Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Why are actors so bad at reading poetry aloud?

Because they blimmin well are bad at it: all of 'em.

(Exempli gratia, Poetry Please on BBC radio. Or RSC actors doing Shakespeare. Or, for that matter, pretty much every single commercial or public recording of poetry that has not been spoken by the poet.) 

Poetry (real poetry) is rhythmical - the rhythm is not an option, but of the essence.

Deconstructing poetry into prose, speaking it according to units of meaning, pulling it apart like a 'torch singer' or crooner wringing every drop of 'emotion' from a song lyric - these are simply unacceptable ways of behaving in civilized society.

For goodness sake, it isn't difficult! After all, proper poetry is written to be easy to remember and to speak!


Actors even manage to de-emphasize the rhythm and rhyme of light verse - where perfect rhythmicity and exact rhyme are 95 percent of the effect.

In the recent Grinch movie Anthony Hopkins somehow recited Dr Seuss's as if it wasn't rhythmical or rhyming.

Dr Seuss! That takes some doing - but he did it.

Anthony Hopkins version of Winnie the Pooh

The more it (pauses, takes a breath) 

(questioningly..) snows...tiddley (typically resonant Welsh baritone) pom
(Rapidly) The more it goes-tiddley-pom the more it goes-tiddley-pom on snowing and 
(loudly) Nobody
(quietly, sadly) Knows-tiddley-pom,
(Long pause)
How (emphatically) *cold* (emphatically) *my* toes-tiddley-pom
(Crisply, over-enunciated) How cold my toes tiddley-pom are growing 
(with typically Welsh up-lifted note on 'ing').