I am only beginning what I hope is a very long, very slow, very deep dive into the beauties and challenges and insights of reading (or reciting) poetry out loud.
I read a little of my own aloud to a room full of strangers at the Northwest Micropress Fair in 2019, for the first time since, I don’t know, the 7th grade? I loved it.
Recently I spent a year (April 2020-March 2021), intentionally memorizing more poems, and regularly reciting them, and posting some of those recitations here. I called this The Memory Book Project. The Memory Book is a physical object, too: personal memory in a different form.
When Tell the Turning became a project outside my own body, I started asking some friends if they would record themselves reading a poem from the book. If you’re a regular reader of this proseletter,* you might have listened to a few already.
I’ve been struck by the way the poem on the page both is and is not the same as the poem in my voice. As the poem in a friend’s voice. As the poem in a second friend’s voice, or in a stranger’s.
Language is like this generally: written English is a completely separate language from spoken English. Yet we’ve agreed so implicitly on the ways that one translates the other, that we usually imagine they are actually the same.
Is a poem the same poem if you read it in your head, then aloud with your voice, then listen to someone else’s voice read it?
I didn’t ask my friends to read specific poems; I gave them a pool of possibilities and let them choose. One poem, which I have also recorded aloud, was chosen by two friends—so that I have three…what? translations? of this poem, separate entities from the written text. Today I want to share all three with you, plus the text, side by side.
So here’s Gift, read first by Brian J. Geiger:
And by Juliana Finch:
And by me:
Finally, the text:
Gift Weeds are easy to love, so generous. Take the common roadside thistle. I could learn delight from those plumb-weight petals the color of a full moon's rise in June. I could learn from the thousand August-bursting wishes embracing each other, then traveling into the wide unlistened-to how scarcity might be something I mostly imagine. I could learn to imagine instead resurrection. Spines crumpled, fine straight carriage kneeling to death come timely, easing the will downward into soil. Shaping a stretched silence nobody wanted. Winter carries, when I cannot, trust in some kind of spring.
*It’s called a proseletter now, because my friend (and publisher) Stefan has great ideas. I know, I keep changing the name. The dispatches keep shifting form.