Back in my schooldays (and I don’t want to be reminded how long ago that was) long poems were learned by heart and recited. Recently I was one of the regional judges for the BBC’s ‘Off By Heart’ series for children. At slams I’ve attended, reading poems without the safety net of a script is relatively common.
I was thinking about the issue last night at the ‘Poetry at the… ‘ session at the GRV (what does that stand for?). Joseph Harrison, an American poet from Baltimore, MD, recited his entire 20-minute set from memory. It was a performance which engaged the audience completely – they clearly demonstrated it during the reading. He did it without fluffing, stumbling or evidence of strain – a completely relaxed performance. I loved it.
When I read in public now I don’t have my poems off by heart, although of course I’ve rehearsed them beforehand, and I try to make eye contact with the audience as much as I can. Could I recite them from memory? Probably, since I acted on the stage for many years, and learning scripts was part of the craft. I don’t do it though. Lazy, I suppose.
Incidentally, I enjoyed the venue and the new ‘three minute spots’ on the programme. Mike Pedersen struck me as a young poet to watch for the future. His pamphlet is published by Aberdeen’s Koo Press.