Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

Collin Kelley reads ‘Wonder Woman’


This week the Voice Alpha gang has been reading Wonder Woman, the poem donated by Collin Kelley to Voice Alpha‘s list of poems for which the authors have given readers permission in advance to record for Dear Voice Alpha, the VA reading advice program. To end the week, we have a reading by the poet himself.

All Voice Alpha readings of ‘Wonder Woman.’

Collin’s reading

Kristin’s comments

I love hearing Collin’s voice, that slight Southernness that is an interesting counterpoint to Nic’s accent.

I thought the part that describes the costume was a bit rushed. I almost missed a few words, and I wondered if I hadn’t already heard the poem numerous times (thus I knew what was being said), if I would have had more trouble with that part.

On the other hand, I approve of the words that Collin emphasizes by drawing out the enunciation of them: “magic,” “ounce,” “manly” and “dad.”

I feel the wistful tone of his voice, the slight underlying sadness there, fits the poem’s tone.

The more I read/hear this poem, the more it seems like a love letter of sorts to patient parents. Suddenly I have a yearning to go back through all my poetry anthologies just to see how many poems there are that remember poets’ parents in this way. I’m willing to bet it’s a recent phenomena.

Ah, well, that’s a subject for a different day, for an academic paper perhaps.

Overall, I found this reading a pleasurable listen.

Donna’s comments

I agree with Kristin- Colin’s reading has a lovely sense of light-hearted nostalgia, added to by his accent.

I also thought the poem seemed a little rushed, but very conversational. I noticed and liked the same emphasized words as Kristin, but I also liked the way he gave a sense of resignation to the words “Superman” and “Batman” as if those were wistful, fatherly dreams that would never be fulfilled.

Colin’s reading was several seconds shorter than several of the others, and it did seem to go quickly. I think that his delivery, if slowed just a bit, would allow the reader to grasp the intricacies of emotion on first listen.

Carolee’s comments

I wanted Collin to slow down during the description of the costume, but once he arrived at the narrative about the father’s true wishes, the energy served the poem well.

Since we talked about the other readers struggling with what words to emphasize in their readings, I want to mention that the stressed (and un-stressed) words in this version seemed just right to me. For example, his tone is clear that “more than the dolls, mind you” was an aside, and he hits the action verbs “lassoed” and “demanded” hard enough that we feel — and can visualize — their superhero qualities.

Dave’s comments

For the most part, I agree with Kristin and Donna’s comments. But what they call rushed, I heard as intense, in a headlong, slam-contest kind of way that I tend to find exciting and engrossing. In fact, this reading (made, it should be noted, before Collin heard any of our takes, but after we had all recorded them, so that there was no influence in either direction) reminds me of what poetry readings by the author can sometimes contribute that readings by others cannot, especially where the subject matter is autobiographical. Kristin is spot-on about the sense of relationship between the narrator and his parents that Collin’s reading evokes. How come none of us were able to bring that out, or even hear it on our own?

Getting down to the nitty-gritty: I thought he nailed the delivery of the line “but there was no magic in those rough, twisted fibres.” In fact, the reading really took off at that point. The opening lines, up through “be Wonder Woman,” were also very strong. I did think he trailed off a bit too much at the end. The other weak points, for me, were the rising intonation at the beginning of “wrapped around my seven-year-old sunken chest” and the pause before “made of cardboard.”

Like all the other readings we’ve heard this week (including, Lord knows, my own) this was imperfect, but somehow the imperfections were less of an issue. I’m genuinely surprised that this turned out to be my favorite reading of the poem.

Nic’s comments

Dear Collin – I loved your reading! I’m a sucker for a Southern accent, and I was aware that that fact predisposed me to like the reading from the get-go. I reminded myself of what I have previously said on the topic, in this post talking about the elements of a good reading:

Additional important note to self: In fairness to both the reader and the poetry, be sure to identify and clearly separate out your reaction (whether positive or negative) to factors beyond the reader’s control, such as regional accent, the sound of the reader’s voice, and any speech impediments she may have.

When I consciously separated your regional accent from the rest of the reading, I still liked it. Your enunciation was excellent, your base-note tone conversational and overlaid with good emotional variety, and I didn’t have any problems with your pacing. You read faster than the rest of us, but I think the poem’s content can support different pacings and your pace brought an energy to the poem that show-cased the content well. I found the reading of the costume portion not as strong as the second half (from lassoing ‘my poor father’ on), but part of that could be structural, as Donna pointed out in her comments on Dave’s reading. There was a sort of intimate tenderness in the second half that I found very touching, and I agree with Dave that your reading of your own poem likely here brought something to the piece the rest of us did not.

Where there could be improvement, I thought, was on the breath control side. I could hear you take breaths in what to me felt like random places in the text and this slightly undermined the reading for me. I’ve marked the places where I thought breathing could have been better placed in the text below with double asterisks. Looking at the text with the asterisks and listening to your reading as a whole, I see that you seem to have a tendency to view line breaks as occasions for breathing. While this frequently makes aural and substantive sense, I would counsel against automatically equating line breaks with breath-taking, as that can really interrupt the flow of meaning when the poem is being read aloud, as opposed to being read on the page. Finally on breath control, with the lines and the length of rope my father had / spray-painted gold in the yard I thought you sounded as if you were running out of breath and only just made it to ‘yard.’

The day I told my parents I wanted to trade in
**G.I. Joe for Wonder Woman ** must have set off alarms.
I wanted to surrender my guns for the golden lasso,
more than the dolls, mind you, I wanted to be
Wonder Woman.
I don’t remember who stitched the costume,
blue underwear with glued on stars, a red bustier
**wrapped around my seven-year-old sunken chest,
the golden eagle oddly deflated.
The headband and bullet-deflecting cuffs ** made
of cardboard and the length of rope my father had
spray-painted gold in the yard hooked at my side.
I lassoed my poor dad first, demanded the truth,
but there was no magic in those rough, twisted fibers.
If the rope ** could have squeezed out an ounce
of what he was really thinking,
I would have been dressed up as Superman or Batman,
a manly cape flying out behind me as I ran
**around the back yard, hidden from the neighbors,
while my dad devised a way to build
Wonder Woman’s **invisible plane.

There’s a quite a bit of stuff about basic breath control on the internet (here and here for example – yes, it’s always for speakers and singers and not for poets – don’t get me started!), with suggested exercises to help one build and better control one’s breath capacity. One thing I find helpful when reading aloud a piece that confuses me breath-wise, is to go through the text and actually mark the places where I will take a breath, to avoid random breathing.

Again, much enjoyed your reading. Thanks for letting us read your poem and for sending in your own reading, Collin. I’ve enjoyed this week with Wonder Woman!

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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.

2 thoughts on “Collin Kelley reads ‘Wonder Woman’

  1. Thanks to everyone who read the poem this week and commented on my reading. Dave hit the nail with his comment about rushed vs. urgency. This poem, I believe, should be rushed at the beginning – to convey childlike excitement – and then slow down as the weight of the issue sinks in. And there is almost a breathlessness about the description of the costume itself, which I think also adds to the excitement. This has been a fascinating experiment and has been a bright spot this week while I’ve been snowbound here in Atlanta. Cheers!

  2. i’m very glad we had the chance to hear the author read his poem.
    i feel the reading was satisfactory. i do feel awkward commenting on how it “should” be read, since he is the author, but…i do feel that reading poetry is every bit as much of an art as the writing of it and i don’t believe all poets read their works “the best.” i don’t feel the author has captured–with his voice–all of the color, mood, and nuance that i felt when i read it “in my own head.”

    Obviously, i’m not a performer, or a critic with credentials. i’m simply a member of the audience. And i care about poetry. For me, Collin’s performance did not get in the way of his poem.

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