Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: The human voice--the Little Mermaid, Russalka, and Susan Boyle

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

The human voice--the Little Mermaid, Russalka, and Susan Boyle

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Since it’s almost the end of National Poetry Month, I’ve heard a lot of poetry lately. I’ve been reading it, too, but it’s the hearing I’m thinking about. I’m struck by how delightful it is to listen to someone read poetry aloud. To hear the sound--the voice, the way the words work together, the breath, the rhythm.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about voice in a different context. I saw the opera “Russalka.” It’s based on a folk legend that appears in one incarnation or another across cultures. It may be best known in the version translated into the Disney movie, “The Little Mermaid.” Basic story: mermaid falls in love with human man, trades away part of herself--usually her voice--to be with him. In most versions--except Disney’s of course--things end badly. And even in the Disney version, charming as the music is, it's pretty horrifying if you think about it. Especially if you picture theaters full of little girls getting the idea that it’s reasonable to chose silence when a handsome prince might be involved. The message is just be quiet.

So this month I was glad to listen to the enormous variety of voices raised in poetry. As a poet, I am grateful for each one of those voices and all the ones that came before, for those who laid down a long tradition and for those who add their voices in the hope of creating something of meaning and beauty.

And I was thinking about how we use our voices when someone sent me the now-famous Susan Boyle YouTube link. Amazing, yes, but one of the most amazing aspects was the reaction, from the cynical Simon and his skeptical audience to the thousands of posted comments elicited by this one woman simply standing up and using her voice.

One little note to anyone reading this who’s in Texas. Jim Photoglo, a terrific singer and songwriter whom I met at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, will be on a concert tour to Austin, Chappell Hill, and Fredericksburg. Go hear him if you can.

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