Poetry and Stories for Memorizing/Presentation
8-part video interview with Ashley
College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME
January 20, 2015
(mp3, 79min, 38MB)
Ashley Bryan is a widely-published award-winning children's book author, poet, story-teller, artist and craftsman who lives in a hard-to-believe house on nearby Little Cranberry Island. I've known him for over 35 years, and he is one of the most inspiring people I have met, not only personally, but particularly in the realm of oral presentation -- poetry and story-telling.
Ashley has said that if music had been treated the way we treat poetry (black marks on a page), it would have died out long ago. Like music, poetry needs performance. What this means might not be clear until you experience Ashley in one of the thousands of presentations of poetry and story-telling that he has given to audiences all over the world -- particularly to kids, whose jaws drop and eyes bug out. His voice is all over the place, in volume, pitch and character. A couple of examples:
He says that you have to find the voice, rhythm, and music in a poem or story, that you have to spend of time with it.
And he's right. Over fifty years ago, I memorized Poe's The Raven during my weekly house-vacuuming chore. But that was the extent of my memorization work until twenty years ago I decided to take Ashley seriously. I started to memorize Coleridge's The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner. It took me at least a year, going over pieces of it wherever I went, on walks, commuting to work, sitting quietly.
I found that once you have a piece memorized, and can go through it comfortably, "things" begin to come out of its woodwork. Sounds you hadn't realized were present. Connections that weren't immediately obvious. The piece begins to change, as you deliberately or accidentally come up with variations of voice. There's always something new and intriguing turning up. And eventually it becomes your own. And after that, every time you go through them, they're different. It's like learning a piece of music so well, that you can free yourself from the musical page and improvise on the melody, only in this case it's improvising on the voice. I've experienced this again and again with the scores of poems and stories I've "made my own" over the past two decades.
I have only occasionally found formal venues for reciting. When I have, the poems have always been well received (thank you, Ashley!). But taking walks in the woods, or on long (or short) drives, or standing in a grocery line, they are always with me. The spots where life could get boring don't happen.
On this site you will find some of the poems and stories that have become my companions. I offer them in several versions. They are here for web viewing, and also in PDF form, so that they can be printed out and folded up or cut out and shoved in a pocket, for those long walks or drives. And I offer some sample vocal renditions of them, for your entertainment or interest.
Caveat on vocals -- It must be said about these last, that nothing is perfect, that there is always some slip or another in terms of following the text exactly, even after many takes. So trust the text versions, not the vocal ones. And my recording technology, while producing clear sound, does not pick up the full dyanamics of the presentation that are available in person. So use your imagination.
Note: This is just getting started. There will be many poems here soon.
|Bridal Shower||George Bilgere|
|Cremation of Sam McGee, The||Robert Service||vocal|
|Ice-Worm Cocktail, The Ballad of the||Robert Service||vocal|
|Lobster Barbie, The Tale of||Amos Jessup & Charles Ipcar||vocal|
|Mouse and the Cake, The||Eliza Cook||vocal|
|Muddy Reef, A Tale of the Old||Jay Speakman||vocal|
|One Day While Walking On the Stair||Unknown (to me)||vocal|
The End of the Raven
|Edgar Allen Poe
|Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The||Samuel Taylor Coleridge|
|Sea Slug Cocktail, The||David Higgins et al||vocal|
|Shag-Eyed Shark, Tale of a||Holman Day||vocal|
|Shine, Perishing Republic||Robinson Jeffers|
|Shooting of Dan McGrew, The||Robert Service||vocal|
|Something Told the Wild Geese||Rachel Field||vocal|
|Twins, The||Henry Sambrooke Leigh||vocal|
|The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
(also: Easter in a Texas Roadhouse)
|Betty Crocker Cookbook (1969)||"Betty Crocker"||audio||video|
|David He No Fear||Lorenz Graham||vocal|
|Waltz, The||Dorothy Parker||vocal|
|War Prayer, The||Mark Twain||vocal||video|