Posts Tagged ‘reciting poetry’

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In Defense of Recitation

posted: 5.9.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

While I love poetry, there are only a few poems from which I can casually quote: “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, and “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These were the three poems I was forced to recite as a student of the New Orleans Public School System (although, to be fair, “This Be The Verse” wasn’t actually assigned—it was recited as an act of defiance).

“Kubla Khan” was the first, a long poem I chose for the line: “A savage place! as holy and enchanted / As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing for her demon-lover!” This particular recitation remains memorable for the way my eighth-grade teacher, Blake Bailey—the now celebrated Yates and Cheever biographer—attempted (and failed) to bite back laughter at my shifts between stumbling forgetfulness and high drama: “by…like…woman wailing !”

Some students have more luck with these mnemonic exercises than I did:

“High School Student Shawntay Henry Wins $20,000 First Prize in National Poetry Competition” (Poetry Out Loud – National Recitation Contest)

Recitation need not be tortuous (in fact, it can be lucrative). The mere act of reading poems aloud, or hearing them read, can be galvanizing, and can help push an assignment from a collection of words on a page to a transformative emotional experience. Take, for example, the following recording of W. B. Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:

For discussion:

1. I chose to share this version of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” because it includes Yeats’s own commentary on writing and recitation: “It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into the verse the poems I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.” Does Yeats’s reading seem strange to you (as he thinks it will)? And is this hyper-poetic enunciation effective?

2. Take a moment to read the “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and then listen to Yeats’s reading again. Does his articulation enhance your understanding of the poem?

3. How would you read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” aloud to best impart your particular interpretation of the poem?

More free video and audio resources can be found here:

Penn Sound – Audio and Video

Poems Out Loud

Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose)…exhibiting what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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