Tag Archives: reading aloud

Reading Poetry

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

“Fiction writers should read poetry for two reasons…First, poets often write epiphanies, and beautifully so. Second, poets choose one image and really rely on it to stain the reader’s mind.”                 — Juliana Baggott in the January 2016 The Writer

I read poetry often.  Not as often as I’d like, however.  Years ago, I would begin my writing day by reading poetry aloud for about fifteen minutes.  It did something to my brain, made it more open and fertile for my fiction.  The poetry signaled my imagination that it was time to play.

It doesn’t matter, either, what poetry you read.  It can be really old or really new.  Rhyming or not.  I’ve learned to be open to everything when it comes to poetry. Yes, I have my favorites, a sampling:

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians….”

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/  And sorry I could not travel both….”

“Dance like a jackrabbit/ in the dunegrass, dance….”

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/ It isn’t just one of your holiday games;”

“At five in the afternoon./ It was exactly five in the afternoon./ A boy brought the white sheet/ at five in the afternoon.”

Eliot's Cats book coverThe poets are (above, in order) Homer, Robert Frost, Grace Paley, T.S. Eliot, and Federico Garcia Lorca. And there are many more, some of which I have yet to discover. Some with powerful narrators, others with a penetrating, haunting atmosphere or story.

I read poetry to take me out of myself as close to instantly as is possible.  Poetry contains insights into existence with the economy of a meaningful look or gesture, a sigh or a moan.  But I especially love to read poetry because of its music — read it out loud! — in the sound of its words and the rhythms of its lines.  Long poems, short poems, free verse or not.  All of it sings.

Poetry primes my mind like an invitation to a party. To write, to create, to dance with the characters that come to visit. The rhythms, seeing the arrangement of the words on the page, hearing the sounds — a really good poet can create an entire world in four stanzas.

Writers encourage other writers to read voraciously, write something every day, to live their lives fully and to be observant.  I would encourage writers to listen to music and read poetry out loud…for much the same reasons.  Leave your daily concerns on the couch, at the office door, or in the kitchen.  When you sit down at your desk to write, bring an open mind ready to play.  I can think of no better primers for that than music and poetry.  For me, especially classical music.


Each writer needs to find his or her way to open all the mind’s windows and doors to beckon imagination to come out and play.  What do you do?


Enigma Variations

From Wikipedia

Sir Edward Elgar in 1900 From Wikipedia

This morning, while listening to my favorite classical music radio station, I heard once again — and could listen to over and over — Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra (“Enigma”), Op. 36.  The announcer introduced it by noting that the original theme is the actual enigma since Elgar never revealed what it was and said only that it is not heard anywhere in the piece.  Perhaps the true enigma is that Elgar chose to write such a mysterious piece of music — what was he thinking?  Musicians, since the moment of its first performance, have suggested and theorized and speculated on what the theme is.  During Elgar’s lifetime, the composer rejected all and took the answer with him to the afterlife.

What attracts me to this music is its portraiture in sound that Elgar accomplished, characterizing his wife, himself, and select friends in the music.  Except for the 9th variation, “Nimrod,” which Elgar claimed depicted an event in his life rather than a person, although this variation is connected to Augustus Jaeger, Elgar’s editor at his music publisher.  “Nimrod” is the most famous of the variations, often played at solemn occasions in Britain, and to my ears, full of love, affection, melancholy, and conviction.

The mystery surrounding Elgar’s Enigma theme clicked in my brain with work on the novel revisions this past week.  I’ve been reading aloud each chapter.  This allows me to hear the words, the rhythm of the sentences, and catch any problems.  I’ve caught bad word choices that I’ve changed, cut sentences and paragraphs that, while enriching to the story overall, do not move the story forward or reveal character.  Reading aloud also brings to the forefront each character’s voice, and shows me where that voice could use clarification.  Reading aloud often reveals other things, too — threads of symbolism I didn’t catch earlier, thematic issues.  Dialogue becomes each character’s sound, music, theme.

We’re not used to thinking of writing as music, but music composition is very much like writing and vice versa.  Reading aloud helps me connect with the music I’ve composed with the English language.  Singing music does the same for something a composer has written using the language of music.  The enigma for me is how my brain processes the writing, where the ideas come from — especially the ones I don’t see until I’m reading aloud — and how everything seems to fit together with little effort from me.  I suspect there are ideas and themes well hidden from me in my writing that won’t make themselves known until others read it.

So, my enigma theme, as a writer, remains in my imagination, appearing in bits and pieces in each variation — piece of writing — I write.  Reading aloud provides me with glimpses here and there of the depth and breadth of that enigma, as well as being an excellent revision tool.  Elgar may have known what his enigma theme was, or maybe he’d been working only with bits and pieces — a phrase here, a rhythmic motif there — and didn’t want to reveal anything more.  The variations echo each other, however, as if listening to the same voice saying different things.

I do love revision work….