Audio vs Text. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Specifically in conjunction with creative works. Let’s do a bit of a case study, shall we?
One of my absolute favorite poems of all time would be Richard Siken‘s “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”. Now, the way that I read this poem–in my head, that is–tends to ebb and flow. I speed up and slow down at various parts. The point being, that I have a specific rhythm that is innate to me and how I perceive text. This rhythm forces me to hone in on specific aspects of the poem that I, subjectively, find intriguing.
But when a poem is heard and not seen, then I’m forced to comply to the rhythm of the reader. I find it even more interesting when it is the author him/herself who reads. In this particular case, I can find two readings by Siken of this particular poem. (Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys this one.)
Apostrophe Cast contains what we’ll call Reading #1. This particular reading is more serious and melancholy. It’s slow and simmering. Gruff. Intimate. What sticks out to me in this reading is the fairy tale motif. The princess, the dragon, flames everywhere. And even more so, the despair and desperation stick out.
But with the reading he gave at Loyola University New Orleans [correction, it’s a 1718 Reading which is brought to you by Tulane University, University of New Orleans, and Loyola, as Alex McG has informed me], which we’ll call Reading #2 (available on iTunes), is a bit more upbeat. It’s read at a faster pace. It’s frenetic and bitter sweet. Snarky and sarcastic. In fact, Siken himself calls this poem “the fun one.”
You can compare the two. For example when he comes to the lady. This passage:
You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.Love always wakes the dragon and suddenlyflames everywhere.
And listen to the way Reading #1 approaches it:
Juxtaposed to the way it’s confronted in Reading #2:
Reading #2 contains a vitality that isn’t there for Reading #1. It’s like a wet cloth got thrown over Reading #1. Consider the way he speaks the very fist line of this excerpt. In print, there are two sentences: a statement and a question and, to my ears, #2 conveys that, but #1 makes the statement sound like he’s half questioning you. As if he’s merely guessing that “you want a better story” rather than telling you that you do.
Consider the lady as well. Both readings do present a sarcastic kind of address to her and her function, but each feels like a different kind of sarcasm. #1 sounds like the speaker has given up. He just doesn’t care about what she has to say anymore and the consequences of her actions should’ve been foreseen–predictable. #2, on the other hand, sounds provoking and antagonizing. That lady, you know she just had to go and do that.
Now, these differences. These different experiences, I suspect they lead to different speakers and ultimately to different poems. The poem that exists in Reading #1 is one of passiveness with a speaker who’s ready to roll over in bed and ignore the whole situation. Reading #2 has a passion and fervor that makes the speaker into someone who’s going to sit across from the coffee table, stare you in the eye, and plead with you to stay.
The one in my head, though. The rhythm that I come to when I read this poem, points me in a direction of middle ground with a speaker who sometimes wants to turn away and other times wants to stare you down. A speaker that confronts you with the things he really cares about–(ie, more applesauce)–and allow you distance when he’s swimming around and trying to avoid things–(ie, saying he’s not the dragon when he is the dragon).
Can you imagine the difference this makes, though? This ability to change the speaker can change an entire poem. With each new reading, the entire poem can change, the speaker can change, and the meaning can change. It has the ability to connect with people differently each time. Someone who wouldn’t connect with, say, Reading #1 might connect with Reading #2 or vice versa or not at all, but only with text. I find that exciting and perplexing.