Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

Reading an incantatory poem


A very interesting reading by Thomas Lux in this video by Jeff Saunders for Motionpoems — a good example, I think, of how to tackle an incantatory poem.

Author: Dave Bonta

I'm the author of several small, odd books, including Breakdown: Banjo Poems, Words on the Street: An Inaction Comic, and Odes to Tools, but my real work is at my literary blog Via Negativa. I'm the editor and publisher of Moving Poems, a webzine showcasing videopoetry and poetry film. And I've been a dedicated if somewhat unorthodox homebrewer for more than 20 years.

8 thoughts on “Reading an incantatory poem

  1. Please note that this is not the only way to read such a poem. It might not even be the way I would do it. But I liked the intensity.

  2. As an ex-drama teacher trained in and professionally concerned with the delivery of language to an audience, I’d have to observe that this breaks most of the rules. Words get mangled, breath control in the service of line lengths and general coherence is non-existent and the vocal tone is monotonous and hectoring. But it works. When Leroi Jones declaimed, “It’s the sound that matters”, he didn’t have in mind Dylan Thomas warbling ‘Fern Hill’ any more than Jones’ contemporary Charlie Parker was overly concerned with bar lengths or conventional tonality.

    When literal meaning is not the principal concern of the poem then words have a different oral role to perform, one related much more to the performance context of music. It seems to me that the percussive and incantatory nature of this reading serves their needs within the piece perfectly.

  3. OK, Mr. ex-drama teacher trained in and professionally concerned with the delivery of language to an audience, you have to send us a blog post! (Focused on poetry, mind.)

    (I’m with you on the breath control issues in particular – they really spoiled this one for me, but the well-executed video concept did in some measure compensate.)

    • See, I actually thought the video was a bit of a distraction: though beautifully executed, it interprets the text rather a bit too literally for my taste. (Which isn’t to say I won’t still blog it at Moving Poems at some point.)

  4. I hope Dick doesn’t mind my pointing out that you can hear him reading a number of his own poems at qarrtsiluni.

  5. Big Mouth strikes again!

    Never explain, never apologise. Dead right, so here comes the explanation. All of my recorded poems were done late at night when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Hence the hushed, sex-pest-on-phone delivery. In the cold light of day I’d be going for it at volume.

    And doesn’t that intro to my previous comment look arrogant? ‘Trained…professionally concerned’. What a ponce!

    • No, it doesn’t look arrogant — at least not to this Yank. (I realize we may have some cultural differences regarding what we consider to be appropriate levels of self-assertion.) And I linked to those readings because I liked them and think them worthy of study and emulation.

  6. Can we not get side-tracked?? How about that guest-blogger post Dick is going to write for Voice Alpha?

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