The poet, the poem, the world

October 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

Well, who knew? The decision to have actors reading the winning poems at the Forward Prize appears to have resulted in a disaster. Here’s one account.

The arguments for such media-glam?  Well, poets don’t read their poems well, apparently; and also, don’t forget that the poem ceases to belong to the poet as soon as it flies the nest.

While there might be cases where poets don’t read well, bringing in a hired hand isn’t the answer.  If they’re dead – and unrecorded – then maybe we have no choice (though I’d have loved to have heard Keats, and Clare, and Marvell).  But surely – however diffident a reader – it must be for the poet to set the poem on its way?  It will take on its own life as others enjoy it in their own terms; but to recognise it from its origins, we need to hear, wherever possible, the voice that made it.

And where it isn’t possible, let’s hear other poets read the work: those who have worked with words as raw material.

And where that isn’t possible, let people read the poems for themselves, in their own voices, and live with them.  I include, of course, actors – who can then, when they have lived with them, and changed, and gone back to them, made their own sense of them.

Make sense?


§ 2 Responses to The poet, the poem, the world

  • Oliver says:

    I think it’s fine in principle to have actors read. Some, even famous, poets are terrible readers of their own work and why should they learn performance skills if they don’t like taking to the mic? We also don’t require playwrights to read their own work…

    But organisers have to know what’s being gained or lost. A prize-giving is about acknowledging the prize-winners: authenticity and ‘I was there when he/she won/said/did’ is at a premium. It’s also not the best situation for really taking in the work, however it’s read. So it seems an unfortunate choice in that instance (and badly done: perhaps a really good actor’s reading would have made more of that approach’s benefits).

    But that doesn’t mean that actors couldn’t be preferable in some other instances (good ones are, after all, highly skilled professionals).

  • Rob says:

    I think the issue here, as you point out, is the kind of event. An actor isn’t usually going to be particularly familiar with a prize work, so their skills are less likely to compensate for their lack of understanding of what the poem is trying to do. Perhaps I’m being a bit precious – an actor did record a prize piece I wrote once, not entirely successfully.

    As for playwrights, I think the process and purpose is different, really: drama on the page is less than in the air; poetry isn’t.

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