Sunday, 25 January 2009

On reciting

You know I said Small Girl had to learn a Scots poem to recite for the annual Scottish afternoon at her school? On the way to school on Friday I asked her how she was getting on with learning it (usually I have to nag her a few times about it). 'Oh I know it,' she said and proceeded to recite it to me beautifully...even sounding a bit Scottish (what's that about children making liars of you?). It was the best birthday present of the day and I thought some of you might enjoy it too so...this is what she sounds like reciting this year's poem 'Up in the morning early' by Robert Burns. I do wonder if one reason she found this one easier to remember is that this poem is listed as a song. Maybe, like her mother, Small Girl has a thing for songs after all.

'Up in the morning early'

She is so much cuter than I ever was! I didn't do much reciting as a child. In Scotland the tradition of reciting has survived (largely, but not completely, thanks to the Burns phenomenon) but in England it was very out of fashion when I was at school and so it has more or less skipped most of my generation. I did have 'speech' lessons at primary school for a while and ended up at an excruciating recital competition one frosty Saturday morning in the early 1970s. I had never been to anything like it before and I had a cold and...well...I didn't do very well. A few years back I wrote a poem about that experience and I suppose it is an appropriate one to post here today.

Frost on a frosty day

I can't remember clearly
But I think it was winter.
That would explain the cold hall,
The blocked nose,
The coughing.

But was it really a poem about snow
Or am I just thinking that
Because his name was Robert Frost
And I was something like seven
So easily misled?

I don't recall the words
But can still feel the moment,
Not being able to make clear sounds
For the coughing and constant
Nose blowing.

I remember disappointment,
All that practice
And thoughts of glory
Shattered quickly
By a poor score.

It was nothing like the Olympics on TV.
No impressive numbers,
No one from Eastern Europe
Being plucky in a leotard.
No gymnastics at all.

There was just the coughing,
A winner somewhere,
Then heading off home as slow as ice,
For chips, no doubt,
And sympathy.



Ken Armstrong said...

A most charming sound byte! Really.

My congrats to 'Small Girl' for a reading of great clarity and feeling.

... yup, 'think I'll have another listen.

As for me, I used to have to recite stuff when I was Small Boy - I always, always, came second.

Matter of fact, I nearly always come second in everything I do. Some might think that is quite good, trust me, it isn't.

hope said...

She is as charming as I imagined! Standing Ovation to my little friend. :)

For some reason we only had to recite in one English class in 7th grade. I was always shy and standing up in front of a group terrified me..probably more than forgetting the poems! I still remember parts of them. "O Capt. My Capt." by Walt Whitman and "If" by Rudyard Kipling.

Small Girl sounded much more brave than I did.

Kat Mortensen said...

Brava! Brava! She sounds delightful! She's got that Scots inflection down, that's for sure.

I loved your poem too, Rachel. (Home for chips and sympathy - made it much better, I expect.) Too bad about the cold - we never forget those moments, do we?

I never recited as a child, but I did sing, "My Grandfather's Clock" for a class and parents once.


Rachel Fox said...

I thought you might like it, Hope. In fact I put it up with you in mind. She did this particular recitation in the front room this morning...I have no idea how brave (or otherwise) she sounds when she does it at school.

Ken...I'm sure your first place is on its way. Maybe you're just saving it for the time when it really matters!

And Kat...yes, I was surprised at how Scottish she turned all of a sudden. Her Grandma says she is more actress than anything! Now there's a competitive field to go into...


Rachel Fox said...

And the chips and sympathy...we were always cheered up with food by my Mum...chips, chocolate,'s a wonder I'm not the size of several houses.

Liz said...

Rachel, brava for 'Small Girl'! She's got rhythm allright and a gorgeous voice - like the mix of English and Scottish accent.
Would dearly love to sound so full of gusto and pride...will be calling on Small Girl for reading tips!
Rachel, as an aside and into the tech-y side of things...what did you use to record her...? Was it complicated? I have to get my own skates on with practising and may need to record myself similarly...

And I never did take to the stage as a kid but would suffer terribly for my class-mates who had to go up and sing or whatever...which has left me with an acute sense of 'performing-paranoia'! ; )

The Weaver of Grass said...

O Rachel - such a sad little poem.
Glad your small girl had a much more positive poetry reciting. As children we used to recite poetry at our Sunday School anniversary. We practised for weeks and every girl had a new dress for the occasion. I can still remember some of the poems I recited.
Faster than fairies, faster than witches.
Abou Ben Adam may his tribe increase;
Up the airy mountain down the rushy glen.
Old Meg she was a gypsy and lived upon the moors.
Memories, memories - thanks for reviving them for an instant!

Rachel Fox said...

Liz - Mark recorded it on his i-phone but we have also used other MP3 players in the past. He says you can record straight into your computer too using whatever recording software you have. Best thing is to find a friend with an i-phone - quality is really good.

As for performing paranoia...I would say learn to love it and be confident...if someone has asked you to read then they WANT to hear you so go and give them your best shot. If you love your work (which I'm sure you do on some levels, if not all) then give the poems the most help you can! Someone who had been a comedian said to me 'audiences don't want to see you fail...they want you to do well' and I try to remember that when I am reading/performing and it works. If you look terrified it makes people nervous - look relaxed and they relax (though of course certain poems require different atmospheres....but that is another tutorial!).

And Weaver...I was a cocky kid who did well in school and games so I think it was probably good for me to fail at something! I do find it quite surprising though that it is the thing I did badly at as a child that I have chosen/ended up doing as an adult! I love reading poems out to audiences now...definitely one of my favourite activities. I like watching people's faces as they listen...hearing what they say afterwards. Sometimes it's the last person I expect to like a poem who comes up and tells me how much it moved them etc. Fascinating.


Colin Will said...

That's lovely Rachel. Well done to SG. I think you're right about the Burns tradition encouraging the reciting of poetry in Scotland, but I can still recall big chunks of Gray's Elegy, Wordsworth and Shakespeare too. It's what we did in the olden days. Or is that too TOGgy?

Rachel Fox said...

I know bits of Shakespeare by heart...and some Hilaire Belloc and a few other bits. I probably know a lot more Morecambe & Wise routines and pop song lyrics though!

Ah, the olden days...maybe we should devise a computer game that encourages poetry recitation (one for the wii or something). Not sure how it would work though...might just be unbearable!


Marion McCready said...

Aww that is so sweet, and so well done!! Yes I remember the school recitations well, probably why I've never read much Burns since, lol!

Rachel Fox said...

Oh may have put you off Burns but at least it didn't put you off poetry altogether!


Anonymous said...

Rachel, what a star you have in the making. Brought a tear to my eye, I'm a bit soft that way.
Hope to see you at next Folk Club,

Crafty Green Poet said...

oh well done Small Girl! I'm like you I'm afraid, English schooling and lack of reciting, though at least I did do some acting at school

Rachel Fox said...

Hey Charlie! Yes she'll probably write better poems than me too!

And Juliet...acting yes...I remember drama more from secondary school. We used to have a drama competition and we had to write the plays and everything. I do remember writing the play once (when about 12 or 13?) and we even won! Very exciting! But then I got all teenage and self-conscious and badly behaved and did more acting up than acting...


Jim Murdoch said...

Well that recitation certainly put a smile on my wife's face. She fairly glowed as she listened. She asked how old the reader was and I told her and that she was your daughter. "The apple falls not far from the tree," she said, "and you can tell her I said that." Well, now I have. And, okay, maybe I smiled a bit too.

Rachel Fox said...

Glad you both enjoyed it, Jim. I've listened to it about 20 times! She might not win the competition in class but she'll just have to make do with an international literary fanbase instead! She would like to win in class of course (and she'd quite like to win the 'best in school' shield too) but there's a lot of competition for that and lots of them are very good!

Anonymous said...

Too cute!

Absolutely brilliant. I think we have a star in the making.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, although of course I would like her to get a 'proper' steady job when she grows up...none of this poncing about in the arts!

Anonymous said...

Or she might have a proper steady job, ditch all that and then throw herself into the arts .. who knows?


McGuire said...

Belated Happy Birthday!

sweet to hear small girl read, she definitely has a healthy scots tawng to her voice coming through.

sweet snow
to you.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, maybe I can get her the poetry slot at the next Obama inauguration!

Fiendish said...

Small Girl sounds so cute! What a lovely recitation. Tell her well done from me.

As for your poem... I had an almost identical experience, and can sympathise so much it may make me biased toward the poem itself. I *loved* it. The plucky Eastern Europeans and "chips and sympathy" bits were highlights.

What a talented little family you have. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci were big features of our TV life in the 1970s.

Glad you liked both of our contributions.


Anonymous said...

Small girl has emboldened me to put my own voice in a post. And you *know* how odd I sound. :)

It really is a very good reading.

Rachel Fox said...

Ken - I had seen your new post (totally confused me...being both new and old at the same time...and then having old comments on too!).
Your voice isn't odd, is it? It sounds as twinkly as your eyes and I'm sure it will make your neverending list of female readers swoon all the more! Warn the wife...Armstrong turns heartthrob alert...

friendlyxfrom person too lazy to learn all those smiley face things.