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Posts Tagged ‘Poet Voice’

020319-periodical-room-Concord-Library

Poetry readings are held every few months in the periodical room of the library. The tables are moved, and rows of folding chairs get set up.

I like going to poetry readings. The Friends of the Library present poets every couple months, and I go to as many readings as I can. The most recent featured work by poets Adam Scheffler, Carla Schwartz, and Alison Stone. The poems were remarkably accessible as well as profound, funny, and inspiring. The following is not meant to detract from my overall admiration.

When I got home after the reading, my husband asked me if any readers had used the Poet Voice, and I said I had heard it a little. He went straight to the web to see what others say about the phenomenon. Turns out, I’m not the only one who has noticed contemporary poets dropping into this odd, monotonous reading style.

Rich Smith, a poet himself, made a good effort to define the Poet Voice in a 2014 article at City Arts, here: ” ‘Poet Voice,’ is the pejorative, informal name given to this soft, airy reading style that many poets use for reasons that are unclear. The voice flattens the musicality and tonal drama inherent within the language of the poem and it also sounds overly stuffy and learned. In this way, Poet Voice does a disservice to the poem, the poet and poetry.”

Smith recommends that poets adopt a character suited to each poem as an actor might, or — if reading is not a strength — have someone else do it, or even refuse to give readings! He does come up with an example of the Poet Voice used appropriately: Yeats reading “Innisfree.”

Atlas Obscura describes the listener experience: “You walk into the bookstore. You sit in your folding chair, or on the floor, with your paper cup of wine. The poet approaches the microphone, affably introduces himself, and maybe cracks a joke. He shuffles his papers, launches into his first verse — and all of a sudden, his voice changes completely! Natural conversational rhythms are replaced by a slow, lilting delivery, like a very boring ocean. Long pauses — so long — hang in the air. Try and get comfortable. There’s no helping it. You’re in for a night of Poet Voice.

“Many performance-related professions and avocations,” says Atlas Obscura‘s Cara Giaimo, “have developed an associated ‘voice’: a set of specific vocal tics or decisions. Taken together, these mannerisms make up a kind of sonic uniform, immediately cluing a listener into who or what they’re listening to. There’s ‘Newscaster’s Voice,’ for example, characterized by a slow cadence and a refusal to drop letters. There is ‘NPR’ or ‘Podcast Voice,’ which the writer Teddy Wayne has diagnosed as a ‘plague of pregnant pauses and off-kilter pronunciations,’ and which radio host Ira Glass once said arose in direct response to those butter-smooth anchors. And then there’s Poet Voice, scourge of the open mic and the Pulitzer podium alike.”

So there you have it. It’s been puzzling me for years, and I still don’t know why poets use it. Below, you can hear Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate Louise Glück reading from Faithful and Virtuous Night in the Poet Voice.

By the way, I know of several poets who read this blog, and I would love it if they would weigh in.

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