Poems Out Loud

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:


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 
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.

Thoughts? Questions? Stories to share?

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