Standing on a stool with papers in hand, the young poet declaims visions. The crowded back room of the Soho bar softly stirs fruit around sangria glasses, as he heaps polysyllabic words on their ears. The warmth and the crowd dull the senses a bit.
This was my night last nigh; a quick bike ride in the suddenly descended chill, and then crammed into a small barrel of a room to be shot at by local wordsmiths.
I didn’t catch much. With all three of the readings I heard, the imagery obscured the train of thought, as if they ambitiously wished to express everything, rather than one thing. ‘Poetry reading’ sounds stuffy. On the contrary, it was familiar and relaxed, even if the deluge of verbal images stirred the heart without reaching the intellect. The energy of the live performance was a treat that somehow left me tracing the words of other poets around the inside of my head.
Is this the best way to experience poetry? Poetry takes one another life when it is read aloud and its musical quality predominates. Yet one–or I, at least–can’t understand it as well as I can by sitting in silence with a poem and reading it again and again.
Yet I was reminded of a favorite poet of mine, who I’ve not read in many months, Edna St. Vincent Millay. The tone of her structured, explosive sonnets number her among my favorites (if I could do such a thing as pick favorites). Please allow me to present, for your reading pleasure, Ms. Millays’ sonnet XLI in Sonnets From an Ungrafted Tree (1923), and allow me to fantasize she is reading it aloud at a Greenwich village speakeasy:
I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn wtih pity, – let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.