"I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood." -Audre Lorde
I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t read out loud enough. Of course when I’m drafting I do a few dry runs, going over the sentences before they are seen by others’ eyes. But in regards to the pastime of reading for pleasure, I feel silly reading to myself as the only person in the room.
However, in recent months, I’ve been more apt to ask my friends if I can read to them (material I have written, as well as short stories and poetry by various authors). This is very different than just sharing some quote I’ve stumbled upon—reading to an audience takes practice and adjustment, along with a genuine interest on the behalf of the listener. There’s nothing worse than reading to a single person or group that appears bored.
In primary school, I remember the round-robin activity of reading paragraphs from assigned text as the teacher seemed to pick-and-choose who went next. This filled me with a sense of dread, because I was a daydreamer and had trouble following along as my classmates muscled through the stories, or I would get so engrossed in the literature that I would skip ahead and often was the case that I would lose my place. This was embarrassing. And then there was my shyness—painfully shy, that sometimes I would get so nerved up being put on the spot that I would begin crying, or my voice would get terribly shaky.
Then in high school, I was forced to memorize poetry and recite it in front of my peers, making an already awkward kid feel even more awkward. I favored the poetic voice, yet I did not particularly enjoy sharing this openly, especially since I had gravitated away from the classics and was becoming curious about the modern, experimental side of things. My English teacher wanted me to join up with the school theatre program, thinking this would bring me out of my shell. But unfortunately, I had discovered other extracurricular activities, such as marijuana, which consumed my time almost as much as my nerdy interests of reading and writing and listening to music.
By college, I still hadn’t curbed my fear of reading aloud. I was writing a lot more in my spare time, but these notebooks remained private. And it wasn’t until graduate school that I participated in my first open mic. I consider the fact that it took me a long time to have some confidence in what I was writing, and this has been a motivator for me to want to read to an audience now.
The other night, I handed my close male friend an Audre Lorde collection (an Caribbean-American feminist poet), as I took up a copy of Chuck Bukowski (the self-deprecating misogynist disguised as a poet). We took turns picking the pages that we would read from and then compared themes, styles, and wisdom. What I wanted to see is if the words resonated any more or any less when read by the opposite sex. When my friend read, there was a strength to the poems that stayed powerfully embedded after they were spoken. But when I read, particularly over some of the parts where Chuck rants about his penis or drunkenness or the women he’s bagged, it just came off sounding humorous and not quite as striking.
Either way, it was a good audible exercise. And reading out loud is an excellent way to get comfortable and familiar with your own voice—spacing and pausing, enunciation and delivery of character— how it affects the selected words, and the message of the author.
Perhaps, some day in the near to distant future, you will catch me reading to you.