How To Speak Poetry – Maighread Medbh

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To hear Maighread Medbh perform her poem, go here.


remembering ciara pugsley

whn th little lite shinin frm abve doesn’t
n younguns mad fr luv r spected 2 b home
thumbs go drum on magic pads n open windows
so they travel in thr dreambots huntin souls
they go weft upon the crystal warp unshuttled
hookin up witout a plan 2 build a planet
trances risin tru the base n snare of ask n tell
wot u c is wot u feel n wot u feels rite
tho snot a total giggle when the trolls r out
—no1 knows th cause like with any freakin demic—
bitch please u aint jesus wot’s wit all the posin
how’d u like my cock up ur ass, u cross-eyed ho

som1 feelin tiny in the sprawlin fabric
hauls back in2 her drum for a re-birth much 2 brite
bodys blinded so her double takes it weepin
2 th woods to be an hero wit a reel hank o rope


What is poetry and what brought you to it?

Poetry is the literal translation of mind.

I came to poetry through isolation, dream, recitation, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare and song.

What was your first engagement with poetry – page or stage? If it was page, how did it feel bringing your poetry to the stage? If stage, how did it feel taking your poetry to the page?

Recitation by my father was probably the first poetry I knew, then my own liking for learning off poems and reciting them in my head and on the rare public occasion. I always had a feeling for theatre, though didn’t have an opportunity to perform until I left school. While at school, the poetry-on-the-page of Dylan Thomas seduced me, and the prose-poetry-on-the-page of Joyce. I didn’t initially feel any division between the read and the spoken. As far as I was concerned it was all dance — of sounds, syntax, philosophy, semantics, emotion, visual impact. However, the act of writing is a routine with particular habits and orientations. It feels private and is physically contained. Although I had done some acting, the decision to lay the pages of my poems aside and recite them instead felt at first like over-exposure. The beauty of theatre is that you’re not being yourself, you can hide; the script isn’t your own and you’re working with a team. Reciting your material, without the protection of a page that just might have written itself, leaves you as the sole agent, utterly responsible. The feeling was both frightening and stimulating. Being quite shy, I used all I had learned from theatre and ploughed on, dedicating myself to the word and its purposes, rather than dwelling on my quaking ego.

Below are a few quotations from “How to Speak Poetry”. Choose the one which most resonates with you. Explain why – and whether or not there is merit in his position (both as it relates to the page and/or the stage).

“Do not act out words. Never act out words”.

 “There is no more stage. There are no more footlights. You are among the people. Then be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside”.

“This is an interior landscape. It is inside. It is private. Respect the privacy of the material. These pieces were written in silence. The courage of the play is to speak them”.

“Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list.”

“Do not work the audience for gasps and sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of the air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence”.

 “Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty”.

My choice is: “Do not work the audience for gasps and sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of the air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence”.

These instructions seem to be aimed at poets who try too hard to punch home their message without having learned the skills of delivery, or maybe, skills of text. In other words, they try to perform but haven’t prepared. Poets who don’t think about dramatic presentation will rarely have these problems, and they will succeed in the moment by means of their text and the integrity (rather than ‘organization’) of their presence. Deliberately dramatic poets will have learned the skills of theatre and will not overplay. In either case, because poetry is an intensity of experience, one must let the self be seen and periodically drop all skill. Leonard’s ‘statistics’ and ‘data’ must be read to include the various aspects of the poet as an extended organism, in which case there is no need for ‘quiet organization’ if that is not the personality.

Some would contend that whether writing for the page, or reciting on a stage, poetry is all about performance. How one presents poems on a page is a performance: the line breaks, the punctuation, the visual impact of the poem in its physical form laid out on the page all amount to a kind of performance for the reader. And, by the same token, how one presents a poem on a stage is a performance: how the voice shakes or does not shake over the words, where and how the body moves, where the eyes look, the impact of language (both of the body, and in the speaking of the words) – all contribute to performance. In light of this, is the distinction between the page and the stage a valid/necessary one? Or is it better to conceive of the page and the stage as being two mediums among many in the spectrum of performance and how one can and does present poetry?

‘To perform’ has several meanings, among them that of completing any job to satisfaction. We’re in danger of being too loose in definition here. The academic poet, or the poet who is experimenting on the page with, say, ‘concrete’ or pictorial poetry, is not a performer in the same way as a performance poet who recites, dramatises or has musical accompaniment. The first is not projecting his/her physical presence; the second is. It’s the particular weight given to the public moment of self-projection that identifies the ‘performing’ or, more correctly, the dramatic poet.

What advantages come with being able to think/engage/interact in more than one language? What disadvantages are tied to having access only to your mother tongue? If you don’t consider the first to be an advantage or the second to be a disadvantage, why not?

I know Irish, Latin and a little French. The translations or versions of Spanish, Galician and German poems I’ve done were based on literal translations, research and instinct. I reckon the more languages you know the better, because you can bring more sounds and meanings into play. But then, Yeats only knew English, and it didn’t seem to be a disadvantage to him. Maybe the secret is to treat all linguistic expression as foreign to its motivation.

How do you speak poetry? (In other words, take the word butterfly and do whatever you want with it).

With its feeling.



Maighread MedbhMáighréad Medbh was born in Co. Limerick, and has six published poetry collections. A prose work, Savage Solitude: Reflections of a Reluctant Loner, was published in 2013 by Dedalus Press, Dublin. Máighréad was one of the pioneers of performance poetry in Ireland in the 1990s, and has performed widely, in Ireland, Europe, U.S.A., and on the broadcast media. She has written four novels, two of which are online as ebooks, and is currently working on a fantasy poem sequence that integrates some themes in the art of Pauline Bewick (but greatly elaborates). She publishes a monthly blog on her website, in the form of an essay or

This entry was published on February 26, 2014 at 7:09 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “How To Speak Poetry – Maighread Medbh

  1. Pingback: How To Speak Poetry - Maighread Medbh | The Iri...

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