It’s no secret that most people find poetry unapproachable, but why do they find it unapproachable? I think I’ve figure it out. It’s because of Poetry Voice.
I was watching a TED Talk by former poet laureate Billy Collins, who was charming and funny and a treat to listen to … until the videos illustrating several of his poems were played and I heard him speaking in that dreadful Poetry Voice. If you think about this for half a second, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say Poetry Voice. It’s a detached, almost monotone voice that breaks poems into strange pauses where the lines end on meaningful words, but not where a natural thought might end if that thought ends on the next line. I assume the point of the monotone is that the language is supposed to be doing the work to carry the meaning, not the poet’s vocal expressiveness. Instead, Poetry Voice comes across as simultaneously lulling and pompous, which makes my brain turn off so that I don’t hear the poem at all.
When the videos were all finished (Thank goodness! I was practically falling asleep with all the Poetry Voice), Billy announced he was going to read another poem. Ugh!
And then he surprised me. He read it naturally, without adopting Poetry Voice, and it was delightful and approachable and funny and good. And I wanted him to go back and re-record his other poems in his normally expressive voice so I could enjoy them too.