For most of history and for 99.9% of languages alive or dead, poetry was an oral phenomenon. The Iliad and Odyssey were regarded as primitive literatures until Milman Parry worked on ‘The Homeric question’ and suggested (and now a large body of evidence to supports him) that they belong to an oral tradition. Hearing poems enriches the experience, it is a shame in a way that Bishop Ambrose learnt how to read without using his vocal chords. “When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” St Augustine.
Language needs tongue and throat and breath to fulfill its potential. I disagree with Birkerts,
in silent reading a voice can only whisper.
‘When we read with our eyes, we hear the words in the theatre of our auditory inwardness. The voice we conjure up is our own–it is the sound-print of the self. Bringing this voice to life via the book is one of the subtler aspects of the reading magic, but hearing a book in the voice of another amounts to a silencing of that self–it is an act of vocal tyranny. The listener is powerless against the taped voice . . .’ Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, 2006.
An example of our interest (John Laidler and myself) in spoken word and its combinatory energy with music and sound is our June 2023 mix for totally radio.
And, Thirteen Ways of Considering Black Birds, our most recent album