SENTINEL POETRY

ONLINE MAGAZINE MONTHLY     ISSUE #10 SEPTEMBER 2003     ISSN 1479-425X

"what ultimately survives, I have discovered,
is the printed page, the book!  Even if a reading
has been taped or put on video, the primary
reference - at least in the West -  remains
the printed form. The vocal is vaporized!"


SV:
I continue to go to readings as much as possible. This summer in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, there is a whole new generation of writers callied the "New Brutalists", many of whom have their own web blogs and who besides reading in obscure diners and warehouses -  like the intimacy of having readings in each other's houses usually combined with everyone bringing food and drink. Summer is usually very quiet here and this is happening two and three times a week! Simultaneously these poets are involved in a new wave of publishing small chapbooks and on-line magazines. Everything seems to be of a weave.

When I think back to major poets, I relish having heard Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Ed Dorn, Beverly Dahlen, Robert Creeley, Gabriel Okara and Wole Soyinka (at the first Black Arts Festival in Dakar, 1966), among so many others. A good reading is like being in touch with the bone, fiber and soul of the poet. At its best it is something similar to going to a unique church that offers this unique brand of communion.

Yet, what ultimately survives, I have discovered, is the printed page, the book!  Even if a reading has been taped or put on video, the primary reference - at least in the West -  remains the printed form. The vocal is vaporized! As typography - an architecture on the page, the poem remains deeply resonant for me. Not to discount the oral experience which I can deeply love, I can keep coming back to the page where I not only hear the work (with my "inner ear") but I can explore the page like a sculpture, checking out and interpreting the words and their composition, the way they bother or enhance each other as material. objects that magically activate what was once a blank space. The poem on the page represents the opportunity to repeat, alter, and creatively deepen both the reading and interpretative critical experience. Ink, paper texture design all play a part, and these elements well combined with good text continue to bring me great joy.

NA: Don't forget the Internet. Poets can now stream their work vocally on the net. What's is your view on this?

SV: Of course, we are also into a new medium and vocabulary with the computer and monitor. But this channel, similar to the performed reading, is also liquid and subject to an ephemeral life. Any poems I want to keep, I print. Every other form seems destined to amnesia!

NA: Mr Vincent. I have thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. But before I go, I'll ask just one last question. What are the factors that can stop a poet from being a good reader of his/her own poetry?

SV: There are many poets who are not good public readers, simple. They have bad voices, no pitch, no capacity for spoken rhythms, whatever, they die in public. Their work lives only to put on the page. Emily Dickenson would have probably died in front of an audience! 

And, ironically, there are some poets who are only good in public performance! Their physical presence, intonation, rhythm, tonal expressions and emotional conviction are totally captivating. Yet, when the work is read on the page, the text is limp and without any kind of formal appeal. I always found Ntozake Shange, for example, much more powerful as a performer of her work, than when I read her texts on the page!


Stephen Vincent a former United States Peace Corps creative writing teacher at the University Of Nigeria, is the author of Passages, Walking, Now Everyone Know Childcare and Poetry Reading (with Ellen Zweig eds.)

Nnorom Azuonye is the Founder of Sentinel Poetry Movement, editor of Sentinel Poetry Magazine and author of Letter To God and Other Poems.

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