A couple of days ago while I was on my homeward commute, I read an article about the Forward prize for poetry, which was held yesterday at the Southbank Centre. What struck me wasn’t the interest about the prize winners, or even the poetry itself, but rather the outrage from a minority in the poetry community about famous actors reading the prizewinner’s poems.
Hmm. Where does one draw the line between writing verse → perfomance poetry → acting? Some might say it’s different aspects of the same thing. On the other hand, there are many poets (my writer and poet hubby Joseph Robert being one) who refuse to ever read their work live. In this case, I definitely agree that there is a need for actors to read the poems. I don’t think it’s simply about throwing glamour on the whole poetry business as some poets argued (although admitedly, it doesn’t hurt to have polished professionals publicise poetry – the alliteration was unintentional!) but rather the package as a whole. A few years ago, I watched a professional storyteller read spooky tales to a pub-load of people for Halloween. It wasn’t about his charisma (of which he had plenty), but how he carried his voice, how he engaged the audience, not to mention how he had memorised his lines. Recently, I watched poets reading their work at a literary event, and a few didn’t even glance at the audience once – they simply kept their heads buried in a crumpled up text held by shaking hands.
Of course, not all poets who read live are nervous wrecks, but performance is a bridge between writing and acting, and in that sense I agree with the Southbank Centre’s decision to use actors. Entertainment is entertainment and I’m sure there were many viewers in the audience who were exposed to poetry they otherwise wouldn’t have bothered listening to, all because a select group of famous people chose to read it. Why not?