#EdenLit - Lessons: Reading Poetry

Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
Reading Poetry

Reading a poem out loud can be a bit more difficult than reading a story or play. The problem with reading poetry is following the meter of the poem and trying to obey the punctuation. Add into the mix that most poets actively choose punctuation to heighten the emotional response of their readers and you have a really challenging time reading it aloud!

When a story teller approaches a piece to be read to an audience he/she will use different intonation and even differing accent to bring to life the story in a way that vividly captures the imagination. He/she is able to take a tiny bit of leeway in terms of movement, gesture, tonal inflection and facial movements to really draw the audience into the story. This is the acting portion of storytelling; and, if it is done well, the audience feels as though they can see and touch the living story.

With poetry, however, the assumption is that the words, alone, should evoke this sort of sensory texture through meter and rhyme. The storyteller is enjoined to find the meaning the poet was trying to convey and then convey ONLY that message. The soul of the poet must be brought to life by the storyteller and there is very little leeway for acting out the poem. This would be why most people prefer to hear the poet reading his/her work, but a skilled storyteller can come very close to what the poet was thinking and feeling. With just a little work the storyteller can bring to life not just the story of the poem but the poet as well.

Nothing illustrates the difference between a skilled storyteller and a not so skilled reader than listening to a Shakespearian actor reading from a play and a student of Shakespeare going through the motions. Shakespeare wrote his plays, almost solely, in iambic pentameter. When read aloud the meter should be paid strict attention. The lines should form a sort of melody, and when the actor is successful the meaning of the words becomes very clear and the story takes shape. If the actor is not as successful at creating this melody of words the audience must sit through many productions to get the full measure of understanding. This is true of most poetry.

So what should you do if you are expected to read a poem aloud and you want the audience to be as moved as you are when hearing the poem? First of all, you should read the poem paying careful attention to the word choice. Successful poets choose their words very carefully sometimes agonizing over the proper word for days! All poets have a thesaurus and use it regularly to be exactly certain that they have chosen the perfect word to convey their meaning.
Most poets are searching for perfection through the written word so paying attention to the word choice is imperative for the storyteller.

Once you have decided that you understand the poem and the poet’s word choice, it is wise to go back and read the poem looking for the meter. This will help you understand the flow of thoughts that lead to the creation of this work. Since all poetry forms a melody it is worth the time to look for this “beat”. Remember that sometimes the best way to convey certain emotions is to shatter the beat and create auditory chaos. This should be reflected in your voice and intonations as well as any gestures you might use.

Next, you will want to decide what picture the author was trying to paint with words. Is the feeling of the poem soft and dreamy? Is it hard and edgy? Is it a combination of the two? This will help you to decide when to speak louder, softer, faster, or slower. Most poets indicate with their word choice and punctuation how slow or fast the poem should be read. Sometimes the type of poem can indicate how slow or how fast the cadence should be.
For instance; a sonnet is usually read at conversational speed while an ode is usually read slower and with many pauses simply because of its length. Be very wary of making the words capitalized by the loudness of your voice. This can place emphasis on parts of the poem the poet may have wanted to be glanced over.

Lastly, you will want to practice reading the poem in front of a large mirror and possibly even tape recording yourself. You want to have read and studied the poem so well that you need only glance at the written piece from time to time, usually for dramatic effect. Memorization is not as much of an issue with poetry readings; as it is assumed you will have the poem with you when you recite it.
You will want to really watch yourself as though you were an audience member. Pay special attention to the sound of your voice. Is it pleasant and easy to understand? You don’t want to be “stagy” and unpleasant to listen to- unless the poem demands that sort of acting skill!

Finally, try not to overdo the preparation as one of the lovely things about poetry readings is the feeling that the reader is discovering the lushness of the poem along with the audience. If you should happen to be lucky enough to be reading your own work for an appreciative audience remember to prepare the exact same way as if you were reading someone else’s work! This way your work will seem fresh, exciting and as though you were taking a trip of discovery along with your audience.
09/10/2012
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