Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Human Voice

There've been maybe half a dozen poetry readings that had an impact on me. I had a nonfiction piece---unpublished, lost---about the one time I heard Paz. It was at the legendary Residencia de Estudiantes in the early 90s. And the five minutes or so I had with him at a private reception afterwards. This was before the Nobel.

Also in the early 90s, and also before his Nobel: Heaney at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, as well, in the Hall of Columns---an intimate gathering of about thirty, with very good Spanish translations.

Albertí in 1987---walking with two canes to get to the front table at the Instituto Internacional on Miguel Angel.

This side of the Atlantic: Cardenal, the only time, in 1983, when I played hooky as a high schooler to hear him in Wheeler Auditorium on the Berkeley campus. He was Ministro de Cultura of Nicaragua.

I may have been at Duncan's last reading----at UC Berkeley in Wheeler on the third floor in the Maude Fife Room. Around 1985. Like Albertí, he sat behind a table, and read about three or four poems in the hour he spent speaking.

And then there was Sekou.

Doug Brown urged me to take BART across the bay to meet him downtown so we could hop a streetcar out to State to see a poet I'd never heard of before. I'd only been to the Poetry Center once.

To this day, I don't think I've ever seen a word of his on the page. My perhaps inaccurate (unfair?) impression is that he is not as known for what I'll call, here, "page work." But hearing him that afternoon in the mid eighties, hearing the sounds his mouth made, brought home, like no reading since, how crucial and key the human voice is in this art.

remembering Sekou Sundiata


PALABRA PURA dispatch forthcoming


juan said...

Saludos, Francisco/all. Finally got a chance to meet you the other night at palabra pura. Pleasure. Here’s my email for future ref. as promised.
I’m not much of a blogger and I apologize if this too analytical (code for boring) but will give this a go…

I agree w/ what you say about the human voice and the impression it can make/leave. This is why most are compelled to read poems aloud, and if they move us enough, to memorize them.
Though I’d venture that one might take it a step (stretch?) further. This is based on personal experience, but is not unlike what you mentioned in your previous post about the (sensorial) experiencing of theater, the impression or the wake/waking of emotions, reactions, thoughts, questions, doubts…on the viewer, that he/she takes/leaves w/.
I’m thinking of the “performative” quality of poetry (for that matter, any art, show, song, speech, etc). As an example, I could point to your own description of some the select readings/lectures that have left a sort of aesthetic palimpsest, if you will. I’m referring to the kinetic nuances of the writers that might even act as (unconscious) signature/ticks (shtick?): “Albertí ---walking with two canes,” knowing that Sekou Sundiata is a “page-less” poet and its effect on the ambience then, the memory now.
This in a word (albeit a big one) is related to a sort of dynamic of Hermeneutics (interpretation/performance, translation, understanding) that involves both the performer, the audience, and often the setting. To take it further and to be more specific, I would say that it is not only the human voice, but the human Presence that “impacts.” Though this is a matter of stylistic or formal degree isn’t it? It ranges from the “quiet,” perhaps monotone poet, to the more performative (spoken word) artist, but also to pantomime, dumb shows, and undeniably, puppetry. All have a human voice to share; all have a human presence to transport us.
I’d ramble some more but I have a toddler who’s been pulling on my sleeve, insisting (to put it lightly) on lechita, waffles and her tele-tubbies fix! -juan sánchez

Manuel Paul Lopez said...

I just read the news about Sundiata, and it really saddened me. Much too young...I had the opportunity to hear him read with The Last Poets and Maggie Estep at the Porter Troupe Gallery in Hillcrest (S.D., CA) back in '98. They were all wonderful, but Sekou Sundiata was from somewhere else, man, from some other level. That night he was like an ancient reed instrument channeling some wonderous, wonderous stuff. I'll never forget it.