Welcome to Eclectic Rhapsodics, a web log of rhapsodes, rhapsodies, and all things rhapsodic. I am Bob Gonzalez, an associate professor of speech and theatre at the University of Tampa and the founder of Rhapsodize, a classic poetry performance initiative aiming to encourage, instruct, guide and facilitate the performance of classic English language poetry in the world.
Ancient Greek Rhapsodes
In ancient Greece, rhapsodes (also called rhapsodists) performed the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, sacred classics to that society. Rhapsodes were “song-stitchers” in that they would “stitch” together passages from the longer epics of Homer and Hesiod and improvise their own words in between them. In general terms, a rhapsody is an ecstatic expression of feeling and enthusiasm. In music, a rhapsody is an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation. These meanings derive from the practice of rhapsodes creating their performances from an eclectic collection of poetic passages of their great national poets and adding their own introductions, transitions, and commentary.
Contemporary rhapsodes perform classic poetry. Poetry in the public domain – poetry from the early part of the twentieth century and before – often remains, at best, silently sequestered in the pages of anthologies and collections stored on bookshelves. The role of the rhapsode is to bring these vibrant, sensuous, musical, and philosophical treasures to life vocally and bodily. One way I see poems is as playscripts or musical scores, in that as the written play waits to be produced and the musical score waits to be played, so many great literary poems wait to be performed - voiced and embodied by rhapsodes. In other words, as I see them, poems on the page are a beginning, a suggestion of something more, and not ends in themselves. As many poets and teachers of poetry agree, poems best reach their full potential as musical, emotional, intellectual texts of influence when they are spoken aloud. And more than spoken aloud, but imbued with all the dramatic potential inherent in them.
My purpose is to revive the role of the rhapsode in contemporary society by performing the great classics of English language poetry and encouraging others to do the same. I aim to do the latter by instructing rhapsodes, organizing troupes of rhapsodes, producing rhapsodic events (rhapsodies), and in general creating and supporting the performance of classic English language poetry throughout the English speaking world. As I am only fluent in the English language, this blog and the website to which it is attached, Rhapsodize, addresses only the performance of poetry in English. However, I am very interested in encouraging others in their creation of rhapsodic activity in other languages.
In brief, I seek to rhapsodize. I seek to discover, encourage, and educate rhapsodes. I seek to popularize the art of rhapsodizing, trusting that audiences for poetic rhapsodies will grow as more and better rhapsodizing circulates throughout the English speaking world.
I seek effective venues for rhapsodies. For live rhapsodies, the most obvious venues are theatres, libraries, schools, bookstores, museums, coffeehouses, and community centers, but any empty space with room for an audience will do. Recorded rhapsodies can be dispersed over the internet via podcasts, YouTube, blogs, and websites.
My arena is the theatre and public speaking. My training is in acting and speech for the stage: teaching, performing and directing the works of Shakespeare and other poets and playwrights of musical and heightened language. I bring a theatre practitioner’s practical sensibilities to the performance of poetry. As it is necessary to make the plays of Shakespeare and other classics intelligible, relevant, and exciting to contemporary theatre audiences, so it is vital for rhapsodes to do the same for classic poetry. Audiences of the present day are often blocked from entering into the beauty of classic poetry because they live in an era far removed historically and culturally from that in which the poetry originated. They likewise are impeded from simply deciphering classic poetry because of its archaic vocabulary and uncommon syntax. It is then the duty of rhapsodes to bridge those gaps of history, culture, and vocabulary in their performances, and their explications, for by doing so, they can succeed in vastly enriching the lives of their audiences with the wealth of their poetic heritage.
A Preliminary Vocabulary of Rhapsodics
Rhapsode – noun. a performer of classic poetry (also rhapsodist).
Rhapsody – noun. a performance of classic poetry.
Rhapsodics – noun. 1. the activity of rhapsodes 2. The theoretical commentary on rhapsodes and rhapsodies. A parallel of poetics.
Rhapsodize - verb. to perform classic poetry.
The art, role, and duty of the rhapsode:
The rhapsode serves poets, poetry, and audience as the actor serves playwrights, theatre and audience.
The rhapsode voices the music in the language of the poem.
The rhapsode enacts the drama of the poem.
The rhapsode tells the story of the poem.
The rhapsode paints the images of the poem.
The rhapsode makes the argument of the poem.
The rhapsode embodies the poet and the poem.
The rhapsode lives the life of the poem.
Calling All Rhapsodes and Audiences!
Look here at Eclectic Rhapsodics regularly for news of rhapsodies, the forming of rhapsode troupes, performance opportunities, friendly venues, liaisons with other rhapsodes, advice on rhapsodizing and growing as a rhapsode, helpful related websites, and all things rhapsodic! Visit the website Rhapsodize for a connection to an international English language rhapsode community on friendly forums, an informative wiki, a catalog of audio rhapsodies, rhapsode community podcasts, and more.
Below are a selection of four websites filled with resources for the rhapsode. The accuracy of much classic poetry published in the web is not always high, but these sites are quite dependable. All but Bartelby contain a good deal on poetry and poets as well.
Poetry Out Loud
Official site of NEA Poetry Out Loud Project. Check upper right hand red column for POEMS
A wealth of resources. Click Poetry Tool under Resources in the top menu bar. Then click Poems or Poets and see what interests you.
Another massive database of poetry. Click Poets and Poems at the upper far right column. Also poems by occasion.
Poetry Collections at Bartleby.com
An overwhelmingly abundant collection of public domain verse anthologies and individual poet collections.
You will also enjoy visiting:
Favorite Poem Project
The Favorite Poem Project was created by Robert Pinsky when he was U.S. Poet Laureate. A tireless advocate for poetry, especially poetry performed aloud, Pinsky edited four anthologies of poems for reading aloud: An Invitation to Poetry, Poems to Read, Americans' Favorite Poems, and Essential Pleasures.
The Favorite Poem Project Website features video of U.S. citizens from all walks of life reading their favorite poem aloud and telling why it is so important to them. This is a great inspiration to aspiring rhapsodes.