On Performing Poetry and Authorial Intent

So, I recently had my senior reading and chose to do poetry. It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. It got me thinking about the performative aspects of poetry. When reading poetry out loud, it can completely change the poem, something that doesn’t happen in stories or essays. Poetry being read aloud is a very different experience from being read from the page. The poet controls exactly how the reader hears the poem, which brings up the issue of authorial intent. Usually, I hold the belief that authorial intent doesn’t mean anything. If the poet/writer cannot convey what they wish, then they are failing in a sense. It’s fine for readers to get different readings than intended from poems (something I myself often do with other people’s poetry), and since the poet usually isn’t there when a reader reads the poem, they can’t explain the intent. However, in readings/performance, poets can explain what they intended, which can end up stepping on the poem’s freeness and the listener’s interpretation. But when the poet is performing their poem, they often give background information on the poem, what they mean for it to mean, etc. Performing poetry also plays with the form. Not all read-aloud poetry is slam poetry, but people may think so. And by being read aloud, sometimes the messages and emotions may be magnified.

2 Replies to “On Performing Poetry and Authorial Intent”

  1. Rachel,
    I totally agree. I usually have a theme or feeling in mind as I write a poem, but if that doesn’t directly translate to the reader, I’m okay with it. I want my words to reach people, and maybe change over time through different mouths until it’s not mine anymore. I think that, in performing poetry, we are limiting our poetry to our interpretations and we need to step back from our poems to let them speak for themselves, not for us.

  2. Rachel,
    I agree too! When I read my bread poem aloud it was a totally different experience and even though I had never read it aloud before I found myself taking on a whole new poem. I elongated words, sped up in certain areas and I found myself not having planned these things or even thinking about them. I just had an idea of the poem that you couldn’t get from just being the reader. I think each poem has different faces honestly. The one you read on the page is completely different than listening to the writer read it.

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