The Bad

The first video of Hannah Silva instructs us on the abyss that poetry reading has found itself in today. The irrationality and baseness of slam poetry has given way to experimental poetry that doesn’t even involve words at all (sent in my M. P. Lauretta). If you find yourself saying “This is insane!” you are not alone:



The Good

The second video is from Fred Haight and discusses the importance of reading poetry aloud. Here we see irrationality and baseness replaced with discipline, beauty, and exaltation of the English language and human voice (send in by David Gosselin, editor of the Chained Muse). Certainly there is much that could be improved about the video quality and presentation, but it is a good start and worlds better than the bad:


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5 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    I found Fred Haight’s lecture rational, reasonable, and interesting, and those qualities were intensified by setting them against the foil of Hannah Silva’s gibberish. Thank you, SCP, for this effective contrast.

    Silva’s “art” would be less insulting if she simply called it an exercise in vocal sound and rhythm. But by labeling it “poetry,” and divorcing it from language and content, she deconstructs the definition of poetry to the point of making the term “poetry” meaningless. This is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong, and potentially evil.

  2. James Sale

    A very instructive contrast, thank you; and I absolutely agree with Amy on this. One can already see the post-modernist language around this: Hannah’s passion, commitment, skill in the reading, ground-breaking, on the edge, non-conventional, breaking down barriers, forging new frontiers, and blah. Hey, a $10,000 State cheque – from the public purse of course – so she can do more research on ‘new field of poetry’. And what is it? Absolutely nothing to do with poetry at all; and everything to do with pretention, ego, superiority and actually, as Amy observes, wrong and evil. We notice, of course, certainly in the UK that the word ‘wrong’ is never used on the news: we now have ‘unacceptable’, a mealy-mouthed alternative that seeks – as does this poetry – to abolish standards, abolish morality and ultimately promote deep atheism: what the secular society loves more than anything else. And that is the evil of it. I hope the editor of the SCP won’t take offence if I say this, but I strongly feel this more or less sums up this performance: it’s a form of oral masturbation, and so unlike real love it benefits nobody except the performer. On the other hand, Fred Haight’s talk was wonderful and inspiring and extremely knowledgeable. I could talk about it a lot but one thing is really important and Fred recognises this: we do need as the SCP to have young people saying and promoting the kind of things that Fred is talking about. The world, sadly, is massively influenced by images and image: so we have the young, photogenic blonde with her silly tricks and we have the old men (of which I am one) talking the real and the good. I fear that people are seduced by the youthful absurdities rather than the maturer reasons. So this is an issue we have to confront and we have to encourage classical poets wherever we can find them. How wonderful that the young Adam Sedia won the SCP competition this year.

  3. M. P. Lauretta

    Spot on, Amy. A sound, measured, honest comment.

    To me, the first video is pernicious in that it attempts to degrade poetry – from edifying to stultifying.

    I cannot fathom how anybody can watch it without feeling their intelligence is being insulted.

    Whatever it is, it is most definitely NOT poetry.

    • James A. Tweedie

      I remember in my university choir days performing a vocal “oratorio” called “Maria Sabina” where, at one point, we chanted syllabic nonsense and simulated vomiting–all under the director’s baton. Nonsense, of course, like the babbling of the first “poet” in the two videos. The following year we performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with full orchestra which was, of course, much more satisfying!

      Scat, of course, has its place in music, especially jazz, where the voice is treated as a non-verbal musical instrument. But poetry is fundamentally grounded in words and meaning. From a classical perspective, the argument against this form of “poetry” is a classic case of “reductio ad absurdum.” From the postmodern perspective, however, everything and nothing is neither true nor absurd. Which leaves us, of course, with nothing.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    Haight, like a sunbeam after a dark storm, is brilliant. Silva, like a butcher with his thumb on the scale or a purveyor of watered-down wine, is a fraud, a thief in the night. Let us hope that this tension between the good and the bad will produce for our culture something that is genuinely un-ugly. Given the current state of miseducation in most of our schools, attaining this desired outcome will be an uphill battle. Perhaps the best and only way to go about it is one mind at a time, even though the powers that be have become proficient in the wholesale slaughter of developing intellects. I wish I could be more optimistic, and as a Christian I am required to have hope, but increasingly all I can do is simply carry on.


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