Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Monday, February 9, 2015

Eight Poets to Ignore Part III: "Prompting"

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #154
     How can we avoid being one of the eight or, more accurately, 800,000 poets being ignored?  What can we learn from their mistakes?

     First and foremost, appreciate the importance of performance.  This begins with writing that has presentation value.  You don't need to have created¹ it yourself;  you just need an eye and ear for it.  Among contemporary pieces the best example might be Maz's "Studying Savonarola".

     Next, you will need motivation.  Consider this:  If, as a poetry performer, you have 1/10th the ability of an average community theater actor your phone will be ringing off the hook for the rest of your life.  Every poet and publisher on the planet will be begging you to record sound and video for them.  Lest you think this hyperbole, this is the closest thing you have to "competition".  Surely you can do better than that!

     Thirdly, you must practice.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #152
     If you ask poets what teleprompters are for most will answer "...to help speakers remember the words."

     No.  That is why writing was invented.  Teleprompters allow the speaker to look directly at the camera or audience, giving the illusion that they are talking rather than reading to people.  Clearly, the former is preferable to the latter.  In a live forum this allows speakers to gauge the audience's mood and reaction, perhaps with a view to adjusting their material.  For example, if one poem is not being well received a poet might decide not to recite a similar one later.

     For economic reasons, poets will look for less expensive options to a single-use teleprompter.  There are free emulation apps like "Pro Lite" for your IPad and others for your Android, as well as programs or sites for your Windows and/or Mac computer.  With one of these onscreen, load the text, choose a scrolling speed, and start working on your presentation.  There are two typical setups:

1.  Position your portable (e.g. laptop or tablet) on a lectern/table just below your line of sight to the audience or camera; or,

2.  use a projector² to send the text on a screen behind and above the audience or camera.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #106
     Ideally, then, you will want the text to appear either just under the listeners' faces or just over their shoulders³ or heads.  Either way, you will need to work on your peripheral vision so as to avoid losing eye contact with the audience (real or imagined), even for a second.

     Videotape your sessions.  Show your best efforts to friends.  If they can guess from your movement or voice that you are reading from a script keep practicing.  By the time you get it right you'll probably have learned the words, obviating the need for the teleprompter, but it will have served as an excellent training tool nonetheless.

     Even if your only interest is in video (e.g. YouTube), I'd urge you to try presenting the poem in front of a live group--most likely an open mic.  There is no substitute for real-time, face-to-face feedback.

     Great contemporary poetry is as rare as lottery wins.  Brilliant performance of modern verse may be even less common today.  Finding both together (which is what we need) is like hitting the jackpot twice.  Simultaneously.


¹ - If poetry is to be resurrected we must move away from the assumption that the poet and performer are one and the same.  What would the film industry be like if only scriptwriters watched and appeared in movies?

² - I'm told that in early rehearsals, instead of handheld scripts, some theater groups are projecting text onto stageside screens.  Apparently, it speeds up the assimilation of lines.

³ - While campaigning in 1968 Bobby Kennedy was struck by the flatness of the prairies.  At night, he could see stars so low in the sky that they seemed to be perched on people's shoulders.

Bobby (1925-1968)

    with los angeles lurking
    your rail car runs
    out of wisconsin
    to plateaus west

    as prairie skies wait

    you wonder what
    an "epaulet horizon" is
    until you can see the stars
    without looking up


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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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