Most poets today seem to give readings. One who usually declined invitations to do this was Philip Larkin (1922–1985), one of the great English poets of the 20th century. Larkin explained why in an interview with the Paris Review:
“I don’t give readings, no, although I have recorded three of my collections, just to show how I should read them. Hearing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much – the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end. Reading it on the page means you can go at your own pace, taking it in properly; hearing it means you’re dragged along at the speaker’s own rate, missing things, not taking it in, confusing ‘there’ and ‘their’ and things like that. And the speaker may interpose his own personality between you and the poem, for better or worse. For that matter, so may an audience. I don’t like hearing things in public, even music. In fact, I think poetry readings grew up on a false analogy with music: the text is the ‘score’ that doesn’t ‘come to life’ until it’s ‘performed.’ It’s false because people can read words, whereas they can’t read music. When you write a poem, you put everything into it that’s needed: the reader should ‘hear’ it just as clearly as if you were in the room saying it to him. And of course this fashion for poetry readings has led to a kind of poetry that you can understand first go: easy rhythms, easy emotions, easy syntax. I don’t think it stands up on the page.”
Philip Larkin in an interview with Robert Phillips in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Seventh Series (Viking, 1986), edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by John Updike. This is one of the great interviews in the Paris Review series for several reasons, including Larkin’s genius, Phillips’s skill as an interviewer and the scope of the questions. You can find the full interview at the site for the Paris Review www.parisreview.com . (I’m having trouble linking directly to the interview, but you can find it by going to the site and entering “Larkin” in the search box. The interview appeared in the Summer 1982 issue.) Most libraries and many bookstores also have books in the Paris Review series.
Comment by Janice Harayda:
I go to poetry readings and read from my novels at bookstores and elsewhere, but I can see Larkin’s point. How about you?
You can find more information on Larkin and read his poem “Home Is So Sad” at www.poets.org.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.