Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cover versions

I've wondered for a long time why poets so rarely read other people's poems alongside their own at readings. After all, go to see a band, and you can usually rely on hearing at least one cover version during the course of the set.

I have seen it done, though, and it works well, especially if the poems chosen in some way inform the rest of the set, or have some sort of connection to it. Of course, the fact that most poetry sets only last about 20 minutes probably means that poets are reluctant to 'bump' one of their own poems to make way for something else, but I wonder if there's also a fear of making their influences too obvious?

Well, whatever, I think I'll give it a try next time I do a full reading. Whenever I come across a poem I really like in a magazine (or maybe in a public place), I make a point of copying it out, not just so I've got it to hand, but because recording it helps to fix it in my mind. It means I've now got a wide assortment of poems that I probably know better than my own - I think I'll start with a couple of those.


Caroline Gill said...

It's a great idea - but is our reluctance partly on the grounds of rights etc. - unless of course we know the other poets well and can ask them in advance?

I also try to keep a personal file of poems by others that particularly appeal or resonate with my own work.

Alan Baker said...

There's an account by Philip Larkin of a reading by Dylan Thomas at which Thomas read only two of his own poems, the rest by others. Which is interesting.

Of course, if you do read other people's poems, you need to make sure they're not better than yours...

Matt Merritt said...

Good point, Alan! I think that may well be part of the reluctance - if you like someone else's poem so much you want to read it in public, deep down you probably suspect that it might overshadow your own.

I hadn't really thought about the permission angle, Caroline, partly because the poems I've thought about reading have been by dead poets, but it's an interesting point.