I have a very poor attention span when it comes to relaxing and so it has been a surprise to find that spoken word has become a love of mine. I can’t watch TV without having my phone in my hand, get bored part way through magazine articles, and can’t sit still for longer than five minutes without getting up for a snack, a drink, or to put some more laundry in the washing machine. I can only read books before I fall asleep at night; if I tried to read at any other time I would be distracted within seconds.
I am going to blame my inability to concentrate on the rise of the internet. I am now completely reliant on having the world at my fingertips, and being able to get the answer to almost any question instantly via my phone. I can jump from one article to another within seconds, and often flick between texting, working and checking the news multiple times a day.
I am completely useless when it comes to audiobooks. I can’t blame this one on the internet, I always have been. I could never get on with books on tape as a child as I always forgot I was supposed to be listening. In my twenties I was given a book split over about 10 CDs to listen to in the car when I was doing a long daily commute. It made for great background noise whilst I zoned out and day-dreamed during the 80 minute drive on the M1. Audible would be completely wasted on me; I can’t even cope with podcasts.
With this level of inattention, I didn’t think that I would particularly enjoy spoken word performances. It started with Andrea Gibson and their poem I do which can be found here. I heard this poem before I saw it written down. Because I was not used to listening to spoken word, I found it difficult to take the full meaning of the words in. But what I could hear very clearly was the fear, frustration and love in their voice. Hearing someone talk with such passion is not something I encounter every day, and it was refreshing to hear words spoken as they were intended, rather than reading them with my own interpretation.
I am still not very good at fully appreciating spoken word at the time. When I hear something I like, I always have to look it up in its written form so that I can take the words in properly and appreciate them. But I quite like that it gives me the opportunity to enjoy the same words and their meanings in two different forms.
When I go to author events, I enjoy hearing authors read excerpts from their novels. I like to hear their voice, and if it is particularly distinctive then it is their voice that I hear when I read the book myself. I also like to hear the intonation they use, the way they phrase the sentences they have written, and see the changes in their body language as they read. They have already committed the words to a page for anyone to read, but when they read them out loud they become exposed and vulnerable and have to trust that the audience will be considerate if they choose to critique them. On paper and online we miss the subtle clues that are there in verbal communication. We don’t see the slight tremor as the author raises their glass of water to their lips, or the dampness of their eyes as they read their thoughts aloud. It is a more human experience to hear someone expressing their work as they meant it to be perceived, rather than reading the words alone.
So although I am not naturally very good at concentrating on spoken word, I have started to appreciate that it can offer a lot more than the written word. Hidden meanings can become clearer, and the vulnerability of the author makes me appreciate how difficult it is to expose your own thoughts and feelings, especially in front of an audience. I find it difficult to imagine my life without the internet, but spoken word feels a bit like returning to a simpler form of communication where I can witness all of someone, rather than just their words on paper.