Learning styles and their relationship to our poetry lives
Recently I’ve started admitting to what feels like a big secret. Here it comes…
I hate poetry readings!
I have never been able to understand why people want to sit and listen to poems being read, when the poet’s gone to so much trouble getting their poems perfect on the page. I try so hard, I really do, but I start to drift off and miss at least half of what’s being read.
I’ve been discussing this with friend and rather lush poet, Siân Thomas, who perceptively asked me what my learning style is. Learning styles can be categorised in many ways, and there are a lot of people who know a lot more about it than I, but, briefly, your style can be aural, visual, or kinaesthetic. The kinaesthetic learning style is also referred to as the “tactile” one, but I’m sticking with “kinaesthetic” in this blog post, because I relate strongly to needing movement.
You can check your learning style via the link below. It’s a simple little 20 question test. I’m sure there are much more accurate tests with hundreds of questions, but it’s been road tested by several of my friends, and most people relate strongly to their results. (N.B. My computer says this site is “not secure”, but my McAfee Antivirus Security seemed perfectly happy with it.)
Some people seem to be quite balanced, and score fairly equally across the three styles, but most seem to come out more strongly for one than the other two.
Now, Siân’s preferred style is aural. She likes to listen, and at zoom readings, will turn off the screen, lie on her sofa and listen, as if to the radio. She loves radio; I only listen to it if trapped in the car with it on a long journey and there’s no one to talk to. I discovered my style is kinaesthetic; I like to do, not listen. So I prefer readings where there is audience participation, or discussion. This explains why I have been loving the Penned in the Margins events where there’s a discussion of a theme, and three writers each read a poem or two, or a passage of prose, to illustrate points made during the conversation, brilliantly chaired by Georgia Attlesey. My favourite was ‘Angels and Daemons: Writing the Mystical’, with Khaled Nurul Hakim, Rebecca Tamás and Luke Kennard. You can find out about forthcoming Penned in the Margins events here:
I digress. Because I like to jump around. That’s us kinaesthetic types for you.
Another poet friend of mine is the amazing (I do not use the word “amazing” lazily) artist, kazvina, who has a Distinction in MA Fine Art and Studio Practice. Her learning style is, unsurprisingly, visual.
‘How do you get through poetry readings?’ I ask her.
‘I get pissed’, she replies.
I was recently asked to step in to read from my forthcoming collection, ‘Beautiful Nowhere’, at a poetry zoom event with little time to prepare. I ended up accompanying the poems with far too much blah. I now realise that I was responding to my subconscious belief that I must not bore people by reading for too long without breaking things up with stories, facts, or discussion. Some audience members (presumably those of a more kinaesthetic persuasion) seemed to enjoy this, but for Siân and the other “aurals” in the audience, I know it must have been annoying. Luckily, I was specifically asked to have a question-and-answer session after the reading, so I was in my element there!
Learning style theory asks questions of how a poetry reading should be conducted. My first pamphlet, ‘The Happy Bus’ was considered “performance poetry”. One of the poems involved audience participation during which they were invited to create the sound effects. I loved doing that! My favourite part was handing out drinking straws so that people could blow into their drinks at the appropriate moment to accompany the words “brewed a potion” with group burbling. I wonder now was I annoying the aural-style audience, or did they actually enjoy the sound effects?
I’m thinking we should try and consider everyone; maybe start with a few uninterrupted poems, then introduce an anecdote and possibly a little discussion for the rest of the set. I do like to start a reading by going straight into the first poem — no intro at all — because that always feels dramatic!
I made the mistake at my recent reading of going too far and explaining some of the poems, reflecting my anxiety that people would have no clue what I was on about. I must learn to trust the reader and let the poems speak for themselves. There’s a difference between telling an interesting anecdote related to the poem or giving a fascinating piece of information on the theme, and explaining the poem, thus ruining the experience of hearing it, much like giving the punch line to a joke at the beginning.
Of course, a show like Maggie Sawkins’ Ted Hughes Award-winning ‘Zones of Avoidance’ pretty much caters for everyone, with sumptuous readings incorporated into a live literature show with interactive films. No wonder it won the award! More info here:
There’s also scope here to think about creating poetry film backdrops which might enhance a poetry reading. This needs to be done carefully so as to not overwhelm the poems themselves. A backdrop is a different animal to a poetry film, but that, as they say, is beyond the scope of this discussion. For expertise on the matter, I’d recommend the film poem company, Elephant’s Footprint:
This learning style theory also relates to the poems themselves. I now realise my poems usually have a lot of movement in them. In ‘Beautiful Nowhere’, for example, a chandelier falls, people turn into paper dolls and fly away, a traumatic experience rattles a cupboard door. Siân’s are unsurprisingly full of sound. Kaz’s poems are full of images.
Here’s something worth considering. I checked through my editor’s favourite poems in my collection, and they all have plenty of movement in them. Could it be that he chose to publish my collection because his main learning style is also kinaesthetic? If this is the case, we may be able to identify which editors are more likely to enjoy our work, based on mutual learning styles! This definitely requires more research.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve found it interesting and useful. If you have the time and inclination, I would love to read your comments below.
Details of ‘Beautiful Nowhere’ can be found here: BEAUTIFUL NOWHERE | Boatwhistle