Make a new year resolution to read: A Little Aloud

Is reading aloud 2019’s answer to mindfulness, asks Pandora Sykes in The Sunday Times this morning…

Angela Macmillan’s 3rd volume of A Little Aloud

During the first year of life with her new baby, Pandora Sykes, a voracious reader, had naturally found herself taking to the sofa in the evenings with book in hand, for sanctuary, and sometimes, sanity. In this morning’s article she tells us how reading Meghan Cox Gurdon’s new book, The Enchanted Hour, which speaks of the benefits of reading aloud, and which prompted Pandora to try it for herself. (I’m just about to read it myself.) Later, Pandora and I spoke about the benefits and the oddness of reading aloud, and we talked about the pace, which can be, as she, and many natural and adept readers find, frustratingly slow.

I’d said to Pandora that the difference between an accomplished reader who is reading silently and the same person reading aloud is like the difference between going somewhere by car and going for a walk. Very frustrating, that three-mile walk, if you are trying to get to A+E in a hurry, but we’re not always trying to get to A+E. Sometimes we are walking simply for the walk, for the rhythm, the play of light, and the slow, changing perspective.

That’s one of the things that reading aloud, whether Shared Reading or not, offers. In her own experiments with reading aloud, Pandora reports,

I soon found myself feeling so moved by certain sentences that I had to stop and pause for thought.

That naturally arising pause for thought, for abstraction, daydream, is the sign that something else is happening, not the mere interchange or delivery of information, but an undetermined, creative response in ourselves. The space reading aloud affords for this response feels to me one of the reasons that it may be good for us. We are less passive when we enter that state, yet it is the very opposite of ‘driven’.

For myself, spending a lot of time reading aloud with others in The Reader’s Shared Reading groups, making this activity a shared one feels entirely natural. (Find out more about The Reader’s Shared Reading programmes here).

But there are times when I have needed to read aloud to myself. They have mostly been times of personal difficulty, when the rhythm of poetry, its structured order, seems to help give a kind of inner framework on which my feelings may be held up. For that I’d turn to old favourites, the dark sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the ‘Affliction’ poems by George Herbert.

But for someone reading The Sunday Times Style section this morning,  feeling interested and wondering, could this be a good thing to add to my routine, let me recommend Angela Macmillan’s A Little Aloud with Love, prose and poetry for reading aloud to someone you love.

The two poems about love, and what we pay for love, ‘Two Poems: All the Heart?’ (page 175-6) are a good place to start your reading aloud. Whatever your state of connection to others, there will be something to recognise, to feel and think about in these two poems. Here’s the first of them, by Edna St Vincent Millay. Read it as slowly as you can, take your breaths at punctuation marks and stop for a rest at that full stop. Then read it again, slower. Find the right pace. Walk through the words. Breathe. Let the light play on the hills. Feel it.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; 
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink 
And rise and sink and rise and sink again; 
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, 
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; 
Yet many a man is making friends with death 
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. 
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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