Beginning your career as a rhapsode
While ancient Greek rhapsodes were professional performers of poetry, the contemporary rhapsode may be either a professional or an amateur, depending on the definitions one accepts for those terms. Rhapsodize seeks to make performed poetry available to the general public for free, with no commercial ties, so the likelihood that this aim will attract a host of professionals who would make their livings entirely from performing poetry is probably nil. I subscribe to the loftiest view of the amateur performer as one who plies his art and craft for the love of it, a motive that certainly allows for excellence in performance.
Chances are if you are attracted to the prospect of becoming a rhapsode you are already in love with reading poetry aloud. Perhaps you have acted in classical plays, like those of Shakespeare. Perhaps you have majored in English literature with an emphasis in poetry. Perhaps you have been reading poetry aloud ever since childhood. If any of these are true about you, then you actually have already been rhapsodizing. All you need do next is consider yourself a rhapsode, start performing more regularly and improving your rhapsodic skills.
Here are a list of things to do to begin to become a better rhapsode:
• Compile a list of poems that will serve as your repertory. This list will be subdivided into these categories: 1) memorized/ready to perform live from memory, 2) familiar/ready to be performed live with script in hand, 3) learning 4) to learn later. Keep copies of all these poems on your computer, mobile device, and, if you like, also in hard copies. In order to keep this list growing, spend time regularly reading complete works of your favorite classic poets and anthologies of classic poetry in books and on the internet.
• Rehearse poems aloud regularly. Get the poems into your bloodstream by feeling them with your lips, tongue and teeth and by hearing them resonate in your ears.
• Study poetics in order to understand poems better. Learn what poets are doing with their poems so that you can better speak for them and the voices in their poems.
• Record yourself on audio and/or and listen to yourself as objectively as possible to hear what works in your performances and what needs more work.
• Take and make every opportunity you can to perform poems. Share poems aloud with friends. Start a rhapsode group of your own and get together regularly to read poems aloud to one another and to discuss them. Seek out venues to host your performances.
• Listen to others performing poetry. Probably the most convenient source for rhapsodic models is on the internet. Many great professional actors’ performances are available with a simple search for their names or the name of the poem. The more famous the poem, the more likely you are to find a great performance. Many great performances are also on compact discs available for sale or through your public library. Naxos Audio Poetry has a sizeable collection from which to choose. Spend time listening to these great performances and learning from them. Keep a journal of your comments on these performances. Of course, you will find some exemplary work in our Rhapsodize Audio Catalog. You may also find some great performances by the volunteers who have recorded poetry on LibriVox.
• Join and volunteer to perform poetry on LibriVox. You will find this enthusiastic, welcoming community of audiobook producers the perfect support group to help you grow in performance and technical recording skills.
• After getting experience in audio recording your performances of classic poetry, either at LibriVox or elsewhere, you may wish to request membership in the audio rhapsodies production group of Rhapsodize by sending an email with a self-introduction and a link to your recorded performances of classic poetry. An administrator will contact you confirming your request soon. If your self-introduction and recorded performances of classic poetry qualify, you will be invited to join this group, with instructions on how to get involved. This will get you into the forums where you can communicate with other rhapsodes in the initiative and get involved in group rhapsodies, get help with recording solo rhapsodies, and share ideas for live rhapsodies. I have started this initiative to encourage, guide, and inspire rhapsodes. It is easier to rhapsodize when you are supported by a community of rhapsodes. I hope to have rhapsodes from all over the world join the Rhapsodize initiative, start their own troupes of rhapsodes, and help encourage, guide, and inspire other rhapsodes as much as they can.
A Bibliography for Rhapsodes
Books to help you become a better rhapsode
All these titles are available from Amazon.com and other booksellers
Anthologies of Poetry
Immortal Poems of the English Language. Oscar Williams, ed.
The Top 500 Poems. William Harmon, ed.
The Best Poems of the English Language. Harold Bloom.
The Norton Book of Light Verse. Russell Baker, ed.
Poem a Day (Vol 1-3). Various Editors.
Poetry Out Loud. Robert Alden Rubin, ed.
The Prosody Handbook: A Guide to Poetic Form. Robert Beum & Karl Shapiro.
The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Alex Preminger & T.V.F. Brogan, eds.
The New Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms. T.V.F. Brogan, ed.
How To Read a Poem. Burton Raffel.
The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. Lewis Turco.
A Poetry Handbook. Mary Oliver.
Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse. Mary Oliver.
Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. John Hollander.
The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody. Alfred Corn.
The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. Robert Pinsky.
The Art of the Poetic Line. James Longenbach.
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Mark Strand & Evan Boland.
Voice and the Actor. Cicely Berry.
The Actor and His Text. Cicely Berry.
The Use and Training of the Human Voice. Arthur Lessac.
Speak with Distinction. Edith Skinner.
Thinking Shakespeare. Barry Edelstein.
A Shakespearean Actor Prepares. Adrian Brine & Michael York.
Playing Shakespeare: An Actor’s Guide. John Barton.
The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer. Patsy Rodenburg.
Speaking Shakespeare. Patsy Rodenburg.
Freeing the Natural Voice. Kristin Linklater.
Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice: An Actor’s Guide to Talking the Text. Kristin Linklater.
Why Poetry Matters. Jay Parini.
The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. Bill Moyers.
The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems. Frances Mayes.
How To Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. Edward Hirsch.
Poetry for Beginners. Margaret Chapman & Kathleen Welton.