This week the Literary Society will be hosting a speakeasy, one of the fundamental events of our society. Poets and storytellers of all types will be coming together share their work and you a dearly invited to join in the fun. You might even feel inspired to share a piece of work yourself! To get you all in the mood for seeing some stage routines, Jacob Woolf will take a look at five writers with distinct performance styles and the lessons we can take away from them.
Kate Tempest – Progress
I could have picked any number of Kate’s works for this, but decided to go for a short solo video unaccompanied by a band. This also isn’t about how ferociously intelligent and consequential her poems are, instead focusing on how she performs them. She is full of movement and energy, but the core of her routine remains the words coming to us crisp and clear, full of lively ubiquitous themes. Kate maintains a bodily rhythm in tune with her verses, which she keeps up even in shows lasting over an hour. At all times she remains natural and comfortable, forming a running dialogue with her audience in both her words and movements.
Lesson – Kate Tempest is one to watch for poets unsure what to do with their bodies while performing (not to mention everyone else). Her movements keep her audience engaged while aiding her own rhythm. Of course, you could just bring along a parchment and stand still while reading off it. In fact, the next entry does exactly that and still pulls off a blistering poetic display.
In this clip, Saul utilises a number of techniques to stir up his audience. The little scroll he carries out unfurls into a lengthy winding parchment. His words wash over you in a quick but steady beat, always a step ahead of your comprehension. There’s a lot going on what he’s saying, but the force and tone he utilises only gives you time to abstract brief impressions. As he carries on his voice steadily rises, culminating in a roaring crescendo.
Saul subverts the classic style of reading slowly, deliberately, letting the audience take in what you’re saying. He is loud, raucous, powerhousing through verses. The faculty of communication rests heavily on tone, but you still capture enough snippets of meaning to pique your interest, excepting a desire to investigate the mechanisms behind his flittering words.
Lesson - Don’t be too concerned with your style or tone overshadowing what you’ve written, especially if it suits the words. If you can get people interested, they’ll come back for more.
William Shatner – Rocket Man
Okay, the inclusion of this entry will probably elicit a few laughs, but hear me out. No, Shatner isn’t a poet, this isn’t even my favourite of his spoken word works, but I feel there is a lot of value in hearing an actor performing a song-as-poetry. Acting is all about engagement, about communicating through words and body language with your audience. A really good actor can keep your attention on them even when they have next to no lines. Shatner takes his time with his reading, often pausing to take lazy drags from what may or may not have been a cigarette.
Lesson – The main takeaway is what watching actors can teach you about engagement. Next time you watch a film pay attention to how lines are delivered, the pauses between them, and what the actors do when they’re not speaking. And given this particular performance that the real magic is created when you give up worrying about looking foolish. Hey, if it flops you can always claim you were doing it ironically.
James Joyce – Excerpt from Finnegan’s Wake
Joyce was obsessed with rhythm and sound. Often when reading him I’ll pause to say a sentence aloud a few times, getting a buzz out of not just their musicality but the feeling of
saying them and the curious way they make my lips move. Some of his invented words seem crafted especially for this, gems like “poppysmic plopslop” and “Scribbledehobble.”
Given this it should come as no surprise that listening to him recite a passage from his impenetrable masterpiece Finnegan’s Wake can lend clues to its intent and meaning. Like with Saul Williams impression supersedes comprehension. Language becomes a vehicle not just for literal meaning but for the feelings contained within the words themselves.
Lesson – Joyce heard music in words. When writing remember to experiment with pure sound along with everything else. Try an exercise where you dispose of meaning completely and just focus on the noise your words are making.