Body Language and Poetry: giving words wings

“Written words, from the days of Sumerian tablets, were meant to be pronounced out loud, since the signs carried implicit, as if it were their soul, a particular sound. The classic phrase scripta manet, verba volat –– which has come to mean, in our time, ‘what is written remains, what is spoken vanishes into air’ –– used to express the exact opposite; it was coined in praise of the word said out loud, which has wings and can fly…”
Alberto Manguel from
A History of Reading

When IPM-2MXI closed last year I was thinking, as I often do, about how poetry serves as a bridge across time and culture. I was thinking back to poetry readings that I had done and that I had attended. I have vivid memories of a writers workshop sponsored by my high school where, among others, Max Apple, Frank H. Schaefer, and Tim Seibles came to read their work and talk about writing with interested students. We were lucky.

Funny thing is, what has stuck with me for thirty-odd years, is less what they had to say about writing (sorry guys) but their physical presence, the sound of their voices: how their bodies bore their words. Gesture: Max Apple, his narrow shoulders folded in, glanced up at the auditorium of expectant students and smiled before looking down at the podium and reading from The Oranging of America and Zip along with a poem about wanting visitation rights with his ex-wife’s breasts. His nasal, northern voice held back half of a laugh. Frank Schaefer, whose laconic, matter-of-fact tone somehow matched the arch of his bushy eyebrows and the way his arms swung from his shoulders, read from The Ghosts of Elkhorn and spoke to us about ballads and the art of story-telling. Tim Seibles, whose deep, impassioned voice matched the sweep of his arms, gave his words wings as he read Double Dutch, The Leap, and Big Mouth from his first book that was then yet to be published: Body Moves.

Years later I found that slender volume of Tim Seibles poetry in a bookshop and recognized his photo on the back cover. Inside the book were the poems he’d read, lots that he hadn’t, and the sound of his voice double-exposed over the written words. That book found it’s way into my apartment here in Northern Italy and makes part of the inspiration for this year’s theme. But of course there’s more…

%d bloggers like this: