Today is the birthday of Donald Hall, American poet and the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1928, and when he was only sixteen, he attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In his 50-year career as a writer, Hall has published poems, essays, letters, children’s books, and literary criticism (1).
In 1985 Hall wrote a short essay for Newsweek‘s “My Turn” column entitled “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture” where he challenged readers to return to reading and reciting aloud:
Good readers hear what they read even though they read in silence: speed reading is barbaric. When we read well, in silence, we imagine how the words would sound if they were said aloud. Hearing print words in the inward ear, we understand their tone. If we see the sentence “Mr. Armstrong shook his head,” the inner voice needs to understand whether Mr. Armstrong disapproved or was outraged — before the inner voice knows how to speak the words.
If when we read silently we do not hear a text, we slide past words passively, without making decisions, without knowing or caring about Mr. Armstrong’s mood. We might as well be watching haircuts or “Conan the Barbarian.” In the old Out-Loud Culture, print was always potential speech; even silent readers, too shy to read aloud, inwardly heard the sound of words. Everyone’s ability to read was enhanced by recitation. Then we read aggressively; then we demanded sense (2).
Although written in 1985, Hall’s words are as true today as ever.
Today’s Challenge: Out-Loud Renaissance
What is a passage of prose or a poem that you feel is worth reading out loud and is worth committing to memory? What makes it so exemplary and so worth remembering? Challenge yourself this week to commit a favorite poem or passage to memory. See if it helps you pay more attention to the written word. Sponsor a “Recitation Day” in your class or community, challenging people to share their poems or passages out loud.
Quotation of the Day: We must encourage our children to memorize and recite. As children speak poems and stories aloud, by the pitch and muscle of their voices they will discover drama, humor, passion, and intelligence in print. In order to become a nation of readers, we must again become a nation of reciters. — Donald Hall
2 – Hall, Donald. “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture.” Newsweek 15 April 1985: 12.