Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

stage vs page


From an interview with Andrew Kozma at 32 Poems blog:

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why?

I seem them as powerful in different ways. Spoken word and performance poetry have more to do with the skill of the writer as a performer than they do with the power of the poetry itself. A brilliant performer can bring you to tears with your tax return. Because of this, it’s hard to tell from a performance whether the poetry stands on its own as poetry because the voice of the performer gets in the way. In addition, spoken word is crowd-oriented, meaning that your reaction is somewhat determined by the reactions of those around you. It’s a communal experience.

Written poetry, on the other hand, is intensely private. Even if you like the same poets and love the same books as another person, chances are that you are receiving different things from the poems, and that those things are different than what the writer intended. Text is like e-mail in this: the skill of the writer narrows the field of what the reader interprets, but it is still an interpretation.

Author: Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

2 thoughts on “stage vs page

  1. Good points, very pertinent to the Voice Alpha concerns. I am taken with the communal vs. private thing.

    I really don’t think I can be brought to tears by the performance of a tax return, though, and I don’t want to be. Not even (or especially?) my own. Nor can I read the phone book well aloud.

    But I think this excerpt gets at the crucial thing: we want the poem to be good and as worthy as a good performance of it. We want a good performance not to be mistaken for a good poem, if it isn’t really a good poem. We want a good poem not to be mistaken for a bad poem just because of a bad reading of it, so we hope there will be a good reading of a good poem, by the poet or by someone else!

    Or that’s what I want, anyway, and what I hear a lot of people wanting…

    • Exactly.

      I also remember Donna bringing up the difficulty of evaluating a poem when you only *hear* it, and how much easier poem evaluation is when you have it on a page in front of you.

      I agreed with her, but tended it to blame it on lack of practice. We don’t train ourselves to evaluate poem-as-sound in the way we train ourselves to evaluate poem-as-text.

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