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When an oral text moves beyond the boundaries of its original performance context, it encounters an audience lacking in the cultural interpretative skills with which to fully participate in its rhetorical strategies. The text’s original meaning and purpose ultimately remain hidden from new listeners, removed in time and place, who attempt to gain access through what is apparent—its formal qualities. Two anthologies— the tenth-century Exeter Book and the 1952 Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music—can be viewed as documents significant in the presentation of oral texts to a new, second audience. Side by side, these two works demonstrate the impulse of the second audience to collect together the vocal poetics of texts that once existed as individual entities in an attempt to preserve, examine, show, and understand the voices of a significant, lost past.
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