Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


poetry readings & copyright – best practices

Thanks to Dave Bonta for sharing this link. Much of interest, and this bit in particular for those who like to or are thinking of reading other people’s poems (definitely a best practice in itself!) at poetry readings:


DESCRIPTION: Live readings are a staple of the poetry scene in many communities across the United States. Frequently, readers are poets whose programs include both their own work and selections from the work of others. On occasion, poets and other readers also create programs that consist primarily of the work of poets they admire. On some occasions, these readings may constitute criticism or commentary on the works included, but that will not always be the case. Members of the poetry community strongly believe in the value of respect for poets and their work, and they generally agree that prior consent should when possible be obtained for the inclusion of particular poems in readings.

PRINCIPLE: Under fair use, a person other than the poet may read a poem to a live audience, even in circumstances where the doctrine otherwise would not apply, if the context is (1) a reading in which the reader’s own work also is included, or (2) a reading primarily intended to celebrate the poet in question.


Readers should present quoted passages or poems as accurately as possible, allowing for the nature of the performance event.

Readers should provide conventional attribution to source material as appropriate to the nature of the performance event.

Readers should refrain from the use of particular poems in an event if they are aware that the context would be (or would have been) objectionable to the poet, unless the use is permissible as commentary or criticism.

Subject to the same qualification, readers should not repeat uses to which the poet (or a qualified successor) has objected.

In events of type (1), readers should avoid disproportionate use of the work by one or a few poets in any particular reading; in events of type (2), readers should limit their reliance on fair use to one-time or occasional performances.

Readings that include unauthorized copyrighted poetry may be recorded for archival purposes but not be made generally available without permission from the poet (or qualified successor).

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Audio contest

from The Missouri Reviewdetails here.

(Hat tip: Christine Klocek-Lim)

Voice-Only Poetry

Poets are encouraged to enter an original poem or collection of poems for this category. Entries should not exceed 10 minutes total and may be solely author-read or contain other voices, tracks of sound, or music.

Judging will be based on the following criteria: literary merit, technical proficiency and, most importantly, how the author uses audio media to further the literary strength of his or her piece. We encourage writers and producers to make innovative use of recording technology as a means of furthering their literary craft.


Conversation with a reading coach

I had a great phone conversation last week with Mary Rose Betten. Mary Rose is a retired character actress, an essayist, playwright, poet and a reading coach!

I told her how excited I was to see a post from her on the WOM-PO Listserv which mentioned that she teaches people to read their work aloud.  I told her about Voice Alpha and how we started it in part because there seem to be so few resources available on the internet to anyone looking to build or hone their ‘reading poetry aloud’ skills. We talked about how little the poetry community in general seems to value the art of reading poetry aloud and how nearly all the focus of poetry-teaching and poetry-tradecraft is on the writing and on the page. What about voice? We all want to learn how to write poetry well, but, at the end of the day, who really cares about learning how to read poetry aloud well?

Mary Rose cares, that’s who!

Mary Rose works with both poets and with writers of fiction. She works best face-to-face, with groups, she said. The group synergy and back-and-forth and live individual demonstration is an integral part of her teaching methodology, so it’s hard to get an accurate idea of her she works through text alone. I understood that, but asked if she could summarize, for this blog post, some of the elements she focuses on in her group sessions. These are some of the things we talked about:

Pausing – Mary Rose said teaching people how to pause while reading is one of her biggest challenges. She encourages people to think of a pause as a live thing: “a pause is not dead air; a pause is fraught with meaning.” Pauses are a way to show you care about what you are reading – imagine helping a very old person move or lifting a baby, how carefully you put your arm around the person you are helping, how gently you cradle the baby’s head. Treat your words with the same care. Use pauses to give your audience time to absorb meaning and fully hear what you have said.

Stressing words – In order to build awareness of the possibilities and importance of stress in reading, Mary Rose says she will take a phrase like “I never said he stole your money,” and have the group repeat it, stressing a different word each time as an illustration of how stress changes meaning. “I never said he stole your money; I never said he stole your money” and so forth.

Group the words you read into ‘sense units’ and put a pause at the end of each unit – this gives your audience time to understand and absorb the sense unit.  Here Mary Rose gave the simple example of reading a phone number for someone to write down. We intuitively break the number up into manageable units – 703 pause 459 pause 2841. We don’t say 7 pause 03459284 pause 1, for example. The same with reading poems.

You at the podium – Use your position behind the podium. Mary Rose recommends you put your hands on the page and read along following your finger. With your finger marking your place at all times, you can feel comfortable raising your head, pausing, giving the audience ‘time to make pictures’ from your words. Breathe behind the podium – “take a big belly breath! No-one can see you do it behind the podium!” But no other body movement or gesticulating except lifting your head, Mary Rose says. “This is not about you or your personality, it’s about your words.”

Feeling words – this is not about drama and/or getting melodramatic, it’s about giving words their true emotional punch. Imagine someone close to you has fallen into a coma, Mary Rose suggests. You know they can still hear you and you want to get your words and meaning to them as convincingly and authentically as possible. Read your words like that – like they mean a whole lot to you and you are saying them to someone who also means a whole lot to you and only their sense of hearing connects you.

Volume – Another fear Mary Rose says she commonly sees is people reluctant to vary their volume and get LOUD or s-o-f-t.   “Dare to whisper! And don’t be afraid to get loud – it can be great fun,” says Mary Rose. “Take a big belly breath and just do it.”

Pace – Likewise. Vary your pace. The poem overall has a pace, but there are variations even within that overall pace. It doesn’t all have to sound the same – get fast or slow down, if that’s what the text wants, Mary Rose recommends.

Keep your voice up at the end of a sentence, says Mary Rose. This is part of showing that you care. Don’t let your voice drop or tail off at the end of sentences. Let the period be a signal to keep your voice up.

Most of all, says Mary Rose, remember that who you are and what you believe in – your true self – is in your words.  Remember that when you get up to read them aloud.

Mary Rose is available for group coaching sessions in the Hollywood/Santa Barbara area. Email mrbetten@VERIZON.NET for more information.


Mary Rose Betten is a retired character actress, essayist, playwright and Pushcart prize nominee for her first book of poetry:”Finding Your Best Angle, (Give This To An Actor”) Her chapbook, “The Prodigal Son’s Mother,” was selected book of the month for Finishing LIne Press. She won Women’s Artistic Network’s 2010 Carol E. Doering Prize, and serves as reading coach on the faculty of “A Room Of Her Own” and will direct “The Pepper Lane Review,” poetry reading at Center Stage Theatre, Santa Barbara, April 27th. Her poem and essay appear in Wompo’s anthology: “Letters To The World,”Red Hen Press her first chapbook was “Hanging Out With Loose Words,” Foothills Publishing, New York and her interview with host David Starkey on TV’s “The Creative Community,” won first place nationally. She will be a featured reader at The Carnegie Art museum, Oxnard, 02/12 sponsored by Poets and Writers magazine.


poetry-aloud websites: Hans Ostrom’s You Tube channel

(This is part of an occasional series of interviews focusing on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Hans Ostrom, who has his own poetry You Tube channel.)

What is the mission statement for your You Tube channel?

I don’t have a mission-statement. Instead I simply state that the channel features the reading of poetry, mostly by others, with a few by me. As things have turned out, I think my mission is to present poems I value, work by poets I’ve liked for a long time (Langston Hughes, Karl Shapiro, and W.H. Auden are good examples), lesser known poems by well known poets (Auden’s “Roman Wall Blues), and lesser known poems (like some poems from the Sanskrit)–pretty much in that order. Early on I discovered that the Spoken Verse Channel from Tom O’Bedlam had presented terrific readings of the very famous canonical poems, and there’s no point competing, as it were, with Tom.

Why did you start your You Tube channel?

Really I was first interested in the technology: how to record a poem on the cheap at home, and how and whether to make accompanying slide-shows. I’m also just an advocate of poetry in general and think more people should read it and engage with it. Then I really got interested in the recording itself, how it changes how one reads a poem. I’ve recorded over 400 now, but I hate the early ones and still feel I’m not a good reader. The learning curve is steep.

What made you choose You Tube as a platform rather than a blog or website or other internet platform?

A website seemed too complicated (for me), and I already have a blog called Poet’s Musings, on which I post my own poems, others’ poetry, brief essays on poems, etc. You Tube seemed to provide access to a wide audience and a fairly easy way to upload videos.

How frequently do you post and how do you choose your readings?

For a while I was posting up to three poems a week, but I’ve backed off from that. I’ll probably settle on one a week. Because it takes a while to edit the sound, I’m always on the lookout for short poems, and so I’ve rediscovered how long a lot of contemporary poems are. I also don’t mind reading “chestnuts” that hip readers of poetry would deride–like Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” or a poem by Robert Service, “Ordinary Men.” I’m trying to appeal to a variety of audiences, and I don’t want the channel to be elitist.

What percentage of readings are your own poems and what percentage are other people’s poems?

Probably 10 per cent of the poems, at most, are mine.

What are the differences in approach, rewards and challenges that come into play when you read other people’s poems, as opposed to your own?

Well, you want to do the poem justice, and to try to stay out of its way, so to speak. I tend to hate my voice, and my recording technique’s not perfect, but at least I get the poem out there, and even if people don’t like my reading, per se, they may enjoy the poem. If that’s the case, then I’ve done my basic job. If they like the reading and the poem both, so much the better.

What are your plans/hopes for the You Tube channel? Is there a next level to which you hope to take it?

I’d like to experiment with the visuals. Now I either create a slide-show of what I think are apt images, or I use the poem itself (the text) as the images. I start with a visual of some sort on the “title” panel, then usually have an image of the poet. I think I’d like to play with that basic format. There is a huge temptation to use sound gimmicks like reverb, etc., but I learned early on to avoid those, so I don’t want to experiment too much with sound. I’d like to learn how to present the text of poems in a greater variety of ways. I also want to read poems by newer poets, up-and-coming poets, and so on. People just breaking in. I’ve done a few of those already, like “Under,” by Hannah Stephenson.

The following sites also feature people reading other people’s poems aloud. Please comment briefly on each. How do they differ from or resemble your own site?

1. I’m very much in tune with How Pedestrian insofar as I think poetry should be a part of the culture at large and not so remote. I like the common touch of this site.

2. I like Belly Up, too–nicely produced readings, not overly dramatic, letting the poems speak for themselves, as it were. Nice selection of poems, too.

3. Classic Poetry Out Loud: a good “Old School” site. I was a bit bemused by the reference to “poetry from the past,” as all poetry is, technically, from the past; but I get their drift. I’d compare this channel to that of Spoken Verse on Youtube, and I’d give a slight edge to Spoken Verse, whose readings (by “Tom O’Bedlam,” also British) are a bit less predictable. Blessings on CPOL, nonetheless: what a great resource.

4. Whale Sound is terrific. I like the selection of poems, and I like the woman’s voice. It made me realize how relatively few sites like these seem to be from women. There are a lot of women reading on Youtube, but most of them seem to be individual poets reading “to” the computer screen–or recordings of Sylvia Plath, et al. So that is very refreshing.

I think really only two things distinguish my site from these–one is that a site like Classic Poetry Out Loud is very professional, in a BBC kind of way, whereas I’m still an amateur reader trying to get more skillful at production, etc. Second, I make slide-shows that either use the text of a poem or use images suggested by the poem. So my site is probably less for the purist listener, who may wish only to hear the poem.

Hans Ostrom is Professor of African American Studies and English at the University of Puget Sound. Read more about him here and here.


Recording Technology Advice Needed for the Not-Quite-Neophyte

Once upon a time, I could work with all types of technology, both old and new. I had a Sony Walkman, but I also knew how to thread the seemingly ancient reel-to-reel tape player in the college radio studio. In 1986, we did the layout for our college’s literary magazine on an Apple Macintosh, and I knew I had glimpsed the future. I remember the Internet before there was a World Wide Web, back when it was all text.

But somewhere along the way, technology has gotten out ahead of me, and in most cases, I’ve just let most technological developments leave me behind. In many cases, it pays not to be an early adapter. It’s better to let the developers work out all the bugs and kinks before I invest.

However, I often find myself overwhelmed by all the choices once we know that a particular technology is here to stay. Lately, it’s become clear to me that I need to pay more attention to the recent advances in recording technology.

I’ve only recently learned how to make recordings using the microphone and software included with my laptop. It’s easy enough, but I’m not happy with the way that the recordings sound. I wonder if there’s some technique that I’m missing, some way of talking into or at the laptop that would make my voice sound less tinny.

Here’s what I really want to know: at what point do I know for sure that I need to buy better technology?

If I just need to record a poem here and there for online journals that offer readers a chance to hear the poem, then maybe my laptop is fine. But then I wonder if having the better options in technology might open up new doors for me?

For example, would I play more with podcasts if I had better ways to make recordings? I used to work in college radio, and I miss it. I’m an NPR junkie from way back, and I imagine that creating a podcast series would help me feel like I’m working in a meaningful medium, a medium that until recently I thought was lost to me, once I graduated.

If I decide I need to invest in better technology, then I have another set of questions: what do I need to buy? Should I invest in top-of-the-line technology or do I just need whatever would be the cut above the basic equipment that comes with my computer?

And then, there’s a round of software questions. I know that software exists that will let me manipulate the recordings that I make. I can access some versions of this software free, from my school. But the last time I tried to do this, in 2006 or so, I found the software overwhelming. Do I really need to learn a new computer program? Or will most people be listening through inferior devices anyway, so it won’t be worth it to manufacture supreme sound quality?

I know I’m not the first person who has wrestled with these questions, but here, too, technology seems to be an equal mix of blessing and curse. There are lots of answers out there in the Internet realms. Who to trust? Globalization complicates the matter even further, because we now have many more choices than we once did, and many of them are affordable.

So, if you’re a poet who has wandered into the realms of audio production, and if you have some insights, it would be great to hear from you. What technology advice would you give to someone who’s not a complete novice, but nowhere near an expert?


poetry-aloud websites: Karsten Piper’s “Belly Up, it’s a Poetry Feed”

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Karsten Piper of Belly Up, it’s a Poetry Feed.

What is the mission statement for Belly Up?

The blurb at the bottom of the site reads:

Because a poem aloud is the rest of the poem on the page. Because I teach college writing and literature classes, many sections online, and want to grow a custom hoard of poems for students to hear read out loud. Because I’d rather be writing, myself, but don’t always, and reading aloud often makes me feel like doing the work again. And because you, friend, may discover something here that feeds your spirit or imagination a little bit.

That’s maybe more of an apologia than a mission statement, but it’s what I’ve got!

Why did you start Belly Up?

All the reasons in the previous answer, for sure.

Ever since I started teaching online about ten years ago, I’d had it in the back of my head to record a few poems each term and gradually fill my hard drive. I rarely got around to it, though. When a friend recommended People Reading Poems to me on Facebook last spring, I couldn’t shake how easy it would be to use a blog as my archive, and I started to think I might really enjoy it. Which I have!

Why else? Sometimes I get weary of hearing from students or others that there’s no good poetry these days, or that it’s all confusing, or that there’s no music in it, or whatever. I’ve never, ever won an argument with one of these folks except—sort of, once in a while—by finding a poem that grabs hold of them. So this is also me offering a little evidence to the contrary (Hey, that’s a good poem!)

How frequently do you post and how do you choose your readings?

I post three times a week, give or take.

The poems are a mix of my own lasting favorites, poems that have a place in one class or other that I’m teaching, and hits from whatever I’m reading at the time. Almost all of them are recent poems by living authors. That’s who I am, after all, a living poet who writes recent poems. And this is me doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me (Hey, you read that like you care!).

What percentage of readings are your own poems and what percentage are other people’s poems?

Let’s see, the score today is about 120/others to 1/me.

The time I read my own poem was last August, which marked five years since I left Minnesota and teaching for a sabbatical year in Scotland where I studied poetry-writing at the University of St. Andrews. That week in August was drenched with nostalgia for me anyway, so I read poems by our instructors on the course and a poem by each of the students on the course. We had worked very, very well together, the eleven of us, and I wasn’t about to be left out of the little mp3 reunion I’d fabricated.

What are the differences in approach, rewards and challenges that come into play when you read other people’s poems, as opposed to your own?

That’s a great question—I hadn’t thought about that before. My first thought was that I read other people’s poems more times to get a sense of the sounds, the pace, the movement of emotion or idea or story from the beginning of the poem to the end. Words I don’t know or don’t know how to say. But that’s not true at all. By the time I’m reading one of mine to an audience, I’ve spent a chunk of life with it that I almost never spend with someone else’s poem.

So honestly, I feel less pressure to “get it right” reading other people’s poems than I do my own. If the voice is the instrument that plays the poem, I go at other people’s poems with the half-trained, mostly-literate, semi-skilled gusto of a kid at the piano. And if my reading is clear and expressive and gives the poem with an amount of dignity, I’m well-satisfied.

As for rewards? I really like reading aloud, especially poems–it’s like coffee for me, makes me a little sharper in the head and softer in the heart . I understand the poems better having used my tongue, teeth, and ears to read them, too, not just my eyes and brain. I get to learn and try out words I might never have thought to use otherwise.

After I read and posted her poem, “My Beloved is Mine,” Heid Erdrich left this comment: “Out ego-surfing and found this. LOVE the way you read the poem. Who are you?” That was triple-gratifying. The compliment about my reading, of course. And then that she enjoyed her own poem anew because I’d read it. And the “Who are you?” suggests the connections with other poets and appreciators that can come from putting these recordings out there.

What are your plans/hopes for Belly Up? Is there a next level to which you hope to take it?

Of course, I think about thousands and thousands of visitors to the blog. Belly Up Nation! A Poetry Feed Army! Then I could live off of the revenue from ads for poetry workshop cruises and A Poetry Feed thong and mug sales.

Yep, I think about that. What I’d really like, though, would be that the site would include more communication and participation among the visitors and between them and me. Active comment threads, questions for an “Ask the Feed” feature, and definitely submissions of other people besides me reading poems they admire. I’d love to encourage some real interaction among my reader/listeners and that a lively community would be part of what characterizes the website.

The following sites also feature people reading other people’s poems aloud. Please comment briefly on each. How do they differ from or resemble your own site?

The similarities are stronger than the differences, I think. I think we all feel a generosity, something like: I’ve just been given something good, here let me pass that on to you. And gratitude, too, because what thanks a poet more than reading their poems with respect and life? (Except maybe a check, right? But I like to imagine that once in a while our listeners might go out and buy a book because of our publicity and links.) And I bet we all get a kick out of the process of reading, recording, and interacting with others about the poems. There’s a verve in each of these sites that comes from being close to something—part of something—we relish.

Having said that, I’m really, really enjoying the differences among the sites.

How Pedestrian is great! Videos of ordinary people caught in public places and asked to read a poem on video—and they do it! I love this. It’s entertaining, and the moments of awkward reading and making-sense-of-it on the fly totally disarm me. It would make my day to be at the science museum or gas station when these folks ambushed someone nearby to read—way better than getting caught in a College Gameday or Girls Gone Wild shoot. Plus, among these sites, How Pedestrian is probably doing the most to demonstrate that no one should be afraid of poetry—and then making sure a moment of fearlessness happens.

The fellow at Classic Poetry Aloud has created a very strong anthology of good, old poems. I’ll certainly be referring students to it in the future. He’s obviously more cautious about copyright than I am, though, since he only ever records works in the public domain. I, on the other hand, lean hard on the factors considered in determining fair use: specifically, that my use is entirely educational/nonprofit, that I use only a small portion of any whole publication, and that the effect of my recordings on the market for the work I’m using is almost certainly positive. I cite the source of each poem, and I link to the book for purchase. It’s my sincere hope that poets’ work will sell as a result of my posts. Encouragingly, about two dozen of the poets whose work I’ve read have communicated with me, and every one has been enthusiastic about the project.

Hans Ostrom’s YouTube channel and Whale Sound probably seem most like mine. If his channel and my blog passed each other in a strange city, they’d probably look at each other twice, furrow their brows, and walk on, wondering if it was possible to have a twin you never knew about. Of course, his twin was raised in a photo-rich environment, while mine is a little more conversational.

As for Belly Up and Whale Sound, no video, mostly living poets, one main reader. But you’ve thought of a couple of features I’m envious of. The group readings and the audio chapbooks are terrific ideas. They make good listening, which is plenty, but both of them also grow and enhance the listening in unusual ways. The group readings, by letting us hear how three different poets make sense and music out of each poem. And the chapbooks, by extending the reading of one poet’s work. That satisfies the urge we have for more after just hearing one good poem, as well as giving the words and sounds and ideas in more than one poem a chance to play off of each other. Furthermore, Nic, you’re unusually open and thoughtful about the process of reading aloud. On your various sites, you write about a lot of reading and performance issues many of us only think about. And more, too.

Karsten Piper lives in southwest Minnesota. He teaches English at Minnesota West Community & Technical College, especially enjoying his developmental and creative writing classes. A few years ago, he took a sabbatical year to study poetry-writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Since then, he has continued to write poems and send them off to be rejected or published by poetry magazines. Karsten blogs at Belly Up, It’s a Poetry Feed, which is also on Facebook.


Collin Kelley reads ‘Wonder Woman’

This week the Voice Alpha gang has been reading Wonder Woman, the poem donated by Collin Kelley to Voice Alpha‘s list of poems for which the authors have given readers permission in advance to record for Dear Voice Alpha, the VA reading advice program. To end the week, we have a reading by the poet himself.

All Voice Alpha readings of ‘Wonder Woman.’

Collin’s reading

Kristin’s comments

I love hearing Collin’s voice, that slight Southernness that is an interesting counterpoint to Nic’s accent.

I thought the part that describes the costume was a bit rushed. I almost missed a few words, and I wondered if I hadn’t already heard the poem numerous times (thus I knew what was being said), if I would have had more trouble with that part.

On the other hand, I approve of the words that Collin emphasizes by drawing out the enunciation of them: “magic,” “ounce,” “manly” and “dad.”

I feel the wistful tone of his voice, the slight underlying sadness there, fits the poem’s tone.

The more I read/hear this poem, the more it seems like a love letter of sorts to patient parents. Suddenly I have a yearning to go back through all my poetry anthologies just to see how many poems there are that remember poets’ parents in this way. I’m willing to bet it’s a recent phenomena.

Ah, well, that’s a subject for a different day, for an academic paper perhaps.

Overall, I found this reading a pleasurable listen.

Donna’s comments

I agree with Kristin- Colin’s reading has a lovely sense of light-hearted nostalgia, added to by his accent.

I also thought the poem seemed a little rushed, but very conversational. I noticed and liked the same emphasized words as Kristin, but I also liked the way he gave a sense of resignation to the words “Superman” and “Batman” as if those were wistful, fatherly dreams that would never be fulfilled.

Colin’s reading was several seconds shorter than several of the others, and it did seem to go quickly. I think that his delivery, if slowed just a bit, would allow the reader to grasp the intricacies of emotion on first listen.

Carolee’s comments

I wanted Collin to slow down during the description of the costume, but once he arrived at the narrative about the father’s true wishes, the energy served the poem well.

Since we talked about the other readers struggling with what words to emphasize in their readings, I want to mention that the stressed (and un-stressed) words in this version seemed just right to me. For example, his tone is clear that “more than the dolls, mind you” was an aside, and he hits the action verbs “lassoed” and “demanded” hard enough that we feel — and can visualize — their superhero qualities.

Dave’s comments

For the most part, I agree with Kristin and Donna’s comments. But what they call rushed, I heard as intense, in a headlong, slam-contest kind of way that I tend to find exciting and engrossing. In fact, this reading (made, it should be noted, before Collin heard any of our takes, but after we had all recorded them, so that there was no influence in either direction) reminds me of what poetry readings by the author can sometimes contribute that readings by others cannot, especially where the subject matter is autobiographical. Kristin is spot-on about the sense of relationship between the narrator and his parents that Collin’s reading evokes. How come none of us were able to bring that out, or even hear it on our own?

Getting down to the nitty-gritty: I thought he nailed the delivery of the line “but there was no magic in those rough, twisted fibres.” In fact, the reading really took off at that point. The opening lines, up through “be Wonder Woman,” were also very strong. I did think he trailed off a bit too much at the end. The other weak points, for me, were the rising intonation at the beginning of “wrapped around my seven-year-old sunken chest” and the pause before “made of cardboard.”

Like all the other readings we’ve heard this week (including, Lord knows, my own) this was imperfect, but somehow the imperfections were less of an issue. I’m genuinely surprised that this turned out to be my favorite reading of the poem.

Nic’s comments

Dear Collin – I loved your reading! I’m a sucker for a Southern accent, and I was aware that that fact predisposed me to like the reading from the get-go. I reminded myself of what I have previously said on the topic, in this post talking about the elements of a good reading:

Additional important note to self: In fairness to both the reader and the poetry, be sure to identify and clearly separate out your reaction (whether positive or negative) to factors beyond the reader’s control, such as regional accent, the sound of the reader’s voice, and any speech impediments she may have.

When I consciously separated your regional accent from the rest of the reading, I still liked it. Your enunciation was excellent, your base-note tone conversational and overlaid with good emotional variety, and I didn’t have any problems with your pacing. You read faster than the rest of us, but I think the poem’s content can support different pacings and your pace brought an energy to the poem that show-cased the content well. I found the reading of the costume portion not as strong as the second half (from lassoing ‘my poor father’ on), but part of that could be structural, as Donna pointed out in her comments on Dave’s reading. There was a sort of intimate tenderness in the second half that I found very touching, and I agree with Dave that your reading of your own poem likely here brought something to the piece the rest of us did not.

Where there could be improvement, I thought, was on the breath control side. I could hear you take breaths in what to me felt like random places in the text and this slightly undermined the reading for me. I’ve marked the places where I thought breathing could have been better placed in the text below with double asterisks. Looking at the text with the asterisks and listening to your reading as a whole, I see that you seem to have a tendency to view line breaks as occasions for breathing. While this frequently makes aural and substantive sense, I would counsel against automatically equating line breaks with breath-taking, as that can really interrupt the flow of meaning when the poem is being read aloud, as opposed to being read on the page. Finally on breath control, with the lines and the length of rope my father had / spray-painted gold in the yard I thought you sounded as if you were running out of breath and only just made it to ‘yard.’

The day I told my parents I wanted to trade in
**G.I. Joe for Wonder Woman ** must have set off alarms.
I wanted to surrender my guns for the golden lasso,
more than the dolls, mind you, I wanted to be
Wonder Woman.
I don’t remember who stitched the costume,
blue underwear with glued on stars, a red bustier
**wrapped around my seven-year-old sunken chest,
the golden eagle oddly deflated.
The headband and bullet-deflecting cuffs ** made
of cardboard and the length of rope my father had
spray-painted gold in the yard hooked at my side.
I lassoed my poor dad first, demanded the truth,
but there was no magic in those rough, twisted fibers.
If the rope ** could have squeezed out an ounce
of what he was really thinking,
I would have been dressed up as Superman or Batman,
a manly cape flying out behind me as I ran
**around the back yard, hidden from the neighbors,
while my dad devised a way to build
Wonder Woman’s **invisible plane.

There’s a quite a bit of stuff about basic breath control on the internet (here and here for example – yes, it’s always for speakers and singers and not for poets – don’t get me started!), with suggested exercises to help one build and better control one’s breath capacity. One thing I find helpful when reading aloud a piece that confuses me breath-wise, is to go through the text and actually mark the places where I will take a breath, to avoid random breathing.

Again, much enjoyed your reading. Thanks for letting us read your poem and for sending in your own reading, Collin. I’ve enjoyed this week with Wonder Woman!


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