Sunday, 29 March 2015

One Time Only

James Arthur ponders his reading style, in which he performs his poetry from memory:
When I started reciting my own poems in public, I worried that it would seem too theatrical, but now I find recitation very natural, because it allows me to address audiences directly. When you recite you’re giving a performance, in the way that an actor or a singer performs, and some poets are not interested in doing that, maybe because they’re writing for a readership as opposed to an audience, or because they see poetry as a very private art. I have no quarrel with them. But, in my case, performance is part of the medium. Sometimes I feel that it’s my main medium, and that the presentation of my poems on the page is secondary.

I often write from memory by walking around and talking to myself. Even when I’m working at a computer I write out loud, so that I can hear the poem’s rhythm. Every time I hear the poem, I know it a little better. By the time I’ve finished revising a poem, I usually have it committed to memory, or almost committed to memory.

And treating poetry as a performing art emphasizes its ephemerality. A printed poem can be endlessly reprinted, photocopied, scanned, uploaded, cut and pasted—but a performance, even if somebody’s there with a video camera, is one time only: the audience experiences something that won’t exist when the performance is over, and which won’t ever be reproduced in exactly the same form. I find that appealing.

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