Wednesday, April 16, 5000

Thinking Toward the Event

This is a blog-to-blog note to Don Share, who posts two items I discuss here—

1) A typically exacting (and brutal) quote from Geoffrey Hill on the uses of poetry;

2) Some sly questions about being heard and being seen, in response to the usual round of reflections on readings.

Don—the more and more I think about it (and I have been thinking about it a lot) the more some of the current “for or against” discourse on performance (good? bad? more or less effective? with paper or without? whatever) and readings (here? there? warm fuzzy feel of community? nasty backhanded po-biz?) leaves me thoroughly dissatisfied and with the sense that all of this is really getting at the issues involved in an extremely superficial way. Firstly, the use of recording devices and the ability to archive/ and or broadcast should seriously complicate the questions of what is the location of a performance, what is the community of a performance, what is live, etc. Secondly, how do we relate and re-entangle performance on a page and oral performance (not to mention a whole range of performances like those at Quickmuse which, in effect, are somewhere in between), and might such a re-entanglement begin serve our purposes better?

I found myself trying to get to this in a blog post / performance from last year, “Five Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Performer of Poetry”. Of course, a lot of what I said there might seem obvious for poets, who will already know the readings. It was my irritable response to being asked to do a “performance poetry” workshop, was meant more for a lay audience / slam poetry types aspirants, etc., and was meant to peel back some assumptions and myths about poetry in performance. In many ways I feel unhappy with my formulations there now; but perhaps the most relevant point is the idea of a “shadow voice”, the central contradiction of a voice that is and is not there, which gets created in a poem and can never be completely fulfilled in performance.

A line of questioning I feel could take us deeper (I can’t yet articulate how yet) struck me on reading your magnificent and profound Geoffrey Hill quote from a couple of days ago. How might public performances (let’s call them “activations” for a second, to go beyond the question of orality, to think about the points at which the machine of the poem is switched on in public) and events, yes, including small readings of poetry be located as events and interventions in historical time? (Since an event, eventually, is about time?) And how might we reframe the debate on readings in terms of Hill’s intolerable, but essential contradiction between a poem’s repeated historical uses and its fundamental alienation from—transcendence of— history?

That’s about as much as I can wing right now. (Don’t ask me yet how to read Mary Oliver’s sold out stadium as an historical spectre—some things are better left mysteries.) With hopes of greater clarity—


Space Bar said...

Interesting thoughts, Equivocal. I was also struck by the Hill quote but I'd just saved it to look at later.

There was a post somewhere recently, about how poets read their own work differently over time. I'll try to dig up the link...I was reminded of that in the context of 'the use of recording devices and the ability to archive/ and or broadcast should seriously complicate the questions of what is the location of a performance, what is the community of a performance, what is live, etc.'

Don Share said...


I'm so glad you've begun the continuation of this conversation. Why is it so hard to speak with useful precision about what you so helpfully call the "shadow voice?"

I've read everything I can get my hands on about "the poet's voice," and nothing clarifies the mystery. (Charles Bernstein's Close Listening is a recent and essential resource; I won't spew out a more involved bibliography here, though!)

And I'm glad you've made connections, as I'd hoped somebody would, between Hill's stringent and astringent remarks and my own glib and evasive squib on readings!

Could be a dark wood we are meant to remain lost within, but the increasingly evident disjunction between poets and their own work fascinates and repels me.

equivocal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Space Bar said...

I think this one is the one I meant! For some reason I thought there was more but apparently I was wrong (or there's another post somewhere that I haven't saved.)