You can hear Robert Browning forgetting his own poem on a very early gramaphone recording by clinking here.
My publisher Crystal Clear kindly arranged for me to record some of my poetry in a studio. I enjoyed the hour or so, finding my way as I read and being surprised at how putting stress on a particular word or line can change the feel of a poem. Where the stress went surprised me, seeming to be dictated by my emotion as I read. One or two poems even choked me up a bit, but I was pleased that this didn’t seem to come across in my voice.
I was also aware of how important space and pace were, the silence between title and poem, stanza and stanza, line breaks, and even the space between words. I say I was aware of these; I was also aware that in order to have any mastery of technique I still have a lot to learn.
I remember my first public spoken word performance at the age of 8. My teacher was impressed with my 3 exercise book length stories (mostly plagiarized, although when asked, I denied this). She asked me to read them to the class and recorded me on a cassette tape. I also remember reading a poem about nuclear war for my godfather
Morris Cocking, a journalist and editor. He liked the poem. I never did follow-up his advice and become a teaboy at a local paper, then the tried and tested route to cub reporter and ultimately journalistic success. A road not taken.
As a teenager I sang and played a few times in pubs and folk clubs. I sang my own songs accompanied by my acoustic guitar, once with my friend Pete singing harmony. I don’t remember being nervous at all- perhaps singing and playing is easier than reading poetry, being louder and less ‘surrounded by silence’.
A friend recently sent me a CD taken from a cassette recording. I couldn’t help being pleased to hear that fresh-faced kid singing clearly and sweetly of love and loss.
Another road not travelled.
It’s nearly three years since I first read my poetry aloud. I remember waiting to go up to the mike, heart pounding and racing, stomach full of butterflies, unable to take in much of what went before me. Then, I was literally in the spotlight, this event being in a theatre, a ten foot high projection of my upper half on the screen behind me. The paper shook in my hand as dry mouthed, I delivered my poems quickly, said my thanks and returned to my seat, relived that I hadn’t fluffed my reading too badly.
As time has gone on I hope I’ve learned some tricks and composure; not to dither or fidget too much and to slow down (unless the poem requires breakneck speed).
Some readings are better than others. Once or twice I’ve found that sweet spot where nerves are gone. You can feel the intense focus of the room, breathing life into words without getting in the way of them. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does I feel I’m doing justice to the poem and delivering something which an attentive audience deserves.