To talk of perceived pros and cons of performing poetry would suggest that with every reading there must be something good and something bad. But it’s not so black and white as that. I don’t think that performing a poem could ever be said to bring about any negativity, any detriment; rather, there are some aspects of a poem which cannot be communicated this way. Though the skilled reader can do the poem justice audibly in many ways, those visual grammatical and syntactical nuances, those enjambments and strategically inserted line breaks, risk going largely unnoticed, especially if weakly projected into a bustling coffee shop or other popular but oftentimes distracting venue. Much can be missed when that cursed steamer hisses over your shoulder or the phone rudely blurts out its beeping beside you and is chased by a flustered “Sorry!”
But what I was reminded of last night at a reading by Pindrop Press poets at Smokey Joe’s was the uniqueness each poet brings to their own reading – of poems that are, again, unique. From the boots they wear to their colourful dresses to their preamble to their fumbling with the microphone stand – those are the minds and those are the hands which sculpted what you are about to hear, visualise and, with any luck, experience fully. Every clear or not-so-clear projection of meaning and rhythm is heartfelt. The poet experiences the world that is that poem again as he or she opens its myriad doors to whoever may be listening closely enough.
So I would entreat you to go to as many readings as you can. But maybe the next time you do so, bear in mind all that can’t be conveyed through the performance – while at the same time taking stock of all that is conveyed only because of it. There, somewhere between hearing the poem and reading it from the page, lies the key to understanding the poem in all its entirety and with all its potential.