Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Do you read your poetry in a certain way? Do you find yourself reading in a sort of sing-song rhythm, or does it bop along in a jazzy spoken word style?

Weekend America offers this rather humorous, somewhat mocking story on the cadence of various poets, from Yeats to Giovanni, and everyone in between.

I can't tell if we poets are being mocked or given a careful examination of our inflected styles. I think it's a good story because it does both. And, is poet-speak a form of art?

Here's the audio: The Sing-Song Rhythm of Poet Speak

And a link to the text.


pepektheassassin said...

I try not to be sing-songy. Having said that, I notice there is (here, anyway) a distinct difference in the way the 'intellectual poets' from the university read, and the way the 'common variety' community poets read. I think the university poets try to read in a sort of FLAT voice, to let the words color themselves, while the community poets try to color the words with interpretation. Does that make sense?


January said...

Yes, it makes perfect sense.

I read a little flat, but I came out of the university tradition. I add a little inflection when necessary but I like the words to stand on its own.

chiefbiscuit said...

I was nervous about how to read my poetry at readings, so I took note of how other local poets read and found that in the main they read in a natural way - a little like speaking conversationally. So I went with that. NZers tend to speak a little fast and run their words together; aware of this, I make an effort to slow down and enunciate.I have a quiet voice, so I am also concentrating on projecting my voice as much as I can (altho' the mic helps with that.) I agree about letting the words do the work.
I found this interesting, thanks January. In NZ we also have all the types of readers as described in that podcast.

JimK said...

Sing-song is a little distracting,
but subtractable.

Rising-question-ending is really
maddening. Unsure? Really?
Excellent poems cut up like steak
on the highchair tray. The horror!

So many monotones. Funny, but
that's not the poem. Be true,
emote a bit. Have faith that the
listener can bend it still.

If you don't want to color,
go slow. The audience didn't spend
25 hours on the poem. They have
some catching up to do.
Silence is a rhythm too.

January said...

"Silence is a rhythm too."

Very true, Jim. But I have to admit, I like hearing a really talented performance poet. So I don't mind the sing-songy voice coming from someone who seems to understand poetry. But if it feels like a gimmick, then I tune out.

January said...

CB, I tend to read faster when I'm nervous, so I have to remember to slow down and enunciate, too.

JimK said...

Yup..sing-song is not destructive.
Actually, sing-song and jazzy
are nice...if the poem really is.
(to me)

The big wish is for all
the 'virtual' question marks to
disappear. You don't seem to
have any. Pretty natural, actually.
No ????, no zombies. ;)

polkadotwitch said...

i have a bad habit of reading poetry like prose. without line-break pauses or pacing ... however, i do, with poetry, go back and re-read with different emphasis and rhythm. i play with it.

January said...

Carolee, have you ever recorded yourself reading your poetry? It's an interesting exercise that gives you an idea of what you sound like to a reader.


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