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I have enough trouble as it is in trying to say what I think I know.

Samuel Beckett

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Sunday, March 6th, 2005

🦋 Notes on Listening to Heaney's Beowulf in the Car

  • I bought the CD thinking it would be fun to listen to on long car trips. The dual obstacle turns out to be Ellen and Sylvia, who aren't into it. Hmm... but this morning for the first time (and admittedly on a short trip) I convinced Sylvia at least that it would be good listening because it is a Fairy Tale, which genre she enjoys. Who knows how long this will last.
  • Sylvia noticed midway in to the first book that elves were among the characters, something Beowulf has in common with the Fairy Tales CD she likes to listen to. (They don't, however, "talk in funny voices.")
  • I noticed while listening that the poem was written by a Christian; he calls the Danes "heathenish" and says they did not yet know "the Lord most high, ruler of heaven" (I think is how he phrases it). For some reason I had always thought the poem was from before Christianity was introduced to the British isles, I guess because the events it describes took place before Christianity. Also because I thought writing came along with Christianity* and that the poem was an oral legend, so pre-writing.

    But I can try and make some sense of this -- could be that the oral legend predates British Christianity and it was written down (and maybe expanded on) by somebody afterwards. Kinda like with the legend of Troy and Homer. I want to find out if there is any record of the identity of the person who wrote it down, and what his dates were, and his position in life. Time to read more closely the introduction to Heaney's translation, which I just skimmed at the time I read the book but which I seem to recall being pretty long, it will probably contain the info I'm looking for.

Update: we took a longer trip this afternoon going to a friend's birthday party, and I was actually able to listen to the whole Book I, a bit more than an hour. Sylvia lost interest about 2/3 of the way through (around the point of the story-within-a-story about the war between Hrothgar and Finn the Frisian); but she did not demand different music, just started making up a conversation between two stuffed animals that were on hand.

Another Update: I realized I have been talking about "Book I" when I actually mean "Disc I". The epic is divided into 2 CD's. I thought based on an unclear memory of reading it, that that corresponded to a division in the text; but apparently not.

*Okay so there were runes before that. My whole idea falls apart if Beowulf was written down in runes but I'm pretty sure that is not the case.

posted afternoon of March 6th, 2005: Respond
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Monday, May 12th, 2008

🦋 Meter

Reading the Inferno today and I was having a little trouble with figuring out what it should sound like. So I took the obvious path and started reading aloud. And what a revelation! I think I am going to read this whole book aloud -- the sound is lovely and I'm understanding it better. I think I "get" terza rima now, the way it leads you through the canto; Pinsky's introduction was helpful in this regard, but what really made it concrete was to listen to the reading.

My sense of reading poetry aloud has been heavily influenced by Heany's reading (or "declamation"?) of Beowulf, which I've been listening to a lot in the last couple of weeks.

Try reading this aloud:

"My son," said the gentle master, "here are joined
The souls of all who die in the wrath of God,
From every country, all of them eager to find

Their way across the water -- for the goad
Of Divine Justice spurs them so, their fear
Is transmuted to desire. Souls who are good

Never pass this way; therefore, if you hear
Charon complaining at your presence, consider
What that means." Then, the earth of that grim shore

Began to shake: so violently, I shudder
And sweat recalling it now. A wind burst up
From the tear-soaked ground to erupt red light and batter

My senses -- and so I fell, as though seized by sleep.

-- See how the meter leads you on through the passage. I'm finding it impossible to stop reading in the middle of a canto.

posted evening of May 12th, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, January 29th, 2009

🦋 Read out loud

Sergio Chejfec turned out not to be the highlight of the evening. His work -- the portion of it that is excerpted in BOMB -- is lovely and introspective; but because it is introspective it did not lend itself to being read aloud. You want room for your mind to wander while you're reading it. My favorite thing I heard this evening was the poetry of Nicanor Parra, read by his translator Liz Werner from the recent book Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great. For instance, from the poem "Something Like That":

THE TRUE PROBLEM of philosophy
is who does the dishes

nothing otherworldly

      the truth
                  the passage of time
but first, who does the dishes

whoever wants to do them, go ahead
see ya later, alligator
                and we're right back to being enemies

Also very nice to listen to was Lina Meruana's short story "Ay" -- she writes a flowing, engaging narrative that pulled me in. She only read the first half of the story but it was enough to make me want to read the rest of it on the train coming home. Raúl Zurita was also there, reading some oddly dream-like poems about the coup of 1973 and about Akira Kurosawa; he has one of the most pleasant reading voices I've ever heard -- it was almost hard to get past the immediate sensory delight of listening to him speak, to get at the content of the poems. Zurita also has a piece in this issue of BOMB about Nicanor Parra, sort of bringing me full circle.

posted evening of January 29th, 2009: Respond
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Monday, February 16th, 2009

🦋 A book that would lend itself to being read aloud

...his favorite purple passage remained the one concerning the name "Guermantes," with whose hue his adjacent ultramarine merged in the prism of his mind, pleasantly teasing Van's artistic vanity.

Hue or who? Awkward. Reword! (marginal note in Ada Veen's late hand).

AWB (in the course of an amusing story about the film rights to Ada) calls it "the least filmable story in the history of fiction" -- she is probably right; but I am thinking it would work really well as a reader's theater. The sentences have such a vibrant energy, such rhythm, it would be a treat to hear them read aloud, with feeling. It seems like pacing is a crucial element of this story -- like wandering off in thought will detract from the reading.

posted afternoon of February 16th, 2009: Respond
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Monday, March 30th, 2009

🦋 There and Back Again

Two things about The Hobbit, which I started reading aloud with Sylvia last night: It is a whole lot of fun to read aloud, with opportunities for doing new voices at every turn; and it seems like it will be kind of fun to be reading in parallel with The Fellowship of the Ring.

I'm just at the point in Fellowship, where the party is leaving Rivendell; in a lot of ways this seems like the real beginning of the story, with the first half of the book having been a prologue. I'm interested in Frodo, Sam, and Strider; none of the other travellers has really got my attention yet. (Besides Gandalf of course; but he distinctly does not strike me as a real character, as a human.) Pippin and Merry both have had moments but they are generally in the background so far.

posted evening of March 30th, 2009: 4 responses
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Sunday, May third, 2009

🦋 Reading as therapy

Apologies for a not-fully-coherent post, I'm just trying to get a bunch of stuff that's on my mind out here and not editing much.

¿Por qué no me importa parecer un irresponsable cuando tu saliva permanece aún fresca sobre mis labios? ¿Por qué detengo a los desconocidos en la calle y les hablo de ti? ¿Por qué se me caen las cosas de las manos cuando creo que te acercas?

The story I posted about below, "Asemblea los martes" by Slavko Zupcic, is just lovely to read aloud and listen, without the stream of language being fully comprehensible at reading-aloud speed. This is like the experiences I was having with recordings of spoken Spanish earlier this year -- or like reading e.g. Faulkner or Pynchon can be, where I slip in and out of understanding language as sentences containing meaning, and hearing language as melodic, rhythmic bits of sound.* So all this is keeping in mind Dave Barber's post from Thursday, "What We Lose in Growing Up" -- the way that post resonates for me is with my constant need to craft a narrative that justifies what I'm doing, that points out how I am productively enabling my development into a better person. I was thinking, the moment of joy in the reading aloud, the unreflective perceiving language as sound, is a moment where this narrative is absent; what I'm doing now is constructing the narrative around that moment, where what I'd really like to be able to do is to communicate the moment of rapture. Not quite sure where to go from that...

Porque sí. Porque ya hemos enviado las tarjetas. Porque las invitaciones quedaron bellísimas. Porque les pusimos los cruasanes míos y las tamaras de Ernesto. Porque las hicimos con cartulina rosada. Porque les dibujamos corazones por todas partes. ...

posted afternoon of May third, 2009: Respond
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Saturday, August first, 2009

🦋 Reading out loud

Having a lazy morning and I thought I would pick up and look at A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.... This is a book which I read and loved when I was 14 years old, but which has over the years resisted efforts at rereading. I picked up a copy at a garage sale recently and was enchanted again by the opening paragraphs.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

This morning's discovery is, this is a great, great read-aloud book. I haven't enjoyed reading anything aloud so much since The Hobbit. Try reading this aloud, in an even, relaxed tone:

They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells's mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells's face.
(And in addition to thinking this sounds great, I am identifying with it -- I can feel myself getting hot and confused as I try and figure out how to make the boys stop laughing at me...)

You know what book this is reminding me of in its opening pages, is Boy by Roald Dahl.

posted morning of August first, 2009: 1 response
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Saturday, November 28th, 2009

🦋 Frost

We saw this video of Robert Frost reading his most famous (? -- I think) poem last night -- I had never heard Frost reading before and was really struck by the hypnotic, incantatory quality of his voice. Also he reads a little faster than I would have pictured.

posted evening of November 28th, 2009: 1 response

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

🦋 La bella nadadora

Speaking of Altazor, I found on YouTube a reading of the Prologue that I've been translating over the last few weeks. Clémence Loonis is reading:

My translation of this section below the fold.

posted evening of September 22nd, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Altazor: The Journey by Parachute

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

🦋 Song for his Disappeared Love

Thanks are due Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson of Montevidayo for making available these recordings of Raúl Zurita and his translator Daniel Borzutsky, appearing together at Notre Dame last month. They are reading from Zurita's book Canto a su amor desaparecido (1985), newly published in translation.

Zurita is my favorite reader of any poet I have heard reading. Such a beautiful voice, such a magnificent connection with his words. They are tragic words and bitter, and Borzutsky's translation communicates their tragedy and their bitterness clearly -- even if he is not in Zurita's class as a reader...

Pegado, pegado a las rocas, al mar y a las montañas.
Murió mi chica, murió mi chico, desaparecieron todos.
Desiertos de amor.

posted evening of February 17th, 2011: Respond

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