It may be a good reading, but I can’t tell – it’s so slooooooow.
We talked a while back about people who, while they read, appear to hear a music which both guides and manifests itself in their reading. Cin Salach and Carl Sandburg are my favorite examples of this phenomenon. (NB: They do it well, and engagingly, but I have also heard it done excruciatingly badly.)
Here we have it again, in the voices of two Norwegian poets who do the readings for these two delightful videopoems by Kristian Pedersen (via Moving Poems):
(And just in case you think all Norwegian poets read like this, you can check out more Kristian Pedersen filmpoems at Moving Poems – Norway definitely has its fair share of non-singing poets.)
This is great. Please skip directly to minute 34 for Paley reading her poems. Before that, she reads a couple of short stories, and before that, there’s a lot of intro stuff (Pinsky) and another reader. After that, you get about 30 minutes of Grace Paley reading Grace Paley poems (with some sweet/funny pauses while she gets absorbed in looking for the exact poem she wants among her sheaves of paper). This reading took place in April 2007, when she was 84. She died in August 2007.
I’m a big fan of Grace Paley’s poetry, as various Very Like A Whale posts have shown. Sadly, though, liking a poet’s poems is never any guarantee that one will like that poet’s reading of his or her poems. In this case, however, we are definitely lucky.
So what do we have in this You Tube video? A short, elderly lady with big glasses, a red hat, a gravelly old-lady voice and a pronounced New York accent. She doesn’t look up at the audience much while she reads. She uses no hand gestures or body movements. And she looks tiny and unprepossessing behind the big lectern at which she stands.
She clearly has a wicked sense of humor and is just plain wise, but it’s not just that that makes her completely engaging. The first big thing she has in her favor from my perspective is that she reads the poems as if she’s talking to you – conversationally. No rising inflections or declamation, no plaintive lingering on the last word/syllable of a line, no self-conscious ahem, I am reading a poem voice. She is obviously a natural story-teller, which helps – lots of convincing variation in tone, pitch, pace. Clear delivery. Appropriation of the material. She is in the poem as she reads. To repeat what I said of a couple of different poets in a recent post: what you feel when Grace Paley reads is not: Here I am, reading my poem. What you feel is just: Here is my poem.
Lol, I love the energy and the humor in this Wallace Stevens reading.
Bantams in Pine-Woods
by Wallace Stevens (52 secs)
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.
To be honest, I don’t understand the poem. But I am still struck by what strikes me as the deep uncertainty of Creeley’s voice.
The Tunnel by Robert Creeley
poem text (42 secs)
Cross-posting a portion of a post I wrote at Very Like A Whale on Maya Angelou. I wrote in part:
As for Angelou’s poems, they did not work at all well on the page for me. The tradecraft was less noteworthy and I found her work lacked subtlety – was indeed often fairly raw, heavy-handed and sometimes even clunky. It’s easy to see where her considerable reputation comes from, though, if you do an internet search for her reciting her own work… She has a great, super-sensitive relationship with her words, a terrific voice and amazing delivery, which make her poems-as-voice much more formidable than her poems-as-text.
There aren’t that many recordings of her reading her own work online, but here are two videos that really do showcase her amazing delivery:
A Carolyn Forché reading up at the Poetry Foundation today. She reads well:
3 min 24 secs
I also LOVE this 1992 reading, which is part reading and part recitation from memory. What a performance!
A nice idea from the Guardian: “A series of readings, in which poets choose a favourite poem from their own work, and recite it to camera.”
There are two readings up so far. I enjoyed the understated comfortable – in both voice and visage – reading in this one by Yorkshire (love that accent..) poet Simon Armitage.
Not so much this one by Jo Shapcott – her voice and face are both trying too hard for my taste.
Look forward to seeing who goes up next – the site has an RSS feed so you can add it to your reader and get them as they are posted.