Poet Reading Voice

Poets, you're going to do it wrong.  No matter how much inflection you use, where you pause, or when you breathe you will end up sounding the same.  The same as who?  Why, 99.89% of all poets who give readings, of course!  And no, it isn't a good thing.

I'm not sure when most poets started sounding the same.  Maybe it comes out of college training.  Or listening to too many presidential speeches.  It could also come from assimilating other poets' techniques.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same.  The tone is serious, with bland or dead intonation.  There is little to no body movement, eye contact exists on a timer.  Give a hundred poets the same poem and it'll sound exact regardless of the age, gender, or experience of the poets reciting.  Give a hundred poets different poems and... it will also be creepily similar, regardless of subject matter or differences in poets.

I've never given a reading but I'm guilty of Poet Reading Voice.  I can recite a piece with emotion and interest, until I turn on a voice recorder.  After that, all difference just drains away.  I become a drone, prattling.  I'd love to say it's nerves (yes, I get nervous even recording myself) but I'm uncertain.  Maybe it is just an affliction most poets can't hope to cure.
(Poets who write for children have a much lower chance of catching persistent Poet Reading Voice.  Probably because children won't tolerate boring people/narcissists.)

Have you ever been to a memorable reading?  What made it memorable?  How do/will your readings differ from what I described?


  1. I've only been to one reading but now I'm sure I won't be able to put your opinion out of my mind. I will be judging and listening for 'poet' voice. What you says makes so much sense.

    1. It is almost a Village of the Damned phenomenon.

      I try really hard to find readers who do something unique or varying when presenting. It is more difficult than it sounds. Maybe I'll search for videos with people doing it "right" and post them here occasionally.

  2. I haven't been to many poetry readings, but when I hear a poem read I prefer to hear it come across with natural intonation as though someone is talking to me. I'm not a fan of overly dramatic readings or the ones that sound unnaturally sing-songy.

    I went to one reading locally one time where a guy from a writing group that I was in read some poems from his recently published book. He was really good because the way he read was pretty much the way he talked. I liked reading his poetry because it lacked affectation. He created powerful images by describing things pretty much as they are and juxtaposing those images with interesting metaphors and observations. It was poetry that made sense without having to be overly analyzed and dissected to death.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Most people crave poetry not written for academics. But, since the majority of practicing (note: recognized) poets are churned out through college programs, accessible (yet beautiful) poetry isn't easy to find.

      I just want a poetry reading to contain genuine aspects of the poet. The work may be good but no one's going to know if they can't stay awake.