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Review: Voices and Books Conference

With conference season well and truly upon us, it has been a great privilege to work with Jennifer Richards and her AHRC network ­­Voices and Books 1500-1800. Uniting scholars from a range of disciplines through our shared interest in orality, we gathered at Newcastle University to revive and reconsider the book as a heard experience.

Throughout the course of the conference, I was Tweeting from both my personal account @_dodo and the official @VoicesandBooks. Twitter was alive with comments and ideas. It was also an interesting point of conversation, being exclusive to those with sight, which led to an interesting off-air conversation about how technology might develop technology to ‘say’ Tweets using digital voice technology, thereby widening our engagement. And what if that technology somehow actually allowed us to digitally fingerprint our own voices? What would we also be missing? Tonality? Volume? The sound of a smile?

As a writer I am astounded by the number of people who only engage with stories and poetry through silent reading. Some reserve spoken word for script recitals and plays. Hearing poetry read aloud is crucial to appreciate the play and rhythm of language, the sounds of words and most of all, the way that voice can convey meaning. Not to confer that meaning upon the words - see the much maligned Poetry Voice - but to speak their power implicitly and without drama. In writing my poems, for instance, I not only watch but hear them develop most effectively by both eye and ear.  

Punctuated by lively performances, the conference was a celebration of the voiced text. There were sung ballads, monastic chants, early modern phonetics and lost African languages. With so much to think about, I hope to keep the conversation going, especially in line with a new idea I am currently developing…watch this space.



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