Poetry rhymes with vitality

Runeberg cakes

Runeberg cakes

Have you felt the presence of poetry in your lives lately? I am asking you this question because three weeks ago, we celebrated Runeberg, the Finnish poet, and I was wondering, surrounded as I was by Runeberg cakes wherever I went, how many Finns still knew some of his poems by heart?

What about Valentine’s day, then? Isn’t it THE poetry day, THE day when your husband, partner, friend, whoever, is reciting a love/friendship poem to you – looking deeply into your eyes, hand on his/her chest, saying these words from the bottom of his/her heart? No?? Instead you got some modern poetry on your mobile in the style of: “L◯√∑ Today and Everyday! ˚*•.¸❤¸.•*”இ≻–‵♥இ≻–‵ ♥இ≻–‵♥இ≻–‵ ♥இ≻–…”. Isn’t it… a good start?

1) “poetry” rhymes with “inutility”

All these questions erupted into my life because I picked up the Toastmasters advanced “Interpretive reading” manual as my

upcoming Toastmasters assignment. It consists of the successive reading aloud of a short novel, a poem, a drama, a play and an oration from authors you like. This manual is often neglected because we all prefer giving persuasive PR speeches (advanced “PR” manual), inspiring technical presentations (advanced “technical presentations” manual), etc. that are besides much more valued professionally. If you read a poem for six to eight minutes, in whatever context, would anyone listen to you anyway? Would anyone even understand what you are talking about?

2) “poetry speaks” rhymes with “personal peaks”

Memories from our childhood often comprise an impressive set of rhymes usually revived at the birth of our children but what happens after this blessed period of our lives?

Virgil's Aeneid

Virgil's Aeneid

The first time poetry spoke to me was during my Latin classes (no, I am not 100 years old!!!!). We started the reading of Virgil’s “Aeneid”: it was so lucid and intense to my ears, flowing like spring water, that I could memorize the Latin text as we were reading. Image, sound, history and story, rhythm, meter, cadence, rhymes and even Virgil’s overabundance of metaphors or distorted sentences with subject, verb and object separated by a full paragraph at times, all participated in building an emotional trap in which I was meant to fall. Relentlessly working on the translation of the “Aeneid” verses into French captured my imagination then and left an imprint in my life that a gradual oblivion of the original text has not taken away.

3) “poetry is loud” rhymes with “read poetry aloud”!

You have to deeply understand a poem before performing it in front of an audience: analysis, reading aloud,

presentation work are the basis of your preparation. As a non native English-speaker though, I personally also turn to audio and video resources, especially those where the authors read their works themselves.  Most of the time, authors are not professional interpreters but they manage to convey a very specific emotion, one close to the creative source, which is electrifying.

In the absence of any interpretation of the Aeneid by Virgil himself, let’s take Margaret Atwood’s poem “This is a photograph of me” and try a small exercise. First read the text from within, letting it resonate with your emotions.

“This is a photograph of me”

“It was taken some time ago At first it seems to be a smeared print: blurred lines and grey flecks blended with the paper;

then, as you scan it, you can see something in the left-hand corner a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree (balsam or spruce) emerging and, to the right, halfway up what ought to be a gentle slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake, and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where precisely, or to say how large or how small I am: the effect of water on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough eventually you will see me.)”

Now let’s listen to the reading of “a photograph of me” by Margaret Atwood herself.

And let’s now turn to another interpretation by one of her fans.

How would you read the original text now? You have tro try numerous times before finding the most suitable way for YOU to say the text.

4) poetry spice: slam it, damn’it!

In the Toastmasters manual, there is a piece of advice which in my opinion is not in harmony with today’s trends – but it does not mean that the manual is wrong in general: avoid a “sing-song” interpretation. For training purposes, I would suggest a totally opposite direction: slam your text! I would go even further: slam everything you need to read aloud because the extremes it forces you to, will help you find your natural rhythm of enunciation, the moments when to pause, the moments when to suspend your audience’s breath to your words, etc. in one word, it will help you improve your communication skills tremendously and that’s why you joined or plan to join Toastmasters.

Katie Makkai is a famous slammer. Let’s listen to her interpretation of “pretty” that generated over 500 000 hits on youtube and lots enthusiastic comments and laughter.


That is probably more than “sing-song” but if you manage training and reading your next business report on the pattern of Katie’s “Pretty”, you will do wonders in the board room.

It is well possible that you don’t have enough time to allow poetry into your lives anymore but you could still download some poems randomly and schedule their podcast as a mental break in your busy day… I would advise you to establish this routine, because poetry could help you to approach the world from a different angle, deploying its creative wings on your daily joys and worries, and not only at a personal level.

Besides, it’s nearly springtime: why not try something fresh and new, why not to give poetry a try?


Some contemporary poetry resources:



@MargaretAtwood you can follow this famous Canadian poet on Twitter (she has over 135 000 followers)

Text by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti @ruxandrabp



Based on the following initial text, Richard Lewis Communications suggested the following improvements (parts to be corrected highlighted in yellow).  http://www.slideshare.net/Toastmastersfinland/poetry-rhymes-with-integrated-corrections

1) Intially, I wrote:  ‘watching deeply into your eyes’. RLC comment: the verb should be ‘looking’ – “looking deeply into your eyes”. The verbs ‘see’, ‘look’ and ‘watch’ are subtly different. If we ‘see’ something, we cannot avoid it. Simply having our eyes open there are various things in front of us which we see. If we ‘look’ at something, we are deliberately focusing our attention on it. ‘Watch’ is used for things which are moving, where activity is going on. For example, we could go into a room and see a television. If we look at the television, we are looking at the physical object. But if we watch television we are following the programme. In the context of your sentence, ‘look’ is the correct verb as there is intense concentration. Watching someone’s eyes would be focusing on following the movements as they observed different things and moved around.

2)Initially, I wrote “it consists in”. RLC comment: the verb ‘consists’ is followed by the preposition ‘of’. Prepositions are not easy or entirely consistent in English. You just have to learn them!

3) ‘If you read a poem during six to eight minutes’ . RLC comment: it should be ‘for’ six to eight minutes. ‘During’ implies that something else is happening too. E.g. ‘During the reading of the poem, the poet knocked a glass of water off the table.’

4) ‘were all participating’ RLC comment: it should be ‘all participated’ , i.e. simple past instead of past continuous. The past continuous implies that something else interrupted ( a little like my explanation for ‘during’). ‘As I was walking up the stairs, the doorbell rang’

5) ‘In the front of an audience’: RLC comment: it should be ‘in front of an audience’. No definite article needed.

6) ‘Laughters’: RLC comment: ‘laughter’ doesn’t have a plural. Even if different people are laughing it is just ‘laughter’. A common mistake in this area is the word ‘furniture’, or ‘equipment’ – they are always in the singular even if there are many pieces of the items.

8) ‘could help you in approaching’ –  RLC comment: it should just be ‘to approach’

9) ‘why not to try’RLC comment: you don’t need a preposition after ‘why not’. It is just ‘why not try’


Say it to me, as a friend


Few days ago, I saw Tom Hooper’s much acclaimed “The Kings’ speech”, the astonishing true story of King George VI who once feared being called George the Stammer wouldn’t he have found his “voice” thanks to the unconventional methods of an Australian “speech therapist” who gradually turned into a friend, Lionel Hogue.  This movie is a must-see not only because of Colin Firth’s (George VI) and Geoffrey Rush’s (Lionel Logue) outstanding interpretations and the uniqueness of their characters’ relationship, but also because it can only touch us in the heart of our communication and leadership aspirations. King George VI’s handicap was of such nature that it indeed required an adapted therapy for curing, but many scenes reminded me of the regular training provided by Toastmasters and the efforts we produce in order to ameliorate the quality of our lives as communication beings.

1) to improve your public speaking skills, listen to yourself

For improving our ability to speak, we have to listen first and listen to the only voice we would generally prefer not to listen to: our own. At times, it is a cruel exercise as it might reveal a person in which we do not recognize ourselves. Acknowledging own strengths and weaknesses is however a first and indispensable step in bettering our way of delivering speeches. “The King’s speech” shows it in the most dramatic way when Lionel Logue suggests the at the time Duke of York to tape his voice and listen to it.

I don’t want to reveal more about the result and subsequent challenges inherent to this exercise because the story is so appealing that you really should see the movie to discover what happened, but it stroke me that taping own voice was an incredibly innovative technology at the time, and that the wide availability and variety of affordable technologies for taping and videotaping  at our disposal nowadays have not equally prompted their use for the purpose of perfecting our persuasiveness and expressiveness (such technologies are supported by e.g. http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ or http://www.youtube.com)… Wouldn’t it be wiser to give it a try at least – and I address here to my fellow Toastmasters particularly?

2) to improve your public speaking skills, get feedback from your audiences

Listening is also the main task of any audience. George VI’s attempts to tame his tottering in such unusual situations as addressing a full Wembley Stadium during his first oration – broadcasted by radio to the entire British Empire involving thus an audience of several millions auditors – can only fill us with a sense of relief when it comes to our Toastmasters first public speech called the “icebreaker”… Unlike George VI, we are fortunate to have an emphatic and interactive audience at Toastmasters: people who share the same objectives (improving their communication and leadership skills) and who will give us feedback on every aspect of our performance in a structured and easy way (body language, eye contact, voice, tone, rhythm, grammar, structure, etc…).

Geoffrey Rush’s line as Lionel Logue “Say it to me, as friend” encompasses everything about the unique environment Toastmasters creates for us to meliorate this fantastic ability to tell things and have people listen to us!

3) to improve your public speaking skills, relentlessly train

There is no secret: to become a great public speaker, we have to train, and train again because by training we gain confidence from practicing rather than from absorbing all possible self help books on the topic. The result of such training is often perceivable in our renewed ability to catch an audience’s attention with the real us – rather than with a book formatted us. The movie “The King’s Speech” shows it beautifully as the King rehearses his speeches with the support of those who believe in him and he gradually grows into the person he was meant to be: serving his nation as a hero king, being an entertaining father and husband, forcing the admiration of all.

To conclude, I would say this:

1) GO and see the movie “The King’s speech” and if you recognize some areas in your public speaking you would like to improve, then…

2) JOIN a Toastmasters meeting to find a Toastmasters group in your town, use the locator function on www.toastmasters.org (Meetings in Finland are also taken on this blog and on www.toastmasters.fi) . Attending as a guest is free of charge and you will then be in a position to decide if Toastmasters can help you improving in the areas you are planning to improve and especially gain in terms of eloquence.

3) TAPE your training and post it on this blog for feedback: if you are preparing for a speech, tape yourself in the format you feel most comfortable with and ask for feedback on this blog. We will make sure some experienced Toastmasters will give you feedback on how to improve it… how does that sound?

4) Be the first to fully review this text and win a Finnkino movie ticket (valid for one person, one session, in Finnkino cinema’s in Finland until May 2011): as my text proves, I am not a native English speaker but I am always very pleased to receive suggestions for correction. If you are the first to suggest a full set of corrections to the above text (vocabulary,  grammar) in a comment to this post, you will get a ticket to go to the movies (and who knows maybe see “the King’s speech”?)…

Article by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti

Start the year by joining a Toastmasters meeting!


The great thing about our times is that, more than ever before, IF WE WANT TO, IT IS POSSIBLE! In the context of the beginning of the year, where we are pressed to produce our New Year’s resolutions list on the pattern of a strategical report we shall commit to all throughout the year, such sentence might sound phony – such resolutions being at best wishful thinking.

a Toastmaster (TM) in action

At Toastmasters it is made very easy to improve our communication and leadership skills, if we only take this first step of acknowledging how essential their improvement are in building of a successful professional career and a fulfilling life – and then act upon it. To those who share this belief, the different Toastmasters groups in Finland (see list at end of this post) are sending them the following invitation: JOIN a toastmasters meeting this year – for free as a guest – and form your own opinion about how this organization and its training in public speaking could support your aspirations. Wouldn’t it be fantastic it helps you to reach your self development goals in communication and leadership as it helped millions of people around the world? Wouldn’t it be fantastic you end up being a “competent communicator” at your own pace? The only think you need to do is try once and decide…

Group of TM members

So, here is a calendar of the Toastmasters sessions organized all throughout Finland in the beginning of this year. If you like the principle, you might consider joining Toastmasters as a member or implementing the scheme within your company or in your city. What is certain, is that you will find people who share the same goals as you and who are ready to help you reach yours!

  • Helsinki

Group 1: Stadi Talkers, 10th January, 24th January, 7th February, 21st February 18:00-19:40 at the Dubliner’s, Mannerheimintie

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Stadi Talkers meetings, please go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=4966

Group 2: Helsinki Toastmasters, 20th January, 3rd February, 17th February 17:15-19:00 in Keiluranta

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Helsinki Toastmasters meetings, please go to: http://helsinki.toastmasters.fi/index.php?q=TM_attendance:

  • Hyvinkää

    Annie Peng, Hyvinkää Toastmasters


13th January, 17th January, 10th February, 24th February 16:30-18:00 at KoneCranes

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Hyvinkää Toastmasters meetings, please go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=8670

  • Tampere

13th January, 17th January, 10th February, 24th February 17:30-19:00 at TAKK – Tampere Vocational Adult Education Centre

To register and obtain more details about one the above Tampere Toastmasters meetings, go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=8167

  • Nokia (company group)

TM Tuire


If you attend one of these meetings, do not hesitate to comment on this post and share your opinion about the benefits and possible improvements to the Toastmasters meetings!

Article by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti