Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nothing odd here ...

... When Writers Speak. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Public speaking is a performing art. You either have a talent and a inclination for that or you don't. Interestingly, I have known actors, excellent at playing a role before a crowded theater, who were quite uncomfortable giving a lecture.


  1. This may be slightly off topic, but poets are sometimes the worst readers of their own work. Consider the recordings of T. S. Eliot. His readings are singular, fascinating events, but they are wretchedly opposite to everything we try to teach students about the reading of poetry.

  2. It's the job of an interviewer to make the writer look good or interesting. Just as it's the job of an actor to make other actors look good. A writer is only a "so-so conversationlist" if the interviewer is a shitty interviewer. If you haven't done your homework and you aren't prepared to adapt or throw meat at a writer, then an interviewer has only herself to blaem.

  3. I confess to actually liking Eliot's funereal delivery. But I once saw the actor Hurd Hatfield - who played the lead in the classic film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray act "The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock." It was unforgettable.
    But yes, many poets read their stuff terribly (Wallace Stevens< for instance). Kenneth Patchen was a superb reader of his work, and most English poets do a fine job.
    Ed is right that the interviewer, if good, can put the writer at ease and all goes well and interestingly. Some years ago I interviewed A.S. Byatt by phone. She was in San Francisco and I in Philadelphia. As we ran out of time, she said, "You know, I don;t like interviews, but this hasn;t been like an interview, It's been like a conversation. Let's resume when I get to Philadelphia." And we did. Of course she is absolutely brilliant.

  4. Today I was driving listening to a Prairie Home Companion compilation CD called "English Majors." Some very funny stuff on there.

    But also on there is Allen Ginsberg reading Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." It's a terrific, dynamic reading.

    I used to be in a band that was improvising musicians accompanying live poetry performance. I've met very few poets who declaim or perform their poems at all well. The poet we worked with was good. So is Olga Broumas.

    Every poet who wants to perform their poetry ought to study a little acting, or at least speech-making. It's not that hard to be able to read a poem well. But most poets don't; most poets just read like it was prose, or the news, or whatever. It's often a monotone. I guess most poets think that the words alone should be enough. Strange.