Poetically Speaking: (100 or So Poems)

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Literary readings provoke strong feelings, which feed intense critical debates. He read paragraphs from it, then lone sentences, then words, then syllables and letters, with long pauses in between. He recalled:. After twenty minutes, an uproar began in the audience, and it was so intense, and so violent, that the thought entered my mind that the whole activity was not only useless, but that it was destructive.

I was destroying something for them, and they were destroying something for me It divided the audience, and at one point, a group of people came to protect me. Things were thrown, people came up on stage to perform, and it was generally an upsetting situation. And the other half, those who protected Cage, who valued what he was doing — what were they thinking? To some degree, they clearly accepted the Zen-minded Cage's refusal to entertain with more or less continuous, animated speech, in an effort to encourage introspection, perhaps a meditative state.

They were, presumably, open to the "performance of nonperformance" as a concept and a practice. That is the phrase used by Raphael Allison, in , to describe a reading by John Ashbery. After attending an exhausting number of readings at the Associated Writing Programs AWP conference that year, she concluded that, as a rule, "poets perform the fact that they are not performers And in , Christopher Grobe argued that "What unites The criterion for "Dramatic Appropriateness" includes the following advice:.

Figure 1. Dramatic Appropriateness, Poetry Out Loud. While the guideline against monotone is clear enough, what constitutes "unnecessary emoting" depends both on the poem's content and on received ideas, or cultural norms, about the regulation of affect. The safest approach, for an aspiring student competitor, would be to err on the side of unemotional.

Though Poetry Out Loud does not use the term "neutral," that seems close to what it wants. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "neutral" as "Exciting no emotional response; provoking no strong reaction; innocuous, inoffensive," as well as "Displaying. If Wheeler is correct that "neutral delivery" is a default style in academic poetry reading today — and that is an open question, defined more precisely below — it arose amid complaints from poets as aesthetically incongruent as Charles Bernstein and Donald Hall.

In , Hall opined about reading styles allegedly inspired by the Beat and Confessional movements: "the poet's performance substitutes an actorly texture pitch, volume, gestures; screaming, jumping, singing for the real sound of words. Poets and scholars often opine about poetry readings in broad terms, characterizing the acoustic, non-verbal qualities of poetry performance with familiar binaries, e. Not only that, but scholarly study of poetry readings can feel uncomfortably close to popular polemics, sometimes informed by a rich sense of literary history but fleshed out with anecdotal examples that betray clear aesthetic-ideological preferences.

In , "Poet Voice" was defined in the Urban Dictionary as "A rhythmic style of reading poetry, akin to [being] on a boat in choppy seas. The reader's voice goes up and down, up and down, and the words of the [poem] are lost in the waves of pulsating intonation. I should have taken Dramamine to offset her dread poet's voice.

Many critics and poets love to hate Poet voice. What stands out, though, in the most recent popular polemics about it — e. Smith takes sides in the neutral-vs. She goes further than Smith in claiming that homogenous MFA programs perpetuate the reading style:. It is as if almost 90 percent of the poetry community is trying to be the one percent, and we're not buying it. The educated are taught to enunciate clearly and so they do. And in their long-taught and long-learned efforts to rise above the ordinary people, they disseminate a viscous sound pattern I have never met a friend for dinner who told me something beautiful or exciting or moving in such a way that her sentences ended at strange intervals.

One would never end an important sentence in forced down-speak or up-speak. The sincerity would be lost. While they do not consider poetry performance styles or Poet Voice, they persuasively establish, with considerable research, that mainstream U. This is despite the fact that those who study creative writing at universities are not, predominantly, white men. Spahr and Young legitimize the question — as a question worth pursuing in sound studies research — of whether or how white male poets influence prevailing or conventional performance styles.

What Basile describes as a "sincere," and implicitly unpretentious alternative to Poet Voice, sounds likes the semantically motivated patterns of conversational speech, or what linguists call natural speech, which can be characterized by irregular patterns in terms of pitch, timing and rhythm. In some sense, Poet Voice might designate a performative style that signifies membership in an elite group of highly successful poets, while a conversational manner might signify an anti-performative, naturalistic poetry-reading voice of the less lauded.

Basile's efforts to characterize alternatives to Poet Voice, however, suggest how slippery the concepts of expressive or performative are, as empirical descriptions of a reading or speaking style. In a article, MacArthur explored the origins of Poet Voice in secular performance and religious ritual and oratory, and sampled the intonation patterns of eight poets, four of whom seemed to use Poet Voice — Natasha Trethewey, Louise Gluck, Juliana Spahr, and Michael Ryan — and three of whom seemed to use comparatively expressive styles — Sylvia Plath, Frank Bidart, Kenneth Goldsmith — as well as recordings of Allen Ginsberg and Martin Luther King, Jr.

MacArthur also offered a somewhat more precise definition of Poet Voice, under the term "monotonous incantation": " 1 the repetition of a falling cadence within a narrow range of pitch; 2 a flattened affect that suppresses idiosyncratic expression of subject matter in favor of a restrained, earnest tone; and 3 the subordination of conventional intonation patterns dictated by syntax, and of the poetic effects of line length and line breaks, to the prevailing cadence and a slow, steady pace.

Some listeners might call this voice neutral, others might call it expressive. In Bodies on the Line: Performance and the Sixties Poetry Reading , one of the most prominent recent book-length studies of poetry readings, Raphael Allison does not address Poet Voice, but he makes similar broad distinctions between contemporary reading styles. However, he argues contra Wheeler — unless performance trends have changed markedly between and , which is possible — that a more expressive style "has won out," within the academy and beyond. He proposes the terms "humanist" and "skeptical" to characterize somewhat distinct poetry performance styles:.

It's characterized by what at first glance looks like faith in the power of "presence" The skeptical strain If humanist reading has won out, it can't eclipse its counterforce, a kind of reading characterized by what at first glance looks like a lively, ludic resistance to pieties of humanism — a sense of openness and possibility of meaning, lack of stability or consistency, and ironic detachment Neither humanist nor skeptical styles of reading exist independently or with full coherence; rather, such terms are useful, though somewhat abstract, pegs for pinning to the wall tendencies, conditions of reading, emphases, and accents.

This book argues that the dialectic between humanism and skepticism — skeptical humanism? Allison's dialectic introduces a new set of binaries, behind which stand old binaries. These binary terms certainly capture something of poets' and critics underlying aesthetic and philosophical commitments, which might well influence their performance styles — but how?

So again, in aesthetic-ideological terms, Allison's binary seems useful. To go back to the Cage reading for a moment, we could probably sort his audience into skeptical and humanist listeners. The skeptics were the ones protecting Cage, the humanists were the ones throwing things. Allison develops his argument with thick descriptions of recordings of seven poets Ashbery, Ginsberg, Robert Frost, Charles Olson, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, and Larry Eigner , and his preference for the skeptical strain is clear.

Allison argues that even Ginsberg felt some ambivalence about the humanist style he allegedly embodied much of the time, occasionally displaying "a subterranean resistance to live reading. The salient point here, however, is that Wheeler and Allison came to seemingly opposite conclusions about dominant trends in poetry performance styles. Has their listening experience exposed them to very different groups of poets? This is possible. Or would Wheeler hear a poetry reading as "neutral" that Allison would call "humanist," and thus more expressive? Or is the pendulum swinging back from neutral toward dramatic again?

And are there, quite possibly, more than two performance styles or tendencies at issue here? Despite all the work inspired by Bernstein's needful call, in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word , to take the poetry reading seriously as an object of study, it has proved remarkably difficult to escape the oversimplification of binaries, such as neutral-expressive, ironic-sincere, skeptical-humanist.

The poetry reading has, for decades, been an unavoidable aspect of the professional poet's life. And the institutionalization of creative writing, government sponsorship of the arts, access to audio and video recording technologies, and the digitization of audio recordings, have accelerated the number of poetry readings and provided scholars with greater access to recordings of them. This situation presents profound opportunities for sound studies research, which have been answered by groundbreaking work.

Our research addresses that gap, and also offers ways to test the rich intuitions of traditional poetry scholarship about poetry reading styles and their evolution. Of course, humanities scholars — not to say humanists in Allison's sense — are adept at generating broadly persuasive insights from a few choice examples. Allison's intuitions about the aesthetic ideologies that do battle in performance styles may be precisely correct, but the problem is in the generalized assertions from this, about sound and voice — that this is what contemporary poets do, and that it is audible.

Strings of adjectives are of limited value in explaining how poets use their voices in distinct ways from one another when they read a poem, or how listeners' expectations might influence what they hear. What would it mean for a "skeptical" or "humanist" or "neutral" strain, tendency, emphasis, or accent to be audible?

That is, perceptible, of course, but also discernible from other styles? What exactly would a poet with a strong humanist or skeptical bent do with her voice? If we think we have some answers to that question, can they be empirically tested in any way?


And, importantly, how might our aesthetic and ideological preferences lead us to expect that the poets on our team will sound, for instance, neutral, ironical or sincere? What does irony sound like? What does a poetics of presence sound like? And what is going on in all that wiggle room between ironic detachment and so-called presence? Can any of Smith's and Basile's claims, about the qualities of Poet Voice and how it has spread, be confirmed?

And how does Poet Voice relate to Wheeler's and Allison's arguments about neutral and expressive, skeptical and humanist performance styles? In this regard, Tanya Clement and Chris Mustazza have developed notions of "distant listening" and "machine-aided close listening. This research project has allowed both kinds of insights, in part because sampled recordings lies in between the scales of close and distant listening.

That is, although recordings are a small number to analyze, compared to truly large-scale digital humanities projects, our analysis reveals patterns we did not anticipate, about the performance styles of poets whose work none of us are deeply acquainted with, about which we had formed no opinions. At the same time, this project also confirmed some of our impressionistic intuitions about the performances styles of poets we know well, and about poetry performance versus conversational speech. Until recently, it has been difficult to test whether persuasive insights about performance styles match empirical data about recorded performances.

That is, indeed, a primary goal of this research project. Specifically, we investigated four overarching questions: 1 What differences in prosodic measures exist, in a very limited sample of recorded poems as read by poets, between conversational speech and poetry reading? When we began this study, we thought that if we could sample, quantify and analyze the vocal performance styles of American poets, we might demonstrate and explore the prosodic features that critics and poets are responding to.

The qualitative and quantitative methods of linguistics, augmented by statistical analysis and basic insights about the neuroscience of speech perception, helped us test and refine such judgments, pose new questions, and offer empirical alternatives to complement impressionistic approaches to poetry performance. A basic understanding of the linguistics and neuroscience of speech perception, which are unfamiliar to many scholars who study poetry recordings, is necessary to understand the methods, motivations and conclusions of our research.

When we listen to a poem read out loud, the tone of voice obviously affects our interpretation of the words, and our perceptions of the poet. In research on the perception of tone of voice, Jody Kreiman and Diana Sidtis write that "studies Some authors Experimental studies suggest that For example, the contrast in "I feel just fine" spoken in a tense, tentative tone might be politely ignored, while, "I'm not angry" spoken in "hot anger" would not.

Extreme discrepancies between the semantics and the emotional prosody stand out as anomalous We notice when inconsistencies which are the basis of verbal irony and sarcasm occur, and often these incidents incite perplexity, fear, or humor Poetry performance is full of such anomalies, in which the tone of voice contrasts with the affective content or mood of a poem. This occurs, for instance, when a poem with hilarious content is delivered with flat intonation, deadpan — to be more precise, when a very narrow pitch range is used, approaching monotone the monotone delivery of comic Steven Wright would be an apt example of this.

Criticism and analysis of poetry performance styles are often motivated by perceived discrepancies between a poet's vocal performance style, on the one hand, and the audience's preconceptions about the content and form of a poem, and their expectations for an appropriate or normative poetry reading style. It is all too common to like a poem on the page and be disappointed by its performance, and vice versa. In linguistics, prosody refers broadly to acoustic qualities of speech such as pitch rate of vocal fold vibration, termed the fundamental frequency , 20 loudness, and rhythm, timing and speaking rate.

Intonation patterns — the rise and fall of the voice, measured as pitch — as well as speech stress, speaking rate and rhythm, interest poets a great deal. The poetics of Robert Frost, for one, hinge on "tone of meaning When we listen to a poetry reading, or a political speech, radio podcast, sermon, lecture, dramatic monologue, stand-up comedy — when we listen to any string of utterances — we constantly, half-consciously assess how well the speaker captures and keeps our attention and matches our auditory expectations.

To this assessment, the prosodic features of the speaker's voice are central. Linguistic research demonstrates that speakers vary their prosodic patterns based on paralinguistic context, most notably in response to different types of interlocutors. We might recall here Basile's sense that a dinner conversation in Poet Voice would sound insincere. For example, parents talking to their babies produce higher and wider pitch ranges than they do when talking to another adult 21 In a laboratory setting, people speak more slowly and louder amid noisy environments — this is known as the Lombard Effect 22 Martin Luther King, in a recording of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," uses a much narrower pitch range and quite different intonation patterns, compared to his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Just as speech production can vary tremendously according to paralinguistic context, our listening history or experience deeply influences speech perception — including of performative speech, like poetry readings. Psychologists have noted how we carry a sort of buffer of recent history, an implicit memory, such that specific words or words representing related concepts repeated over time are processed differently faster. This is called "priming," and it fits with the growing recognition that the brain is perhaps best described as a tremendously complex statistical prediction machine.

Of course, prediction is especially important for language, which is necessarily temporally structured and extended. When we attend a poetry reading, all of the other poetry readings we have attended help form our expectations for that one, including the prosodic patterns a poet will use. Even without paying attention, our brains "know" within a fraction of a second milliseconds that an acoustic prediction was violated; the same goes for violations of semantic and syntactic predictions.

And rhythm or strict temporal regularity, called isochrony-what we might call strict adherence to a formal metrical pattern in a poem, or the reading of a free verse poem in this manner-is one type of pattern. In one way — a deep way — we are programmed from birth to test our expectations, in this case expectations of prosodic patterns, seeking experiences — and perhaps poetry readings — that are neither too predictable nor too surprising.

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This phenomenon is known in cognitive neuroscience as the "Goldilocks effect. Too much confuses us and isn't rewarding. This compulsion to learn, to attend to the reasonably unpredictable, is codified in the mathematics of information theory, developed by Shannon and Weaver in the midth century, which shows that a totally predictable pattern is also a totally uninformative one.

So when we encounter patterns that repeat over and over, both our subjective engagement as well as our neural responses tend to wane-a process called habituation. This tendency may account for audiences' frustration with the perceived regularity of Poet Voice. Linguists have also shown that the perception of sounds and words in speech can vary based on multiple sociolinguistic factors related to the paralinguistic context.

For instance, the perceived gender of a speaker can influence the linguistic interpretation of a word, 26 as can the speaker's perceived characteristics related to race, ethnicity, national origin, 27 regional background, 28 sexual orientation, 29 and age. Or if we place ourselves in a particular aesthetic-ideological lineage of poetry, we may be predisposed to enjoy the reading style of a poet in that lineage, and to perceive that style as highly distinct from, the reading style of a poet whose aesthetic-ideological orientations we do not share.

If we listen to the first few minutes of Allen Ginsberg reading Howl here in the KPFA recording at PennSound , we perceive that he uses the same relatively monotone cadence over many long lines. For many listeners, this repetition is probably lulling — whether we perceive this as pleasant or unpleasant — and we probably attend less to the semantics of what he is saying than to that sonic pattern.

At the same time, his vocal pitch level is gradually rising, and that may help keep our attention, as it suggests change or intensification in mood. As Robert Hass put it in "Listening and Making," an essay on rhythm in free verse in Twentieth Century Pleasures , "Repetition makes us feel secure and variation makes us feel free. Having different brains with different experiential histories means that we engage the world with different statistical predictions. This surely applies to Wheeler and Allison's opposing conclusions about dominant performance styles in contemporary American poetry reading.

When we listen to a recorded poem or attend a poetry reading, what counts as boring, comfortingly familiar, surprising or refreshing depends on our internal models, our predictions, which are in turn based on our previous experiences of listening to and reading poetry. Monotonous or otherwise highly repetitive prosodic patterns in poetry reading may comfort some listeners and bore others, while more idiosyncratic prosodic patterns in poetry reading may annoy the former and reward the latter.

When we listen to poets read, we are responding on a nonverbal level to their prosodic patterns, and to paralinguistic, non-verbal elements and contexts. We need to attend to these prosodic patterns and paralinguistic, non-verbal elements and contexts if we want to offer histories of poetry performance with much explanatory power. Certainly, as Jennifer Stoever writes, "listening [is] an interpretive site where racial difference is coded, produced, and policed.

As well as refining our sense of our preferences in performance styles, this study may begin to extend some of the insights of language ideology research. In choosing American poets to sample for their performance styles, we aimed for a variety of aesthetic and educational backgrounds, as well as some ethnic, racial, class, and sexual diversity, with fifty poets born before , and fifty after The rationale here was to include several generations of poets, e.

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We included twenty poets who studied creative writing at the elite Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, and also aimed to include a balance of poets who did their graduate work at both private and public universities. All of the poets included in the study have published at least one book, and most of the older poets have published many more; many of the poets have been highly recognized by the literary establishment with various awards and prizes.

Most of the recordings were found on the websites of PennSound, Poets. A small number of recordings were also accessed on the websites of the Poetry Foundation, Wave Books linked to SoundCloud , Slate and a few others. Though there is some overlap in representation of poets among these archives, PennSound includes a large number of poets who are not presently found on the other sites, and Poets.

Other researchers would doubtless choose a different group of poets. Whenever possible, we selected recordings of poems approximately one to two minutes long, and analyzed the first 60 seconds. Though shorter poems might be thought to be lyrics, we did not attempt to choose or classify poems according to mood, topic, or form. Most of the recordings were made no earlier than the s, with the exception of Ginsberg, O'Hara, Baraka and Ashbery; the most recent date from We took care to sample recordings only once the poet actually began to read the poem; introductory chitchat, which is frequently delivered with distinct prosodic patterns, was not included or analyzed, though a comparative analysis of poetry and non-poetry speech in poetry readings would certainly be worth doing in the future.

Two caveats. First, this study does not undertake — beyond distinguishing between studio and live recordings, and noting the source online archives — to trace the provenance of the recordings or the process of their digitization, sound editing, or original recording format.

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Such processes may affect a recording's speed and pitch. However, highly significant changes are more common with older recordings that have been transferred a number of times e. We would also note that most of these recordings are not of commercial broadcast quality, and thus did not go through extensive post-production editing. In choosing mostly contemporary recordings to analyze, we aim to compare recordings created in similar media formats — often originally MP3s, converted to WAV files for our analysis — and to avoid some of the challenges of media-archaeological work with older recordings, the sort that Jason Camlot has performed in, for instance, "Historicist Audio Forensics: The Archive of Voices as Repository of Material and Conceptual Artefacts.

Second, this study does not attempt to consider how much an individual poet's performance style differs from poem to poem, over time and for different audiences, or how their speech in interviews or introductory remarks to poems might compare to their reading of poems. Clearly these are questions worth investigating in further longitudinal research; Kenneth Sherwood has done interesting work in this area. While the data from our small sample is of some use in characterizing an individual poet's performance style at a given point in their career, and in formulating hypotheses for further study of individual poet's evolution as a performer, it should not be taken as conclusive; it is most useful as a representative sample of contemporary poetry reading styles in practice, and perhaps, as culturally sanctioned and encouraged.

Data about an individual's poet's performance style is also, of course, interesting in comparison to other poets and other types of performative speech. In analyzing the samples, we categorized the poets in a number of ways. Our purpose here was to test whether any aspects of identity, background, aesthetic or academic affiliation or performance context or medium might correlate, individually or in combination, with particular performance styles.

Table 1 lists poets by name, birth year, and so on, including the title of the poem sampled and the year and length of the recording, and Figures 2 and 3 show the breakdown of Male and Female Poets sampled by corpus. Being a poet feels like having two bodies — one in this world, and one in some other.

Does this sound like you? But is poetry even relevant? I say, who says poetry is dead? It has many different faces: academic and canonical, contemporary, conversational, amorphous and timeless. There are so many different kinds and styles of poetry, and there are so many different ways to be a poet. And for the record, there are no rules. In fact, poets have a whole playground before them life! Today, I have a few books, I publish widely , and I read to audiences several times per month. I developed an intimate relationship with his work, and by doing so I realized that my knowledge of poetry was very limited.

Eventually, with enough writing and reading and listening to yourself, you will find authenticity and your own voice. I am always working on my own. But seriously: read. Here are some poets I love. People say a lot of things about poetry. It should be in couplets. In should be confessional. It should be political. It should be about nature. It should be written in high language. It should be formatted a certain way. It should have titles.

What Are Different Types of Poems?

It should be Instagrammable. Create the poetry you want to read. You can divide the rhythms above into parts. You will find that each line has four such groups. Each one of these groups is called a foot , and counting the number of feet is one way of determining the length of a line of poetry. Here are the literary terms for each line length as regards number of feet: one foot: monometer ; two feet: dimeter ; three feet, trimeter ; four feet, tetrameter ; five feet, pentameter ; six feet, hexameter ; seven feet, heptameter.

Absence of sound is also an important element of poetry. Make sure you insert caesuras where they are called for.

Depression - Spoken Word Poetry

Not all caesuras are the same length; some are quite long, others are very short. Normally there is a fairly long caesura at the end of every line of poetry. There is usually also a very short caesura after every 'foot'. Some poets use very conventional punctuation, some use none at all. Some follow their own special rules in the use of punctuation, e. Cummings, who is also noted for seldom using capital letters in his poetry.

You know from your experience with Chinese that different ways of punctuating a phrase or sentence i. Rhyme is the effect created by matching sounds at the end of words. Ordinarily this includes the last accented vowel and the sounds that follow it, but not the sound of the preceding consonant s. Masculine rhyme falls on one syllable : fat, cat; repair, affair. Feminine or double rhyme includes two syllables, of which only the first is stressed : better, setter; pleasure, treasure.

Triple rhyme , often reserved for light verse and doggerel, involves three syllables : practical, tactical. There are different kinds of rhyme: exact rhyme perfect, full, true, complete, whole , which repeats end sounds precisely, e. Eye rhyme looks as though it should rhyme, but does not, e. Apocopated rhyme pairs a masculine and feminine ending, rhyming on the stress: cope, hopeless; kind, finder. In mosaic rhyme , two words rhyme with one, or two with two: master, passed her; chorus, before us; went in, sent in.

Most rhyme occurs at the end of the line and is called terminal rhyme.

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Initial rhyme comes at the beginning of a line, and is sometimes combined with end rhyme. Internal rhyme occurs within one or more lines. Crossed or interlaced rhyme combines internal and end rhyme to give a long-line couplet the effect of a short-line quatrain. Enclosed rhyme envelops a couplet with rhyming lines in the pattern abba.

In interlocking rhyme a word unrhymed in a first stanza is linked with words rhymed in the next to create a continuing pattern, e.

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