The Voice

Full report on Kundiman reading in its multiplicity later… for now a simple question: who decided that poetry sounded like this? You know what I mean: the NPR Poet Voice that sounds like the eyes are being rolled back in the head. Historically, who is responsible for this? I wanna know.

Perhaps it was, indeed, the multiple sounds/voices presented in the Kundiman reading, which featured Myung Mi Kim, Patrick Rosal, Prageeta Sharma, and a host of young voices from the Kundiman workshop, that made the few that read in the classic “Poetry Reading Voice” sound all the more absurd. I like what the Spoken Word Voice is doing to the Poetry Reading Voice– it seems to bring an air of the griot, of the family/folk/tribe into the mix. Much nicer to listen to than the Poetry Reading Voice.

The following voices were present at the reading, in pure form and mixed together:
The Poetry Slam Force
The Poetry Reading Voice
The Post-Langpo Flatline
The Spoken Word Storyteller

These voices did not necessarily belong to the people you’d imagine.

The following audience reactions were gauged:
The Illuminated Grunt (15x)
The Polite Laugh (total of about 20 sec.)
The Real Laugh (there was much more of this)
The Contented Murmur (Prageeta got a long one of these)


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9 Responses to The Voice

  1. Mike Young says:

    The Post-Langpo Flatline.

    Nice. That is spot on. You should do more of these if you want, a giant list of these, both the reactions and the voices.

  2. shanna says:

    no Poetry Moans?
    or maybe that’s the same as what you’re calling the Contented Murmur…

  3. DUSIE says:

    post-langpo flatline…not to be confused with the ‘beat-voice’ which was the voice of ALL readings until maybe the last 10 years….

  4. Jessica Smith says:

    Contented murmur is weird… it’s like a post-coital sound of intense satisfaction. It surprised me, but then, I don’t go to a lot of readings intended to make the listener feel content. Is this the same beast as a poetry moan?

    (“I feel full after the risotto”)

    Also, grunts should probably be subdivided into male and female (the harsh fatherly grunt of approval vs. the high-pitched sound– almost of *wanting* approval)

    no, of course the beat voice is totally different. i didn’t see any of that last night. i don’t think anyone would ever confuse that with the post-langpo flatline.

    going to lots and lots (and lots) of langpo and post-langpo readings in buffalo, i would venture that the Original Langpo Flatness isn’t really flat, but is perhaps as you suggest, Susana, influenced by the pace and intensity of the Beat generation just prior.

    Then there are members of the subsequent generation whose readings will kill you with boredom and sarcasm. Then you get the audience response: The Dry Laugh. Not the same as the Polite Laugh. The Dry Laugh means “oh, you’re so clever! i’m so clever! we’re *both* clever!”

  5. Steven D. Schroeder says:

    This is really spot-on. Maybe I’ll try to come up with a full taxonomy of poetry reading noises and voices. In voices, I’d have to add the utterly appalling “Read into the page in a monotone as the crowd falls asleep,” which I’ve heard from quite a stylistic variety of poets and which is much worse even than the Poetry Reading Voice.

    You’re totally right on your analysis of the various noises, too. One of my non-poetry friends who once attended a reading I was part of said she could tell my poems were going over well because they kept getting the little orgasmic “ooh” from the crowd at the end.

  6. Ian Keenan says:

    There’s a post langpo Larry Eigner – Susan Howe – style soft rhythm of phrases leading to one or two short parataxic lines at the end and then everyone including the author staring down and then going on to the next poem. Many of these poems are rather good but it becomes a uniform experience after a while. I guess this is the Langpo flatness you mean.

    The semiotic/ English major in-joke also traces its lineage to Langpo I suppose; functional to get an audience reaction but also repetitive after a while.

    There had been an official verse culture (I trust Charles’ phrases are allowed on Looktouch) practice of a nasal lyric Da Da Da Da Da DA DA DA, Da Da Da Da DEE DEE DEAh which was absolutely unbearable, Gitmoesque torture. I heard it before I began to avoid these readings altogether, and I suppose it has become somewhat less popular. Maybe they came from Beat somehow but I refuse to do the research. These poems tended to be rhetorical takes on some hot button campus issue or confessional talking point.

  7. Tawrin says:

    Good start for a taxonomy–

    what about descriptions of those that defy categorization? IE, what you wouldn’t bother to reduce in such a way? I’d be interested in your take on it.

  8. Jason Pettus says:

    In answer to your question: Most people consider William Carlos Williams to be the originator of that NPR “NOW I’m READing my POetry” voice, which became so widespread because of his unending reading tours in the mid-20th-century.

  9. Jessica Smith says:

    tawrin, that’s a good question. i’m still thinking about it. my personality makes me want to put everything in some kind of category. i’m not sure any performance would escape. but whether i would bother laying out categories for performances that really shocked me (in a good way) is another question. motives.

    jason: really? because i’ve heard older recordings from Yeats and Noyes that use the same quasi-announcer, “I’m actually speaking to the muses and you’re just overhearing” voice. The Booming Poet Voice. I think that’s different, perhaps a subset, of the NPR poet voice I encountered earlier this week, which is more of a Jorie Graham voice? maybe? dunno.

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