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Posturing, Truth and Poetry Recordings
By James Strecker
November, 2005, 22:30

Bob Dylan is one of many celebrated poets to commit their message to recordings.
On No Direction Home: The Soundtrack, itís Bob Dylanís 1963 Carnegie Hall singing of When The Ship Comes In that startles me most.

The "new regime" lyrics are metaphorically focused, idealistic and poetically cocky. The singing is uncompromising and defiant with aching optimism. The recording itself spits with unforced youthful confidence that seems to push pretension aside.

Itís a beautiful mating of poetic "what?" and "how?" that is truly inspirational and its impact remains quite firm after only two or three listens. Itís almost as if Dylan is here owning up to his own intensity, his own passion Ė and apparently without the self-consciousness posturing that popular culture demands.

To be sure, any art form, be it Dylanís neo-folkie poetics or traditional poetry long blabbed to death by critical academia, can be susceptible to posing of all kinds, some innocent and some unabashedly contrived.

Happily poetry is always at very least capable of a naked and honest heart, a heart that doesnít know how to lie, even as it is putting on an act and playing a role. Perhaps, in the end, great poetry must always be both artifice and honesty at once.

The following CD recordings of poetic readings often offer rich blends of both posturing and heart. Whichever dominates in each reading Ė itís your call - these are special recordings and you should check them out.

Because The Caedmon Poetry Collection first introduced me to the actual voices of poets I was studying in university at the time, itís a personal favourite. It includes Audenís In Memory Of W. B. Yeats and its famous lines, "Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry" and "poetry makes nothing happen."

Also featured among 36 poets are a seething Anne Sexton, the folksy Americana of Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost, the grounded word-sensitivity of Derek Walcott, a haunting Conrad Aiken, a dramatically vulnerable Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda in Spanish, a playfully hammy Ezra Pound, and the patrician resonance of Wallace Stevens.

Poetry Speaks (Sourcebooks MediaFusion), a 336 page volume of poetry, biographical sketches, and criticism which includes three CDs of poets reading their works, is a genuine revelation because the readers include -- no kidding -- Tennyson, Browning, and Whitman.

Also included: Yeats defending his style of reading with its emphasis on rhythm, tight-bottomed renditions by T.S.Eliot, the no-holds-barred acidities of Dorothy Parker, the beat groove of Allen Ginsbergís Howl, and the dry alienation of Philip Larkin.

Writers and Poets from EMI is another CD cache of rare historical gems we are lucky to have. Since all good writing has poetic elements in it, each writer here, whatever their genre, demands attention. They include the gift-of-the-gab lilts and sonorities of James Joyce, A.A. Milneís engaging Pooh, an insinuating and pleasantly self-congratulating G. B. Shaw, Tolkien discussing the wireless, Conan Doyle on writing Sherlock Holmes, Virginia Woolf on craftsmanship, and, if that isnít enough, Leo Tolstoy speaking in English.

For the poetry inherent in contemporary voices, Voices and Poetry of Ireland is a fascinating and moving book/3 CD collection. Featured here are over 100 of Irelandís best-loved poems "recorded by some of the most moving, resonant and memorable voices to have ever come out of the country."

These include Bono, Pierce Brosnan, Richard Harris, Bob Geldof, Maeve Binchy, Gabriel Byrne, Andrea Corr, Sir James Galway, Edward Kennedy, Paddy Moloney, Van Morrison, and Sinead OíConnor. Itís a very enjoyable collection because the tone is usually conversational, so affectation and posing for the microphone are rare in these CDs.

Finally, Dylan Thomas: The Caedmon Collection contains 10 CDs of gloriously self-indulgent writing and oration that pose bardic for all the world to see. Thomas wanted to be an actor but was too awkward on stage, so he made a stage of his words and voice alone. Like many writers, that other Dylan for one, he can certainly be annoying sometimes in his schtick. But the thrilling moments of resonating passion and literary magic offered by either Dylan  often cast all worry of pretension aside.

For, in the end, all the worldís a stage and, as a species, we seem to need it that way.
See James Strecker's poem on Mike Seeger's banjo poem.

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James Strecker is the author or editor of two dozen books and CD-ROMs.His collaborators as a poet include artist Harold Town, in the books Black on jazz and Pas De Vingt on ballet, photographer Bill Smith, and composers Barend Schipper and Wolfgang Bottenberg. He is also a journalist and a human development consultant. He is currently writing a book on creativity and is seeking a publisher for his book for writers. email:

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