Don’t miss Annie Finch’s post on the Poetry Foundation’s blog: Audacity of Voice: The Poet as Actor, Michael Maglaras’ Hiawatha Marathon, and How I Made my CD.
An excerpt follows below:
Michael Maglaras is an professional reader-aloud of poetry. He trained as an opera singer, and he loves poetry, and one of the things he does is to go around and give readings. I met him when I introduced his six-hour reading of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha at a theater in Portland last year. How long will all these folks last, I confess I wondered cynically when I first walked in and saw the house was full. Yes, I confess to a slight feeling of superiority, earned from the hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of hours of poetry readings I’ve sat through. Did these people (realtors and plumbers and all kinds of other people, judging from my random queries, but not a single poet that I could tell) know what they were in for?
But I was laughing out of the other side of my poetic mouth three hours later when the house was still full, with people knitting happily and kids sitting on the edge of their seats and everyone rapt with attention, riding the trochees onward with all their variations and subtleties as Michael intoned the prologues and boomed the battles and storms and whispered the love scenes and wiggled like a squirrel and channeled Hiawatha and Pau-Puk-Keewis and Kahgahgee and Minnehaha and Laughing Water and Wagemin and Nokomis and the scores of other characters Longfellow had researched so painstakingly.
When I had to leave, regretfully, a couple of hours after that, many people still remained in the audience—after five hours—to hear the final controversial scenes of the poem. I was humbled, and excited, by the singular power of the perennial, metrical spine of poetry, surging its energetic currents among us, bringing images alive within a community of people. And when Michael looked at my own work and decided he wanted to perform some of my poems, I was excited too. Now my version of a poem from Calendars can be compared to Maglaras’ version of the same poem. If anyone wants to continue the Actor vs. Poet experiment begun on the podcast, where listeners were asked to compare an actor and a poet reading the same (free-verse) poem, I’d be curious what you think; would the experiment come out differently with a metrical poem?