Is poetry for the eye or ear?

How many poets does it take to change a light bulb?
Post Reply
pseud
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 2867
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 1:19 am
Location: St. Louis, MO

Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by pseud » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:20 am

I was asking about technology in another discussion and said (offhand) that poetry is meant to be read aloud. Others (stuartryder) responded that that might not be particularly accurate. So I am coming to the poetry discussion board for answers.

It seems like there are a myriad of ways to nuance this, and no two ways match up. Is the answer simply on or the other, "both", or "who cares"?

Or is it to that, historically, poetry has been for the ear, and the modern convention of reading silently to oneself is, as far as I know, a new innovation in the world. Homer, Virgil, the author of Beowulf, the Psalms and wisdom books of the Bible, parts of the Q'uran, Shakespeare, ... this stuff was all read (or sung) aloud, and designed that way.

But then I read novels and letters to myself, and so do (presumably) all of you, and we don't fumble around trying to justify that, even though that's just as new.

But then poetry is not prose.

Another way is to say none of that matters, whatever we do today is what matters, and many forms (concrete poetry, much of the stuff that is found online or even published in book form) is really meant to be read to oneself.

But then are we missing out? It seems that most poetry will change and become more alive if we read it aloud. Sometimes what is on the page just sounds like garbled stupidity when you actually speak it.

What if the best poetry is meant to be performed aloud?
"Don't treat your common sense like an umbrella. When you come into a room to philosophize, don't leave it outside, but bring it in with you." Wittgenstein

Ros
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 7961
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:53 pm
antispam: no
Location: this hill-shadowed city/of razors and knives.
Contact:

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by Ros » Tue Nov 27, 2012 8:48 am

I think the best poetry considers the sound and resonance of words, the long and short of vowels, the snap or caress of consonants. I feel it's very important to listen to all that when writing, and to read the work out loud. But some poetry tends towards the dense, with meanings that need coaxing out over several reads, and I feel these work best when read. Poems with immediate message and punch work best for readings; much of the more subtle stuff just gets lost. There's a difference, too, between going to a reading and hearing a live poet read a poem once, and hearing a recording that you can listen to many times. Plus a more or less total oral society can probably concentrate more on listening than people are willing to do now.

ros
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
___________________________
Antiphon - www.antiphon.org.uk

Nash

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by Nash » Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:23 am

The simple answer is, of course, both. I never consider a poem complete until I've read it out loud to myself several times. Even though I have no intention of ever reading them publicly I know that a reader will be reading them from the page with their 'mind's ear', so it's important to iron out any untidy areas.

I feel that it's hugely important for a poem to look good on the page. If you look at the work of Cummings it's often scattered with over-extended spaces, phrases compressed into a single word etc. that help the reader to get the author's intended flow of the poem.

I've never been to any sort of poetry performance and I have little interest in going to one. You mentioned Beowulf and I've often heard that stated by performance poets as a reason why poetry is "made to be performed". You have to remember though that the anglo-saxon society was largely illiterate so an oral transmission was the only way they could experience it.

Personally, I'd rather read a poem myself to having someone else read it to me.

I think Billy Childish summed it up quite eloquently in his poem called...

the poetry voice

they all use it
that special monotone
halting
emphatic
proving their sensitivity
their specialness
that they are true shamen of the word

reading
a fucking menue embued with
prefoundity
and meaning
and meanwhile theyre panting away
like someones fondling their fucking cock
honestly
id like to push their fat faces into a fucking trifel

Ros
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 7961
Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:53 pm
antispam: no
Location: this hill-shadowed city/of razors and knives.
Contact:

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by Ros » Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:26 am

I know just the voice you mean, Nash! but most readers try to avoid it. I have done readings, but I'm not keen, as I don't think my stuff is easy to get on a quick listen.

Ros
Rosencrantz: What are you playing at? Guildenstern: Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
___________________________
Antiphon - www.antiphon.org.uk

k-j
Perspicacious Poster
Perspicacious Poster
Posts: 3004
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 10:37 pm
Location: Denver, CO

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by k-j » Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:10 pm

Yeah, I think the point is that poetry is a much older tradition than other kinds of literature. In pre-literate or mostly-illiterate societies it was obviously designed for recital. I still think this is what really "makes" a poem - the sound of it. But that doesn't mean that it's better to read poems aloud than silently. I don't know about others, but I'm capable of reproducing the sounds perfectly well in my head without uttering them through my gob.
fine words butter no parsnips

BenJohnson
Preternatural Poster
Preternatural Poster
Posts: 1701
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2008 10:32 am
antispam: no
Location: New Forest, UK
Contact:

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by BenJohnson » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:23 pm

In a sweeping generalisation there are at least two different poetry camps now, literary poetry where poems are designed to be read on the page to get the full depth of the poem and the performance/slam poetry which is designed to be spoken/read aloud.

Performance poetry can draw very large audiences, but tends to have little in the way of hidden depths designed to appeal to the audience in the way that pop music does. It often tends to look awful on paper (like most pop lyrics).

The literary poem tends to provide added value when read and re-read on paper, but rarely works well in a performance poetry setting. A few poets manage to write pieces that work well both ways.

Like all sweeping generalisations this is probably a load of rubbish :)

Antcliff
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 6599
Joined: Thu Nov 24, 2011 1:35 am
Location: At the end of stanza 3

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by Antcliff » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:23 pm

And sometimes there are poems that seem ho-hum and lifeless on the page but come alive when read by the author. I doubt whether this poem would have caught my eye, but the reading caught my ear. I have no idea why I like it but I do..

Louis Zukofsy - Judge and the Bird recorded in 1954 (Corbel mentioning.....)


http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Zukofsky.php
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
Richard Wilbur

joe77evans
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 172
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:34 pm

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by joe77evans » Sat Feb 16, 2013 1:22 pm

I'm interested in this. When I read, say, RS Thomas (who I'm currently obsessed with) he seems to have embedded the rhythms of his own voice for the reader to uncover - he will work to a strict meter but in places there might be lines that a first sight have more or less stresses; you have to read it aloud to uncover his intentions, trying different patterns of emphasis and thus feeling out different meanings.
On the other hand some poets use line breaks to spring little surprises on you, or isolate phrases in a way that would not be apparent if the poem were read. I'm thinking of a Dylan Thomas poem but I can't put my finger on it at the moment - I'll dig around later...

Magpie Jane
Preponderant Poster
Preponderant Poster
Posts: 1218
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:27 pm
Location: Kosmos

Re: Is poetry for the eye or ear?

Post by Magpie Jane » Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:10 pm

Poetry must enter between the eyes. (Anthony Weir)
Everything looks better by candlelight. Everything sounds more plausible on the shortwave.

Post Reply