Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


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survival of the fittest – written word vs spoken word?

(cross-posted at Very Like A Whale)

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.

[...]

It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.


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using text vs voice in videopoems

[cross-posted from Very Like A Whale because I think it's relevant to the Voice Alpha ethos]

I wrote this a few weeks ago with the first text-only videopoem I made:

I remembered that in Tom Konyves’ videopoetry manifesto, he categorized videopoems according to their usage of text, with two key distinctions drawn between sound text and visual text. (He also asserted that visual text is ‘charged with leading’ the videopoetry genre, although I’m not sure I agree with that.) I realized that what with Whale Sound and Voice Alpha and now this interest in videopoetry, I’ve been engaged with ‘sound’ text almost exclusively for months now. The idea of making a videopoem without voice and with only visual text was therefore appealing.

I’ve now put together three vpoems with text only and no voice (links at bottom of this post). This is what I have learned so far, and, very interested, continue to ponder:

- Text is not a ‘poor relation’ to voice in videopoems. Not sure why or how I had absorbed this ‘fact’, but I had. Text is a different mechanism from voice. In videopoems text can be as strong (or stronger, if the voice alternative available is relatively weak) a mechanism as voice.

- Text used in videopoems is not like text on the page – it is more a text/voice hybrid, a halfway mark between both.

- This is probably because a) text on the page is a block, all visible, all together, in front of you while b) voice is a ribbon of sound unfurling for you – each word takes the place of the previous one, which disappears in front of it.

-Text in a videopoem takes on the ‘ribbon unfurling’ aspect of voice – each word takes the place of the previous one, which disappears in front of it.

- Text can be an active, communicative character in the performance that is videopoem.

- Text-as-ribbon can very competently (or more competently, depending on the strength of the voice alternative available) convey the nuances that voice-as-ribbon conveys – font, font size, text animation, sound/sense byte, pace – all these are elements that can convey feeling, cadence, tone, emotion.

- Text-as-ribbon, like voice-as-ribbon, is not a great respecter of linebreaks and other page-centric devices – the best way to present a sound/sense byte as text on the screen is not necessarily the way it is laid out on the page.

- Videopoem makers who are tired of or don’t trust the sound of their own voice need not be limited by the ‘voicings’ available to them, by whatever means – have at it with text, people!

Text-only videopoems:

the situation on Thursday by Nic Sebastian
you never thought by Nic Sebastian
No. XLII by e. e. cummings


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“Why We Still Hate Poetry Readings”

Missed this anti-reading/pro-recitation post when it came out in April at the Contemporary Poetry Review:

…reading your verse has an impact in terms of the performance of your poems before a live audience, and that impact is negative. The poet reciting his verse can make use of the actor’s craft—not least of which are gesture and expressiveness—to perform the poem dramatically. By comparison, the poet reading his verse is a humble creature in front of an audience: eyes down on the page, body behind a lectern, mouth in front of a microphone. The poet-reader presents his audience with nothing in terms of his presence (or “visual impact”) but only as a disembodied voice to be heard—much like a school teacher’s lecture. Therein lies a fatal flaw: the audience has come, not to be taught, but entertained. This kind of “poetry reading” is thus an absurdity: the non-performance of verse by a poet in front of a live audience. The poet who can only read his work should, ipso facto, not be in front of an audience, ever.

This week, the folks at Commercial Poetry take up the refrain in this post.


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a poet needs her mouth!

The left side of Patricia Smith’s face temporarily frozen by the effect of a virus and how it affects her:

I never realized how tightly the way I sound is connected to what I want to say. The minute I’ve written something, I begin looking for a way to say that something out loud. And yes, I’ve read mythic tales of poets who hate the sound of their own voices, who are content to have their words inked, bound, and therefore relatively accessible. Me? I believe that words are meant to touch the page for a tiny little instant. They don’t truly live until they’ve ridden the air.

But now my stanzas come halting and lazed. I have to slow my speech and enunciate. I’m terrified that I will speak and not be understood, that the full meaning beneath those words will be lost within the newly-slurred mechanics of my deadened half.

How can I say this? I am a poet. I need my whole mouth back. My pen can’t do it alone.


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stage vs page

From an interview with Andrew Kozma at 32 Poems blog:

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why?

I seem them as powerful in different ways. Spoken word and performance poetry have more to do with the skill of the writer as a performer than they do with the power of the poetry itself. A brilliant performer can bring you to tears with your tax return. Because of this, it’s hard to tell from a performance whether the poetry stands on its own as poetry because the voice of the performer gets in the way. In addition, spoken word is crowd-oriented, meaning that your reaction is somewhat determined by the reactions of those around you. It’s a communal experience.

Written poetry, on the other hand, is intensely private. Even if you like the same poets and love the same books as another person, chances are that you are receiving different things from the poems, and that those things are different than what the writer intended. Text is like e-mail in this: the skill of the writer narrows the field of what the reader interprets, but it is still an interpretation.


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BAP poetry out loud posts

I blogged at the Best American Poetry blog Feb 27 thru March 5 and most posts were ‘poetry out loud’ posts. Just getting all the links into the record here:

Poetry out loud: Must-visit websites
Poetry out loud: Group reading
Poetry out loud: Page vs stage
Poetry out loud: Voice as organ of investigation
Poetry out loud: Audio chapbooks & other methods of poetry delivery
Poetry out loud: Singing poetry

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