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The Poetry Professional

The Poetry Professionals

Following my last two posts which talked about recording an audiobook of my pamphlet, Dressing Up and deciding which was the best ambience effect for the recording ... I've admitted defeat. My skills lie in the writing of the poetry, not the recording of it! So I've made a decision to turn to a professional!

Operations HQ

I've decided to hire a recording studio in Abergavenny, Stiwdio Felin Fach for half a day. There will be a sound engineer to take care of the recording and control how best to microphone me and Hazel and transfer us into listenable audio files :)

To Speak or Not to Speak?

That is indeed the question! I don't mean speaking the poem, that goes without saying, so to speak ... I mean giving a brief introduction to some of the poems, the way I do when reading to an audience. My initial idea was just to record the audiobook as a verbatim rendition of the text in the pamphlet, but my experience of audiobooks over the last year has been changing my thoughts about this.

The National Poetry Library at the South Bank Centre on The Thames in London, will lend poetry audio CDs and I've been receiving two CDs per month. My favourites so far have included Jo Shapcott and Lavinia Greenlaw, and vintage recordings of T. S. Eliot and Philip Larkin. Approaches differ from poet to poet — some introduce their poems with information about how, when and why they wrote the poem, whilst other poets just read their work with no elaboration. My preference is definitely the former, though generally speaking the CDs are ‘So-and-so reading from his/her poems’ and cover a few of their published works, not a literal reading of one single book.

Since readers of the paperback copy of Dressing Up don't get any explanatory notes on details pertaining to the poem (even in the poem The Kapluna Effect, in which I intended to footnote translations of 3 Inuit words I use in the poem but plum forgot to!) and will only hear those insights if they come and hear me read live, is it fair to include them on the audiobook version? I'm inclined to think it is, but that I might put a page on this blog, on which I detail the things I mention when introducing the poems live, plus some small edits I have made to the poems since publication, which I came to through the act of performing them.

The Listener

Have you listened to many audiobooks or audio CDs of poets reading their own work? Do you like it when they reveal some of the inner thinking behind the poems? I'm very aware of cases in poems like Wandering Eyes, in which I re-tell a story from Greek mythology that features four of the Greek gods, Helios (the sun god, also known as the all-seeing), Aries (god of war), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty) and Hephaestus (the deformed god of metalwork). That poem bears the epigram ‘(after Helios)’ but does not refer to the other gods by name ... in the following section:

The sharp eye spies a man
shaving back the stubble
a woman applies her face
before lifting the latch
to slip out as the world awakes;
the smell of bread freshly baked
and the fishermen bringing home the catch.
(from Wandering Eyes by Giles L. Turnbull)

Helios is the sharp eye, Aries is the man, Aphrodite is the lady, and the fishermen bringing home the catch is Hephaestus. The story goes that the gods agreed that Aphrodite should be the consort of Hephaestus to stop them all bickering over her beauty, but one day Helios spies Aries and Aphrodite emerging from an illicit tryst; he tells Hephaestus who weaves a net of invisibly fine mesh in which to ensnare the lovers who, in the story, are captured naked and taken back to Mount Olympus where they are ridiculed.

You can hear me read this poem at the Abergavenny Writing Festival back in April 2018 in this mp3. I also leave the end of the preceding poem in place because I am enthralled to detect a quiet voice in the audience reading along with the last word, “juice.” I cannot remember for the life of me whether it was somebody who bought a copy in the interval before I did my set and was reading along as I performed it, or whether they had heard me read it somewhere else but it is a lovely feeling when you hear things from the audience; I can also hear a slight chuckling in the audience during the Wandering Eyes poem when I talk about the local council obsessing about speed bumps and high hedges! I think that is my most important recommendation ... perform your work and pay attention to how the audience react, because they can reveal, without expressly stating it, whether your poem is understood and appreciated. And I do highly recommend taking an audio recording any time you read to the public because sometimes it's the quietest messages that speak the loudest :)

PS as I was searching for a twitter profile to tag Stiwdio Felin Fach in my post (I didn't find one) I found this Tweet from Canadian novelist Tyler Keebil:

Jul 15
Got a pleasant surprise in the post the other day: many thanks to Stiwdio Felin Fach and @BandCDs for these great-looking (and great-sounding) CDs of the #NoGoodBrothersTour. We'll send a box on to @waterstonesWQ and any tour venues that want some for readers - just message us!

This is significant because Tyler and his brother Jonathan were the act before me at the ABergavenny Writing Festival from which the recording of Wandering Eyes was taken! If that's not glowing enough recommendation that turning to Stiwdio Felin Fach for help with my audiobook isn't the right thing to do I don't know what is! :)

#Audiobooks #Recordings #Introductions #DressingUp #GreekMythology

Published inPoetrytechnology


  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    That’s an interesting point your raise, Giles, we don’t give explanatory notes when we write a poem, so why do we feel the need to introduce a poem when reciting it live? I guess a) the listener doesn’t get a second chance (the reader can read back), and b) the poet might feel self-conscious in front of an audience, so it’s an opportunity to take a break from reciting; also a break for the audience. As I said at our last PA reading, there’s only so much poetry a man (woman) can listen to! And sometimes, we need to explain the written version too. Recently I sent my Paris la Plus Belle to another poet who had just done a reading in Paris, but she didn’t get the gist of it until I explained that I had written it soon after the Terrorist Attack there. Which made me think, I should probably add a line after the title to explain this. Which I have done! If a lot of time has gone by, people will have forgotten the historical significance.

  2. Giles Giles

    I agree Frances. Before I did my first pamphlet launch reading back in April last year, an editor friend advised me that my 20 minute set should contain no more than half a dozen poems … since my average poem lasts under a minute I didn’t agree since I’d have been wafflikng far too much! But I do realise that an audience appreciates hearing about the poem before it is read, and things like the explanations of the Greek gods and the story behind it should be told to the reader as well as the listener … My ideal publication approach would be with footnotes or an appendix detailing background material but in a pamphlet there isn’t space for that.

  3. susan susan

    I think this makes sense! No one can be good at everything, so let the studio help you shine. I haven’t listened to tons of CDs of poetry, but I know that when an author takes the time to write notes about their writing, the circumstances that led them to make a particular decision in the writing, etc., I take the time to read it and am interested in knowing what the motivations and background were, so yes, I believe you should record whatever you would say in front of a live audience, too.

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