thanks Don, for the shoutout in SOUND MAG "HOW TO READ A POEM ALOUD"
Read it like someone trying to sound like you. Read it like your parents would. Read it like how you’ll sound in forty years. What parts of it will go missing when you’re old, when you’re your parents, when you can only any longer imitate yourself?
Record yourself again, to have a record of what you sound like. Doesn’t that sound better? Use the webcam again. Aren’t you so charming now? Won’t your future self be glad you took the time to do this?
Now that you’re reading this poem as a record of yourself, try out silly accents. Australian accents are silly, as are most southern accents. If you can manage, do Italian, South African, Minnesotan, and Japanese. Try reading it like Donald Dunbar, all monotone and nasally and lethargic. Read it like you’re more or less educated than you are. Read it as if you don’t know half the words. Deeply, then falsetto.
Read it imitating Catherine Wagner, Ilya Kaminsky, Matt Hart, Joyelle McSweeney, Diana Salier, Abraham Smith, CAConrad, K. Silem Mohammad, Shelly Taylor, Dana Ward. If you haven’t heard all of them reading, go look them up! Find out what poems can sound like.
Start listening to hip-hop. Try to fit the poem into Gucci Mane’s flow. Into Lil B’s, 2 Chainz’s, Waka Flocka Flame’s. Read the poem as if the poet had a new name. Read the poem saying, “I am [poet’s name, original or new],” after every line. Stop listening to hip-hop if you start thinking too much about earnestness and self-parody, minstrel shows. Stop reading Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, C. K. Williams, everybody you had already heard about. Start listening to slowed-down hip-hop. DJ Screw.
Record yourself remembering as much of the poem as you can some hours later, some days later. Think about language as a tradition, poetry as a tradition, entertainment as a tradition, instruction as a tradition, strung along beside humanity and life, and then read the poem as if you’re the worthy heir to them. Read it as if you’re spending your life reading it. As if all life is is sounds, over and over. Read the poem timidly, in parody. Never read the poem timidly.
How do you know if you’re reading the poem timidly?