Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Actors reading poetry

There's a very interesting discussion going on at Helen Ivory's Facebook page over the decision to have the nominated poems in this year's Forward Poetry Prizes read by actors at an event at the Southbank Centre.

My initial reaction was disapproval - I've been to a few events over the years where actors have done terrible things to innocent poems, usually by over-emoting, over-enunciating, or trying, as someone on the thread says, to sound as if the poem has just come to them.

On reflection, my position is altering a little, although I still can't really see why they couldn't give the poets the choice whether to read themselves. Some, I'm sure, would have been happy for the actors to take over, so the publicity boost from their presence (which I assume is the major reason they were enlisted) would still be there.

But several people on the thread (notably Gary Longden and Jonathan Davidson) make good points in favour of actors being used. One is that, of course, not all poets read their own work well. I'd still want, I think, for the poets to be able to give the actors some sort of direction, but why not have both options? Some poets probably dread every reading, but can't afford not to try to sell books when they're given the chance.

What does still get my goat, though, is what I think is a rather separate issue, that of the actors adding 'glamour' and 'magic' to the whole thing, as if no poet could possibly be trusted to turn up in their smartest clothes with their hair done.

But anyway, I've posted a poll on this on the right, because at the end of the day what poets think about it is not really as important as the book-buying public's. I'll be interested to see what the results are.


Sue Millard said...

I've voted for a choice. As both a poet and an amateur actress (in my day) and a teacher, I believe I am the person who can do the best for my poems. HOWEVER - I have some deeply felt poems which I have found extremely difficult to read aloud and which I've had to ask another poet, whose performance I trusted, to read for me. I would expect a trained actor to do as well. Why does it have to be a cut and dried "one or the other" choice? Let the poet decide.

Matt Merritt said...

I think I agree, Sue. I'd like the poet to have the choice, and to be able to give the actor some direction if they do choose to let them read it.