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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 13. October 4, 1951

To Write Poetry is not to Read — Vogt's Versifiers Vocalise

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To Write Poetry is not to Read

Vogt's Versifiers Vocalise

No person agrees with another over the way in which a particular poem should read. A poem in a materialisation of the poet's personality and so can be fully understood only by its author; a person's understanding and interpretation of a poem differs considerably from that of anotbers—these things place challenging obstacles in the way of the poetry-reader who wants to get the poem across. Most poems demand intensive study before they are able to be read aloud intelligently—study that should enable the reader to have the fullest understanding, both of the poem and of the demands it will make upon his capacity for intelligent reading.

Certainly no reader should attempt to put across a poem of which he has but a cursory understanding. It is not good enough for some of our young poets to come up to Vic. to read poetry just because they are poets. They must prove themselves capable both of preparing and selecting suitable material for reading, and of using what technical ability they possess to put the poetry across. Suitable poetry—not necessarily simple, but not the involutions of Eliot or Thomas.

Study First

The dialectal subtleties of most modern poets cannot be appreciated from a first reading, and so the most the audience receives is a hazy impression of a series of words, the only connection between them being a vague emotional haze. This could be remedied in two ways. Firstly, the titles of the poems to be read could be advertised beforehand, so that the really interested people could study them in preparation to hearing them read by people who should be masters of the art of reading poetry; and secondly, by limiting the poems read to those which have simple syntax, e.g. poems by Ogden Nash. C. D. Lewis, or some by Auden, and poems that in one aspect at least are immediately clear to the listener. These two things are highly desirable and would be very advantageous to those people who wish to gain, the most from the poetry-readings. Perhaps it is too much to expect even an intelligent audience to prepare themselves for the reading, but I think that a complex poem like Dylan Thomas' "A refusal to Mourn the Death . . ." would have left a much greater impression than it did on the audience after some preliminary study.

The Voices

At the last poetry-reading in the Little Theatre recently Anton Vogt's readings were quite competent. He commenced his readings from contemporary English and American poets with two poems by the well-known American poet, Archibald McLeish, after which "Dirge" by Kenneth Fearing proved a stimulating if rather frenzied change. After this the audience were more or less prepared for Laurence Durrell's "Ballad of the Good Lord Nelson"—a light piece in a satiric vain. However, he returned to a more serious mood with Conrad Aicken's "Preludes," Robert Graves' "The Bards," and concluded with Stephen Spender's "In an Elementary School Classroom."

A selection of poems by Charles Spear (the Christchurch poet) were read by Eric Schwimmer who achieved a fascinatingly haunting atmosphere with a faltering, near monotonic delivery. Hubert Witherford followed with some of his own verse as yet unpublished in book form.

Alistair Campbell initiated a useful practice when he gave a brief outline of the characteristics of John Crowe Ransome's poetry before he read some poems by him. He remarked that Ransome's poetry, steeped in the tradition of the South, went back to the Cavalier poets whose verse was marked by its, detached ironic tone which prevented it from becoming too personal. To my mind this gives an impression of emotional sterility in much of Ransome's work. He commenced his readings with the much-anthologised "Captain Carpenter"—in his words "the reductio ad absurdum of the Cavalier idea." However, the manner in which it was read almost completely sterilised the poem, and the laughs came only from the most flagrant of Ransome's attacks on credibility. The reading was not light enough—it was too matter-of- fact, but not the matter-of-factness that can give a humorous effect. He next read "Winter Remembered" and another poem before he came to "Dead Boy"—this poem, elgaic in feeling, best illustrates the sterile of Ransome's emotion and the Cavalier detachedncss of his style. "Blue Girls," "Spectral Lovers," and the well-known "Equilibrists" followed.

Baxter Reads Thomas

The audience awaited with impatience James K. Baxter's readings from Dylan Thomas's "Deaths and Entrances" but were well rewarded with Mr Baxter's usually-immaculate delivery. His introductory remarks were, in outline—"Dylan Thomas stands much in relation to this generation as did Keats to his. He is intensely original. His themes are pretty primitive ones, and he may be said to start writing where other people normally stop writing." Mr Baxter read two poems from Thomas's first group. Of "Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" he said, "What is remarkable about his poems is not the statements he makes, but the intensity with which he makes them." He followed this with Thomas's most widely known poem "Poem in October's Tale," according to Mr Baxter "a fantasy rhyming by assonance; not built up in an intellectual manner but it has an organic character—probably one of the best poems to be written this century."

So ended the third poetry reading to be held under the auspices of a joint committee of Training College and Varsity literary figures. It will be followed this term by another later in the year.