Louis Esterhuizen. Donald Hall oor die akklamasie van poësievoorlesings


Nou kyk, een van die snaakste stukke die afgelope klompie maande is beslis Donald Hall se artikel in The New Yorker oor poësievoorlesings en die adorasies wat so dikwels daarmee verband hou. Reeds met die inleidingsparagraaf weet jy: hier kom ‘n aweregse kyk soos min: “April is Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets tells us. In 2012, there were seven thousand four hundred and twenty-seven poetry readings in April, many on a Thursday. For anyone born in 1928 who pays attention to poetry, the numerousness is astonishing; in April of 1948, there were fifteen readings in the United States, twelve by Robert Frost. So I claim. The figures are imaginary but you get the point.”

Die 84-jarige Hall se relaas is netjies uiteengesit in 27 leesgrepe; elkeen met ‘n spesifieke tema en aanslag voor oë. Kostelik. Hier is wat hy te vertelle het van die onafwendbare vraetyd na ‘n bepaalde voorlesing: “For better or worse, poetry is my life. After a reading, I enjoy the question period. On a tour in Nebraska I read poems to high-school kids, a big auditorium. When I finished, someone wanted to know how I got started. I said that at twelve I loved horror movies, then read Edgar Allan Poe, then… A young man up front waved his hand. I paused in my story. He asked, ‘Didn’t you do it to pick up chicks?’ I remembered cheerleaders at Hamden High School. ‘It works better,’ I told him, ‘when you get older’.”

Donald Hall

Oor ander digters en hul voorlesings het hy die volgende te vertelle: “It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public. In the twenties, it was Vachel Lindsay, who sometimes dropped to his knees in the middle of a poem. Then Robert Frost took over, and made his living largely on the road. He spoke well, his metre accommodating his natural sentences, and in between poems he made people laugh. At times, he played the chicken farmer, cute and countrified, eliciting coos of delight from an adoring audience. Once I heard him do this routine, then attended the post-reading cocktail party where he ate deviled eggs, sipped martinis, and slaughtered the reputations of Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Moore […] By chance, I had been an undergraduate at the one college in America with an endowed meagre series of poetry readings. Eliot was good, but most performances were insufferable—superb poems spoken as if they were lines from the telephone book. William Carlos Williams read too quickly in a high-pitched voice, but seemed to enjoy himself. Wallace Stevens appeared to loathe his beautiful work, making it flat and half-audible. (Maybe he thought of how the boys in the office would tease him.) Marianne Moore’s tuneless drone was as eccentric as her inimitable art. When she spoke between poems, she mumbled in the identical monotone. Since she frequently revised or cut her things, a listener had to concentrate, to distinguish poems from talk. After twenty minutes, she looked distressed, and said, ‘Thank you’.”

So is dié uitgebreide stuk tot die prop toe vol amusante staaljies. Gaan lees gerus.

Maar, ten slotte, twee leesgrepe met ‘n ernstiger ondertoon, en die gebruiklike gedig deur Donall Hall.

It’s O.K. to be pleased when an audience loves you, or treat you as deathless, but you must not believe them. If a poet is any good, how would the listeners know? Poets have no notion of their own durability or distinction. When poets announce that their poems are immortal, they are depressed or lying or psychotic. Interviewing T. S. Eliot, I saved my cheekiest question for last. “Do you know if you’re any good?” His revised and printed response was formal, but in person he was abrupt: “Heavens no! Do you? Nobody intelligent knows if he’s any good.”


As I limped into my eighties, my readings altered, as everything did. Performance held up, but not body; I had to read sitting down. When an introduction slogged to its end, I lurched from backstage, hobbled, and carefully aimed my ass into a chair. For a while, I began each reading with a short poem I was trying out, which spoke of being twelve and watching my grandfather milk his Holsteins. In the poem I asked, in effect, how my grandfather would respond if he saw me now. When I finished saying the poem, there was always a grave pause, long enough to drive a hayrack through, followed by a standing ovation. I had never received a standing O after a first poem; now it happened again and again, from Pennsylvania to Minnesota to California, and I thought I had written an uncannily moving poem. When I mailed copies to friends for praise, they politely expressed their dismay. I was puzzled and distressed until I finally figured it out. The audience had just seen me stagger, wavering with a cane, and labor to sit down, wheezing. They imagined my grandfather horrified, seeing a cadaver gifted with speech. They stood and applauded because they knew they would never see me again.


An old life

Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.


(c) Donald Hall



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Een Kommentaar op “Louis Esterhuizen. Donald Hall oor die akklamasie van poësievoorlesings”

  1. Wanneer ‘n bekende digter voorlees uit een van sy gepubliseerde bundels, het hy of sy ‘n kans dat die luisteraars iets daarvan sal verstaan. Mens kan aanneem dat hulle darem al gekyk het na die gedigte voor hulle kom luister het.

    Wanneer enige digter uit ongepubliseerde en onbekende werk voorlees, is daar min kans dat die luisteraars iets daarvan gaan onthou. ‘n Gedig is gewoonlik nie dadelik verstaanbaar in sy geheel met net een lesing nie. Ek sê “lesing” en nie “beluistering” nie. Mense is hoofsaaklik visueel ingestel. Inligting word baie makliker visueel ingeneem as oudieel.

    Wat maak ‘n digter dan as hy onbekende verse wil voorlees en iets aan sy gehoor wil bied? Miskien moet hy iets sê van elke gedig voor hy dit lees en moontlik ook ander dinge doen om die gehoor te behou – soos Frost gemaak het.