An Activity of Impact: The Significance of Poetry as a Performance

Do you like the sound of your own voice? Have you ever recorded yourself speaking and played it back finding yourself distraught by a foreign voice? I am reminded all too often that my own voice lacks character, an accent, and has little uniqueness. We all enjoy spending our small amount of free time reading poetry, allowing the style, subject matter, and each small intricacy to wash over us in our living rooms, on a bus, or in front of a fire; we lavish over the wonderful silence that exists while we turn the pages in between poems, but this is not the same as hearing those poems read aloud by their author. We are unable to hear each word, each line as the author intended them to be read. It is nearly impossible to duplicate the sound or emotion said poet put in his or her piece.

The highly acclaimed work of poet Ted Hughes is a great example of this calamity. I don’t have an accent, but Ted Hughes does. I don’t have a voice capable of making words sound estranged and beautiful because my tongue manipulates them in one way or another, but Ted Hughes does. I stumbled upon a recording of Mr. Hughes reading “A Second Glance at a Jaguar” and my heart oozed over to the unique qualities of his animated reading. Hughes made me realize no poem will ever sound to us the way it is intended to. All we are capable of doing is enjoying meaning, formatting, and stylistic choices, but in order to fully appreciate the poem, we must hear it read by the author.

Here is an activity for you. Read the poem below, spend time on it, read it aloud. Next, listen to Ted Hughes read the same poem and contemplate the differences.

Put a bucket down, this man will make you melt.

A Second Glance at a Jaguar 

Skinful of bowl, he bowls them,
The hip going in and out of joint, dropping the spine
With the urgency of his hurry
Like a cat going along under thrown stones, under cover,
Glancing sideways, running
Under his spine. A terrible, stump-legged waddle
Like a thick Aztec disemboweller,
Club-swinging, trying to grind some square
Socket between his hind legs round,
Carrying his head like a brazier of spilling embers,
And the black bit of his mouth, he takes it
Between his back teeth, he has to wear his skin out,
He swipes a lap at the water-trough as he turns,
Swivelling the ball of his heel on the polished spot,
Showing his belly like a butterfly
At every stride he has to turn a corner
In himself and correct it. His head
Is like the worn down stump of another whole jaguar,
His body is just the engine shoving it forward,
Lifting the air up and shoving on under,
The weight of his fangs hanging the mouth open,
Bottom jaw combing the ground. A gorged look,
Gangster, club-tail lumped along behind gracelessly,
He’s wearing himself to heavy ovals,
Muttering some mantrah, some drum-song of murder
To keep his rage brightening, making his skin
Intolerable, spurred by the rosettes, the cain-brands,
Wearing the spots from the inside,
Rounding some revenge. Going like a prayer-wheel,
The head dragging forward, the body keeping up,
The hind legs lagging. He coils, he flourishes
The blackjack tail as if looking for a target,
Hurrying through the underworld, soundless.

~Ted Hughes

~written by Randall Larhman

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