Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Poetry Voice - may it be damned forever

Just been watching another poet, well-known to me, on YouTube and wondering why on earth the insidious Poetry Voice is still so widespread amongst our kind, when it so clearly blights and destroys the poetry it touches? I've blogged about this before but it continues to annoy me.

It's like a sickness, the overwhelming urge to read aloud in this effeminate, floating, breathy voice that so many seem to adopt when performing their poetry to an audience. The meaning and impact of the poetry is suffocated or swallowed up in that voice, and all that's left as you walk away afterwards is the memory of someone "breathing" the ends of their lines, like a diseased lung rasping on a death-bed.

The Poetry Voice is hideously artificial and very far from musical (which is presumably the idea behind it, to drag poetry closer to the rise and fall of music). It does nothing for poetry. At best, it puts the unfortunate listener to sleep or makes them want to escape to the bar as soon as possible.

Whatever happened to poetry that is spoken with honesty, to the raw power of a poet's true and natural voice - not the floating cadences of some piously intoning priest?



Ha ha. It may be sacreligious to say this, but I was at a Carol Ann Duffy reading a couple of weeks ago and I hated her delivery.
I kept thinking 'You DON'T talk like that! Why do you read like that?!'
It ruined it for me - she came across as arch and breathy and affected. (Just shoot me now!)
I can't stand The Poetry Voice - it's so unnecessary and it's what makes non-poets hate poetry, I feel.
Give me a natural delivery any day, like Eavan Boland's or Sean O'Brien's.
Right, I'd better run and hide having lambasted your beloved Laureate...

Rachel Fox said...

I think we need you to record a spoof of this poetry voice for youtube please Jane. What do you reckon?

Jo said...

I laughed at this......I hate that voice too, where did it come from? And will it ever go back?

Jane Holland said...

Not MY beloved Laureate, trust me. And yes, the dreaded poetry voice. What is all that about? I think most poets assume people will expect to hear it when they read, and so adopt the voice of 'standard poetic delivery'. It's a way of enforcing what they hope is musicality onto a poem which may well not possess any otherwise. I go the opposite way and try to write the musicality into the poem but deliver it as prose with natural, built-in pauses. If that makes any sense ...

I do occasionally find myself lapsing into the poetry voice at readings, and always feel horrified and embarrassed. As though I'd been caught in gold sling-backs in a cocktail bar, drunkenly addressing some newly-met stranger as 'Darling!'