Betty Mulcahy collage: verse speaking

Seven sentences discovered in Betty Mulcahy's How to Speak a Poem (Autolycus Press, 1987):

It is therefore desirable that a considerable reserve of air be kept in the lungs, for much of the volume of the voice, as well as the control, is lost when the muscles of the chest are too slack.

(Of humming...) If the lips do not tingle at all, it will mean that the sound is being produced too far back in the throat, and for full audibility of speaking it needs to be brought forward.

But there is much that can be done quite simply to improve both vowels and consonants. The long, ie, sustainable vowel sounds are 'OO'.. 'OH'...'AW'...'AH'...'AY'...'EE'... "Who goes forth armed may lead".

Unless you are going to read in public from the book - and for me this is seldom desirable - now could be the time to write out or type out the poem to get it away from its covers and out into the open.

I do stress early memorising because it is difficult to get far with a poem until the words belong to the speaker... And when spoken from memory they do then come from inside the speaker, as they came from inside the poet.

(Of sonnets...) Incidentally, the time it takes to speak 14 lines is approximately one minute and there is a school of thought which says that this length was chosen because one minute is also the time it takes for the blood to circulate the body once. How true this is I have no idea but it is a nice thought and could ensure a good rate of speaking.

Your speaking qualifications could be tested and proved by taking the National Poetry Society's graded examinations*, which culminate in their final accolade of a Gold Medal. The Gold Medal audition is... considered a test of performance ability and takes place before an invited audience.
*Headquarters: 21 Earls Court Square, London SW5 9DE


Betty Mulcahy: won the final English Festival of Spoken Poetry, became a professional verse reader (Midland Arts Association, BBC), worked in education (Arts Council Writers-in-School Scheme), was a National Poetry Society council member and Gold Medal judge. Also wrote To Speak True, Pergamon 1969. Unfortunately I did not manage to track down any online recordings of Betty Mulcahy's readings. I did find her memoir of the British cinematographer David Watkin.

Dannie Abse: Cardiff poet and doctor, b.1923. Many publications since 1948.

Phoebe Hesketh: Lancashire nature poet, 1909-2005, published sixteen books of which the best known was her second, Lean Forward, Spring (1948).

Vernon Scannell: British poet, 1922-2007. Many publications since 1948.

John Smith: Sussex poet, b. 1924, compiler (with William Kean Seymour) of The Pattern of Poetry: The Poetry Society Verse Speaking Anthology (1963), and A Feast of Poetry (1985).

The National Poetry Society graded examinations, like the National Poetry Secretariat and the Earls Court headquarters (also famous for Poetry Wars), no longer exist. Similar examinations are still organized by e.g. LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art).


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