A Facebook friend, Stanley K. Ridgley, PhD., has written The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting. I was so taken by an excerpt of the book on the speaker’s use of the ‘Pause’, a teaser which Stanley had posted online, that I purchased the book.
The author mentions in his introduction that he has: “resisted the pressure to water down this book, to move its focus from you, the business student, and to “connect” it to a broader spectrum of people”… So. My use of this book is entirely unauthorized, and whatever calamity ensues is entirely of my own doing but has probably already happened in the poetry world. It’s a crazy place. Nevertheless, I figure I could find some of his tips useful for emceeing The Serenity Poetry Series which I run out of a Vienna, West Virginia coffee shop.
Since I am suspicious that life is largely a business situation and that poetry is just life in clearer focus – what have I to lose but some ignorance? And perhaps I might gain some audience! Poetry is about as hard a place to draw an audience as West Virginia. So we’re doubling down here.
Right out of the chute the author quotes the words of Communication coach Lynda Paulson that,” what makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal”. She also notes that, “Most people can read and comprehend more content in half-an-hour than you could ever get across in the same time through speaking.” In other words, as Ridgley notes, a presentation is a “show”, the star of which is “a project or idea (that) has a champion who presents the case in public”. So it’s not the information so much as the impact of a “personal presence” which makes your presentation. You communicate, Stanley continues, in “words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable – and heroic.”
“Yes, heroic. Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is in your audience. Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you win every time. Evoke a sense of heroism in your presentation audience, and you win every time.”
Bad presenters Stanley notes, “act as if your words carry the message alone. A part of you actually believes that it is the force of your argument, your compilation of facts, your detailed spreadsheet that will carry the day. Because that’s the way it should be, right? As a result, you push the presentation outside of yourself.” Doesn’t nearly all of the boring poetry you’ve heard read have poets who believe this? That their words have created a little machine which just needs plugging in? While the audience watches – supposedly enchanted – as it achieves nothing?
A little later on in the book our author writes, “…you are there to persuade your audience and call them to action.” These are troublesome words to the poet, if they are to believe as Auden says, that “poetry makes nothing happen.” What can a poet persuade our audience of? And once he/she’s persuaded them, what is she/he to ask them to do? And how should they go about doing it?
Well I’ve pondered this, and here is a thought.
I would suggest that the action of a poem is to provide insight. As the poet William Carlos Williams famously summed it up in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
And I would suggest that this is also how we should interpret Auden. That the essence of insight is in making ‘nothing’ happen; that insight is ignorance giving birth to realization.
Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, wrote that his years in the world of business were useful to him as a cartoonist in many ways. One was that it taught him to distill an idea to its essence, which he says is crucial to cartooning. Well, distillation is important to poetry also.
There’s a saying that “poetry is memorable speech”. I would call memorable speech which carries insight that demands action – a slogan. So I would suggest that the poet reader needs to find the slogan in each poem and urge their audience to consider and embrace it, until those words turn themselves on to glow like a light bulb.
Robert Bly is held by many to be a mediocre poet. But as a reader and speaker for poetry, he has probably been the most successful poet/personality of his generation. From his performances you might rightly think that he has read Ridgley’s book. He speaks proudly and energetically, building to his goal which are the poetic lines bearing the insight of which he’s spoken. He recites these lines almost as if displaying a glowing Arc of the Covenant overhead for all to behold. He insists on their power. He invites his audience to feel this power of insight themselves, to hold it and to project it. His job, as he discharges it, is to charge his followers with the joy and power of insight. He performs the task well. Whether the insight is up to Robert’s claims is where the poet/critics come in with their knives. But for the time being, Bly holds the stage, the poet is a heroic figure, and greater insight is the heroic task and joy of his audience.
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