Sunday, March 17, 2024

poetry killed the radio star


In the summer of 1996, before my last year of undergrad, I was on a writing spree.  It had all started, of course, before that, when I was 19 and pumping out terrible slender poems, or maybe as early as age 15, scrawling those terrible blue diary poems. The interest continued, but the practice waned a bit through a couple years where my focus was more on studying lit and doing theater stuff. But that summer a poetry workshop the previous spring had launched me into writing more frequently (if not better.)  This meant that I spent the summer, free of other obligations until some play rehearsals started up in August, devoting myself to poetry in a way you never really get time to again. Both the writing and the submitting, which was mostly to slightly dodgy publications listed in the back of Writer's Digest

I would hand-write poems, then type them up on the navy blue electric typewriter that sustained me all the way through college (that is, until I started spending more time in the computer lab that last year.) It was a cumbersome machine and I could never find the right correction tape, so mostly awkwardly  hauled it and a tiny bottle of white out around the house with a box of poetry stuff to work on the floor in front of the sofa, outside on the deck, or at the dining room table (I had a slender desk with shelves in my bedroom, but it was more a place to store stacks of books and a drip machine that made tea. )

The poems I was writing had relinquished, thankfully, the tendency to want to rhyme I'd sported all through the workshop.(I was actually good at it, making the rhymes, but the poems were pretty bad otherwise.)  I call this my fiercely terrible Emily Dickinson phase. The things, sans rhyme, I wrote that summer would win me a couple of poetry prize nods (honorable mentions and second places) for college prizes the next spring.They weren't exactly amazing, but they were better.

The biggest thing I remember from that summer was recording every poem when I was done drafting it. I used a portable boombox I also sometimes carried with me from workspace to workspace. Listening to my voice reading me helped me write better in a way, hearing how the words sounded off the page. Somewhere in this apartment I still have the tape I used, though nothing to play it on. Who knows if it would even play after close to 30 years. I'm also not sure if I could handle meeting my 22-year-old self again, much in the same way my old paper journals make me cringe.

I think of this every time I make a recording now though. On my easy little oval mic that plugs into my computer. 30 years later and my voice is actually still probably the same voice--a voice that I always wish was deeper and more mature, but still sounds clear like a bell and soft. I remember hearing Plath read her own work the first time after being seeped in her work for years and being surprised that she sounded nothing like I would have imagined her to. She was not the flustered girl of her diary entries and letters, but her voice rich and bone serious. I also remember sitting in my Modern British Poetry class at DePaul, listening to Eliot read The Wasteland, scribbling notes and doodles in my spiral notebook and all the gears in my head turning.

When I am recording a poem now, I usually try not to listen too carefully to the audio, since that voice does not sound like how my voice sounds in my head and the disconnect is a weird one. I remember being so surprised though the first time I heard someone else reading one of my poems in an audio file. It almost became a different poem in someone else's intonations and rhythms entirely. 

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