poetry patterns

Opposition - photo by Eileen Long

Just got home from a day rehearsing at The Barbican Theatre with Mark Laville. I’m performing at the Exeter Fringe next week, so time is tightening…

I’m feeling very inspired about the piece now, the new bits, still being pushed to my limits as a performer so that’s a bit daunting, wish I had a new back and new knees…and a new voice -still recovering from a sore throat.

But I’m starting to believe that I’m the right person for this job. I’ve been telling myself I’m not a performer for a few years now so it’s been a bit of a barrier…

Anyway. Mark’s notes got me thinking about these habitual vocal patterns and melodies that I get into when delivering text.

It’s a habit from performing poetry. I don’t deliver my poetry in a typical ‘performance poet’ kind of way, if I can say that without insulting anyone…but I do fall into habitual patterns. So the poem will sound exactly the same way each time I perform it – the intonation exactly the same.

I’ve used that intentionally in a few pieces – it’s how I can cut up a piece of text and get that cut-up style to really work, because I’ll bring a word back in precisely the same way I said it the first time. But I’m starting to realise how much it interferes with my writing too.

Just a simple thing – I’ve got a new section of text that goes:

tip toe
tip toe
tip toe
tip toe
tip toe


And when I learned the text I learned it as music – hitting the words in a particular way and rhythm. But then in rehearsals when I said ‘stumble’ in a simple way…because I’d just stumbled …it suddenly came to life. I brought the meaning back. There are various places throughout the piece now where I need to unfix the delivery.

The Winston Churchill speech is the most important one. I need that speech to mean something. It’s a completely different language to the rest. He’s talking about integrity and how we live our lives – today’s politicians don’t use that kind of vocabulary. They simplify their speeches as they want everyone to understand (I presume). But actually, we may understand the words, but that doesn’t mean it means anything to us. Whereas Churchill asks fundamental questions that still resonate now –  how to live with the mistakes that we will all make.

Winston Churchill, 1940, Eulogy for Neville Chamberlain:

History, with its flickering lamp, stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.

The trouble with a fixed delivery is that is stops having meaning to me. And although I enjoy treating words as sound, language as music, this piece needs more than that. Even with more abstract writing if I can let the intention, the thought behind the words out, then I can let the audience in.

Opposition is at the Exeter Fringe, Bike Shed Theatre, 28th June 6pm & 29th June 8pm. Tickets: 01392 667080

2 thoughts on “poetry patterns

    1. Thanks GD,
      I just updated it to include the Churchill speech.
      – Yes, I agree, I think, it’s a question that I’ve pondered from different sides. I wrote about it in an essay in a book on poetry ‘Stress Fractures’ – published by Penned in the Margins: http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk
      I like treating words as sounds, and the idea of ‘composing speech’. It’s so hard to pinpoint what meaning is…When we listen to music people don’t tend to complain of a lack of meaning, yet we need semantic meaning on the top of words as sounds… I think we need words in performance to come from an impulse, a need to speak, they need to be believable. The risk of fixing delivery is that I start performing on automatic pilot and then the words are reduced to sound. But still, like I wrote in that essay…there is more to words than meaning.
      Perhaps the fun is playing with all these layers….being aware of the layers at work….

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