Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nikky Finney's Reading Style

On Wed. March 30, I listened to Nikky Finney reading from her newest volume Head Off & Split and was reminded of her powerful oratorical skills.

[Related: Nikky Finney and her Audience]

In some of her longer poems or in the sequence of sonnets that she read from the volume, Finney seems to slightly pick up the pace and raise her voice as she continues reading. The result is that her reading gives off these senses of intensity and urgency and makes the presentation more captivating.

Finney is also one of those wonderful storytellers, skilled--in an organic way--with timing, voice inflections, deliberate pauses, facial expressions, and the ability to read her audience.

There's also something, let's say, sermonic in Finney's style of delivery. That is to say, there's something in the urging in her voice that's connected to that rich black preacher tradition. Finney is up there reading and trying to reach you. It's like she's really wanting you to hear these words (or this Word?).

Unlike some of those preachers though, Finney isn't shouting.And she isn't preachy.

More than that black preacher tradition, what I was liekly hearing from Finney is that tradition of the witness. She's seen it; she's carrying it with her; and now she's sharing it.

There is something dramatic about Finney's reading style but not the kind of drama we find in spoken word and poetry performance. The drama in Finney's vocal delivery might be closer to the kind of performance (sort of) that we see in plays, but unlike in that realm, she does not take on the voices of others.

There's commentary out there about spoken word and performance artists and scholarship on exciting performers of verse like Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez. But what about a poet with a reading style like Finney's? She, like so many poets, probably falls under the radar of scholarly writings, yet her distinguishing style of delivery is too important for us to overlook.

[Related: Nikky Finney & Nikki Giovanni]

I saw Finney delivering a talk some years ago. Interestingly, her style for reading a prepared essay matches her style for reading her poems. At the moment, the details of the essay presented those years ago escape me; however, I recall that as a reader Nikky Finney was captivating.

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