Ouch. Really a case where a poet would be so much better off getting someone else to read their poems for them.
A recitation, not a reading – very nicely done in my view.
A reading. I find it a tiny bit overdone, and would have wanted to have less emphasis on the outbreath in many places, but still, he definitely has what it takes.
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.
(Cross-posted from Very Like A Whale) Interesting reading from the folks at Commercial Poetry:
… poetry sales figures make it abundantly clear that no one buys poetry without performance of that poem, of that poet’s work or of poetry in general. Aside from the paltry numbers involved, the model of publishing a tome and then doing readings for a few dozen friends and fellow poets fails for two reasons:
- it must be a performance, not a reading; and,
- it is ass-backwards: live, film or theatrical production comes before any expectation of profitable text publication.
This was true even in poetry’s heyday. Shakespeare’s plays were not collected and published until well after he retired. How many copies would his scripts have sold without production? Just as you don’t buy MP3s of songs/artists you’ve never heard, interest in individual poets usually began with seeing their work performed, not necessarily by the poet*. If enough of that writer’s work caught your fancy you might buy the book or catch the author on tour. Contrast that to poetry’s status quo: to no one’s surprise, people who have never encountered a contemporary poem being performed competently are not enthused about reading any particular poem or poetry in general. How many Superbowl tickets are purchased by those who have never seen a football game?
I especially love the footnote corresponding to the asterisk above:
* The notion that anyone other than the author would want to perform a contemporary poem seems utterly foreign to today’s poets. As long as this is the case there is no hope for poetry’s reanimation.
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:
Attending reading series with the devotion of a zealot has not only enabled me to construct the supportive network my writing life so lacked, it has also—and I never saw this coming—improved my work. Whether a writer steps behind a microphone to brave a cheapo sound system and a sea of empty chairs, or alights before a standing-room-only crowd; something important happens when a writer shares his work out loud. There are lessons to be learned from attending reading series. Here’s what I’ve learned so far: