……….I was listening to Today on Radio 4 yesterday, and there was a story about the Royal Academy’s Diamond Jubilee which took place last night. At the end of the piece James Naughtie was interviewing Dame Judi Dench and she was talking about Shakespeare and how her feelings towards acting in Shakespeare’s plays had changed over the years. She described a shift from getting goosebumps in delivering the lines to increasingly becoming emotional and even tearful as she got older. She ended by saying that she tries to read a Sonnet every day! It made me think of a few lines of Wordsworth:
“Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours;with this key
Shake-speare unlocked his heart”
If I had a hundredth of the talent and voice for Shakespeare that Judi Dench has,I guess I might read a Sonnet everyday myself – but whether with a gloriously intoned and hushed Shakespearean accent like Dame Judi Dench, or with the sharp, harsh, glottal-stopping Glaswegian accent I carry around with me, I’d still have one quandary in my head which I’ve had for many years – how should you read a play script or more commonly for me anyway, poetry. How would Shakespeare have wanted me, a Glaswegian, to read his heart unlocked?!
You see I love poetry, but when I read it I need to enunciate the words and hear their sound and flow – so I have to read it out loud. I’m one of those people who struggles to get into a poem unless I read it out loud. At the moment I’m reading the Carol Ann Duffy edited anthology “Jubilee Lines” (it’s very good, by the way!) and I usually dip into one of the Nicholas Albery, Stephanie Weinrich edited anthologies “Poem For The Day” several times each week. And I always read them out loud.
Or rather I do eventually read them out loud! First I scan them, then I read them to myself in my head and usually there’s very little change in my voice tone or stress. And when I’ve thought about that, THEN I read them out loud. The “voice” I use becomes deeper than normal and I like to linger over some words and phrases or leap suddenly on a different word. It all comes out like I’m a really bad ham-actor (If I ever act, I will assuredly be that really bad ham-actor!) – the voice is a kind of Billy Connelly-Mark McManus aka Taggart-Rab C Nesbitt-all-together-reading-the-news type of thing!!!!
It must sound awful – it does sound awful – and hence the social dilemma. I need to read poetry out loud to get it – but with the hybrid-voice of the Glaswegian Holy Trinity I just mentioned – it just isn’t possible to do that in public – at least not without a paper bag over my head!
So my poetry can only be enjoyed in isolation – and that kind of complete isolation is not that easy to find. At the moment I’m guiltily snatching time to read poetry in the early hours after dawn when only the dog and the birds are awake – and even then the dog looks at me a bit funny and the birds seem to chatter ever-louder as if trying to drown me out!
I wonder how other people read poetry. Is everyone like me? Is there a knack or technique to mastering reading it in your head which I might learn? Can I learn some clever trick to ditch the dulcid tones of Billy-Taggart-Rab and sound like Judi Dench instead? I’d love to know whether or not others read poetry, and if you do, how do you read it?
And to close, here’s one I made earlier – it’s yesterday’s ‘Poem For The Day’ (I’m not keen on today’s!!!!) – I’ll leave you to read it in whatever way and in whatever voice you like! Me, I’ve already stretched my Billy-Taggart-Rab tonsils all over it and despite the racket – I enjoyed it!
This is from ‘Poem For The Day Two’, edited by Retta Bowen, Nick Temple, Stephanie Weinrich and Nicholas Albery, published by Chatto and Windus. This is by Michael Donaghy and is the poem for yesterday, May 24th, 2012.
For the present there is just one moon
though every level pond gives back another.
But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon,
perceived by astrophysicist and lover,
is milliseconds old. And even that light’s
seven minutes older than its source.
And the stars we think we see on moonless nights
are long extinguished. And, of course,
this very moment, as you read this line,
is literally gone before you know it.
Forget the here-and-now. We have no time
but this device of wantonness and wit.
Make me this present then: your hand in mine,
And we’ll live out our lives in it.