Sunday, April 15, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #15: Leslie Rzeznik on Recording Yourself

Today's guest poet is Leslie Rzeznik, who blogs at A Boisterous Life.

Many poets advise practicing Leslie's habit -- as part of the revision process, record yourself reading a poem. Then, listen to the recording. You will hear wonderful wordplay you hadn't noticed on the page, or hear phrasing that needs to be tweaked in the next draft. While I don't record myself, my friends and I almost always read our poems aloud as we prepare for feedback.

I brought a new poem (about a recent Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance) to my friend Ann Bracken a few weeks ago. Reading the poem to her, I heard a phrase I had stolen from another of my own poems! Whoops. I missed that with my eyes, but the sound was familiar to my ears. I revised the line.

Leslie has some great advice about how to make this poetry habit effective for revision.

Here's Leslie: The Voice of the Poem

Some poets don’t think about how a poem looks on the page or how it sounds when spoken aloud. There are some who argue that their poems are not meant to be read aloud. Spoken Word or Slam Poetry aside, every poet can use the spoken word as a means to become a better writer. 

When I read a poem aloud, I can hear its musicality better. Its rhythm is more defined. I can feel on my tongue when the words just don’t work. I can detect dead spaces, run-on lines, and natural caesuras which often help with determining my line breaks. I can even hear mis-associations that I might not catch when reading in my head. But wait!

We don’t have to fantasize about training our dogs to recite our poems (as Wordsworth might have) and we don’t need to be in workshop to hear our poems read outside of our own head space. No, fellow poets, this is what we have technology for. Many poets are Luddites, and so don’t have the fanciest new iPad or digital recorder. However, most people in the Western world have cell phones. And most cell phones have voice recording apps, no matter how ridiculously old or basic they are.
The original Luddites destroyed industrial textile frames.
Have you done any "machine breaking" out of frustration with technology?
(actforclimatejustice.org)
Record your poem. Make note while you’re recording where you stumble over words and where your pace lags. When playing it back, listen for rhythm, flow, more places where you stumble. If the poet herself can’t read the poem without mistakes, how will others? I have a copy of my poem in front of me and make notes as I listen, just as I would if I were work-shopping someone else’s poems. Sometimes I close my eyes so I can concentrate on the sound. 

I’ve come to record each iteration, and I think it has sped up the editing process substantially. But, hey, it’s just another tool. If you hate the way your voice sounds, get someone else to read your poem. Or just get over your phonophobia. Other than work-shopping with other poets whose work I admire and input I trust, this is the best way to get some distance from my writing.

Oh, and that cell phone? A great way to record your middle-of-the-night inspirations, too.
A poet's friend?

7 comments:

Madame Esme said...

Thanks for including my post in your lineup. Just a little correction - my last name is spelled "Rzeznik". Happy Writing!

Robyn Hood Black said...

What a great idea! I always read aloud any poems I'm working on or offering feedback on for others. But, honestly, I hadn't thought about recording and playing back on my cell phone. How easy! Thanks for the new "tool."

Author Amok said...

Thanks for the correction, Leslie. I had a feeling I got something wrong. I'll edit it in a sec.

Renee LaTulippe said...

I couldn't agree more! My blog is all about poetry videos (poets reading their own work), but I also believe that voicing the poem during the writing process is as valuable as recording the final product. It's an immense help for hearing the hiccups in your own work!

BTW, most PCs also have a sound recorder in the Accessories folder under "All Programs" - just one click and you're ready to record!

Author Amok said...

This has been a great discussion. I've also been trading comments with a member of Maryland Writers Association on Facebook, who has a site with clips of his poems. It's a faster method than my habit of putting poems away from ten years before I revise them.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

Yes! I love the way you explain why and how to do this. I always ask someone in my family to read the poem aloud to hear where THEY trip up (thinking I may just force it well.) Lately, though, SoundCloud has helped me to hear the bad spots in poems. It makes a huge difference! Thank you! a.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Amy. I'm going to have to check out Sound Cloud. Sounds interesting.