Recite Your Poem Contest - Roy Jerden's Blog

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Recite Your Poem Contest

Blog Posted:4/11/2013 6:17:00 PM
I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened this contest, but it was something I had been thinking about for a while.

Research indicates that spoken poetry predates the written word, and some of our oldest literature is poetry. There is an element that is missing when we read a poem with our eyes only, no matter how beautiful, and that is the voice of the author, or lacking that, a skilled reciter who can inject the emotional tones and rhythms of the spoken word that we can, at best, only imagine.

It became clear to me that some poems are elevated to a much higher plane than others when they are recited. Some poems that I read and liked, I just absolutely loved when they were recited. So I guess there are "eye" poems and "ear" poems, in a sense. Perhaps the "eye" poems are the ones that excite my mind with ideas, and the "ear" poems are the ones that touch my heart and evoke deeper emotions. I think there's a place for both, but it's clear to me that I was missing something with the "ear" poems until I heard them recited.

Some of the criticism of "performance" poetry is avoided using by AV media to create a recitation. As it is a recording, it can be replayed, just as a written poem can be re-read. You can also display the words as the poem is recited, so listeners can follow along. You don't have to show your face if you don't want to. There is, of course, no live interaction, but this allows the listener to focus better on the poem, IMHO. And last, YOU are in control of editing until you get it right. No stage fright here.

I suppose all this modern AV technology might be overwhelming to folks who are used to just putting their thoughts to words. The contest entries go all over the board in terms of how fancy people decided to get. There are Flash presentations, video slide presentations with voice and music, a video of part of a play, and even some webcam recitations. Many of these were helpful by putting the words on the screen while the poem was recited, and some enhanced the experience with images. One of the best, however, was a simple audio file of the author reciting the poem. I had the poem in front of me while I listened, and I must say it was quite powerful, as I was able to focus fully on the recitation. 

I actually went back and played some of the other presentations again, this time only listening while reading along with the poem. Not in all cases can I say this, but in several I can definitely say that less was more, much more.

To create an audiovisual experience that combines the voice, images and music in a harmonious way where each component enhances the experience without taking something away is a very tough task.

Here are some suggestions for AV presentations of poems based on what I experienced and also what I know from having produced quite a bit of educational media in my college teaching days:

1. Keep the focus on the poem. Limit the number of images and when you do switch images, the transition should be gradual, like a fade out, fade in. (Rap or an other staccato-rhythm poem might be an exception)
2. Use subtle imagery. Don't try to match the image to the words being spoken. You don't need to hit the listener over the head. This is poetry. Use images that suggest the subject matter without being explicit.
3. If there is a video of the person reciting the poem, use a socially comfortable distance. Remember that you are a stranger to most of your listeners. A close-up is too intimate and is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, unless that is your intention. Too far away and all facial expression is lost and the voice has that auditorium sound, losing the nuances. Use a background without any distracting movement. Just a shot of the reciter about 4-6 feet away reading their poem in a well-lit (dark is creepy, if that's the effect you desire) room would be about perfect. Use emotion in your voice and facial expressions (unless it's a zombie poem).
4. Keep it simple at first until you learn to use the AV editing tools well. It can be interesting and have great effect when you learn to do audio mixing with multiple tracks and fading, and then add them to your images or videos. There are a lot of free programs to help you.
5. Last, have fun. I hope we do more of this type of contest.

Most of the entries used Windows Movie Maker to create a video slide show. As I hadn't used this tool before, I decided to make a slide show with one of my poems to see how hard it was. WMM should be available on most Windows PC's and there is a version called Windows Live Movie Maker that comes with the downloadable Windows Live package. This is the one I used.

Basically, you create a new project, edit it and save it as a project, then save it or publish it as a movie. WMM publishes to Facebook, YouTube and several other social media sites. You can publish in HD or SD formats.

When you create a new project, you get a Title frame automatically, black background and white text with a text box that you can type into, resize, and move. You can change the font and font size by clicking on the Text Tools tab and also modify the background color, but you cannot change the text color, I think. To create a new frame, insert an image or video. However, if all you want is text in your frame, you can insert a Credits frame and enter your text without using an image. Repeat for additional frames. If you insert an image, you can then insert a Caption for your text, if desired. Resize the text box and resize your text to an appropriate font size that will fit each line without wrapping. You can move the text box also.

I found that one stanza per frame works best. You are limited to a duration of 30 seconds per frame and it takes about 20 seconds to recite four lines or so including time for transitions between frames.

There are a lot of options for visual effects and transitions. Play around with them. There are multiple sets of these that will show up if you click the dropdown widget on the far right of the list.

I used the Sound Recorder accessory that comes with Windows for my recitation. A much better solution is to use a free program such as Audacity, which gives you much more control and editing capabilities. I found that it worked best if I played the slide show while reciting as I could time my recitation to the slides. I used my headset microphone, which gave better results than the built-in mike. 

You can insert the sound file using the Add Music option. You can select where you want the sound to start and you can use Fade In and Fade Out effects, which I suggest, as there is often a harsh transition to a sound file if you don't. You can insert multiple sound files, but only serially, as WMM doesn't support multiple tracks. You can get around this by using something like Audacity as your sound project tool, which allows you to have multiple voice and music tracks and blend them together with lots of effects.

Here's my recitation. I don't give it high marks, as the poem itself is not an "ear" poem, in my humble opinion, and I certainly don't have the beautiful intonation and cadence that I heard in some of the ones in the contest. 

I also looked at how different sites manage your uploaded file.

YouTube has some editing capabilities when you go to your dashboard and select your video, but I didn't see if it is possible to replace your current video with a new one that you edited offline. Actually I didn't see a way to even delete it, although you can change its security so it's unlisted. You might have to upload a new file to implement changes, and then use the new URL in your poem.

Facebook has no editing capabilities like YouTube, but you can delete a post, then re-post with a new video and use the new URL in your poem. Be sure you make the post publicly available.

DropBox gives you full control in the sense that all you have to do is replace the current file in your DropBox to make an update. You can delete anytime you want to, but in that case remove the URL from your poem, too. This seems to be the easiest way to manage a presentation, IMHO. Right click on the file to share it and copy the URL from the browser address bar.

File Dropper does not require that you sign up to drop a file, but it will delete the file after a certain number of days of inactivity (if it's not downloaded within 7 days, I think). OK for short term, but might be an issue after that.

Hope this helps.

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Date: 4/14/2013 7:13:00 AM
Further to my comment below Roy, just to advise folks especially those who remember the variety of poetic forms I introdued to PS over the years I am now reposting them with a link to youtube where they may hear them read aloud.Trust everyone had a blessed weekend.
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Date: 4/12/2013 2:46:00 PM
Listened and enjoyed your words and accent...Seren
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Date: 4/12/2013 8:47:00 AM
PS......Loved your tribute to Neil Armstrong.....excellent recitation, and a great example of what your blog was telling us. Outstanding poem on it's own merit.....but hearing it enhanced the experience!
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Date: 4/12/2013 8:45:00 AM
I just recently discovered the movie maker far have three. Your contest was an inspiration, Roy, so thanks! And thanks for the tutorial.....I take notes from your above suggestions, and hope to improve as I try a few more in the future. I can't wait to see the links to all the entries from your contest...and hear my Souper friends recite their poems. Hope we will get a chance to hear everyone! Thanks Roy!
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Date: 4/12/2013 2:20:00 AM
Well said Roy, it is where I'm 'at' as my youtube links that I've shared here recently will reveal.Currently I now have ten video/poems thereon and it is the simplest place to start for any PS poets who would like to take up your advices.Rgds Brian
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Date: 4/11/2013 6:43:00 PM
This was very hard for me to do and hard to look at for me, but I was happy with my voice, thanks for the opportunity. Light & Love
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