Monday, November 5, 2012


I went to a few poetry readings and have read out some poems a couple of times. They are becoming more frequent in Jakarta, which is a phenomenally good thing. But writing poems is not the same as reading it, is not the same as reading it out, and is not the same as listening to it being read out.

When I listen to it being read out I have a problem with accents.  Accents intrigue me too much it is distracting.  Instead of wondering what she means by "swooping gracefully, splattering gravity", I wonder why the roll of her "r" is implacable. The entire gesture of her voice imposes itself on me and forces me to wonder what she would sound like if I had a normal conversation with her. I become distracted by guesses on character and upbringing, I become unable to entirely enjoy the words.

Some poems lose their meaning when being read. There are phrases that you need to look at, and close your eyes, and look at again, and let it wash over you so that you can make sense of it, or make what you like of it. This cannot happen when you're listening to someone reading it once quickly through.

Some poems even lose their magic for me when being read.  I was listening to Sylvia Plath reading out A Birthday Present yesterday, and I didn't like that her voice did not match the voice in my head when I read the poem years ago.  I thought how surprising it was that she sounded more English than American, which led me to wonder whether Americans back then generally sounded less American than they do now; or whether that was just her husband's influence.  She yearns for death but sounds harsh and stern. I thought she would sound broken and brave.  But perhaps that is what is interesting - she doesn't yearn for death, she demands it.  I wasn't entirely happy with how it messed with my existing imaginations. In any event, T.S. Elliot reading The Love Song is even worse. I suppose people are more expressive these days so it is unfamiliar and disturbing to hear the stiffness of the past.

What I do enjoy about the poetry readings I've been to is that nobody discusses the poems afterwards like I'm doing now.  Because that would have been really boring. 

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