Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Power of the Spoken Word: Norman Corwin

Corwin
Photo Courtesy www.normancorwin.com

Saturday, at the IDA's DocuDay New York I began thinking about the power of the well-spoken word after feasting on a great short, A Note of Triumph: the Golden Age of Norman Corwin. This must-see short by Eric Simmonson and Corinne Marrinan is a powerful profile of Corwin, often called radio's poet laureate, whose broadcast over CBS Radio on May 8, 1945 created a whole new genre for story telling. Says Ray Bradbury of Corwin, " He taught us then not only how to open our mouths but how to insert bright pebbles beneath our tongues so that eventually we might fire forth a sentence not only worth listening to but thinking about. "

This short has been nominated for an Academy award. You can download a ballot here what the Academy says is "the easiest way to make your predictions and keep track of the winners on event night. " With this official ballot in hand you can chomp on popcorn with friends and even make bets.

A Note of Triumph: the Golden Age of Norman Corwin

In the Oscar-nominated documentary short A Note of Triumph: the Golden Age of Norman Corwin, Studs Terkel talks about the first time he heard Norman Corwin read his "A Note of Triumph " on radio for CBS. It was a poetic ode to peace, broadcast with the end of World War II in Europe. Turkel says he was attending a dinner party when somebody said,
" Hey turn on the radio." With a flip of a switch , Corwin's resonant voice crackled into life with Hank Peters, a soldier, who says " I am dead of the mistakes of old men... Never were such questions asked of this day...What do we know now we didn't know then?"

Turkel says that on that long distant night, as guests heard Corwin's voice and great words, " Everything stopped--drinks in hand, suddenly everything stopped." Even though 58 years have passed since that night, and though Studs Terkel is now deaf, he says that " in my minds eye I can see it. "

Robert Altman lauds Corwin as this radio man who changed everything... launched a whole new medium...radio drama, with what Altman says is one of the " greatest poems of the 20th century". Righteous matter indeed. Corwin describes soldiers returning from World War II, wearing " a great chunk of rainbow around their helmets."

As such Corwin has much to teach all of us struggling to write scripts. He demomstrates the transcendent power of a few well-chosen words to incite the imagination via audio. It's about writing for the ear rather than for the written page.

You can read and hear this > NPR report This I Believe by Corwin, now 95 and follow his script as you head him read it aloud.

Here's another " bright pebble " by Corwin:

Among the things not to be neglected are the expressions that have been forthright and persistent in American history, expressions in which the common person is recognized; Walt Whitman's sense of the importance of the individual. He's got a poem in "Leaves of Grass," the sense of which is: the president is there in the White House for you, not you here for him. It's a poem that expresses the value and the almost sacred obligation to recognize, to give dignity to the individual. After all, nature does. Nature respects us. There are billions of people on this globe. Think of it. No two of them have the same thumbprint.


Will a new Corwin emerge as a pod-caster soon? I hope so.

4 comments:

nancy c said...

Great entry! I think NPR has done more to reinvigorate the idea of 'listening' than any other entity. And now that more and more people are listening to books I hope that more radio stations will start adding this type of content. The subject of the whistling shepards is fun. It reminded me of a story in a dusty old National Geographic I found a while ago, about some village somewhere in Europe, I think maybe Switzerland, where the residents convinced the writer that they had a special whistling language that they used to communicate from one side of a valley to the other, a distance too great to shout across. The funny thing was that later, it turned out that it was a prank that the people were playing on the gullible reporter. It makes me laugh to think of how much fun it must have been to set up the joke and how they must have enjoyed reading the article. Ha ha, I just did a search for this story, which I'm sure I really read, but I can't find anything about it. But I did find a really interesting looking website:
www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=analytical%20languages
This is just about language, but it looks as though it has loads of interesting entries about all sorts of things. I look forward to more of your blog.

GAR E said...

I just saw the documentary on Mr. Corwin and I cried. I cried because I heard for the first time in nearly fifty years the poem I used to love to hear on the radio back in Kansas City. This station went off the air every day at sunset and played this poem(I did not know the name of it, nor its origin). I would cry even then as a young teen because I was so moved by its message. I heard it again today as a 62 year old man and I realized what we have lost in this country, lost to the very forces hinted at in this prayer. We have lost our dignity, our nobility, our belief that we make a difference when we act in concert. I think words like those of Mr. Corwin's poem were fuel for the movements of the 60's. That the fire existed today.....

GAR E said...

I just saw the documentary on Mr. Corwin and I cried. I cried because I heard for the first time in nearly fifty years the poem I used to love to hear on the radio back in Kansas City. This station went off the air every day at sunset and played this poem(I did not know the name of it, nor its origin). I would cry even then as a young teen, nearly every day because I was so moved by its message. I heard it again today as a 62 year old man and I realized what we have lost in this country, lost to the very forces hinted at in this prayer. We have lost our dignity, our nobility, our belief that we make a difference when we act in concert. I think words like those of Mr. Corwin's poem were fuel for the movements of the 60's. That the fire existed today.....

Anonymous said...

In my quest for more material on my personal hero, I recently discovered a Leonard Maltin review of DVD movie called "The Poet Laureate of Radio, An Interview with Norman Corwin". I found this interview to be very informative and to hear my hero reflect on current events as well as World War II was fulfilling way to spend an evening. Check it out when you get a chance. I've provided the link below.

http://www.anthracitefilms.com/plr/index.htm

OTR,
Bob