Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Honest Delivery Prompts Whole-hearted Listening

At a recent conference an expert in audience involvement provided four recitations of a William Carlos Williams poem, the first without preparation, the next three with different sorts of "program notes."

I found the first recitation spell-binding, as is the poem, until he got to the last word, which he garbled.  I felt like shouting and should have shouted: "What?"    The word, admittedly and purposefully unlikely, was "chickens."  Properly pronounced, or even just pronounced as audibly as the other words it would have elicited a range of responses from potential laughter to a sense of ordinariness pierced by a poet's ear.

Of the other three readings, in which that last word was clearly enunciated, two were exercises in irrelevancy; one consisting of biographical material, the other of a cliched history-in-a-nutshell of 20th-century American poetry.  The last reading was introduced by setting the scene of the poem as if from the literal viewpoint of a seriously ill patient of Dr. Williams contemplating the situation through a window.

It robbed not just the poem of its power; it robbed me of my power to listen, to observe.  It belittled me.  I don't think I am all that atypical a listener.

I had a minor argument with a colleague about the efficacy of the first vs. the fourth reading.  It leaves me thinking that all reactions (like all deliveries) are and should be both debatable and debated.