Spring 2008, Volume 4

Essay by Dolorez Roupe

The Sounds of Poetry

My English Lit teacher at Compton College turned our classroom into a morgue. He dissected the sonnet, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” by William Wordsworth, slicing and dicing each line. He reached into the sonnet’s bowels, now a cadaver, and pulled out a few lines holding them up like glistening intestines for our scrutiny. To me, the bulges were stressed syllables like chunks of food which formed regular protrusions in the lines’ walls. He continued the minutiae for three and one/half hours over two class sessions. I learned the skeletal shape of a sonnet—its width and breadth. But the more I learned the more I hated that sonnet. What an ugly piece of work! Until—one evening I listened to a televised poetry reading by Elizabeth Taylor. I gasped. Is that how it’s supposed to sound? How beautiful!

But that was Elizabeth Taylor reading poetry written over a hundred years before. What would it sound like if I heard Wordsworth reading his sonnet? Not all poets know how to read their own poetry. One example is Mark Doty. In Poetry Workshop one day, Frank Gaspar played a tape of Mark Doty reading from his published work. Doty’s voice was dry and phlegmatic. His words rumbled on until he began to read “A Green Crab’s Shell.” I gasped. What a piece of tripe he made it sound. I had read the poem in the Los Angeles Times and fell in love with it. On that strength, I had bought his book Atlantis. Had I heard his reading first, I never would have known the beauty of his poem.

BIO:  When I read The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft in a collection of horror stories, it reverberated for me as one of the most discomfiting and still does. It was when I read a biography of Lovecraft by L. Sprague De Camp that I realized the parallels between the story and Lovecraft himself. It inspired me to write the poem. However, unless one has read the story and biography, the poem will escape the general public and therefore narrow its interest.