Words – Celebrating Poetry: Live readings from Yeats, Plath, Irving Layton, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Strand, C.K. Williams, Galway Kinnell, Seamus Heaney, Adam Zagajewski, Karen Solie, Tracy K. Smith


Words, and thus reading, are our windows into the world, ourselves: a greater vision than one limited by peculiar localities, and consuming familiarities.
I don’t agree with the intellectual laziness of people who attack those whose wordplay is characterized by associations that they object to others using, and thus say words are cheap, demeaning language in its entirety.

What words describe they can bring into being, etch more clearly, and ascribe emotions which can prompt thoughts long buried.

Words are gems, more often treated like coal; designed to comfort us against thought and progress beyond our own associated prejudices.
Poetry of course is the engine against such prideful inhibitions.

Words evolved. A common stop gap. Words are constantly, if not consistently, with any apparent design, evolving – even as we read, as we use them, as they use us. Language is as alive as they who use it.
Words are our exhalation of breath, our rhythm of song, our breathing together: thus our conspire-acy.
We conspire – collude, contrive, devise. That would be our prosaic attitude and mind set at dealing with the world at large.

Words, as the magic they are, inspire. As they inspire, they create.

Poetry is that magic held within a fluid form – the line breaks, the breaths taken – the song sung as a whole in the fullness of the poem, with scraps of revelation breaking through during a reading, a verbal reading, a re-reading done years later.
But the usage is of words, making our world through our perceptions.

Poetry gives us back the child’s delight (which some cynics use as childish verses), discovery, and surprise. The tools at our hands with the ability to articulate are endlessly rich and profound if we choose.

I look at a year and a half old child discovering language and I see: the power to name! The charge of light in enunciating even one or two syllable words. Stella will say, for instance, “Me.. trouble!’ and scream with the energy of coming into the world of objects, things, and people with a yet as unknown awareness in discovering her place at naming.
Bob Dylan used the act of naming in one of his songs in his Gospel days: ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals.’

What we say, we make.

What is said repeatedly, if not already, is brought more forcefully into being; thus the apparently unrecognized charm of repetitive songs, choruses: to soothe, to stir to passion, to bring into being an active consciousness and transformation.
Poetry was sung from the beginning; was meant to be a song, a charm even against the dark events: a celebration of the new, a welcoming of the unfolding.

Good and great poetry can give that to you with every single reading, each and every poem.

A friend of mine was a great poet whose live readings illustrated this as much as anyone I’ve heard read. His work changed with the reading. Irving Layton, who was a friend of, and taught one of our most singular poetic voices, Leonard Cohen, who called him “Canada’s greatest poet.”

Much as Dylan Thomas’ did. Or in hearing Sylvia Plath read her poem, ‘Daddy.’

You can see she was already where she would go when she opened that oven door to the abyss – or the implication is that here was a great poem, conveyed in the ‘voice’ of the author not distant at all from the voice that conveyed it onto paper.

Even the re-readings of Allen Ginsberg in ‘Howl’, or ‘America.’
And to hear Seamus Heaney, or Galway Kinnell. Or as I did in old Dublin, Maud Gonne, Yeats’ inamorata, and then Yeats’ reciting is altered into full recognition once again.

This is what we have as adults – not an intellectualization, but a fertile development, an enrichening.

Read George Seferis, the great C.P. Cavafy, his brilliant poem Ithaca.

Anyone who has ever been open to being affected by a poem, or poet, knows this. And anyone knowing this has a duty to further the advance of such a reality affecting everything in an artistic world, a musical world, a world consigned to images then described by words.

Those songs around the Greek and Roman campfires were first verses, words – then repeated songs due to refrains common to experiences.

Then the intricacy of such things felt and known leading to what was suspected but unspoken.
Fire was not the only thing of warmth, and still is not. Comforts are fine and necessary at times, but words can illuminate, describe and by doing so, enlighten.

Not the false digitalized shadows, but the real things. Buy a book, hold a book. That is a true investment in the future always to be determined by words – your breath, your thoughts: your discoveries.

And since this has always been a part of history, is a part of every moment and in every breath taken, make your own passionate involvement in your time; and what time will bring, one you know will permit to be nothing less than fresh and new, discovered to be known and true – the process by which civilization is actually created as it is known.

Discover the magic of words – the beauty of poetry, the sheer force of songs – and know there is no settling for anything less, except maybe by the dead or those already so.

Enjoy being a child again – with all the emotions, delights, and discoveries – with the power you hold as an adult. Every grouping of thought can be and is a meditation, a prayer, a song whether a meditation, exultation, lament, or dirge.

Invest in words you can willingly, and with your own informed power, acknowledge – don’t settle for others’ associations, lazy simulations of shadow play designed to manipulate.

Read, and discover the poets. Not only what is served up by the commercial houses, but the independent publishers, self-publishers: discover who deserves your interest.

Don’t settle for what is merely brought forth unless you wanrt to contribute to the derogation of the art by the passive acquiescence of which no real poet is a part.

Read them aloud.

Know your singers, and the songs in all aspects of contemporary things: get to know yourself… in other words.

©Dean Baker

read The Naming from Our Geographies




Yeats reading live http://www.openculture.com/2012/06/rare_1930s_audio_wb_yeats_reads_four_of_his_poems.html

Sylvia Plath reading ‘Daddyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM

Dylan Thomas reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mRec3VbH3w

Galway Kinnell reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtV8FaS5fiI

Seamus Heaney reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mJ0G58D_9M

Tracy K. Smith reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLIH6ewfplA

Irving Layton reading http://irvinglayton.ca/Recordings/index.html

Allen Ginsberg reading http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Ginsberg.php

Karen Solie reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pFUyFNNUBg

Mark Strand reading https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-V4W9WGqi5U

C.K. Williams reading https://www.ted.com/talks/c_k_williams_reads_poetry_of_youth_and_age

Poetry & How It Gets That WayIn the face of an ever diminishing interest in one of the oldest arts, poetry, this book serves as an introduction why that interest should be revived in schools and individuals: illustrating the loss that accrues by not doing so, and the benefits to society through a passionate involvement in the poetic arts. Poetry has been an essential art in history and is in danger of being trivialized into extinction. Several seminal events in recent literary history are detailed in illustrating how poetry is not merely an adjunct to history and culture but can elucidate, influence and in changing perspective alter those same events and deeds. Find out more in this treatise more sociologically descriptive than academically oriented.

MY BOOKS IN PRINT <– buy one, such as Silence Louder Than A Train, Dark Earth, Blood Upon The Moon, The Lost Canadian Vol. 1, & 2, The Transits Of Revelation {prose poems}, The Poetry Hotel, etc.




©Dean Baker


7 thoughts on “Words – Celebrating Poetry: Live readings from Yeats, Plath, Irving Layton, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Strand, C.K. Williams, Galway Kinnell, Seamus Heaney, Adam Zagajewski, Karen Solie, Tracy K. Smith

    1. thanks so much for saying so – it’s as absolute as every sentence… and listening to those poets makes it even more apparent – and for those I knew personally there was always a deep passion about poetry without the competitiveness I see in lesser writers .. getting to know those writers/poets/musicians is something I’ll do a book on at some point soon enough, given that most were Canadian
      ..now if a few people would actually buy some books..


  1. Poetry has lately become controversial, but then again it has always been the open (and often dangerous) electrical current of words. It’s not news that words often fail to do justice to what we see or feel; that we are struck dumb by too much beauty or horror. But poetic images, metaphors and symbols allow us to circumvent the limitations of language, up to a point. When we sit down to write, we know we don’t have a guarantee that what we are about to do will lead to truth or “beauty.” Poets practice do-it-yourself metaphysics. There is a tradition in poetry that goes back to the Transcendentalists and their empirical approach to experience, that an idea begins with something concrete, after which the poet is on his own. Sometimes the concrete is merely a word; words, poetic words, are everything.



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