Donne Up

by F.

Do clothes make the woman? When it comes to romance, I’m with Donne:

Thy virgin’s girdle now untie,
And in thy nuptial bed (love’s altar) lie
A pleasing sacrifice; now dispossess
Thee of these chains and robes which were put on
T’adorn the day, not thee; for thou, alone,
Like virtue and truth, art best in nakedness;

From Epithalamion Made at Lincoln’s Inn. I’ve been listening to this recording, which kicks ass. There’s nothing like good poetry read by a good reader.

One of the great ironies of poetry is that poets (Auden is the exception) usually give ugly readings, especially of their own work. For instance, there’s the Voice of the Poet’s Series. I have a couple of these recordings and have listened to others. I can say without reservation that Merrill, Plath, Lowell, Frost and Stevens all sound like shit. Let’s not even talk about W.C. Williams, whose bizarre, ready voice sounds like a calliope.

Merrill’s languid delivery almost ruins his poems for me (it wouldn’t take much; far too highbrow for this middle-to-low brow). Plath sounds like a junior high girl, which, come to think of it, matches her poetry pretty well. Ted Hughes, her former husband, has a nice voice, but only in relatively old age did he learn to read (there’s this, for instance, which is worth owning, but it’s Ovid, so it’s pretty bizarre stuff. Take a bong hit before pushing play.)

Highbridge Audio and Naxos have the good sense to hire real actors like Simon Callow, Alex Jennings, and others. J.D. McClatchy introduces the Voice of the Poet series by saying that hearing a poet read his or her own work is always insightful. True. I’m usually left wondering, How can someone who can’t even read his own work write it in the first place?

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