I’ve been comparing poets to musicians/composers, noting that the latter undergo rigorous formal training for two complementary aspects of music-craft – a) how to create a score on paper – essentially, a visual artefact – and b) how to master the musical instrument (s) that turn the score into an aural artefact.
Now I’m wondering why it is that for poets, the vast majority of tradecraft emphasis goes to the first part only — mastering the craft that creates the poem-as-text, the visual artefact — while very little attention goes to the second part: mastering the instrument (voice/body) that turns the poem into poem-as-voice, the aural artifact?
This is very obviously not to assert that existing poetry tradecraft does not consider sound. Far from it. We all know from workshops, reading and study what careful emphasis should ideally be placed on addressing the sound element while composing poetry – including the importance of reading work aloud as it is written – and many (many!) books have been written containing formal wisdom on sound and how to manipulate/understand it in poetry.
What I’m talking about, though, is the physical tradecraft associated with reading-as-performance for poets. Starting up the Whale Sound project and lacking such formal training myself, I spent a lot of time looking for reading-as-performance wisdom for poets on the internet. It seems there’s almost nothing out there. (If I’ve overlooked anything, am happy to stand corrected.)
There’s a ton of information out there for other voice performances – for singers, actors and speakers. How to warm up and protect your voice; how to breathe correctly; how to stand correctly; how to project your voice; how to find the right singing or speech coach for you; how to relate to your audience. Much of it is relevant and/or adaptable for poets (although some of it is actively wrong for poets, in my view), but almost none of it is directed specifically at poets.
What does that mean? Do we poets as a community assume that honed poetry-writing skills automatically translate into honed poetry-reading skills – that the ability to write good poems comes packaged with the ability to read them aloud well? Or do we simply not care enough about the value of reading-as-performance for poetry and are collectively ok with a wing-it/seat-of-the-pants/take-it-or-leave-it approach when it comes to reading poetry for an audience? There are certainly many naturally-talented performers/readers out there, but surely there are also many many more poets who would really benefit from a discussion of different approaches and key considerations for the poet reading-as-performer.
I’m cross-posting this at Voice Alpha, a new blog that will focus only on reading-as-performance tradecraft for poets and hopefully in time grow into a some sort of resource for the community.
If you would like to guest-blog at Voice Alpha on any topic related to reading-as-performance for poets, please email nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com.
(Note: This is a topic I discussed with Dave Bonta during the recent Woodrat podcast in which he interviewed me about Whale Sound. I’ll be writing one or two more posts that pick up on other topics we discussed.)