Dear Voice Alpha: In response to your impassioned plea for a brave poetic soul to step forward to accept friendly advice on their reading technique from the Voice Alpha gang, I attach a poem sound file of Möbius (originally published at Umbrella Journal where it received a 2010 Best of the Net nomination) read by my husband, W.F. Lantry, the resident professional poet.
Obviously, the poem is his own work, and I admit that it wasn’t until we had made the sound file, after many, many false starts and discarded takes, that I reread the guidelines and saw that you prefer the poem to be someone else’s. Well, it may be more instructive for Bill to read his own poem so you can hear his often slavish attachment to the iambic pentameter – his preferred form, sometimes at the expense of the meaning. He smoothed out several lines after hearing how it sounded, but finally admitted that he and I have a ‘theological’ disagreement over how to read. I would go for meaning over iambic pentameter accents every time. Even after we put the poem into sentences and removed all the line breaks, he still read it in pentameter. Is this some form of poetic heresy on one of our parts? Perhaps we should invoke an inquisition into offenders against the Canon. We’ll let you decide….
Awaiting the decision of the Tribunal,
on behalf of W.F. Lantry
Voice Alpha responds:
Dear Kate: I’m with you in preferring meaning over meter in the reading of this poem. The meter will underlie the reading, anyway, so you can trust it rather than emphasize it. I think the reading would be more musical and more mobius-like, more winding and seamlessly flowing, if the poem is read at a slightly faster pace, respecting the enjambment of lines by carrying the voice past the line break onto the next line without a noticeable pause–a pulse of awareness would be OK, but not an actual pause. There are enough places where the line has end punctuation, or a dash, or a colon, and there a pause is fine, but the poem needs the energy of flow and meaning to come through fully. Respecting the grammar and punctuation in general (the mid-line commas) will reinforce the meaning, which is good. Right now, this is leaning toward sounding artificial, and since the art of it is there, I think letting it lean more toward the natural will keep the listener with you, listening.
Dear Kate: I concur with both your assessment and Kathleen’s. This is a beautiful technically-accomplished poem on the page. In Bill’s reading, the volume, clarity of diction and breath control are all good, but I feel the reading suffers in pace and quality from over-enunciation and from an over-emphasis on technical tools (meter and line breaks) that should buoy, but are instead weighing down, the performance. My impression is one of technical ‘over-explaining,’ which evidences to me a lack of trust, both in the text and in the audience.
I think there is a risk inherent in reading one’s own work to an audience. When you read someone else’s work, you are ‘explaining’ the poem to the audience. When you read your own work, in addition to ‘explaining’ the poem, I think you also have the opportunity – and run the risk of trying – to explain yourself. This latter process, if it kicks in, naturally undermines your trust in both the text and the audience, and from that it is a short step to ‘over-explaining.’
Let’s say reading a poem aloud is like making a model of a woman using green modeling clay. The risk when you read your own work is that as you make the green lady model which explains the poem, you may also be tempted to stick on additional bits of yellow modeling clay which explain yourself and where you were coming from when you wrote the poem. However, since those yellow ‘self’ bits inevitably lack context and relevance for the audience, the latter usually only end up wondering why there are yellow lumps on the beautiful green lady.
Bill is clearly a very accomplished poet who has a wonderfully visceral relationship with words-as-voice – he obviously lives, tastes, and feels them with great sensitivity. I would love to hear Bill read someone else’s work.
Dear Kate: At first I liked the measured voice, the slow cadence. Then it began to annoy me. I noticed the pauses after certain words, and I wasn’t sure why they were there (to emphasize the word? Because we were at the end of a line?). The pauses began to distract me, and I began to lose the meaning of the poem. The voice itself, on the other hand, was easy on the ears–no annoyances with the actual quality of the voice.
Dear Kate: I agree with Kristin – the slow, unvaried cadence interfered with the meaning of the poem for me. I felt disconnected from the reader and thus from the poem. Reading the poem on the page, I was impressed with the beauty of the language and the sound choices. I felt that some of that was lost in the audio version of the poem.
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