Sunday, June 7, 2009



All of us have a bit of Poet in us. I have written things, never thinking of myself as a poet, just a scrivener writing scattered shots about things I have to say or words that seem to burst into my subconsciousnes and beat at my bay doors for release. I am not a poet, just a writer who occasonally gives birth to something akin to poetry. I am still not sure what poetry is for it seems to take many forms and I have never studied it at all.. I was accidentally awarded the first place prize in the International Contest for Poets for Human Rights last year. Must have been the only entrant. No, there were hundreds.

Poet In Prison

I am a child of the universe.
I am a song, a poem, a living thing
I care not what you do to me.
for I am a forever spirit.
You cannot contain a song
A Poem
A spirit
With your Bars
With your Fears
With your threats of reprisal for reaching and touching.
I will always be here singing,
writing my poems
when your bars are rust
when your fears are memories
when your threats are but echoes
of bad dreams long forgotten.
My song will still ring among the stars.
November 7, 2008

I re-discovered Billy Collins, American Poet Laureate. He makes it look so easy. I find it so much more satisfying to read a poem than hearing it read. There must be a better way to read poems than those I have heard or read myself.
I have listened to poets read their stuff, and stuff of others, and wondered how a poem should be read to get across the spirit living within that sparse distillate of language that says so much. Tasting a poem a la carte, licking it directly from the page, actually gives me more sustenance than hearing it read. Those words lying quietly on the page seem to take hold of my mind as I am feasting on the entirety of the way it looks, naked and wanton there, offering all of itself to me, not giving itself in small verbal bits and bytes across the space between the reader and me. I think the way words lie on the page have a magic that the spoken word lacks, regardless of the way the meaning touches me.
I am a fan of Billy Collins, American poet laureate, as well as W.B. Yeats and his mystical “Lake of Inisfree,” and numerous others---there are poets everywhere—peering out through the foliage of their hiding places---many not wanting to be known. I could never get into Keats. Too much is enough. Poetry flows and works its way through the cracks of cathedrals, prisons and outhouses, Grand Ole Opry, kindergarten and in the mist that rises in the woods just before dawn. It is a touch of soul that can be savored in a moment, for the poetry I love is not epical, but in little mind candy packages, easily unwrapped and quietly sucked for a quick trip into that place you go when you can forget where you are.
I was raised in the country in N. Louisiana, white anglo saxon protestant country. It was a place where there was no music, except the current pop and hillbilly music of the late forties and fifties (I graduated high school in 1953) and there was very little “culture”, or “refinement.” My mama read poetry. I never realized how it touched her or appreciated her for that until recently. I should have. She was a very unhappy being, alone, though she was married to my father and later to another man. She would sit in a darkened room, with barely enough light to see, and read poetry. I have two of her collections. I never appreciated her for that. She killed herself in 1997. There was depth there, too much depth for her to swim. It took me a long time to appreciate poetry. And I do, but find myself in abyss of mystery unless the poetry is clear and not too oblique, like the real world poems of my good friend Stazja McFaydden.

I chanced upon the following piece on how to read a poem out loud, and since have been able to convey the content of poetry when I read it. As a result, I have been asked to read to groups. I simply read slowly, articulating all of the words according to their rank of importance as I see it, and make sure by looking up at the listeners to make sure they are getting it, and they do. It isn't the reading, it is the listening and duplicating that you are about.

But with all that said, here is a little piece by Billy Collins, on how to read a poem out loud.

"No doubt, most of the readers will be students with little or no experience in reading poetry out loud, especially to such a large group. And we know that a poem will live or die depending on how it is read. What follows, then, are a few pointers about the oral recitation of poetry. The readers, by the way, should not read cold; they should be given their poem a few days in advance so they will have time to practice, maybe in the presence of a teacher. In addition to exposing students to the sounds of contemporary poetry, Poetry 180 can also serve as a way to improve students' abilities to communicate publicly. Here are a few basic tips:
1. Read the poem slowly. Most adolescents speak rapidly, and a nervous reader will tend to do the same in order to get the reading over with. Reading a poem slowly is the best way to ensure that the poem will be read clearly and understood by its listeners. Learning to read a poem slowly will not just make the poem easier to hear; it will underscore the importance in poetry of each and every word. A poem cannot be read too slowly, and a good way for a reader to set an easy pace is to pause for a few seconds between the title and the poem's first line.
2. Read in a normal, relaxed tone of voice. It is not necessary to give any of these poems a dramatic reading as if from a stage. The poems selected are mostly written in a natural, colloquial style and should be read that way. Let the words of the poem do the work. Just speak clearly and slowly.
3. Obviously, poems come in lines, but pausing at the end of every line will create a choppy effect and interrupt the flow of the poem's sense. Readers should pause only where there is punctuation, just as you would when reading prose, only more slowly.
4. Use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and hard-to-pronounce words. To read with conviction, a reader needs to know at least the dictionary sense of every word. In some cases, a reader might want to write out a word phonetically as a reminder of how it should sound. It should be emphasized that learning to read a poem out loud is a way of coming to a full understanding of that poem."

Nonetheless, I always return to Yeats, whose "Innisfree," "When I am Old," "Wandering Angeus," really penetrate this thick covering of my being and go right in, carrying a mystic message that tells me there is a world beyond mortal sight, something better and wonderful that maybe I can reach "when feeling out of sight for ends of being and ideal grace". We all came from that magic universe once upon a time, and that is why we strive to the stars or to the places and spaces that mimic to some faint degree that which once was that we know was who we were before we spiralled down into this dismal place we now are. But we do have poets, and poetry, and song----.

The Cloths Of Heaven (Yeats)

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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