What should a poet reading his or her work aloud sound like?
The Steiny Road Poet belongs to a discussion group that reads poetry and which Steiny calls the Poetry Think Tank. It's an independent offshoot
of Al Filreis' ModPo MOOC (Modern & Contemporary American Poetry massive open online course sponsored by Coursera). The klatch, if Steiny dares call the group that, usually
meets every Saturday morning and since Covid, it has been on Zoom. We number around ten people and most of the group are not poets, just ardent readers of poetry with interesting
life experiences and thought-provoking comments.
Recently someone in the group suggested we read "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas and another member of the group offered, how about we hear
Thomas read the poem?
Ugg, Steiny said after the recording of Thomas finished. Some of the Think Tank were stunned. Could Steiny possibly hate the poem? No,
she just cringes to hear such pretension, such affectation in presentation.
Interestingly, Thomas (1914-1953) single-handedly revived the act of reading poetry out loud to live and large American audiences in the
1950s. Steiny surmises that before that, famous oral presentations in the United States were the lectures of Oscar Wilde (1882-1886) and
Gertrude Stein (1934-1935). Also hitting the public reading circuit in the 1950s was ee cummings (1894-1962), who by that time was suffering back pain and symptoms of ageing.
While cummings didn't have the so called charm of a Welsh accent, he did employ that technique of rhetorical declamation which adds
an exaggerated lilt to the oral delivery.
Something that Steiny didn't know is that Bob Dylan (a.k.a. Robert Zimmerman) took the name Dylan from Dylan Thomas to suggest
that he (Bob) was a poet, a folk music poet. Steiny was taken aback when Bob Dylan was tapped for a Nobel Prize, but now that she
understands that he considered himself a poet, she is less hostile about him winning that prize. Steiny thinks so many poets of merit have been passed over.
Dylan borders on being partly poet dealing with social issues and party songwriter dealing in clichés. And there are plenty of
contemporary poets who do a little singing when they give poetry readings. The United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo sometimes gives
readings with her band and her performances are spectacular.
Why the subject comes up here is because Steiny (a.k.a. Karren Alenier) has just launched how we hold on, her eighth collection of
poetry. That means she is giving readings to promote the book. Because of Covid, readings have been online. Giving online readings has altered the reading
scene because many of these readings, done through platforms like Zoom, have been recorded. Check out her new website at Alenier.com. There you can find her schedule and you can
partake of the videos documenting readings she has already done.
So far Steiny/Karren seems to be a successful presenter of her own work. People come to her readings, they listen
respectfully, and they ask good questions if there is a Q&A. Steiny enunciates, she tries to pace the reading so it neither seems rushed
nor dragging. She also watches the audience that she can see (usually the first page of gallery mode) to gauge reactions. What she loves is
making someone smile with her dry humor. Please get the hook out if you catch Steiny declaiming.