Apologies for not posting in a while, as my life got busier and my blogs became essays, productivity ground to a halt. So, let me share a quick observation to get things back on track.

The lectern has come in for a bit of stick on this blog, particularly with regard to the barrier it places between the poet and the audience and the cloying sense of importance it lends to proceedings. I am still not a fan of the lectern but I noticed a few things at a reading this weekend that made a strong case for why a literary poet might prefer it.

Now the reading I was at didn’t use a lectern per se, rather a music stand that had been made to look attractive with some glittery adornments. That said, the music stand was very lectern-like in the way that it was placed very close to a back wall with the mic stand nudged up very snugly to it. This led to the poets being crammed in the tiny space between the music stand and the back wall. To be honest, the basement room of the Poetry Cafe has wonderful acoustics and I don’t use the mic at my own event. For purposes of audibility, it’s not needed.

As I watched poets peer out from behind the music stand, speaking into a gratuitous microphone, I had a bit of an epiphany. The poets were trying to vanish. Much like the books or sheets of paper placed on the music stand that they peered over, they wanted the poem to be a barrier between themselves and the audience. If the ultimate medium for their poem was phonetic script on a clean page rather than a live communication between themselves and the audience, then this was a way of reading the poem in a way that recreated this. The microphone also helped, not in the sense that the volume was needed, but in lending an unnatural quality to the voice, another intentional disconnect between the poet and the audience.

Previously, I have seen the need for this kind of alienation as a weakness of literary poetry within a live setting. But now I recognise that alienation may actually be the intent. Their aim is to present the poem as something that has successfully escaped the personality of the poet and now has its own existence within its medium of the printed page. Barthes’ Death of the Author as an act of public execution.

This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts that work towards a criticism of the Spoken Word. I will be looking at all forms of Spoken Word — not just poetry readings and spoken word/poetry performances but stand up comedy, confessional monologues, academic lectures, speeches, wrestling promos and any other act of public speech that rings my bell. All posts will appear under the Toward a Criticism of the Spoken Word category. Click to see if new posts have been added and for any you may have missed.

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