How often do you read other people's poems (OPP) aloud for an audience? If you do, you know it's a rewarding experience that differs completely from reading your own poems aloud for an audience. I am obviously (given Whale Sound) a big proponent of reading OPP for an audience - I think the practice has enormous potential benefits for both the reader and the poet.
It's a question we've addressed at length at Voice Alpha -- in this guest post by Rachel Dacus or this one by Kristin LaTour, for example (and if you have the patience, you can also hear me waffle on about the topic at Dave Bonta's Woodrat Podcast or J.P. Dancing Bear's Out of Our Minds radio show).
The Whale Sound group reading series, premised on OPP principles (the author poet may participate upon invitation but may not instigate the group reading), offers three readings of one poem in a single post. The experience has been a novel one for me and it seems for many of the participating poets and readers. I share some comments from others further down in this post.
As well as raising questions of 'ownership', I believe that the group readings helpfully emphasize that reading a poem for an audience is an act of creation in its own right. That the poem-as-voice is as much an independent artifact - aural, instead of visual - as the poem-as-text on which it is based. To talk of a 'right' or a 'wrong' reading is misplaced (as one commenter puts it below: "There are points in my own reading of the poem which I had previously thought of as errors, but which I now think of as variations.") Inside each poem-as-text - a fixed visual artifact - there are literally millions of potential aural artifacts, millions of versions of "that-poem-as-voice", as varied and individual as the number of readers who give their voice to the poem.
As I've said before and will no doubt say again, I think one of the saddest things about the poetry community in general is the dreadfully short shrift we give to poem-as-voice, to poem-as-aural-artifact; to building and honing the skills needed to reify the poem as thing-of-aural-beauty.
Some comments about the group reading experience from a few of those who have participated in Whale Sound group readings in one way or another so far:
I enjoyed having those moments of wrestling with the poem's meaning and syntax, as I do with any poem I read, but everything was tinged by the knowledge that I would be reading this poem aloud. It heightened my attention to sound in the poem, to phrasing - I started to think immediately about where the stresses may be, where the pauses may be, things I don't necessarily consider with every poem I read. It made me question whether this type of deep, sound-oriented reading could enhance my understanding of some poetry that I have traditionally found difficult to engage.
[…] my reaction to the group reading of [my poem] was one of surprise. I tend to write things in such a way that, in my head, the sounds, rhythms, cadences and hence the implications of the poem are fixed and inescapable. What I learned was that, in the end, the poem belongs to the reader, who brings something of him/herself to it. There are points in my own reading of the poem which I had previously thought of as errors, but which I now think of as variations. [...] What if the group reading idea were applied to poems in draft as a sort of sonic workshop? Rather than responding to critique of a text the author could maybe look at developing the poem as a response to others’ readings of it?
I think what I found fascinating was the question of possession. When I first read the piece on the page, I heard [the poet’s] voice reading it. X’s reading is sympathetic, but it doesn’t wrest the poem away from [the poet]. Y’s, though, does take it over. It somehow becomes Y’s poem, [the poet’s] ‘voice’ fades. I think this is what *should* happen, the reader should make the poem her own, this is where the art of reading actually lives. [...] All this leads me to interesting questions about the ownership of an artistic work, and I start to wonder if we
can divide the concept into “shares.” If the project leads to true collaboration, can anyone claim a ‘controlling interest?’ Who, then, possesses the text? And, more importantly, it clearly has gained enhanced value for the ‘audience,’ that’s already evident in its broader reach and deeper consideration, thanks to the Voice Alpha project.
Bill's remarks interest me. As comparison, I offer that a line of dialogue spoken by an actor on screen no longer belongs to its author, at all, or it certainly feels that way. But this process–voices trying not to usurp one’s lines but present them in clearest light, with fullest drama but no acting–is new to me and, yes, fascinating.
I enjoyed hearing a man's voice read my [..] poem that touches on subjects sometimes defined as female. I also enjoyed playing all three recordings at once as in a round.
The differences among the three readings were delightful. [They] gave me new insight into the poem — though I guess “insight” is the wrong word. I suppose the readings showed me more of what the poem can hold.
I really learned that I need to slow down my reading sometimes. I read at a pace that I felt was comfortable, but hearing other people read the same poem, I could hear it differently since they read slower than I did. It changed the tone and feeling of the poem quite a bit.
What are your thoughts on the concept of group reading?
Previously - Poetry out loud: Must-visit websites
Coming tomorrow - Poetry out loud: Page vs stage