poems are bodies

January 18, 2020

I do think there are poems that work better out loud than on the page. Spoken word poems can be exhilarating in performance and one-dimensional on the page. Likewise, there are poems that rely on the authority of the type itself, and the physical relationship between the words, the white space on the page, and the reader. I often tell my students that poems are bodies; we visually take them in and feel them in our guts even before we read the words. William Carlos Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow” is pretty unglorious out loud. I’ve heard a recording of Williams reading it. His voice sounds like the Sherriff on Deputy Dawg, and he reads the poem without emphasis or opinion; it’s over before you know it. Now, on the page, that poem is endlessly compelling. Near-rhymes, stanzas that are visually constructed to look like wheelbarrows, the splitting of compound words into their constituent parts: wheel from barrow, rain from water. I think as my work has matured it may have become less entertaining at a poetry reading and more interesting on the page. As I have aged I have also become shy.

Diane Seuss
Interview in The Smoking Poet (Winter 2009/2010 issue)

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