Verbal Vol. 1 spoken word anthology
by Kyle Flemmer
As a small literary publisher, The Blasted Tree tends to focus on text-based or otherwise visually-oriented creative projects. Literature is communicable (by definition) and most often conceived of as existing in some form commensurable to print. Visual media, including text, is easy to distribute and to consume. The eyes can take it in as fast or slow as one likes, transcending the dimension of time to some degree. For this reason, literature takes on a disembodied quality, a quality reaffirmed by the norms of the publication industry, which seeks to produce static versions of art marketable as “authoritative.” But to treat poetry or literature as disembodied is to do disservice to its roots in human experience, in language, which always precedes writing. People were speaking poetry long before they wrote it. Of course, language comes in many forms, and that is the point, the feeling which impels this anthology.
So why publish audio? Spoken word poetry foregrounds the body, the material fact of the body and the voice, the poet and the poem. Sounds are emitted by a poet’s body, travel through the air as a wave, impact on the eardrums of those listening, and become intelligible as a poem in their minds. Even the disembodied recording of a voice instigates in the listener an awareness of the body. In her essay on Calvino’s “A King Listens,” Adriana Cavarero argues that the truth of the vocal “proclaims simply that every being is a unique being, and is capable of manifesting this uniqueness with the voice. […] The simple truth of the vocal makes the crown fall without anyone hearing the crash.” Unlike text, voice draws people into a physical world where humans communicate body to body, where the fact of its transmission is unavoidable. Text and voice are intimately related, no doubt, but they remain materially independent, addressing themselves to the senses in different proportions.
The consideration of poetry as both voice and text, sound and image, leads us to an interesting problem. Where does the recording of a voice stand in relation to its live recitation? Where does a transcription of that recording stand in relation to the audio? Which is the authoritative version of the poem? What if that poem is recorded a second time, read off a different piece of paper to a different audience? What if there is no singular entity we can point to as “the poem”? As Charles Bernstein writes in the introduction to his anthology Close Listening:
A poem understood as a performative event and not merely as a textual entity refuses the originality of the written document in favor of the “the plural event” of the work, to use a phrase of Andrew Benjamin’s. That is, the work is not identical to any one graphical or performative realization of it, nor can it be equated with a totalized unity of these versions or manifestations. The poem, viewed in terms of its multiple performances, or mutual intertranslatability, has a fundamentally plural existence. This is most dramatically enunciated when instances of the work are contradictory or incommensurable, but it is also the case when versions are commensurate. To speak of the poem in performance is, then, to overthrow the idea of the poem as a fixed, stable, finite linguistic object; it is to deny the poem its self-presence and its unity. Thus, while performance emphasizes the material presence of the poem, and of the performer, it at the same time denies the unitary presence of the poem, which is to say its metaphysical unity.
Verbal Vol. 1 is, at its heart, a project about plurality. Not only is it polyphonic (in that eight poets’ voices comprise the anthology), but each poem gestures toward a variety of potential incarnations; textual, visual, audible, animate, analog, digital, etc. Our intention is for all these manifestations to create constructive interference, to build a chorus of poetry rendering our stories intelligible. Verbal Vol. 1 will be released one track per week for eight weeks on The Blasted Tree’s website, where they can be listened to for free beginning March 25, 2018. Those interested may download tracks individually from our Bandcamp as they come out, or you can download the full anthology once it’s complete. Thanks for listening (and/or reading), and we hope you enjoy our first foray into the publication of spoken word!
Bernstein, Charles. “Introduction,” Close Listening; Poetry and the Performed Word.” Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. Pg. 9.
Cavarero, Adriana. “Multiple Voices,” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. Pg. 524-525.
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