Sunday 8 May 2016

Poetry properly performed - Tom O'Bedlam's 'Spoken Verse'

There is a YouTube channel called Spoken Verse where scores of poems are performed by the pseudonymous Tom O'Bedlam.

'Tom' has a natural bass, somewhat gravelly voice (a bit like Joss Ackland, but not so resonant) and he is probably - taken all round - the best speaker of poems I have ever come across.

Try this: 'If' by Rudyard Kipling

The man seems to be an actor - but usually modern actors are appalling at reciting verse -

What 'Tom' has that makes him such a wonder - aside from a pleasing voice, which is common among actors - is a natural, fluid sense of rhythm - like that of a great jazz musician.

His performances are not 'flawless' (should be even ask for this from poetry?) - they are single-take, and recorded only with moderate production values - but they are alive, and full of insights and revelations. A glimpse of why our ancestors so valued bards.

Thank you Tom O'Bedlam!


John Fitzgerald said...

Very impressive delivery. There's real feeling and sensitivity there. I'm interested in what you said about it being done in one take. Do you think 'one take' is applicable to literature too? Could a novel, for instance, be written in one take? It's something I'm conscious of because I know how much the creative writing industry focuses on craft and technique and sidelines or marginalises inspiration. This was something which Colin Wilson was very aware of as well 40 years ago. So, it's nothing new, and I know that a certain element of crafting is essential. I just feel that the pendulum's swung too far towards technical know-how, bringing forth inane mantras like 'writing is rewriting', the cult of the editor - parasites, in my view - and so forth. It takes storytelling a long long way from the original bardic tale-telling, which I feel is the Platonic ideal that writers should reflect.

David Balfour said...

I find that Kiplings 'If' fills me with a sense of renewed strength when I am feeling diminished...

Bruce Charlton said...

@John "Could a novel, for instance, be written in one take?" There is the example of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which would have to count as some kind of success.

Among my favourite writers, Samuel Johnson and CS Lewis were both people who 'drafted' in their heads, and their first draft was what got published (just being corrected for spelling and other typos - at least in Lewis's case). But then there was that niggler Tolkien and word-by-word reviser JD Salinger - so I can't generalize to say that unrevised first draft is better.

Orson Scott Card (who writes very wisely about writing) says that all good writing is first draft - in the sense that what is good in writing is what comes out in the first draft, and not added by reworking. If something isn't basically good, you have to start again (at least, that is my recollection of what he said! - it's somewhere in this excellent talk - )

I think there must be many great novels written in one take, more or less - Dickens perhaps, who published serially, probably Trollope, Walter Scott - anyone who wrote lots and fast. I would suppose that most of the best lyric poetry would have been done in one go - maybe the odd word modified to remove something bad, rather than to enhance what was good. I nearly always find that when poets revise their poems, they make them worse - lower peaks (and it is the peaks we are reading for). Robert Graves is an example.

I am not 'a writer' of course, but the best of my essays and blog posts have usually been done fast and in one draft - although of course the topics have been knocking around in my head for a good while. For example, I knocked-off a last minute editorial for Medical Hypotheses on 'Psychological Neoteny' which I conceived and wrote in about an hour and a half - it ended up prominent in Wikipedia (I didn't put it there!) and as a New York Times idea of the year. My best piece of New Scientist (about why scientists wear Clark's shoes) was similar - the Forum editor later told me it was one of the favourite pieces he ever published. My wife favourite of my writings is a little book review I did for the BMJ. The casual things, done quickly and flowing easily. This is, of course, what I like about blogging!

It is interesting that Mencius Moldbug? Curtis Yarvin is *by far* the most influential reactionary blogger - and he wrote vast, sprawling, essentially-unrevised 10,000+ word blog posts which everyone criticizes for being wordy, digressive etc...

I certainly find myself wearied by the uniformity of so much published non-fiction - which strikes me as a collaboration between author and an editor working from a rule book.

But your general point is very sound. The earliest works were semi-improvised and contained many 'cliches' for example the 'kennings' of Anglo Saxon poems, and lines that were fillers etc. Some of the greatest poems - the border ballads, likewise - yet it is amazing how moving the lady's 'milk white' hand can sometimes be in context, even after hearing the phrase so many times! The originality and creativity seems to require the context of a shared background.

And in music - Mozart is mostly stereotypical phrases (Vivaldi even more so) and it is against that predictabel pattern that the wonderful parts stand-out. In other words, the cult of oevr-worked art (including over-edited literature) is sometimes part of the cult of being 'different' and unpredictable - and becomes self-defeating. As Sam JOhnson remarked on Shakespeare - his plays are all *very* slipshod, and poorly structured, and padded-out and unbalanced qua dramas - and in multiple ways - and yet there is nothing better in English, and the best bits of the plays outsoar the much more 'worked' poems.

Kaisir Park said...

Fantastic. I am doing a masters in creative writing and came across your post (quite serendipitous), and it highlights a lot of what I have been thinking about 'overeevising'. Also liked the case for saving the cliche because sometimes it fits.

Bruce Charlton said...

@kp. Writer's need to trust the people that help them; because most (almost all) advice about writing is bad advice.

I think the fan fiction communities have been helpful to some writers, because people are writing for an eager audience, who will express appreciation and encourage people whose writing they like to do more.

Of recent novels, The Martian by Andy Weir strikes me as first rate SciFi, and that (I believe) was written for a fanfic-type group who helped him get the facts right.