Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


‘how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing’

Couldn’t resist this one. Beyond the fact that it seems to be some sort of ecstatic religious aubade, no idea what this poem is saying. And I find the reading overly-dramatic, not to say histrionic. But am still caught by the reader’s near-ecstatic enthusiasm for the words. See what you think.

The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by Hugh Schwartzberg (poem text)

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‘We shape our self’

Interesting recitation here from UK poet David Whyte. The poet has memorized the poem, but not to full fluency and accuracy. He flubs the wording a few times, and uses the technique of repetition to help him over thin gaps. It’s only when you look at the text that you can see where the repetition is unintended. In the video, it sounds as if the repetitions might be part of the piece.

Working Together by David Whyte (poem text)


a cool recitation learning tool

A great recitation learning tool from the folks out Poetry Out Loud. (hat tip: the Commercial Poetry blog.) The text at the top of the page frames the intent in presenting below nine videos of young performers, each reciting a different poem in their own performance style. The idea is for teachers to view the videos with students and discuss what the class feels worked or did not work in the performances. What a terrific initiative. Just for fun, my own take on the nine videos (I can’t link to them individually, so you have to watch them at the Poetry Out Loud link):

1. Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem by Gregory Corso
Although good understanding of the material was evident and diction good, I’m afraid I found this one a little over-rehearsed and therefore less convincing.

2. Forgetfulness by Billy Collins
He nailed it – fully agree with the performance assessment appearing underneath the video. This struck me as the best of the nine videos, along with No. 4 below.

3. Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat
Mixed peformance here – moments of great timing and perfect tone, gesture & expression, but also some overdone moments. More good stuff than weaker stuff overall, though.

4. Sonnet CXXX: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun by William Shakespeare
Super performance. Deliberately a bit larger than life and humorous, fantastic diction, expression and timing. Best of the bunch in my view, along with No. 2 above.

5. Frederick Douglass by Robert E. Hayden
I liked this a lot. Was a bit slow to start with, but the style grew on me quickly. Loved the slow deliberate pace and her confidence in the material. Favorite moments were the snap of her fingers on ‘action’ and her voice/facial expression when she said ‘alien.’ Could have varied the agonized facial expression a little more, but overall, great job.

6. I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Nice job. Kudos to the performer for taking on a such a long piece, with that risky repetitive “I am waiting” as its backbone. She worked well to vary her delivery, exudes confidence and joy, nicely mixes satire and sincerity. Great diction and presence.

7. The Man-Moth by Elizabeth Bishop
Very well prepared and delivered – another long one at over 4 minutes. Agree with the assessment underneath the video: “His skillful and deliberate pacing, rhythm, and intonation complement the poem’s language and its subtle shift in mood—from observation to intimacy. His gestures are economical and flow through the poem as an integral part of the recitation, working deftly to heighten its overall impact.” One minor gripe (and this is very personal and rather amorphous, even to me) was that I would have liked to have seen a little more humility before the material on the part of the performer. If that even makes sense…

8. Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
A difficult piece to take on, but a good try. Felt a bit over-rehearsed in places to me, but loved the delivery of the last couple of lines: “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:/ Praise him.”

9. Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams
This didn’t really work for me. I found the half-grin facial expression that kept coming back a bit distracting, and the slow pacing seemed over-emphasized to me. A brave attempt, though, and good mastery of the material.


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