Monday, January 26, 2009


Kiki Smith, Getting the Bird Out

Do you memorize your own work? I mean when you participate in a reading? I don't. I know the poems pretty well, some almost by heart because I've revised them so often. But I have a script -- the poems themselves. I read with the pages in front of me for security. There's a lectern maybe. Or I have my notebook or my book, if that's what I'm reading from.
Over the weekend, I recited two of my poems as part of a performance of poems that were organically strung together in a kind of play. There were 14 poems in total, some read by actors, most recited by the poets who wrote them. All were written in response to contemporary works of art in an exhibition at a nearby museum.  

To memorize and recite one's work, I discovered, was quite different than reading it.  I had to lose the line breaks. An audience of non-poet types don't much care about ends of lines. It was hard to lose them. I like line breaks a lot. Maybe too much. I think about the words at the end of my lines, the sound, the air, the enjambment or not. Not that I emphasize the breaks as I read, but they are there and I hear the ghost of them. It was hard to let them go but once they fluttered away, other sounds emerged and then there was new air and I found another voice inside my poems.  Which may sound curious -- that whole thing about finding "your voice." But, that's not the voice I found. Hard to describe.

Which leads me in a round about way to Elizabeth Alexander and how she read her poem on that freezing inauguration day just a week ago.  I don't have anything extremely important or new to say. Just that as I recited my poems, I thought about how she sounded. How we get into a habit of sound, of speech patterns with our writing and reading -- the voice inside our heads that we hear when we read silently is how Tom Lux describes it in his poem. Breaking out of those grooves isn't so easy. I had some help from a theater person. I didn't want to get all performy. I wanted to recite my work in a real way, in my voice but from a deeper more resonant part of the body, the way you reach down a little deeper when you sing. I think that happened. 


apprentice said...

A thoughtful piece Pam. Your event sounds really interesting, and the piece of art you chosen to illustrate this piece is an inspired choice.

These days I think I would find memorising a piece truly terrifying, like you I tend to know my poems, but I still welcome the comfort blanket of having them on a piece of paper in front of me.

It would be interesting to listen to recording of both methods to see if there was any audible differences in your delivery and if they matched the ones that you perceived/felt.

I didn't think Alexander did her poem justice, but I can well imagine how that sea of faces would stopper up your throat, and that is setting aside the sheer emotion of the occasion. It must have been the poetic version of being an Olympic torch bearer.

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