Saturday, July 31, 2010

On Performing Poetry - Slam Bam Thank You Ma'am

I think at heart I’ve always been a rock and roll star. I can’t pick up my guitar or sing along to my favourite tunes without visualising myself on-stage before a rapturous crowd. But it irritates me that the words I’m singing along to are often dumb. Sung or spoken with enough conviction, almost anything can move a crowd. Bush and slam poetry sometimes makes emotive appeal and delivery its end goal – taking simple sentences or stream of consciousness outpourings and speaking them with punch.

I’ve attended a couple of events recently that have had me picturing the spoken poem on the page and no matter how powerful the performance, finding it wanting. I’ve done the same with music lyrics and been similarly disappointed, even with my very favourite songs. Neither is an appropriate response, but being a wordgirl, I just can’t help myself. However, I can’t let go of the notion that poetry is a natural medium for performance, and that the best way of getting people, especially young people, interested in poetry is to perform it, with enough pizzazz for anyone – even the person who claims to ‘not be into poetry’ or to ‘not have time to read’ (yes, that puts a shiver down my spine too), to feel the power of what you’ve written.

Is there really a disconnect between performance poetry (that is, poetry written specifically for the purposes of performance, rather than for distribution on the page), and traditional poetry (that is, poetry written to be read on page rather than performed)? Are the two mutually exclusive? I think not.

The best performances, for me at least, are those which take what works perfectly on the page, using imagery and subtlety, and presents it out loud with rich nuances that might not have hit me on my first few readings, or ever. Of course the performance of poetry is one of the oldest of art forms, going back to Gilgamesh, to the Ramayana, to Homer. It tugs at something rather deep in our preliterate psyche. Getting the listener to feel that tug, and recognise the meaning being created is what a good poetry performance is all about.

I also think that the best performances morph what is on the page into a new medium. It turns the verbal into the visual, showing what kind of power words can have. The best poems for performance have an innate musicality, using alliteration, rhythm, rhyme and assonance to further add meaning. As the great Basil Bunting put it, it is only when ‘sounded’ that this rhythm reveals its full power. Bunting should know. He was one of the great poetry performers, charging his words with the power of a Shakespearean actor to take the audience deep into the heart of his meaning, effortlessly and instantly. The performances draw the reader into the intimacy of the work, breaking open the familiar so that it appears completely, surprisingly new. Of course that’s what great poetry does on the page too, but it takes a commitment on the part of the reader to get there.

Gaining that sort of commitment from a reader isn’t always easy. Ask any publisher who sells poetry. Ask any poet who publishes their work.

Performance is something entirely different. When done properly, with a poem that truly merits more, rather than less, commitment on the part of a reader, the performance can become its own work of art – like the musical symphony, stirring something inchoate and deep within a listener. It draws a crowd, and challenges perceptions. It can work, and should work, in conjunction with the publication – to bring in readers, and to compel people to explore their own clich├ęs and assumptions about themselves. It opens doors. 
This blog originally appeared on the BeWrite Books Blog

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Poetry performance at Angus & Robertson, Newcastle

Gail Hennessey and I did a joint reading and signing of our poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Witnessing.  We read 5 poems from each book together and then 2 more on request for an encore to a reasonably large (for poetry) and enthusiastic audience, despite bad weather, traffic and road noise, and a last minute bookstore move.  Though we've never read together before, Gail and I were surprisingly in sync, and the whole process was actually rather fun. Chris Clark at Culture Hunter has put up a review of the event ("lovely long words...") here:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guest Poet: Sam Smith performs apostrophe combe

Sam Smith, my editor for Repulsion Thrust, is also a magnificent poet himself, as well as being a novelist, and publisher.  His many endeavours can normally be found at Today he's performing his wonderful poem "apostrophe combe", a sedoka sandwiched between 2 blocks of prose - as used in China's Heian period (794-1185).   The text of "apostrophe combe" appears below. The music was written and performed by Mark Kime. Enjoy!
Click here to play Streaming Audio

apostrophe combe

Slant-stacked, unquarried, these slate cliffs are a wafered ice cake that has been snapped, then pushed together, refrozen and snapped again. Within stratas of slate are stratas of slate where water can penetrate. Through other stratas of black slate white and pink quartz has been dribbled and veined. On beach stumps this quartz is last to be eroded, becomes a globular warty mass, a dirty icing, nor more picturesque than fire-melted plastic.

    Above the lustrous blue
    of a shale-silted sea,
    over path-scarred heathland,
    goes the flame-flicker rotation
    of three brown butterflies.

Could as easily hate this place as love it. Arrive on a wet day, gusts from every which way flicking rain into your face, walk over/through drain surge and gurgle; and it will feel relentless, this ever-blowing wind, the wet that gets into everything. All that you will see of the grey sea is it roiling white around black rocks, misshapen balls of its khaki spume flying over the gulls sitting out the storm on the putting green. A sustained blast of wind will seem to hold down any house you are in. Only, on its cessation, for the house to balloon out as if about to explode. Except that this time it doesn't. And you await the next blast.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Poetry Transforms Lives

Repulsion ThrustPoetry has the power to open minds and transform lives. According to a study published by the Mail Online , two thirds of participants found reading or listening to poetry helped them be able to relax and feel calm, and 7% weaned themselves off anti-depressants or tranquillisers using poetry, with the help of their GP. This won’t come as a surprise to poetry readers, who understand implicitly that words matter, and that seeing our world thoughtfully and deeply, is not only enlightening, but necessary. Words create images which build expectation, emotion, impressions, and ultimately action. So choosing the right word is important. Poetry goes into the heart of humanity and winkles out all those little shiny bits you’d missed, forgotten, lost.

You are cordially invited to a Book Signing and Reading at Angus & Robertson, Newcastle Mall, Shop 200-212 Hunter Street, Newcastle, Australia on Tuesday 27 July, 10:30 to 11:30am.

Magdalena Ball will autograph and read sensual, intriguing poems from her latest book Repulsion Thrust, which “explores the intersection between science and life, quantum theory and love, molecules and gamma rays and despair and betrayal.” (Sue Bond, M/C Reviews), and will be joined by Dr Gail Hennessy, who will be reading with her, incorporating poetry from her book Witnessing.

Event highlights will include performance, book signings, candid, open discussion, door prizes, and more. This is a great opportunity to chat, socialize, experience exquisite, life changing poetry, and build your writers network.

“I’m quite stunned by the beauty, eloquence and poetic virtuosity of Gail Hennessy’s Witnessing. Taken as a sequence the poems bear witness to an Australian woman’s life-story.” (Shirley Walker)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Our first bloggie giveaway

The good folks at Hachette Book Group have offered us a bumper pack of books for those who live in places where July is summer. Winners will receive one set of the following HBG summer 2010 books:

Adam By Ted Dekker
The Island By Elin Hilderbrand
The Recessionistas By Alexandra Lebenthal
Rich Boy By Sharon Pomerantz
Backseat Saints By Joshilyn Jackson

To enter, just leave a comment with your email address, telling me what your favourite summer read has been this year so far.  The contest will be open until the 31st of July, and I will notify the winner on the first of August. I'm afraid that it's only open to those of you with a US or Canada mailing addresses.  I'll post your response next month in our 'best of summer reads' feature.  It's 1 degree where I am (and I live in a relatively warm climate!), but if I close my eyes, I can image a heat haze (from the wood fireplace if nothing else).  Good luck everyone!