Poetry: remembering our aural roots


The second of our studies on great poetry – what can we writers learn from the masters? Today I’m looking at the importance of the way a poem sounds in a live performance. Does the poem capture the natural rhythm of speech? Does it remember its aural roots? Does it need to be heard?

What better way to explore than with an audio feature today – and a live performance?

Here’s a master of the aural tradition – but not someone you’ll often find in anthologies. Who? – the picture’s a clue.

View all the entries in our Poetry Masterclass series.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Thanks, Alan. This is wonderful! I loved listening, and as you suggest, this poem really comes to life when read aloud.
    I learned music, and about music, exactly the same way — by inspiration from hearing the masters. I’m often struck by the similarities between poets, dealing with words, and musicians, dealing with sounds. For example, both words and sounds can be captured in notation, which seem to me a shallow artifact of what the work is really about.
    Does it also seem to you that the “meat and potatoes” of a poem exists whenever it spoken? I suspect so, since you’ve included an audio file here, rather than a transcript. But I’m uncertain, because from your title, “coloring” conjures a visual image, while “wind” suggests visual, auditory, and tactile responses.
    Robbie Schlosser recently posted..What Jazz Musicians Teach Me About Wedding and Party MusicMy Profile

  2. Alan Miles

    Robbie – that’s really perceptive. Yes, you’re right, the site name, at face value, seems to suggest visual and tactile. But I chose the name because the image of coloring the wind seemed to me to suggest what all artists try to do – to make the intangible tangible, to give colors to thoughts and moods and instincts. That’s what poetry’s about … and whether you’re a writer, a painter, a musician, you can be a poet. It’s the point at which you transcend technique.

    Sometimes I think we erect false barriers between the arts. You’re either a musician or a poet or a novelist or a graphics designer or a painter. Why can’t you be all of those? Why can’t we create events and experiences that bring them all together. Can the new media help us to do that, giving us ways to merge – and maybe market – our creative talents in a way that was never possible before? For a while now I’ve been wondering how I could introduce music into our work here. Today I might have accidentally hit on one way.

    I’d just finished recording the audio for The Sick Rose and was testing it on iTunes. As I finished reading the poem, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne popped up – iTunes had auto-selected it, and it was a perfect segue. All day long, I’ve been thinking about an audio anthology – mixing poetry and music and graphics … coloring the wind in another way. The sky’s not the limit!

  3. Chris Pearson

    Alan, I loved your choice of poet/poem. I grew up with AA Milne. I was unable to play the last verse of the poem though, where [and my kids always enjoyed this bit] Milne plays with the music of the poem – starting with a whisper – JJ MM WGdP…/….. and ending with a shout….IF YOU DON’T GO DOWN WITH ME. Great fun.
    My favourite though was Bad Sir Brian Bottomly, and ‘The knight whose armour didn’t squeak, and …..and…..

  4. Alan Miles

    Sorry Chris – I didn’t do the last verse. But I’ll have a bash at re-editing the audio and tagging it on, just for you! Yup, Bad Sir Brian was a good’un too – Botany, in my version – and Lines and Squares. I still don’t walk on the lines on London pavements.

  5. Chris Pearson

    Yes,you’re right – it was Botany of course. What can I say – it was late.
    By the way have you seen ‘Now we are sixty’ by Christopher Matthew – another example of a book I wish I had thought of myself. genius.