Poetry Overlords

Not too long ago, I attended a poetry reading in my city. I’ve attended many over the years, but one thing had always made me cringe: the way some poets read out loud.

Stopping Here

My feelings towards this are entirely subjective and based on the fact that I am completely insane.

There are a few poets who do drone on monotonously when they speak. I do enjoy that when droning is actually part of the poetry they are performing (more on that soon). But other times, it simply does not work and whittles me down to nothingness (I’m over-dramatic).

I’ll touch upon this image later. But first,

I Gotta Backtrack

In my first year of University, I attended and performed at a poetry reading. I remember “covering” Robert Herrick’s famous “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” (aka, “Gather ye rosebuds”), and gave it my own personal meaning. I had not known the poem was so popular (and to this day, I still haven’t seen Dead Poets Society).

Anyway, I explained to the audience what the poem meant to me. I read it how I felt it should have been heard given my explanation to why I chose the poem.

Fast Forwarding to the Now

When I attended the poetry reading the other day, as I said above – the way some poets read make me cringe.

I feel as if the words being read could have an entirely different presence or meaning had only the poet changed the tonality of their voice or had someone else read their story for them.

As some people may already know, I’m a musician. I enjoy lots of stuff, ranging from ambient noise, to death metal, to classical, to jazz. I’m all over the map, really.

While writing the other night, it occurred to me how writing poetry is similar to writing music. You need the right words or “notes” to make everything flow together properly. But it was the idea performing poetry which struck me. I ended up writing out something about jazz and poetry. As an aside, I should add there were no poets the other night that did drone on at all. My ideas just came to me as I wrote my own dribble.

Poetry & Jazz?

From my notes:

Performing poetry is much like performing jazz.

As with music written down on paper, there is no sound when reading poetry. The poet is left to be a slave to the words on the page in front of them. It is up to the poet – or musician – to emote what is on the page.

When read out loud, poets will interpret the sounds like how a jazz musician performs a song when they feel it out loud. It transcends the page.

Like jazz, poetry has an infinite amount of emotions and relies heavily on the performer.

In a way, one would not be reading poetry out loud, but rather singing it.

“Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.” – Frank Zappa


Big whoop, right? So what I’m saying is when reading poetry out loud, one should approach it like a jazz musician – add their own feel and emotions into it. When I read Herrick’s poem out loud many years ago, I gave a rationality to why I performed it the way I did. I made it more than just words.

While I said how monotonous droning does work for some poets, others just do it because it may just be “words” to them. Now that is one big assumption on my part (see image above), and poetry can be entirely subjective. But I’m sure it would not hurt for someone to add extra feel to their performance. After all, I, for one, do not welcome our new poetry overlords.

Don’t forget to yell at me over on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Poetry Overlords

  1. I went to a poetry reading a couple weeks ago and was thinking exactly the same thing. Some of the people read their work so monotonously you would never know what it meant to them. I completely agree with you. Translating words through the voice and body can communicate so much more than merely reading words… if only more people would open themselves up to doing so.

    1. Hey, Taehreh. Thanks for stopping by.

      It’s an interesting conversation to be made. I only say that because the words used could simply be the “performance,” and poets are not necessarily “actors.” There’s a lot to be looked at when it comes to poetry and performance. I feel the jazz analogy only scratches the surface.

  2. >>”The poet is left to be a slave to the words on the page in front of them. It is up to the poet โ€“ or musician โ€“ to emote what is on the page”.

    >Very interesting idea… How he emotes what is on the page has to be with how he feels what he writes. The poet is also an actor. And life itself is his stage

    >>”Like jazz, poetry has an infinite amount of emotions and relies heavily on the performer. In a way, one would not be reading poetry out loud, but rather singing it”.

    >The sound of words is measured by the quality of the poems. Quality has to be but an hybrid variable which links subjective and objective aspects. And by that I mean that one poem can be objectively “good”

    Uncanny Derek, your insights on poetry are so powerful that you will let me thinking about them… Thank you then.
    Best wishes, Aquileana ๐Ÿ˜›

      1. I hope that making you re-read and re-think the whole issue is for good…

        Anyway I truly believe we tend to change the whole time and that obviously includes the way we approach to certain topics.

        But… I am not so sure… Iยดll probably change my opinion tomorrow !!!

        Best regards, Aquileana ๐Ÿ˜‰

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