Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

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Planning a Poetry Reading

Some of us have already noticed the August light shifting, as we think about returning to school, returning to our scheduled lives.  Perhaps we’re even planning some poetry readings.  If so, here are some links to recent postings that might help us shape the experiences we want to give our audience.

In this post, Justin Evans talks about friends planning a “night of music, art, dance, poetry, media and more” and his part in it as a poet.  I hope he creates a follow-up post to tell us how it all turned out.  I love the idea of lots of types of artists presenting an event, but I do wonder if the poets might be overshadowed by all the more glitzy mediums.

In this post, Sandy Longhorn considers audiences and asks, “‘When we do a reading, who do we imagine in our audience?  Are they mostly poets & writers?  If so, do they need less interluding and more poetry-only?  If there are many folks in the audience who are non-writers, or beginning writers, is the poet doing a good thing by providing ‘breaks’?”

On Saturday, I had a poetry reading, and in this post, I ponder the poems to choose on the day after the national news is particularly bad.  Should we change our set list?  I decided that I wanted to have poems that were more positive, and I’m lucky that I have a wide selection of poems from which to choose.

And if you want to know how it went, the short answer:  it was a great reading.  For a longer write-up, with pictures, this post goes deeper.


accents cont’d – North Carolina

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.
(57 secs)

poem text


25 voices for one speech

Recalling a Voice Alpha post from earlier this summer entitled accents & dialects in reading poetry aloud, I found the performance below by impressionist Jim Meskimen thought-provoking on several levels (hat tip: Donna Vorreyer). The effect of accent and dialect. The levels of performance (not just as himself performing Piece X, but also as Persons A through Y performing the piece, for example). The role of the voice as distinct from the role of the visual cues in the video. And so on.

I watched another clip by Meskimen where he starts out by saying of what he does that ‘it’s all about the voice, about the fun things the human voice can do and project.’ And in fact, you start out by thinking you are relying on both audio and visuals cues to ‘get’ the performance, but try minimizing the video screen and you will find the voice-only performance does it all. It seems that the facial expressions and hand gestures are simply physical & emotional aides supporting the voice to get where it needs to be in terms of quality, timbre, etc.

Bearing this idea out, Meskimen’s promotional website has almost no text or visuals – just a set of voice recordings.

See what you think. (I’ve included the speech as Meskimen delivers it below the embedded video. I’d have preferred to link to it elsewhere, but his version has tweaks that don’t appear in versions I have found online.)

3 min 46 secs

Richard III, Act 1, Scene 4


O, I have pass’d a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such a night,
Though ’twere to buy a world of happy days,
Methought that I had broken from the Tower,
And was embark’d to cross to Burgundy;
And, in my company, my brother Gloucester;
Who from my cabin tempted me to walk
Upon the hatches: thence we looked toward England,
And conjured up a thousand fearful times,
During the wars of York and Lancaster
That had befall’n us. As we paced along
Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,
Methought that Gloucester stumbled; and, in falling,
Struck me, who thought to stay him, overboard,
Into the tumbling billows of the main.
Lord, Lord! methought, what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of water in mine ears!
What sights of ugly death within mine eyes!
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw’d upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatter’d in the bottom of the sea:
Some lay in dead men’s skulls; and, in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,
As if in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep,
And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.
Had I such leisure in the time of death
To gaze upon the secrets of the deep?
Methought I had; and often did I try
To yield the ghost: but still the envious flood
Kept in my soul, and would not let it forth
To find the empty, vast and wandering air;
But smother’d it within my panting bulk,
Which nearly burst to belch it in the sea.
I awoke me not with such sore agony.
O, no, my dream was lengthen’d after life;
O, then began the tempest to my soul,
Who pass’d, methought, the melancholy flood,
With that grim ferryman which poets write of,
Into the kingdom of perpetual night.
The first that there did greet my stranger soul,
Was my great father-in-law, renowned Warwick;
Who cried aloud, ‘What scourge for perjury
Can this dark monarchy afford false Clarence?’
And then he vanish’d: next came wandering by
A shadow like an angel, with bright hair
Dabbled in blood; who cried
‘Clarence is come; false, fleeting, perjured Clarence,
That stabb’d me in the field at Tewksbury;
Seize on him, Furies, take him into torment!’
With that, methoughts, a legion of foul fiends
Environ’d me about, and howled in mine ears
Such hideous cries, that with the very noise
I trembling waked, and for a season after
Could not believe but that I was in hell,
Such terrible impression made the dream.


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