Poetry Reading

I spent some time this afternoon reading poems by Billy Collins at a library event; the library has a reading series where they have poets come read their work, and then they end the series with a session devoted to some well-known poet, with local residents doing the reading. I’ve become known to the woman in charge of the series because of the volunteering I’ve done at library sales, and so a few weeks ago, she asked me to participate.

I’m glad I did because it can be so wonderful to hear poetry read out loud, and to read it out loud oneself. We were a small group, maybe 13 or 14, in a small, cozy room, and most people knew each other, so it was comfortable. I had chosen five poems to read, and as I read I was surprised when people found the poems funny and started to laugh. Now Collins can be a funny writer, but I don’t laugh out loud when I read his work. But doing a reading with an audience changes things; what’s mildly amusing on one’s own is laugh-out-loud funny in a group.

I knew that poetry is often meant to be read out loud, and that it’s often better experienced that way, but it’s another thing entirely to experience that directly.

It reminds me of the poetry reading that took place at the conference I went to last month; a bunch of us sat around in a room and read 18C poems out loud to each other. It was wonderful to hear poems I’ve known and read on my own being read out loud; they were funnier or more moving when experienced that way.

I’m not particularly good at listening to poetry if I’m not already familiar with the work; I am such a visual person that I have trouble following words if there’s no text. But when I know the work being read, then listening to poetry is a pleasure. Perhaps I should see if my library has any poetry on CD to listen to in the car … I wonder what that would be like.

Here’s one of the poems I read today; it’s one I teach, as it’s a good way to get students to think about the sonnet form:


All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.


Filed under Books, Poetry, Reading

18 responses to “Poetry Reading

  1. LOL! Iambic bongos. *snort*


  2. Edd


    It would have given me great pleasure to be an anonymous individual listening to you read aloud Billy Collins as well as auditing your lectures on his work. Remember my Word Prediction software – even this sentence does not come across correctly to me.


  3. Fabulous poem. I am so interested in what you have said about reading poetry out loud.


  4. Cam

    What a great poem to teach the sonnet. I know of Billy Collins but am not very familiar with his work. Thanks for sharing this poem.


  5. hepzibah

    a poetry reading! how exciting. At first, I am always nervous to read anything out loud, but when I do, I always under estimate myself and I really do like to read to others. And I like you poem on the sonnet!


  6. I love this poem. How witty, how well-conceived! I love the last 6 lines– the turn, the resolution, Laura and Petrarch, the medieval tights! Thanks, Dorothy.


  7. Fascinating post, Dorothy. I love Billy Collins. Have read several volumes of his poetry, I daresay, almost all of his published stuff. And I do not think I have ONCE, laughed!
    But we are all different, I guess, as readers. I was told, just tonight, in a private email, that a reader “laughed” and found somewhat hilarious, my own most recent poem, and I do not understand this, at all. Because I do not see the thing as humorous, nor did I intend it to be seen as such.
    Secondly, I too, prefer to visually SEE a poem, rather than hear it being read out loud. Also, I detest reading aloud, any of my own poems, mostly because how they visually APPEAR [how they are lined out] is as important to me, as what they say, and what they sound like.
    What’s worse, is if someone else is reading it [especially my own mother] and she gets the wrong inflection, and I cringe and want to positively DIE!
    I truly believe that poetry is meant to be SEEN by the person who is READING it.


  8. What a wonderful poem! I can see how it would be great to use in teaching. I hadn’t heard of Billy Collins before but I’ll sure to seek out his work now.


  9. I agree that poetry is best read aloud. I must get back into reading it to my children – we went through a phase of reading lots of Edward Lear and Spike Milligan. I love the Collins poem!


  10. What a great poem! I’d never heard of Billy Collins before but I can see I should do something about that!


  11. verbivore

    Sounds just wonderful. I don’t often take the time to read poetry outloud but I agree that it can be greatly altered when experienced in that form.


  12. I love Billy Collins, because he’s often so funny. I wish I could have been there with you. What fun to have like-minded souls reading that sort of poetry out loud together. I found when I was reading Scott’s Lady of the Lake, I just HAD to read it out loud. Poetry always speaks to me more when I do that. However, I’m like you. Unless I’m familiar with a poem, I at least want to “read along” if someone else is reciting it.


  13. What a fun day you had! I love hearing poetry read out loud. What poems did you read to the group? Like the Collins poem. Like Sylvia I laughed at “iambic bongos” 🙂


  14. That sounds like a fun afternoon. Maybe I need to “hear” poetry out loud to help me appreciate it. I’ll have to give it a try!


  15. Iambic bongos! I love that. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. I don’t read nearly enough poetry but I do always try to read it aloud. I definitely think it makes a difference to my appreciation of it.


  16. Doing the reading WAS a lot of fun, and I’d be happy to do it again (and I may very likely be asked again …). Besides “Sonnet,” I also read “Advice to Writers,” “Dharma” (a great one about dogs), “Schoolsville,” and “Directions.” They are all from Sailing Alone Around the Room.


  17. musingsfromthesofa

    What a great poem! Thanks for sharing it.


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