Poetry in Motion

30 Apr

David Zucker says he likes to “eat words.”  That is, he memorizes words, mostly from poems, and performs them from memory. When we memorize, he tells us, we say we learn something “by heart.”  Why? Because when you spend time with something, long enough to have it memorized, you feel it. With this introduction, Zucker, who performs as “Poetry-in-Motion,” opened his extraordinary performance at the Peabody Essex Museum during the 2012 MassPoetry Festival.

Zucker performed perennial childhood favorites, like Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky” and A.A. Milne’s “The Four Friends.”  He talked about what poetry is, how it communicates, and how we feel it.

Zucker’s performance is poetry in motion as he makes poems come to life–embodying the characters, moving with the rhythm, and guiding his audience to see as well as hear the poems. As he performed Beatrice Janosco’s “The Garden Hose,” felt we were “in the grey evening” and that we saw “a long green serpent with its tail in the dahlias” slithering across a yard until it was visible as a garden hose.

He introduced us to “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley, with a brilliant performance of Riley’s “The Raggedy Man.”  Zucker’s face melts into that of the small child who is narrating.  His “punchline” at the end–that this child of privilege wants to grow up to be a raggedy man, just like the kindly man who does chores around his parents’ home–is tempered, funny yet wistful, implying all that Riley might have with regards to the boy’s relationships.  My words cannot do Zucker justice, so I’ll let him speak for himself.

Zucker talked about many different forms of poetry, including haikus and riddle poems.  Some unattributed haikus from the performance:

Haikus are easy

Sometimes they don’t make sense

Refrigerator

Another:

Writing a poem

In seventeen syllables

Is extremely diff

Our favorite riddle poem was  “The Sidewalk Racer, Or On the Skateboard” by Lillian Morrison. What Zucker demonstrates in his performance of this one is that, as he says, 55% of communication is visual. Watching him perform this sinuous poem, moving and jumping, miming and weaving, we can feel the motion of the skateboard.

I’ve never thought of poetry as performance art. After experiencing David Zucker’s Poetry-in-Motion, I will never think of poetry again as anything but performance art!

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3 Responses to “Poetry in Motion”

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