The Joy of Listening
With Simon Armitage coming up in conversation this evening at the Norwich Playhouse, I’ve been thinking about the pleasure of listening. I love curling up with a good poetry book and a cup of tea, but there is something altogether different and invigorating about listening to a poet perform their own work live, right in front of you.
Poems are voice, and are brought alive by voice. When read aloud language, rhythms and sounds are able to take on a life of their own, revealing things you could never have experienced by simply reading them on the page. For me, it is like sitting on the sea shore, watching the waves roll in. Each line rolls over my mind, breaking, taking shape. Each line is distinct and different from the previous, but connected and connecting.
I was lucky enough to see Alice Oswald in her recent appearance at UEA. Oswald is a poet who is particularly attuned the aural rather than the visual. On picking up Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars I was immediately struck by the sense of an oral, bardic tradition in the way the poems are constructed. The poems seemed made to be listened to! As Sam Ruddock pointed out in his recent review, Armitage’s poems plot a line between narrative drive and playful, revealing line breaks. The poems are written in the voices of a number of different characters, almost like tuning into a series of rich monologues, or tuning though different radio channels. And yet, for all the different characters that make up the poems, Armitage’s own voice is never far away – there is a wildness and a quirkiness to the way he unpacks the stories. I’m looking forward to a suspenseful and exciting reading tonight.
Plus, there is a real joy to listening to poems in a shared environment. Where else can you hear where people laugh (as was the case with Wendy Cope last Thursday), or when an audience sucks in a collective breath in response to a beautiful line, or when the room is so silent each word falls like a single drop of water into a pool. The participative experience of listening to a story unfold is one, in my opinion, not to be missed.
Do you love listening to a poet perform live?
How do you find the experience of listening as opposed to reading?