Monday, 29 March 2010

On the Voicing (em-bodying) of Poetry

Lecture notes/Score for the lecture that I gave at the Marginal Arts Festival in Roanoke, concerning the development from poetic recitation to performance poetry over the course of the 19th century:

  • Capsule Argument: Poetry has its roots in the oral, to which Performance Poetry is a return.
  • BUT it is not the same thing; the fact that it is a return makes it unique.
  • Perf. Poetry often talked about as if it burst forth from Futurism/ Dada/ someone specific
  • In fact was the terminus in at least a hundred-year development in avant-garde writing.
(this trajectory not definative)

  • -Most systems of writing have their origin in religious and magical practices.
  • -Over the course of thousands of years, as writing became more secularized & literacy grew, poetry became increasingly connected in people's minds with a text.
  • -This means that readers could re-read poems; things could become more subtle, and did not have to depend upon sound to set them apart.
  • Oral Poetry derives from storytelling and/or ritual; Perf. Poetry from reading.

  • -Regular part of life from at least the 16th Century onward: in living rooms, taverns, stagecoach, etc
  • -Poems still regularly read aloud, but A.) it was an option, & B.) no memorization
  • -meter & rhythm act similarly like 'score' elements for both voiced & 'silent' reading
  • 18th-19th Centuries: The Lyric: primarily written form (unlike ballad) modeled on speech
  • -spoken of as twining of music & language on subtlest level
  • -generally personal, introspective in nature: focus on subjectivity.
  • -Coleridge, Shelley, & others trained themselves to speak & think extemporaneously in verse, choosing terrain to walk according to verse they hoped to speak
  • -Application of declamatory technique to conversation
  • As in oral poetry, sound attempts to reinforce (while denaturalizing) subject-matter
  • Recitation rhythmic & chant-like, w/variations introduced to infuse lines with emotion and force
  • Intro- dream transcription
  • content and form can be apprehended simultaneously, reinforce each other
  • declamation is experienced as hieghtened speech in this way--'natural' rhythms under- or over-riding metric structure

  • In the following two generations of Romantics, sound and rhythm kept taking on more prominance;
  • rhyme and metric schemes became more complex and virtuosic.

INTERLUDE: Nonsense & Satire
  • -Genesis in children's lullabyes etc., heavy rhythm & rhyme for memory & attention when read aloud
  • -Benefited from the Romantic freeing of verse-forms & subject matter
  • -Emphasis on pure sound & musicality led to use of nonsense words/phonetics
  • -By 1840s-50s, a definite tradition of Nonsense verse existed and moved into Satire

  • -Hood: Third-Generation Romantic; Punch, etc. directed at Bourgeois audience
  • -combines Romantic virtuosity & sensibility of sound with those of traditional ballads and of British comic & nonsense poets (Lear, etc), often infused w/social satire or critique, still reinforced by rhyme & shadows of ballad.

  • -This poem is quoted in full by Poe in The Poetic Principle several years later, notes tension between nearly absurd scansion and pathetic subject matter.
  • -For Poe, most important element of poetry is rhythm; rhythm is addressed primarily through languages/concerns of music and mathematics
  • -tension between regular rhythm and repeated meter on one hand, & small anomolies of rhythm and distensions caused by semantic element on the other ('melody')
  • -Metric, rhythmic, rhyme & assonance schemes of a poem designed before even choosing a subject.
  • -For Poe, the organizing goal of a poem is not narrative, emotional, moral, etc but Phenomenological/phisiological. All decisions in writing a poem derive from their effect.
  • -Emphasis in declamation was rhythm, the maintainance of the metric time with rhyme & rhythm acting as reference-point and assonance & internal rhyme as counterpoint

ex.- POE, THE BELLS (1849)

  • -Poe had almost no influence on American writing--primary influence was on French Avant- Garde => Symbolism
  • -Symbolism attempted to reconcile through intensification poetry's oral-mystical roots with its textual-technical development through intensification:
  • a.) return to idea of Language as sacred/magical (developed by Atheists, etc...)
  • b.) intensification of opaqueness/ “textness” of poem
  • Symbolist poem as object of meditation--rel. Monastic text. meditation, mandala, etc
  • To be read, re-read, re-read over years in order to come to grips with
  • Principle developer of Symbolist thought => Mallarmé
  • -Goal to eliminate what triggered poem, leaving only its traces of thought
  • -Intra-& inter- oeuvre Symbolic system
  • -Grammatical bivalence
  • Jarry: disciple of Mallarmé, author of Ubu
ex.- JARRY, VEGETABLE (1894)
  • -instant comprehension of poem impossible-
  • -reading aloud is fundamentally different than reading as text
  • -when read aloud, becomes a score rather than a text
  • -for first time, poem IS something different when being voiced
  • Symbolist Declamation:
  • -In contrast to object of meditation, the declaimed symbolist poem is ritual/prayer
  • -Sometimes presented in intimate settings & soirées, sometimes alongside plays, w/choreographed lighting and trained singers & actors reading
  • -hieratic reading style--restrained, subtly musical, measured, without obvious or straightforward emotion
  • -text reading the body
  • -performers instructed to block out semantic aspect of poem when reading
  • -listeners intend to be suspended at the edge of comprehension, feeling the effects of semantics but not actually understanding 'meaning' of poem--NOT 'solving a puzzle'
ex.- JARRY, VEGETABLE (1894)

  • -Comp. Mallarmé's performative conversation to Coleridge 'gestures of officiating priest' etc
  • -used declamation, whispers, gesture, silence, planned actions, mime as part of lectures
  • -When Mallarmé died in 1898, left immense unfinished performance poem called 'The Book'; half burned by executors
  • -200 remaining pages--to be unbound in 20 volumes, with repetitions
  • -Performance (basic):
In domestic setting with invited guests
Customized shelf with pigeonholes containing volumes
Bell rings, 'operator' enters up aisle between chairs
Takes sheet from random from each, shuffles them
Reads & comments in sequence; shows some to audience, others not.
Leaves abruptly as if finished; but returns after 15 min. with another bell.
Switches volumes around, repeats

  • -Final major poem was also published w/discussion as score, and direction for score's interpretation
  • -Unlike tightly-woven sonnets, etc., is a treatment of Mallarmé's atheist mysticism, organized around rhythmic alterity of silence & Language
  • -Potential field of performance Poetry sketched out by Mallarmé taken up 15 years later, exemplified in different aspects by Schwitters, Hausmann, Huelsenbeck, etc


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