Monday, February 27, 2012

The Cornered Poet

On occasion, two of my favorite PBS shows--The News Hour and Moyers & Company--will interview a poet. I love that someone in the media gives poetic art a spotlight now and then. Poetry gets a bum rap in our society. People who appreciate it are often considered elitists. Like opera and symphonic music, it's not associated with the masses. Yet a mere century or two ago, it wouldn't be uncommon to receive a letter with a couplet or more penned just for you. Show of hands: when was the last time you received a poem in an email?

Thinking about this today, it occurs to me that poetry started becoming unpopular about the time that TV took over our lives. Is there a connection?

Yes. Poets should never, EVER be allowed to read their own works aloud on TV. Or anyone else's poems, for that matter. For Pete's sake, PBS, if you want to show America how nifty poetry can be, hire an actor to read those lines, will you?

90% of the poets I've heard all read in the same horrible, pseudo-dramatic monotone voice, stressing each word equally, pausing where it makes no sense. And they all read from a page or book, no matter how short the poem, so rarely do their faces show delight or sadness or joy or any other emotion.

Most writers of prose are no better at reading aloud, yet authors are often asked to read from their works. I, for one, know my lack of acting skill is going to cost me book sales, so if I must, I only read a few paragraphs. Even if I get through it without stuttering, I end up sounding self-conscious or self-important, all the while completely conscious of every restless movement and cough from the audience.

Once on a panel of authors, where we were supposed to read excerpts, I suggested we read each other's. Much easier to do justice to a friend's work. But I was voted down. Two authors read whole chapters. The audience yawned and looked at their watches. Hardly any books were sold that night.

So please, don't judge a book or poem by the author's reading of it. Instead of asking the writer to read, ask what was so intriguing and exciting about the subject or theme or plot or idea that made the author need to write it. Then go read it yourself.

I'll end with a bit of poesy, part of a parody of Shakespeare's Sonnet #80, to all my favorite authors. If you read it aloud, skip the bad Lawrence Olivier impersonation and just have fun.

O, how I curse when I sit down to write,
Knowing a better talent doth use your name,
And when I read your stuff late in the night,
I wake up tongue-tied, typing words so lame...
Your least e-mail is poetry afloat,
Whilst I behind a wordless screen doth hide,
And being stuck, I snarf choc'late and quote
Him of Puck's jest and Hamlet's homicide...


No comments:


Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors