Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


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‘I am a sound geek, plain and simple’

We are very pleased to feature the following guest post by K.R. Copeland, a Pushcart nominated poet, editor and freelance creative. She describes herself as a left of irreverent fan of humor, horror, snark, pop culture, art, nature and all things audible. She even adores her boyfriend’s snoring. She recently established the Facebook group Audio Files as a venue for sharing noteworthy sounds and audio projects.

I am a sound geek, plain and simple. Always have been, always will be. Ever since receiving my first Fisher-Price Child’s Phonograph, back in the 1970’s, I’ve been a hopeless audiophile.
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I fondly recall listening to children’s songs and nursery rhymes for hours on end, memorizing, imitating, and wailing away, much to my parents’ chagrin. When I was about 12, I upgraded to a cabinet stereo/phonograph, not entirely unlike this one:
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Music was an integral part of my existence; an everyday escape, a panacea. I would listen to the lyrics and the voices and my imagination would run wild. Something inside me ignited. And then, I discovered poetry. At that time, there was not much in the way of spoken word recordings, or, at least not to my knowledge, but I quickly recognized the familiar cadence when reading the rhymesters aloud, and again, I was in love. Smitten with the musicality of language!

The next seemingly obvious step in my sound-driven evolution came by way of:
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Yes! Now the sophomoric poetry and lyrics I was beginning to write could be endured by all (within earshot). I mean, my parents did not have to be in the same room, or even on the same level of the house, to hear what I had to offer, thanks to the amplification of good old Mr. Microphone!

I studied poetry and literature throughout my school career, and continued writing and honing my craft. My first publication credit came by way of a local newspaper, which published a little Valentine’s ditty I’d written. I was 22. Since then I have published umpteen poems in text form, and produced a couple chapbooks to boot.

More recently I decided to delve into the great wide world of audio poetry, which the internet makes available in grandiose doses. I was incredibly excited to see/hear what people were doing with sound poetry, especially when coupled with music. Again, I branched out. Purchased a Zoom H1 handheld recorder, as recommended by an audio specialist:
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This lower-end starter microphone is compact, easy to use and allows for storage and upload of both MP3 and WAV files. The sound quality and noise reduction, in addition to simplicity of use make this a great tool for neophytes like me. Still, I needed more boost. A friend suggested Audacity, a free online, professional sound editing system.
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The Audacity program allows for upload of multiple tracks, which you can edit, amplify, mix, match and remaster, all from the comfort of your own living quarters. With the help of these two products, I have successfully created multiple musical poetry tracks. Here is an example (using free audio hosting at SoundCloud):

As I broaden my horizons, I find myself wanting to know more about the ins-and-outs of quality recording. This brings us to present day. I have created an audio group on Facebook called, Audio Files, a friendly, supportive community for others like me, to share their recorded work, the works of others, their trials and errors, and any and all information on the subject of sound. All are welcome to come hear, share and be merry, one audio file at a time.


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Who should read at poetry readings? – handy-dandy decision-making aid

There was a great deal of discussion recently on Facebook, on the Wompo Listserv (scroll down to Mon Oct 14 at 8.44am for subject ‘Recruit actors to do the reading at poetry readings?’) and at Very Like A Whale on one of our recent posts about recruiting actors to do reading at poetry readings. In following the discussion, I realized that at the end of the day there really is no ‘right’ answer as to who should read what at poetry readings (whether in-person, audio recording, etc). It isn’t a zero-sum, either/or question and the ‘right’ answer depends on your objectives.

So, what is the purpose of the reading event? When you consider the possible range of objectives, all of us should probably be doing ‘all of the above’ when it comes to poetry reading, and preferably all in equal measure, rather than hewing to the same formula (poet reads own poems to audience) 95% of the time. So, for example, consider the following preliminary handy objective-based aid to poetry-reading decision-making:

When to read your own poems to an audience:
- you want to convey to an audience what your poems mean to you.
- you want to improve your own public poetry-reading skills.
- you want to sell your poems.

When to seek others to read your poems for you (actor, fellow-poet, non-poet, whichever):
- you want to learn what nuances, connections & messages others perceive in your poems, particularly those you did not consciously intend to convey (which in turn will make you both a better poet and a more self-aware human being).
- you don’t yet have enough confidence in your public poetry-reading ability for the occasion.
- you want to learn how to improve delivery of your own poems by watching how others handle them.
- you want to sell your poems.

When to seek out opportunities to read others’ poems for an audience:
- you want to honor their work and improve your understanding of it (bearing in mind that what goes into and what you get out of reading aloud for an attentive audience differs materially and exponentially from muttering fragments aloud to yourself while you read on the couch).
- you want to practice the art & science of getting into someone else’s head (which in turn will make you both a better poet and a more self-aware human being).
- you want to find out if you are – or already know you are – better at presenting others’ poems than you are at presenting your own (apparently happens more than one would think).
- you want to improve your own public poetry-reading skills.
- you want to sell your poems.

I commend once again the excellent Voice Alpha blog post by Rachel Dacus on this and related themes.


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For Dummies series: ‘Why You Should Read Poems Aloud’

Found the entry below on the For Dummies website. I like When you read poetry aloud, read it as though you were delivering the poem to an attentive audience. Yes, muttering to oneself as one writes or reads really doesn’t count. To be useful, reading aloud has to be full attention and full respect, aimed at an audience:

When you read poetry aloud, read it as though you were delivering the poem to an attentive audience. Why? Here are the three most important reasons you should read poetry aloud:

Poets design their poems to be read aloud. The earliest poetry was oral. People chanted it, sang it, recited it — and they still do. From its earliest forms to the poems being written today, poetry has kept its close alliance with speaking and singing.

The music of poetry — that is, its sounds and rhythms — isn’t just for the eye and the mind, it’s meant to be given voice. In fact, as they write, most poets imagine someone reading their poems aloud. Poetry is supposed to be a living thing, and poets write accordingly, with an audience in mind.

– You’ll experience the whole poem if you read it aloud. Poems read aloud are different animals from poems read silently. A big part of poetry is sound and rhythm — and the best way to get the full impact of these important elements is to put them into action by pronouncing them with your own throat, lungs, teeth, lips, and tongue.

Sound and rhythm don’t exist just for their own sakes, either; they exist to give you pleasure (because humans naturally like music and rhythm in poetry) and lead you to the poem’s meanings. Commas, spaces between words, line endings, and other pauses may hint at melancholy, hesitancy, or passion. Punctuation has its traditional functions (exclamations! questions? wistfulness . . .), and it often also is used in unexpected ways — or not used at all. You may miss all these signals if you don’t read aloud.

– You’ll understand and remember more if you read aloud. Memory and understanding are everything. If you remember something and understand it, it takes up long-term residence inside your brain. And then you can use that knowledge as a building block to discover more and more about the world of poetry.

– From Poetry For Dummies by John Timpane


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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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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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using voice to investigate and internalize

Love this post from Anthony Madrid.

When I was in the middle phase of dissertation writing, I developed a technique of reading I found so helpful and enriching that I want to urge it upon the whole world. This technique is a simple thing—“obvious”—yet I was forty before it ever occurred to me to do it. Now I can’t imagine my life as a serious reader of poetry without it. I’ll tell you the back story.

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