The Footnote Reading

Today I gave my first speech for Toastmasters.

I kind of cheated.  I wrote a speech in the form of a poem that contained a poem.

The assigned speech was the “icebreaker” speech.  Everyone said it is the easiest as you just talk about yourself.  As any poet knows, this is the most difficult thing to do directly.  The self, when presented to the public and through words, requires crafting and revision.

The poem, “Sunday School Lessons in Four Part (dis)Harmony,” is one of my more lengthy poems with three languages and extensive footnotes.   Since it was a speech and not a poetry reading (and I was already cheating), I did not fret over how to read the footnotes:  I simply didn’t, except for the epigraph, which I explained before I started reading the poem.

The footnotes pertain mostly to biblical references and lines in other languages.  The other languages, in the written version, have footnotes as the ‘sound’ may be lost on the reader so I thought some explanation would be appreciated.  However, I never translate in the footnotes, only site the references.  This would be disruptive and strange in the reading.  Instead, read aloud, they serve to give music and atmosphere to the loose narrative and the intended emotion or experience of the poem attempts to convey.

To add to this, I added back in lines from Hungarian folksongs.  Unlike the Latin and Spanish, the Hungarian is not as familiar and the pronunciations would be unmusical by non-Hungarian speakers, so I took them out (though a few Hungarian words remain in the poem).  However, while rehearsing the poem, I spontaneously sang these songs from my childhood as they were referenced.   I kept that in tonight’s presentation of the speech to my club.

Often I have discussed with poets about how, for instance, would one read aloud a poem like “The Waste Land” or one of the many footnoted poems in Sherman Alexie’s Face.  Today, being the poet and having the ‘authority’ to aurally present my footnotes (or in this case not) as I like, I found that I have two poems:  the page poem where the footnotes are needed to guide readers through the unfamiliar and the aural poem that may dwell in the universality of the music of language outside of literal comprehension.


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