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This post is one of a series where Poetry Out Loud coaches reflect on the summer professional development session focused on enhancing poetry performance skills hosted at the Poetry Center.
A friend of mine has a tattoo on each of her wrists. They read breathe in flowing script. I used to think was entirely unnecessary, after all, isn’t breathing involuntary? Oh the body is a strange and terrible thing, capable of ignoring the most basic instincts, like the intake of oxygen, when greater dangers emerge—such as whether or not you’re fooling yourself in front of a captive audience, all eyes focused on you. Towards the end of the Poetry Out Loud professional development session, I learned that it’s sometimes necessary to trick the body into behaving as a normal human body does.
The first thing you learn in yoga is breath control. You learn to breath from the base of your stomach, to imagine your lungs filling up like balloons, and to release the breath slowly, pushing out every last molecule of carbon dioxide. A study conducted in 2005, “Yoga for Depression: the research evidence,” found that rhythmic breathing and relaxation significantly reduced depression in female university students. Some cultures believe that rhythmic breathing aligns a person with the cosmic energy that created the universe, and thereby promotes enlightenment.
When I started working with “Backdrop Addresses Cowboy” nearly two months ago, I thought I had cultivated the necessary persona. I knew that I was speaking from nature’s perspective (the backdrop), and I even knew my audience (star-spangled cowboy). From my understanding of her in the poem, nature needed to be detached, yet quietly seething. She neither fears nor despises the cowboy, neither adores nor disregards him. The relationship is complex.
I took for granted that all of this could be conveyed through tone. I would simply inflect here and pause there and voila: an incredibly dynamic relationship between two imaginary people would magically materialize. What I discovered was that despite all the personality changes I imagined myself to be making, I still sounded a heck of a lot like myself. Therein lies the problem with performance. How do I become not myself?