07 September 2006

A little surprise, a bit about reading, words, and poetry

Lots of different ideas scurrying around my brain today.

I don't like Tennyson. I loathed reading him in high school. I hated having to memorize "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Although I understood what the teacher meant by admonishing us to not read the poem "sing song", I couldn't understand how that was possible with this poem. Blah to the left of them! Blah! to the right of them! Blah! Blah! Droned the six hundred! Or at least it seemed as if we endured 600 students slogging through reciting this, although even in my big city high school I doubt my English class had more than 30 - 35 students.

I thought "The Lady of Shallot" was a bit better, but only because I loved Arthurian legends. I re-read it in college after seeing Waterhouse's gorgeous painting in the Tate. The painting set me on a brief course of discovering everything I could about the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood, an interest that both amuses and puzzles me now and will never serve any useful purpose unless it's a category on Jeopardy! while I was an contestant. Still, I didn't care much for the poem.

So, imagine my surprise recently when I stumbled across this, from a wax cylinder recording of Tennyson reading "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Knocked me off my feet.

Wasn't Light Brigade written during the Crimean War? When was sound recording invented? Tennyson was still alive then?

Actually, the poem is about an event in the Crimean War, published in 1855; Edison invented the first sound recording device in 1877 and the Graphophone was patented in 1885; Tennyson died in 1892. This recording was done around 1890. Although the recording is very scratchy, and the softly spoken parts are almost inaudible, I don't think I'll ever read this poem and hear it read in that 'sing-song' teenage voice again. The Poetry Archive has other historical readings by poets. Fascinating!

Onto a different topic:

In my bookclub this evening someone asked whether one could say he had read a book if they had listened to the audio version? I would say 'yes', and pointed out that we "read" books with our kids even if we are the ones reading and they listen. It is a reading experience regardless of whether you are the reader or the one being read to. We talk about poets 'reading' their work, which is very different than when we read of poem. What about Braille books? The blind would say that they 'read' a book, wouldn't they? What do you think? If you were counting the number of books read in a year, would you include a book on tape? Are we splitting hairs to say that one should only claim to have listened to a book if he or she was not actually engaged in the physical act of making sense out of the ink shapes on the page?

Topic 3:
I found the WordNerd Podcast today. I only listened briefly to a few snippets from old casts (they'll air new shows beginning this Saturday following a summer hiatus). Based on what I heard and scrolling through the related blog, I think this seems really neat! The site has a forum feature as well, with discussions about all things wordy, not necessarily just the ideas on the weekly cast. Anything called WordNerds must be great for people like me who are, well, you know, Nerds about Words. I think I'll download their podcast -- once I get my ipod reconfigured after loosing the hard drive earlier this summer. Alas! I'm a bigger nerd with words than with some technologies!

Postscript: How funny! Blogger's spellchecker wants to change "WordNerd" to "ordinary". I've never met an ordinary Word Nerd in my life!

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