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This report is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

Verse Speaking Bouts; the Faber Cassettes T.J.G. Harris

In the days when I used to attend poetry readings, I was often overcome by a desire to do as did that acquaintance of Myles na Gopaleen 'who found himself by some ill chance at a verse speaking bout. Without a word he hurried outside and tore his face off. Just that. He inserted three fingers into his mouth, caught his left cheek in a frenzied grip and ripped the whole thing off. When it was found, flung in a corner under an old sink, it bore the simple dignified expression of the honest man who finds self-extinction the only course compatible with honour.'

Reciting poetry is an art, and poets are not necessarily the best exponents of it, as is clear from the reading of at least one of the poets on these tapes. Nevertheless, a poet's reading of his own verse may, like a composer's performance of one of his own compositions, yield an insight into the structure of his work, and into the way the poet senses the rhythms of language and the sounds of words; and structure, rhythm and sound are precisely the things that tend to be ignored when an actor is let loose on poetry to attend only to what he supposes to be the 'meaning' (something that is all too obvious in many of the BBC's productions of Shakespeare, and in the abysmal recordings made of Milton's poetry by Sir Michael Redgrave et al.). Admittedly, one occasionally comes across poets ...


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