- - - - - - - - - - -E-mail - - - Archives- - - - - - - - - - -

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


To Explain or Not to Explain

There are lots of different approaches to giving poetry readings. There are Poets Who Mumble, and Poets Who Declaim Loudly. There are Deadpan Poets and Emotional Poets, Audience Participation Poets and Theater in the Round Poets and Poets Who Are Denying This Is Even a Poetry Reading Let’s Have Beers Instead.

There are also Poets Who Explain (PWEs) and Poets Who Do Not (PWDNs). In my experience, a PWE introduces not just his or her reading in general (I’ll be reading poems from my unfinished manuscript, Ant Footprints), but provides significant background on each poem. PWDNs, by contrast,  just launch into the reading -- each poem comes as it may.

Now, this could get us into the question of “what poems are right for readings?” and which ones aren’t (if a poem is too subtle, complicated, or dense to really be appreciated on a single hearing, maybe it’s not a good “reading” poem), but generally, I’ve found that the background that PWEs provide isn’t explication of the poem – they’re not pointing out features of how the poem works (i.e., “Check out these anapests”). More often, they’re giving background on how the poem was produced – how it was inspired (“It was on a picnic in Marblehead, MA that my mother said to me, “WHEN ARE YOU EVER GETTING MARRIED?”), even if the poem turns out not to mention or even really seem to deal with the events that inspired it.

It interests me that someone would furnish non-explicative background at all. For poems that are more or less “gettable” without an explanation of their inspiration, it’s not necessary, and for a poem that is complex or nuanced in of itself, knowing the inspiration may not be all that relevant or helpful. I also wonder how much audience expectation plays into this. Do certain audiences expect explanation, thus pushing poets to give them, and does this create a kind of endless feedback loop? I think if I were giving a reading at a public library or some other place where I expected that the audience was not necessarily comprised of rabid poetry fans, I’d be moved to provide more background than I would if I were reading to other poets. I also know that there are poets who’ve played with this very question/expectation, furnishing comic explanations that are longer than the actual poem or, in one case I seem to remember, starting to explain a poem . . . and it turned out the explanation WAS the poem.

I personally tend toward “less is more” when it comes to explanation, but I also tend to work in series, where a brief introduction to the “project” is all that really makes sense. But, if the poems are one-offs, do you favor more explanation? Less? It depends on the poem? The audience? The phase of the moon and its position with respect to the houses of Aquarius? Would it be better to explain poems by saying “the leisurely trochees in line 7 are meant to balance against line 12’s frenzied dactyls?” than “So, I come from a long line of cherry farmers?”

posted by Reen |link| 6 comments

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

st*rnosedmole is the sole product of maureen thorson and everyone else on the entire planet. if you would like to send us a message, preferably the kind delivered by a white gloved servant in livery, and heavily perfumed with latest scent out of Paris, por favor, send it to reenhead AT gmail DOT com.