The Obsoletion of a Language by Kay Ryan
Winter Solstice Chant by Annie Finch
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.
Wow, listen to this freaky amazing poem and watch how tremendously Scottish poet Robin Robertson delivers it! I’m bowled over by the performance. It’s all terrific, but for whatever reason, I’m loving that slow eye-closing thing that he does periodically most of all. (From the Guardian’s Close-up poetry series.)
In other Close-up poetry news, a nice reading from Scottish poet Liz Lochhead here. Relaxed yet focused delivery and she makes us feel the menace and tension. As mother of two boys, had to laugh in emotional recognition – I bet I’ll be the same when my boys are old enough!
The physical side of getting old is generally about getting stiffer, slower and more wrinkled. I was recently reminded that our voices, also, age with us, and get stiffer, slower and more wrinkled. (And yes, of course I *knew* they did, but I have to confess I didn’t really *know* it.)
At the Woodberry Poetry Room’s Listening Booth you can listen to Denise Levertov in 1960, and then, further down on the same page, in 1986. Hear the voice difference.
Why do I even point this out, since we all *know* we get old, all over, and all at the same time? I don’t really know, but I have been thinking about this particular aspect of aging — of voice — today. I can’t decide which of the Levertov readings I prefer, and whether the change in voice quality has any relevance at all.
Here is Hilda Dootlittle up at Penn Sound reading from Helen In Egypt. A very old voice, but still reading beautifully.
Noun: The character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity.
Regional or other accent, the timbre/quality/sound of one’s voice and speech impediments such as lisps are three things pretty much out of control of most who read aloud for an audience. They should really be discounted when judging the quality of a reading. Do we discount them? Probably not as much as we should.
And so, thankless and perverse as my character is, I have been focusing, as you will have noticed, on these three elements in listening to the Poetry Foundation poem of the day for the past few weeks.
The voice of the reader of today’s poem is singled out, not for accent or lisp, but for wonderful-soundingness, or great timbre.
Unfortunately (hallo, Poetry Foundation…?) I don’t know whose voice this is. The notes tells us that Håkan Sandell is a Swedish poet who has lived most of his life in Scandinavian countries. They tell us that the English text of the poem is a translation done by Bill Coyle, but nothing tells us who does this particular reading.
Whatever the case, it’s a very nice voice.
Poetry Rejoices by Håkan Sandell
I’m not particularly bowled over by the reading performance in the reading below by Eleanor Ross Taylor, but I am bowled over by her terrific North Carolina accent. Personal prejudice, I admit — I’m a sucker for a southern US accent. There is an interesting Wikipedia entry on her ‘southernness’ which alas, doesn’t mention her voice. The Wikipedia also entry mentions her ‘use of both metrical and nonmetrical lines’, and after reading that, I wonder whether/how she writes in/scans the extra syllable the North Carolinian accent adds to words like appear, chair, here in her metrical lines.