waves and murmurs june 2009


Coming to the end of our first issue gave me the kind of thrill that only the finishing of a big project can give — the kind of balloon-floaty feeling that comes when you write (or think) the words “the end” after struggling for months or years with, say, a book or a play or a collection of poems. Our first issue started strong, ended with a bang, and generated discussion that continued throughout the dormant period. What more can an editor ask?

But it had its disappointments too. The biggest was that we had so few sound files in the first issue. tongues of the ocean is called that for a reason — alongside the words on the screen, which are pretty and look good when they appear, we want voices as well. We want spoken word recordings. We want videos of spoken word artists doing their stuff. We even want sound files to go along with the written works, so that we know how the poets read their own work. (Or not; we might one day even find people to read poems for us.)

We want, in short, for the internet to behave as it should. We want tongues of the ocean to be a place where real dialogue can happen, where people can read one another’s words, but where people can also talk to one another. For instance, if you look closely, you can comment by typing, but we also made it possible for you to add a video comment as well, if you want. Risky? Maybe. Strange? You judge. But possible, yes.

The real question at hand is this. What makes spoken poetry work? What’s the difference between spoken word and written word? I can answer that in the abstract, calling up theory, delving into the work done by countless researchers at the end of the twentieth century, when, for various reasons, the question of orality began to niggle at academics again. Spoken word is immediate, it’s contextual, it depends on connections between performer and audience, it’s in your face. It can sustain more repetition, rhythm and rhyme than contemporary written word, perhaps. It can convey anger aurally as well as on the page/screen. It can bear the political far more efficiently than the written word, where polemic turns trite at the point of an exclamation. And it can carry nation-language more fully on its back than the written word, which transcribes the hybrid languages of the Caribbean diaspora using the imperfect tools developed by the Romans.

What we’d like to create is a place where the spoken word and the written word can stand side by side. One day I’d love to run an issue where we get just that — a poem written for the page facing a poem performed for the ear. But now, with the grand total of three spoken word pieces lined up and ready to go, we are still dreaming.

I’m going to dream on. The vision lives. Read the poems we’ve got for you in this issue, and think about how they can be augmented by the voice. And then send us your best.

Nicolette Bethel
June 2009

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