Superceded by Poetry and precision
Thursday, 12 November 2015
When you write a review you'd like the author to describe you as empathetic and perceptive, someone who really understands what's inside the author's head. The experts at appearing to be insightful are people who give psychic readings. Rowland in "The full facts book of cold reading" explains some of the tricks, with examples - e.g. the 'Rainbow Ruse' where opposite traits are predicted, as in
- "You can be a very considerate person, very quick to provide for others, but there are times ... when you recognise a selfish streak in yourself"
(p.32). Sounds familiar? How about
- "Condensed, intellectually rigorous and challenging, but nevertheless readable and entertaining" (about Raymond Tallis)
- "These poems speak in a voice of resonant mystery, detached yet tender" (about Peter Streckfus)
- "Her poems have both great delicacy and an undeniable toughness" (about Maura Dooley)
Another trick is to make an observation/prediction that seems surprising or insightful but isn't (the Barnum/Forer effect). A psychic reader suggesting that a person's father died with chest or abdomen problems is quite likely to be right. Similarly, a critic might suggest that a poet who uses rural settings has read Heaney.
When you read out a poem you don't have long to convince the audience that you're worth attending to. Like a psychic's audience, the audience for poetry readings is often receptive, especially if you have appropriate credentials and behave according to the audience's expectations. The skeptic's dictionary points out that psychics' audiences are
- inclined to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is
- likely to remember the hits and forget the misses.
- generally self-centered, have unrealistic views of themselves, and will generally accept claims about themselves that reflect how they wish to be.
Presenting a difficult poem is already flattering the audience whose self-image is enhanced (perhaps even mirrored) by finding meanings. Phrases that fail will be forgotten as long as there's the occasional striking success. The one thing performers mustn't do is shatter the illusion of meaning, or hint that it's all bluff. One doubter in the room can destroy the effect.