Today I was thinking that the only time the Beatles sang a Broadway song was when they recorded "Till There Was You" from Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man," and then a few thoughts occurred to me about poetry readings:
As a violinist I can't imagine reading the score alone, though it gives great pleasure, and I associate poetry as a sister art. Most of us think Homer was a singing bard, Sappho had a lyre she discusses, and the poems of the Bible are sung by those like my grandfather, the chazzan (cantor). The good cantor so moving that Cossacks are said to have stopped and not killed that day.
I learned so much from Stevens' exorbitantly slow grey voice. I ended a love affair with Roethke when he grunted drunk at the Y.
It's true I loved to imitate each poet I loved.
If I loved them, I loved their voice.
When Ashbery read 'The Skaters" whole
[When was that, David?]
In 1964. It was amazing, David. Every word was right.
[Where was it?]
In New York. At the end Allen Ginsberg tried to recruit him for some political action and John said "I'm a political exile."
I knew that any Dylan Thomas saxophone in me had died and was reborn. Horowitz admitted he exaggerated for his audience. Do you mind?
I hate poetry readings, they are the worst thing in nature, but they are not in nature. Lowell sd he changed for Ginsberg--well, it was still RL.
Would you like to hear Trakl read or Rilke?
Those who heard (like Marianne Moore) Meyer Schapiro's lectures were listening to a god's golden sound. When Paul Robeson spoke, when Gielgud read Shakespeare, when Celan reads Todtfugue,we stop breathing. It is bad poems you hate and minor performers, but to hear Shakespeare do the Ghost I would give up the ghost. Forget Allan and what can be comical pathos. Forget the imitators. Get the old Caedmans and listen to that essential science of sound that Keats mentions.
O imagine Donne reading Donne. I would be undone. If a poet bores you, just wake up and look for another voice. Lovers know that the voice is a sexual organ (see Jewish law). If your love's voice doesn't please you, you are already divorced. If an architect's drawings are better than his house, you have made an ontological mistake.
Chekhov on the page, Vanya say, lies inert.
Alive in sound, he is the greatest writer.
My mother said, If you have a good speaking voice, you will have a good singing voice.
Many poems grow from music, the best are already music. Even this topic makes me happy. What is better than Sappho? Catullus? No, Sappho as she once may have been heard.
Pound I can mock, not Anne Porter at 95 reading a poem about her son.
There is a poem that reduces us to tears and wonder without school. Of course, I am one who believes you can speak between poems. Of reading twice, my wife says: Oh no, that poet is horrible enough and now we must hear him twice. But privately, I recite my favorites over and over like a song.
Most poetry readings are bad, but so are most paintings and dances.
-- David Shapiro