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The readers: In their craft or sullen art

Some poems are written to be read aloud, while some others are rendered somewhat lesser when ‘performed’. The distinction is mirrored among those who take in the works — the reader-turned-listener, writes Amitava Sanyal.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2009 23:50 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Some poems are written to be read aloud, while some others are rendered somewhat lesser when ‘performed’. The distinction is mirrored among those who take in the works — the reader-turned-listener. There are those who would rather go to a poem by themselves and make what they want of it; and then there are those who would rather be read to.

For reasons not entirely clear, I prefer to be among the latter lot.

It’s not just about remembering more of the poems that one has heard (it’s an old technique for memorising). Neither can it be just about the incantation of the author’s voice (which is often a numbing drone). What is it, then, that draws one to the poet’s voice? Maybe it’s the life that a performance inevitably imbues into a text — the surprises in its passion, the conviction in its interpretation.

Among the poets, too, there are two sets. Some cringe when asked to read from their works; while some others jump in at the hint of an invitation. Allen Ginsberg, who in 1948 had visions of William Blake while reading out from his works, refused to read his own works seven years later. He famously changed his mind, read out ‘Howl’ at a gallery, and went into this world of performances with the swagger of a rockstar. We start this selection of four with him.