Thursday, 6 April 2017

Poet Voice

With a tip of the hat to both Dave Lull and Frank Wilson, I pass on this interesting study of 'Poet Voice', the curious affliction that overcomes so many poets or 'poets' when called upon to read their works aloud. The author of the piece identifies several forms of Poet Voice - for the two principal modes, check out the links to Andy Hamilton's imitation and to 'Switch', the spoof Spoken Word poet in Cardinal Burns. In the video clip, the American poet Louise Gluck demonstrates the standard literary form of Poet Voice all too perfectly - but over here it has a rather different sound. Overwhelmingly it's the sound of Liverpool (blame McGough, Patten and co.), of Yorkshire (blame Hughes), of nowhere south of the Midlands - London poets are generally obliged to adopt a cockney Spoken Word/ rap mode if they are to have any credibility, or to make it onto the airwaves.
 Radio 4 is infested with contemporary verse, usually spoken by its creators, invariably adopting standard Poet Voice or, in the more 'banging' programmes, loud Spoken Word voice. Most of the work is dismal enough already, but the liberal adoption of these voices makes it pretty much unlistenable. The prime offender (at least in category one) is Paul Farley, a Liverpudlian who adopts full-on Poet Voice not only to read his poems but also to present his programmes: check out The Echo Chamber, a show that has surely done more than any other to put listeners off the whole business of contemporary verse.
 It need not be like this. It's perfectly possible to read poems without adopting a 'special' voice, as Philip Larkin showed. He read as if his business was to put across his work as directly and straightforwardly as he could, not to proclaim 'I am a Poet and this is Poetry'. I'm not sure that poets' (or indeed actors') readings ever add anything very useful to what is on the page, but at least Larkin - unlike so many of today's practitioners - didn't make matters worse.

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