On Saturday Debbie, Pat and I did a workshop on Performance Skills for Writers in Dalkeith. Ten folk attended, a mixture of poets and prose writers. I was glad that we all seemed to be singing from the same hymn-sheet, although we hadn’t had time to rehearse our bits beforehand. We all said how important it is to rehearse and rehearse material before a performance, and emphasised the importance of reading work aloud when writing. I know that prose fiction is mostly written to be read on the printed page, but even here reading aloud is the best way to pick up mistakes, and to ensure that dialogue works. With poetry, I know that some poets write for the printed page, but IMHO poetry as communication works best when read aloud.
We had an interesting discussion on poets reading their own work compared with the way actors do it. I played tapes of Eliot reading The Waste Land (appalling) and Dylan Thomas reading Over Sir John’s Hill. We agreed that although Eliot was one of the 20th century’s greatest poets and this is one of the century’s most influential poems, you would never know it from his reading. The latter is one of my favourite poems by D.T., but his reading is sepulchral and pretentious, as though delivered from a pulpit. I know there are fashions in poetry reading styles – listen, if you can, to Hilaire Belloc reading Tarantella (Do you remember an inn, Miranda?). This was a hugely popular performance with the audiences of the time, but it seems extremely dated today. Another thing, listening to the poets of yesteryear, it’s obvious that ‘professional’ writers of poetry in the 19th and early 20th centuries were overwhelmingly white middle-class men.
A good day then, and I’m sure our attendees learned something ot take forward in their own reading careers.
Monday night I’m judging a performance of readings by SWRI group members in Bathgate. I’ve to give 30% for choice of material, and 70% for the actual performances. I got the material in advance, so I was able to give some preliminary marks, but I’m looking forward to the actual performances, so that I can see if the choices were correctly made in relation to the skills of the performers. My “Heirs of Burns” talk, featuring readings from contemporary Scottish poets, has proved popular with several SWRI groups, so that’s how they got to know me.