and hello again...

Michael Symmons Roberts - 10 October 2007

Sorry for the faltering start. Apparently, just moments (well perhaps hours) after my first post as resident poet the site froze and has only today been unfrozen. I'm like to think this was just coincidence, but if it freezes again after this one I'll begin to take it personally. Ah well... What are you reading? I'm in the middle of the new(ish) biography of John Donne at the moment, and also reading some Auden and some Paul Muldoon.

My Auden reading is mainly preparation for teaching this time, but I'm always stunned by his work when I go back to it. Something about the apparent simplicity and the great complexity at the same time. And he takes all kinds of risks - telling readers what he thinks and believes (and sometimes what they should too), writing very tenderly about love, taking on big ideas in politics and theology. And all done with such formal brilliance. What do you make of him? He still provokes strong responses in readers for and against. And what are you reading? I was judging the Forward Prize this summer, and my fellow judge Sarah Crown (lit ed of Guardian unlimited) wrote about the great 'poetry binge' of reading for the judges. She said she loved reading so much poetry in such a concentrated way, but said she had a craving for a novel after a while. How do you read poems? Whole books or a poem at a time? Do you crave poetry after reading too much fiction?


Hello! Why did I not know about this site? It is superb! It is quite a disgrace really being an English Teacher. Went on it last night after the seminar! I am really enjoying binging on poetry at the moment but am mixing it with reading a children's novel by Garth Nix. It is hard for me to concentrate on a novel whilst trying to read full books of poetry. This site is deadly...a bit like itunes...I get hooked in and then get lost.

Hi Tracey, yes it is a fantastic site. Addictive too. What do you think about the readings you've heard? The strangest thing is to listen to a poet you've liked on the page, and find the poet's voice is not like the voice you've had in your head when you've been reading their poems. Can be quite unsettling, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Fascinating too though...

Hello! I'm a student currently on a gap year whilst reapplying to study English at university, and am finding this sight a welcome break from the usual revision for entrance exams, etc. The guided tours in particular are such a good way of introducing people to poets they'd never before have chosen to read (Charles Causley, for instance).

Are you enjoying Muldoon, Michael? I discovered him this summer via his 'Horse Latitudes' and have his extended villanelle 'Soccer Moms' pinned on the wall besides me as I write - quite simply delicious.

What I love about Auden is the sheer range and quantity of poetry he wrote, and so much of it of such high quality. Alongside 'Musee des Beaux Arts' and 'Lullaby', one also finds such gems as this limerick:

T.S. Eliot is quite at a loss /
When clubwomen bustle across /
At literary teas, /
Crying: --- 'What if you please, /
Did you mean by The Mill on the Floss?'


Hi Phil, glad to hear you are meeting new poems and poets on this site. And yes, some of the things I like and admire about Muldoon's work are there in Auden too. As you say, there's the sheer range and quality of the poems, but there's also (in both M and A) a desire to make poems that stick, poems you can't shake off once you've read them. Half the nation found that with Auden's 'Funeral Blues' a few years ago, after 'Four Weddings', but it's equally true of 'As I Walked Out One Evening', 'In Memory of WB Yeats' and the two you've mentioned. All this memorability and desire to communicate clearly, yet he still made poems so rich and deep that you find new twists each time you read them. Same could be said of Paul Muldoon, I think. And I agree, 'Soccer Moms' is a great poem.

Hello, I'm new to this message board and a bit nervous about putting my opinions forward since I am in no regard an expert. But thinking of your previous piece, Michael, about the sound of a poet's voice, I have been very profoundly effected by hearing the recordings on this site of the great american poet Sylvia Plath reading her poems, especially the one called the Applicant. Can you imagine a more highly charged delivery? The way she speaks the poem seems (although of course here we are in the realms of conjecture) to reflect the high adrenalin mood in which it was written. Hearing the recording I really feel I get a picture of her, dragging the painful poem up from somewhere deep inside her soul. I wonder are there other recordings on this wonderful site which have effected people in a similar way? And if a voice turns out to be flat or weak or disappointing in some other way, does that and spoil your appreciation of the poem or do you regard the voice and the delivery as superficial aspects and try very hard to overcome them and see the beauty and strength of the poem underneath? I am interested to hear some other points of view. Thank you for being here and talking with us on these topics, Michael. from Susannah Bledt.

Hello Susannah, and thanks for your message. Inspired by your comments I had a listen to 'The Applicant'. I've heard Sylvia Plath's voice before, but not for a long time, and you're right that the reading of this poem is very powerful. Tricky to divide the reading from the poem though. When the words are so potent they can rise above the dullest reading. I agree that this has real intensity though. As for feeling disappointed by a poet's voice or delivery, well as I said in a previous post I was rather thrown by hearing Robert Graves read. Disappointed? Well, maybe, in that it made me hear the poems differently in my head, and I liked the way I was hearing them before.

Hi I'm in my AS year in sunny Southamptom! Our brilliant English teacher Kate has taken us to several poetry readings and performances. Do you think poets have a responsibility to read or perform their poems, and to do so well? We did go and listen to one poet (I'd better not say her name) who didn't know how to use the mike and she mumbled her way through them all in a really boring monotone, it totally put some people off for life.I just5 don't see the point in doing readings at all if you can't put some life into it. Are there any poets who refuse to do readings, and does it damage their popularity?

Hi Ginnypig - good name, and good to hear from you. I agree with you. Or at least, half agree. I don't think that poets have a responsibility to read or perform their poems. There are poets who write for the stage more than the page, and clearly for them the performance is a key element right from the start. But there are many others who write primarily for the page, and give readings because it's part of process of getting the poems out into the world. I can think of poets who are reluctant performers, but I can't at the moment think of any who never read. Will give that more thought. I do agree with you that if poets do perform their poems they have a responsibility to do it as well as they possibly can. Most poets now do take the performance aspect very seriously, and many are excellent at it. I have, once or twice, heard a poet throw away their poems at a reading, but just turning up with the books isn't enough. Readings are now, more than ever, an important part of a poet's work, and I'm glad about that. I like giving readings, and I like hearing other poets read too. Many are brilliant readers, and to name a few means missing many, but Paul Farley, Mark Doty and Sharon Olds are fine readers of their own work.

I'm a poet and actor, currently doing an MA in Voice Studies at Central Sch. of Speech and Drama: training as a voice teacher. I am also very interested in the way poets 'permumble' (did I just invent a word??) their work, and am hoping to work with writers to help them steer the true message of their work across, which after all is what poetry is all about isn't it, meaning communication... For me, the best performer of poetry was the late great Michael Donaghy. The last time I heard him read was at the big Apples and Snakes event at the QE Hall in 2003 and Michael did 'Black Ice and Rain' from his book Conjure. You could hear a pin drop! Spellbinding.

Rebecca, hi, thanks for joining us. Interesting idea for a trained voice teacher to work with poets to sharpen the way they communicate at readings. Is anyone doing that already? Or will you be the first? Agree with you about the late great Michael too. He was an astonishing poet and performer. The first time I read with him I'd just published my first book and hadn't thought that much about readings. Michael followed my rather low-key effort by reading entirely from memory with a performance that captivated the audience. Hmm, I remember thinking, I'd better work a bit harder at this reading thing...


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments

Glossary term


A five-line poem, almost always humorous, and frequently rude. Its rhyme scheme is aabba, with the first, second and last lines having three stresses and the third and fourth lines having two.