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Actors Reading Poetry

I participated in the arcane world of poetry and poetry readings for a while and now only occasionally will I write poetry (they surface unexpectedly) and attend a reading, usually when a writer friend is reading. Even when I took two classes—and enjoyed them—and shifted my narrative brain into thinking in images, I always drifted back to narrative and wrote mostly prose poems. I wrote a slew when I was working on “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories,” and they were—to a word—dark and surreal. No surprise that I needed this outlet to keep going on the project for two years. War games at the Geneva Headquarters of the International Red Cross: not fun. I published a few of these dark and surreal “poems,” but I never considered myself a poet. And I am always bored at poetry readings. In fact, I have strong opinions about readings in general. For starters, we know that they don’t sell books; their purpose is purely celebratory. Secondly, they go on too long, well beyond the ½ hour tolerance of most listeners who are present to get a look at the writer, ask embarrassing questions during the Q&A, and purchase a signed copy of the book which they can then sell as a collectible. Thirdly, most writers are incapable of reading their work well, thus the boredom factor intensifies. So when I was invited to read a poem at an Actors Helping Actors Equity Fund Raiser, I was hesitant but also flattered. (Aye, there’s the rub—the writer’s vanity.) So I agreed, and pulled out a poem with an animal or two in it as that was the theme of the evening: The Animal Kingdom.

To my chagrin, the roster was alphabetical. I am a B!!! The first reader, I suddenly realized, was an uninhibited ACTOR. She read a poem by Pablo Neruda and it was marvelous. I wasn’t familiar with it, but I was riveted. Every word was clear, the cadences perfect, the expression on the actor’s face pitch perfect to the subject matter. It was a performance as much as a reading, a reading performance.

Then it was my turn. Up I went. Dear Reader, I did my best. Fortunately, the poem wasn’t very long.

And the evening continued in this vein: actors reading poetry with expression and nuance and practiced, rich voices. Most of them didn’t even need the microphone. By the end of this delightful evening in which I heard well known poems as if for the first time, I had made a decision: I am going to invite actor friends to read my work at my next book launch party. I’ll sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

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