Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

the end-of-line note


Petersen: Kleichen and a Man by George Szirtes
50 secs, poem text

Most days, I listen to someone reading poetry, even if it’s just clicking on the Poetry Foundation Poem of the Day in my news reader. I also stop listening very quickly if it doesn’t go right, and by that, I mean, does the reader establish an end-of-line or end-of-phrase note and keep returning to it throughout the reading? If not, I’ll keep listening. George Szirtes (about whom I know pretty much nothing else) avoids this phenomenon, and I like that.

Test your own reading. Pretend the reading is a musical performance for a solo instrument and listen to the note that sounds at the end of most lines or phrases. If you hear the same end-of-line note repeated throughout the reading, go back and deliberately vary it each time. It’s a trap easily fallen into (speaking from experience here) but, once identified and acknowledged, also easily escaped from. (See comments below for an example).

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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.

7 thoughts on “the end-of-line note

  1. Helpful advice. I think that may be where a few of my readings fail. I’ll give it some serious consideration as I listen to them. Thank you.

    This reading was spot on, by the way, and I very much liked the poem.

  2. Hi David, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Providing an illustration here, with a random example from Poem a Day – I hear the same note frequently repeated in this reading, and have marked the instances in bold: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/3590

    Now as she catches fistfuls of sun
    riding down dust and air to her crib,
    my first child in her first spring
    stretches bare hands back to your darkness
    and heals your silence, the vast hurt
    of your deaf ear and mute tongue
    with doves hatched in her young throat.

    Now ghost-begotten infancies
    are the marrow of trees and pools
    and blue uprisings in the woods
    spread revolution to the mind,
    I can believe birth is fathered
    by death, believe that she was quick
    when you forgave pain and terror
    and shook the fever from your blood

    Now in the thriving season of love
    when the bud relents into flower,
    your love turned absence has turned once more<
    and if my comforts fall soft as rain
    on her flutters, it is because
    love grows by what it remembers of love.

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