23 oct. 2010

How To Read Poetry Aloud

First of all, you should always read poetry aloud even if you are reading silently. In other words, you should hear it in your mind as you read it. You should have an idea oral reading in your head before you even think about reading it outloud.

You should know what the poem is doing metrically in great detail, and then forget about this when you actually read the poem aloud. In other words, you should not read like someone who has no idea what the meter is, but there is no particular need to emphasize the meter either as though your listeners needed help in perceiving it. The same applies to any sound device like rhyme or alliteration.

The same principle goes for line-breaks. Give each break its appropriate treatment, but never act like a line-break isn't there at all. There is no need for heavy pauses when lines are enjambed, but the breaks can be observed in other ways--through split-second hesitation, shifts in pacing.

Don't use the "poet's voice," the dreaded poet's voice where intonation is trapped between three or three exact pitches.

Don't be an actor. Don't dramatize or emote. Say the words like you mean them; let them flow through you. A dry performance can be more moving than a dramatized one. Variation in speed of delivery, in length of pauses, can do a great deal.

Always memorize. Even if you are reading off the page, you should more or less know the poem.


Be a student of performance styles. Ignore all the preceding advice and develop your own damn approach. Maybe you want to just scream everything like one poet I saw once. Maybe you should sing or beat a drum. Maybe the "poet voice" is for you, or an approach modeled after Gil Scott Heron, who was rapping long before hip hop was invented. An over-the-top performative style is way better than a professorial style that shows no understanding of rhythm. I remember a lecture by Hilllis Miller about Yeat I saw when I was very young. It was obvious to me from the way he read Yeats aloud that he had no understanding of Yeats as a poet. That might seem like an extreme and arrogant statement, but that's what I thought at the time as a dumb 18-year old. I probably wouldn't jump to that kind of conclusion now, but there it is.

1 comentario:

Thomas dijo...

My wife, who is a rhetorician, taught me a long time ago about the "immanent orality" of texts. I've always liked the idea that all interpretation cashes out in performance, i.e., reading out loud. Two interpretations cannot agree on the ideal performance of the text and disagree on matters of "interpretation". This is especially clear in drama, of course. An interpretation of Hamlet is, at bottom, a set of stage notes for its performance. If Hamlet desires his mother, then this must be "played". If Hamlet is only pretending to be mad, this too must be performed on the stage.