Thursday, September 08, 2011

I Go Back to May, 1937

PBS/The Poetry Foundation - Poetry Everywhere

There are things that I liked and didn't like about Sharon Olds' reading of her poem I Go Back to May, 1937. The poem is excellent and the metaphors are striking. One of my favorites is "the/ red tiles glinting like bent/plates of blood behind his head..." The poem is carnal and violent and tumultuous. A screaming scene of an accident the reader and the speaker of the poem can do nothing about except witness it. Which is what makes it so interesting. Olds reading of it, on the other hand is the opposite. It is calm and measured. There are only small increases in volume or emotion in the delivery of the poem.

She uses what my wife calls "the annoying poetry voice" or the "annoying therapist voice". I don't find the voice or delivery annoying, but in the case of this poem, I don't think that style of delivery serve the poem as well as a more animated delivery might. I think that Olds' delivery distances the listener from one of the strengths of the poem. The immediateness of the emotion and turmoil of the poem's speaker and the intensity of the subject matter. One thing I really didn't like about the reading Olds gives is the slow singling out of the last word. I can't think of why it would be done and I think it, again, represses the energy of the poem.

I do like "the annoying poetry voice" because when done right, it delivers an auditory layout of the punctuation and line breaks of the poem. I like that because it demonstrates the craft of poetry that tends to become somewhat muddled or invisible in readings. I've always been told that line breaks and punctuation have audible expression in poetry, that they have assigned pauses and silences when reading it, but many times, when hearing others read, they aren't incorporated. Olds does a good job of including them, and so I enjoyed that aspect of her reading, I just wish there was more of a happy medium between the stripping of emotional potency of a piece and skilled, clear delivery for this poem.

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