reading: ‘The Slender Scent’ by James Robison « Whale Sound

  2. Moving a bunch of comments from elsewhere – with permission – to this thread (Facebook is quick and easy but comments there get lost after a day – is there ANY way to link to a Facebook comment?!)

    Kate Fitzpatrick wrote:

    “Thanks, Nic, for letting us showcase this poem by James Robison. I fell in love with it the first time I read it on the page. I found it posed challenges when read aloud because it explores so many emotions, and shifts, like movements in a piece of music, from tranquil to tempestuous moments. To successfully knit the movements together, I tried to feel as much compassion for the negative elements: rebel angels, water moccasin, bailiff and wrathful stormy god, as I easily felt for the narrator and filament bound pelican. I enjoyed hearing how you and Dick brought something slightly different to the reading.

    Our native accents add another distinctive difference to the readings, particularly in the vowels. The alternate pronunciation of ‘aqua’ and ‘wrath’ produced interesting, variant effects – an assonant echo in mine, which played off other sounds in the other two readings.

    I had to record this poem several times to get a reading I liked, and even then, it wasn’t exactly to my satisfaction. Did you both have that experience? Beyond just messing up a word here or there, one must find the right mood to express the words. Sometimes I was too angry with them, or too passionate. Sometimes too slow or fast. After a while I just settled for the best overall. Naturally, when you’re doing a live public reading you only get one try.

    Thank you, Nic, for another fun project.

    And thanks to James Robison for allowing us to use his beautiful words.”

    James Robison wrote:

    “All three readers seemed to have an intimate and personal understanding of the work, though some parts of the work are evasive and even cryptic, and yet you presented it as something likely, natural, felt. The variations between/ among the readings were interesting because though small, the choices made were like those made by actors, obviously, but far beyond that, like those made by different poets. The timing, pauses, and stops shaded meanings slightly while never replacing my intention with an alternate one. The poem asks its out loud reader to follow it down some pretty tricky trails, with some emotional switchbacks. You were all sure footed, but kept your own paces.”

    Bill Lantry wrote:

    “I think what I found fascinating was the question of possession. When I first read the piece on the page, I heard Jim’s voice reading it. Dick’s reading is sympathetic, but it doesn’t wrest the poem away from Jim. Yours, though, does take it over. It somehow becomes your poem, his ‘voice’ fades. I think this is what *should* happen, the reader should make the poem her own, this is where the art of reading actually lives. Kate’s reading seems completely hers, it’s almost as if she’s living the poem she’s speaking. Jim’s voice completely passes out of my head. All this leads me to interesting questions about the ownership of an artistic work, and I start to wonder if we can divide the concept into “shares.” If the project leads to true collaboration, can anyone claim a ‘controlling interest?’ Who, then, possesses the text? And, more importantly, it clearly has gained enhanced value for the ‘audience,’ that’s already evident in it’s broader reach and deeper consideration, thanks to the Voice Alpha project.”

    Kate Fitzpatrick wrote:

    “I would have liked to hear the author’s interpretation.”

    James Robison wrote:

    “My comments above are as close as I can come. Bill’s remarks interest me. As comparison, I offer that a line of dialogue spoken by an actor on screen no longer belongs to its author, at all, or it certainly feels that way. But this process–voices trying not to usurp one’s lines but present them in clearest light, with fullest drama but no acting–is new to me and, yes, fascinating.”

  3. Kathleen – Thanks for sending in the poem! It was very rewarding to work with and I love hearing yours and Dick’s different readings. Rachel Dacus said in her excellent recent blog post for Voice Alpha “the poem, ultimately, belongs to the reader” and I, for one, agree with her.

    James – You wrote: The timing, pauses, and stops shaded meanings slightly while never replacing my intention with an alternate one.

    I’m interested in this response. Would it have been a bad thing if your intention had been replaced with an alternate one, as long as the overall reading was emotionally cohesive?

    I think again, here, of Rachel Dacus’ comment above and also this, from an interview with poet Eileen Tabios in which she said:

    When a poem is certain, for me that’s quite often when it’s least effective. And yet I write poetry {partly} to discover knowledge. Those discoveries, though, even when they add to what I know also point to uncertainties and/or the unknowable. What you call “silence” are perhaps what I write as deliberate inabilities to connect dots within the poem- I say deliberate because I often consider such making of connections to be the reader’s role, not mine. What incremental knowledge I gain is kept private, as such is subjective, and I don’t want to get in the reader’s way of making his/her/hir own connections within and to the poem.

    Bill – you wrote: I think what I found fascinating was the question of possession. Agree. That question obviously can be viewed and answered through the prism of legal and financial considerations, or of simple ego considerations, but the bigger and more fascinating question is what any answer to it would mean for Art, writ large.

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