Michael Daigle: What a pleasure to participate in another version of June Is Audio Book Month promoted by Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators.
They have teamed with Going Public, and Tantor Media to offer Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
I also again have the privilege of interviewing poet and voice artist Diane Havens of New Jersey whose poetry collection, “Without Makeup,” has been published by Mary Celeste Press. For this year’s JIAM14, Diane recorded a version of Walt Whitman’s “So Long,”
Diane is also offering a give-away/drawing, details of which follow the interview.
MD: You’ve published a collection of poetry, “Without Makeup.” It is a lifetime work, filled with love, joy, sadness, observations, loss, birth and death. Describe how you take your own life, thoughts and emotions and channel the real world into your poetry. Is there a key to allowing the reader to feel and understand your own sadness, love or joy as they read your poetry?
Diane Havens: Actually, I don’t think of the reader at all. Once I do that, I lose the truth of the poem. I just say what I have to say as I hear it, and it’s great if when I do that, someone “gets” it. Or rather gets something in their own lives that resonate with what I’ve said. To me, it’s like looking at a painting, and no two people see exactly the same thing in it. Especially in abstract art.
MD: So it’s safe to say that for you writing poetry is an intensely personal experience.
DH: I think a mistake a lot of people make when they read poetry is thinking that the poet has some secret message encoded in his or her words. It’s why I always cringed when teachers would assign poetry writing assignments on a subject or theme or form, hand the kids a rhyming dictionary and have them go at it. That isn’t poetry. That’s a writing game. And it’s turned too many people off to poetry who might otherwise enjoy it.
Poetry shouldn’t be “hard.” It should be as easy to hear as music. When people listen to music, even classical, they are not quizzed as to what it meant. Poetry should not be like that either. It’s a good analogy because poetry and music have very much in common.
MD: While poetry is personal, it is also art, a craft in which the poet uses their skill to shape the collection of words that both opens to the readers the poet’s mind and heart, and that of the reader. Describe your writing process and how it influences the resulting work.
DH: The poem will present itself to me, often at very inopportune times — while I’m driving, or showering or when I awake in the middle of the night, or when I’m late for an appointment. I’ve lost more than a few poems that way. It could be anything that causes that poem to appear. An image, a phrase, an epiphany, a memory, a pang, an obvious analogy in an observation.
The key to the process is being (and I know this phrase is overused) “in the moment.” In life, especially as we grow older, we are not so aware of truly being alive.
As Thornton Wilder so beautifully expresses in “Our Town” when the character Emily asks if anyone realizes life each and every moment as they live it and the stage manager replies: “No. Saints and poets maybe. They do some.”
Children are natural poets. Everything’s a poem, everything’s new — sights, sounds, experiences, and as they grow and learn, they make connections between all these things.
One of my favorite Christian quotes is “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now I know some people who don’t like that one since to them it implies being dependent, but I don’t interpret it that way at all. It may have something to do with humility, but I think it has more to do with how open to the spiritual world a child is, without realizing it, without analyzing it, making rules for it, without needing churches and all the trappings of religion.
To me, poetry is a more pure form of prayer, and I think the ancients understood that. They honored the poets — poets had great value in society.
MD: You previously referenced how poetry is taught. I recall it as a rote exercise —This is a sonnet; this is iambic pentameter – as if the poem was a math problem, and understanding the meaning of the poem, or its beauty, would only come from understanding the form. Does the form of the poem influence your writing?
DH: I don’t write with form in mind at all. I listen for the poem. If it sounds like music to me, it works. I am convinced even those poets who write with structure have simply learned to hear in that form, and are not consciously counting syllables in words and forcing rhymes. The haiku is an example. I think you can begin to think in haiku, without going through the translation.
Much like learning a language — to be fluent you have to think in that language, not in your native language and then quickly translate before you speak. Sometimes rhyme will present itself in my poetry, and I’m always delighted when it does, but it’s never intentional. Double meanings too — I think instinctively they come to me, but I never set out to create them.
MD: You’ve recorded Walt Whitman’s “So Long” for this month’s June is Audiobook Month. What is that attracts you to Whitman? Is it the sound of his language, the themes, the sense of humanity? How has he influenced you own poetry?
DH: Walt Whitman, yes. He was my midlife crisis poet. I discovered him late. When I realized that maybe American literature was not so bad after all.
In my youth I was more enamored of English literature and I still love Shakespeare above all others, but that’s more for the theater, as I have a stage acting background. But Walt Whitman is fiercely authentic and common-man in his poetry all the while elevating our humanity by linking it intrinsically with nature, with the soul, with how it all makes sense as One. I do like the sound of his poetry, the repetition, the simple imagery, the power in the meter of his lines. But it’s his use of the “big idea” that most appeals to me.
After Hurricane Sandy, I immediately thought of his poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” because, growing up in Brooklyn, seeing so many of the icons of my childhood mind destroyed, disturbed me greatly. Place is important; it links generations. We leave something of ourselves there. I get that same sense visiting the ruins in Rome, or Jefferson’s Monticello — souls live there, great things and small things happened there, good and evil happened there. I recorded that poem shortly afterward, and it is one of the audiobooks I’ve done where I donate all the royalty share proceeds (and my own match or more) to charity. That one to Sandy relief.
I chose to record “So Long” for this project because at this stage of my life, I’m beginning to lose loved ones, and Whitman has a most uplifting way of thinking about his own death, so personal and human, he has been a great comfort to me. The last line “I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead” is at once unapologetic, strong and proud, making death into something positive, something to look forward to as a natural, beautiful transformation of life, not an end, not a “dead end.”
He’s influenced my own work only in the sense that I am inspired by his philosophy of life and death, and find that it harmonizes well with my own. There is one major difference in our poetic approach — Whitman is keenly aware of his readers, and speaks “directly” to them at times, even telling the reader he is doing it. I never do that, and when I do, I am really more talking to myself, even when the poem is written “to” someone. We both, however, hear poetry as “songs.” Which leads very neatly to audio. In fact, though its authenticity is being debated, there is a 1890 wax cylinder recording of Whitman himself reading from his poem “America.”
MD: We learned as humans to tell stories before we wrote them down. Audiobooks are a growing and important continuation of that tradition. Do you feel that tradition as you work as a voice artist? How much does the reading of your poetry, and hearing the language returned, influence the way you structure your poems, that is, the rhymes and rhythm of the words, the shape of stanzas, how you imply the meaning?
DH: Audio and poetry are a natural fit. Young people are drawn to it these days through events like poetry slams. But as you say, the oral tradition of telling stories is very old indeed. As I mentioned Shakespeare before, poetry and theater are also interwoven — just look where it all started with Ancient Greek theater. Music too.
Poetry has a visual element as well — how it looks — how it’s surrounded by space on the page, the weight given to words on each line, or as a whole in block form, so it has something in common with visual art as well.
I love the way all the arts interconnect, and how the combinations and variations of them are endless, limited only by the artist’s imagination and creativity.
I always read my own poems aloud, several times and in as many ways as I can, before I’m done editing them — and that does influence how I finally decide to arrange the words visually. But because there’s more than one way to read a poem, the final spacing and stanzas will deviate from one read or another.
First words and last words of lines carry more weight visually than they do when spoken but the voice can intone those words giving each just the right weight, which can vary in subtle ways. Pacing and how hard to hit the beats, whether you want to downplay or play up the rhyme or syncopate or break a rhythm or foot tap it — well, now here you can easily see how it’s like music, and a musician can arrange a piece and make it sound different, customize it as he or she understands it, hears it best.
It will sound different than the musical notation, depending upon who is playing it and with what instrument.
That is the beauty of poetry — its meaning is customized to your own experiences, who you are, and your own voice.
MD: What are your current projects?
DH: One upcoming project I’m extremely excited about is a full cast audio recording of Sophocles’ “Antigone” which I helped produce for Post Hypnotic Press. It’s currently being set to an original score and will be released later this year. Think how much music adds to film, often without our really noticing it. I had the chance to listen to some advance clips of “Antigone” and it’s amazing how the music and poetry of the dialogue support each other. I’d compare it to opera — the music adds layers and underscores the feeling of a piece, that part which cannot be adequately expressed by words, or by words alone.
I’m also looking forward to another spoken word-music collaboration I’ve done with Scottish composer Andrew Kidd — I’d written some poetry that he’s using in his next album on an end of the world theme. The possibilities are vast since technology has opened up new vistas in the arts as much as they have in business — and it is global in nature as well.
My current creative project is recording “Without Makeup” and using original music for the audiobook. That’s a new challenge for me. I’ve recorded many of my poems solo, but this I want to present as a cohesive whole. I think music will help me achieve that. Though I haven’t recorded that many audiobooks to date (it has not been my primary voice work at this point in my career), I have fully enjoyed each one of the titles I’ve recorded, and hope to continue that joy well into the future.
I listen to audiobooks regularly (the gym is a great place to listen — gets me there most every day!) I am thrilled to be part of this project for JIAM 2014 — grateful to Xe Sands for initiating it and her Going Public project, to which I’ve been a faithful weekly contributor for some years now. Audio brings so much to the world of literature — so many fine actors involved in the industry are giving stellar performances, and the inventory of titles is dizzying. There’s truly something for everybody.
MD: For JIAM14 Diane is offering a give away/drawing: The winner of the drawing will receive: Her recording of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, one other of her titles on Audible (your choice), and one other title on Audible (any title, any narrator) along with a signed copy of her book “Without Makeup.”
To enter the drawing, please leave a comment on Diane’s reading, or on JIAM 14, by the end of June at http://www.michaelstephendaigle.com.
The winner will be announced July 1.
June is Audio Book month information:
Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and works with 52 nongovernmental organizations in 34 developing countries.
Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs.
Summer Shorts ’14 is made possible by the efforts of the Spoken Freely narrators and many others who donated their time and energy to bring it to fruition. Post-production, marketing support and publication provided by Tantor Media . Graphic design provided by f power design. Project coordination and executive production provided by Xe Sands. Nonprofit partnership coordination provided by Karen White.
As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download.
After May 30, you can purchase the collection HERE. Special pricing of $9.99 through June 30, in celebration of JIAM. $14.99 from July 1st forward. The full schedule for JIAM14 is HERE.
Please visit the following sites to hear other JIAM14 contributions:
Also posted today is: John Pruden, The Funny Little Fellow, by James Whitcomb Riley @ Going Public.
Posted on June 15 will be: Dion Graham, Days Gone By, by Eric Jerome Dickey @ Literate Housewife and Gary Dikeos, The Higher Abdication, by O. Henry @ Going Public.