Friday, January 22, 2010


Don't have much time to do an extended or rounded out post, so quickly, just a few thoughts: just returned from the reading this evening and have to say I am disappointed. For one thing, Meena had a lot of mannerisms which were distracting and, I thought, took away from the impact of the poems. She read mainly from Quickly Changing River and Raw Silk. The latter has a poem sequence called (not sure I have the exact title right, since I wasn't making notes) 'Letters to Gandhi', which were written post-Godhra. Only during these poems did her voice become more conversational and her rhythms more varied.

The rest of the time, I noticed, her speaking voice was markedly different from her reading voice - which is fine; many poets have that distinction, a shift from a more informal register to a formal reciting voice. But: her reading voice came not from deep down; not even a high, back-of-the-throat kind of voice music teachers try their damndest to discourage; her voice appeared to be produced from somewhere between her teeth and her lips, a method of reading that distorted the words strangely. It didn't help that her reading style is a drawl, a way of elongating some syllables in a way that reminded me most embarrassingly of my own AIR reading from last year (or was it the year before?)

At the end of the reading, I asked her how she prepared for a performance, if she ever heard herself read. I wanted to know, because until I heard my own recording, I had no idea how much I drawled and ruined the poems by stretching them out like that. I don't do it anymore. I also try to read each poem aloud in a number of different way, with different emphases, to see what works better or what about the poem changes with different reading styles.

I'm not sure she understood my question, really - she said she used to read her poems aloud to herself, but now she reads them out in her head. It would account for the sameness of the reading.

So I have to say I prefer her poems on the page than listening to them read aloud. But it was interesting all the same.


swar thounaojam said...

Many poets in India who write and read in English do NOT know how to breathe properly. Poets who want to be GOOD READERS - please learn to breathe properly first.

Jeannette Winterson is an excellent reader - she was a phenomenon in Paris. She uses her diaphragm properly, so does Ruth Padel. And like actors, go off-book. Winterson was off-book for 45 minutes. Poets who want to go out and read need to work harder, much harder on their breath.

Space Bar said...

swar: i was going to say, poets *must* do breathing exercises before they went on stage but thought it might be too prescriptive (i was talking about one reading anyway).