Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

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“Call for poet voice”

This intriguing call dates from March 2014 at Sound Literary Magazine – haven’t found yet where/if results have been published, but would be curious to see them.

Yes, we want to hear your idea of poet voice.

To submit, please choose a poem (your own or someone else’s) and record a video of yourself reading it twice:

1. First with poet voice
2. Then in the voice you think it’s best communicated in

They then link to a video of a volunteer demonstrating a double-aspect submission. I actually don’t think she did badly in both cases, mainly because she avoids the trap of the end of line note

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‘how to read a poem aloud’

Read it like someone trying to sound like you. Read it like your parents would. Read it like how you’ll sound in forty years. What parts of it will go missing when you’re old, when you’re your parents, when you can only any longer imitate yourself?

– Full article by Donald Dunbar at Sound Literary Magazine. (Hat tip: Dave Bonta)

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‘Does hearing a poem change its meaning?’

Poetry as the Heard Word – worth a visit.

(Hat tip: Donna Vorreyer)


poetry out loud website – The Poeio Project

This is just charming. The project author writes:

I don’t know all that much about poetry – but I found this book – or rather, it found me – I walk around town with it, along with my little camera. I ask people on the street or where ever I go if they would like to read a poem from the little book – to my pleasant surprise most say yes.

What I like best about this project is at the very end when people finish reading the poem, there is an expression on their faces – a look of something genuine, and, well, I don’t know, innocence maybe… something pure meeting the threads of the self-conscious.

It’s nice to see people trying hard, struggling a bit, reflecting in the moment and then seeing that transition from introspection clash reality.

I think this is why everyone enjoys some kind of poetry, it lifts you up and out – there’s no helping it..

The year-long project started in July and seems to be posting a reading a day on both You Tube and Vimeo. Reminiscent of How Pedestrian, another poetry out loud website we interviewed here on Voice Alpha , but with its own unique approach. I don’t know exactly which book of poems forms the basis for the project, but I’m guessing it’s something Oxford Book Of English Verse-ish. Watch random passers-by obligingly read Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Gray, Blake, etc for the camera. And it’s true about people’s expressions when they look up after finishing their reading. Just delightful.

(all ‘poetry out loud websites’ featured on Voice Alpha)

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poetry out loud website: miPOradio – interview with Didi Menendez

(Didi Menendez is a Cuban-born American artist, publisher and author. Her publications have won the Pushcart Prize and have been recognized by Best American Poetry. She publishes MiPOesias and Poets and Artists and curates the poetry out loud website, miPOradio.)

Tell us about miPOradio.

miPOradio is a project all on its own. It has been around since 2005. I had the help of Birdie Jaworski in setting up the initial podcast’s rss feeds and interviewing some poetry personalities at the time that I was publishing including Ron Androla and David Lehman. She had the sound equipment to do this for me and we went into full production. Later I bought individual sound recording devices and sent them to several poets to record their poems for me. I sent one to Amy King, Ron Silliman, Gabriel Gudding (and a couple of others). Amy King lives in New York so she was able to use the little recording device to interview Daisy Fried, Annie Finch, Ron Padgett and Ron Silliman among others as well as record live readings for me. Most of these readings and interviews are still available for download for free at miporadio.posterous.com. That is where the problem came in. Where to store the audio. Placing large files on a server is not free. Even with the new opportunities today such as Posterous and Soundcloud, there are limitations as to how much free space you are allowed. After that there is a fee of some sort involved. The majority of the audio I have online is kept at Libsyn. There is a limit as to how much I am able to upload a month depending on the package purchased. I originally had a server for miPoradio and had several files uploaded there but I could not afford it any longer and started resorting to Posterous and my monthly quota with Libsyn.

Another problem is at the poet’s end. Not so much with recording devices because there are plenty of recording options already built in to computers, ipods, etc. that were not around in 2005. The problem is the actual recordings. Very few poets are able to deliver a good reading of their own work. Amazing but true. That is my biggest challenge with miPOradio. Not so much the technology (which I still run into problems with when I ask someone to record their work) but the actual outcome of the recording. Maybe some poet’s works should be read and not heard…. I will continue to offer the media of sound with my publications regardless of these obstacles. There is always a way around whatever situation presents itself.

Talk about the response to your different publishing initiatives. Have the sound initiatives had greater or lesser response than the others? Why do you think this is?

Most readers still prefer to read and not hear. To me what is most important is how the work is presented on the page/browser, than if the poet is able to do a good job reading of their work or not. Visuals are more important to me.

Is there a next level to which you plan to take your sound-related projects?

I was planning on leaving all the recordings of miPOradio to PENNSOUND. I already have several recordings there but the mandate on how a file is to be submitted to PENNSOUND became too much work for just one person to handle. I am not a University. I do not have monies dedicated to any of my publications. Everything I do is out of pocket, love, sweat and yes sometimes tears. So I fathom if I die, I will just let PENNSOUND figure out what to do with all of it if they are able to get to it. This is an official statement I just made here.

If you could wave a magic wand and have anything you wanted to fulfill a sound-related project, what would it be?

I don’t believe in magic wands. I believe in hard work and determination. Hopefully if there is such a thing as a magic wand it would allow me the energy and creativity needed to continue providing this venue.

What are we poets not doing with sound technology that we should be doing?

They are not listening to their own poems. The are not reading them out loud. They are not stopping in the periods. They are not pausing between stanzas. They are not reflecting emotion in their words. They are writing poems as big as a mountain and reading as if they were a mouse.


Readings Didi likes:

Emergent by William Stobb.
You painted your teeth read by Ron Androla.

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BAP poetry out loud posts

I blogged at the Best American Poetry blog Feb 27 thru March 5 and most posts were ‘poetry out loud’ posts. Just getting all the links into the record here:

Poetry out loud: Must-visit websites
Poetry out loud: Group reading
Poetry out loud: Page vs stage
Poetry out loud: Voice as organ of investigation
Poetry out loud: Audio chapbooks & other methods of poetry delivery
Poetry out loud: Singing poetry


poetry out loud website: How Pedestrian

(This is one of an occasional series of interviews focusing on websites that feature poetry read out loud. Today we’re talking to Katherine Leyton, founder of the online audio-video poetry journal, How Pedestrian.)

What made you start How Pedestrian?

I had been frustrated for years by the common misperception that poetry is boring, pretentious and/or simply beyond the average person’s understanding. My relationship with poetry has always been defined by pleasure – pure, spontaneous, unrestrained pleasure – and it has the potential to give each and every individual this. As I say over and over again in the project’s manifesto, I believe poetry should first and foremost interact with the reader on a gut level. No formal education required. I wanted more people to realize this, and I wanted, somewhat selfishly perhaps, to demand a wider audience for poetry.

Why did you settle on the current format?

The visual element of the project, of course, was the main idea. I wanted to bring poetry to people in pubs and streets and taxis around Toronto, capture it on video and post it online. However, the visual aspect of a poem itself is also very important, and I think to fully absorb a poem you need to actually read it; this is why I decided to post the work next to the video. I really wanted the viewer be able to read along.

I also thought it was essential to provide a biography of the poet, not only out of respect for him or her, but also because I believe it gives the viewer important context and, hopefully, inspires them to explore the poem or poet further.

What has the response been like?

The response has been wonderful! The enthusiasm with which pedestrians agree to read for me is astonishing. I would say that out of every ten people I ask to read a poem, nine say yes. When I started, I never expected a 90% response rate, which speaks of my own misperceptions about the way the Canadian public views poetry. People are willing and curious, they just might not be inspired to seek it out on their own – they need a push. Many of my readers want to discuss the poem or poet with me after they read, and almost all are fascinated by the project. Of course, certain contexts and/or groups of people are not as easy; the day I filmed the video for Haiku and High Finance week in the financial district, for example, I probably only had about a 40 percent success rate. Everyone was simply too busy. Nevertheless, getting hurried business types to read poetry during lunch hour was an immensely rewarding experience.

What are your main challenges?

Honestly—money and time. Working a full-time job and running this is exhausting, and the quality of the project suffers for it. Between selecting poetry, choosing a location, filming, researching and writing biographies, editing video, moderating comments, corresponding with contributors and doing promotion, I simply can’t do everything as well as I would like to. I have a number of incredible occasional volunteers, but no one that contributes in a regular, scheduled way. I also need better equipment – an external microphone, for example, and a camcorder light for shooting at night, but I literally just don’t have the extra cash to invest in such items.

What’s fun about it?

Almost everything, but above all else, the process of actually going out and filming people reading. This aspect is by far the most rewarding; I am continuously exploring wonderful new places and activities around Toronto for the project, while simultaneously meeting incredible people along the way. Among many others, I’ve had a priest, a Caribana queen and a man with a parrot on his shoulder read for the site, all in amazing locations. I often have those ‘aha’ moments while I’m out filming where I realize how much I love this city, and the people in it, and how grateful I am to be running a project that constantly reminds me of this.

Describe the hardware and software you use.

I use a Canon FS200 video camera for filming and Final Cut Pro 7 for editing.

Is there a next level to which you hope to take ‘How Pedestrian’?

Although I never want to lose the rough charm of the current HP videos, I do hope to eventually improve their quality, both through the use of a better camera and by bettering my video editing skills. I’m also planning to purchase an external microphone so that sound quality improves. Most importantly, I’d like to expand the number of contributors we have filming videos of pedestrians reading in various locations around the world. We’ve already had videos from India, Italy, Scotland, and the US, and I’d love to continue reaching more places and more people. In sum, How Pedestrian wants to take over the world.

What tips do you have for anyone reading a poem for an audience?

Do what feels right for you. The poem is yours now, even if you didn’t write it. Beyond that, just read loud and slow. Remembering to breathe is important.

What are your thoughts in general on the current state of the art of reading poetry aloud for an audience, in Canada and/or elsewhere?

I would say I generally find traditional poetry readings boring. In my opinion, the majority of your run-of-the-mill readings simply don’t add any value to the actual work, and I think that’s a key thing to consider when it comes to reading aloud for an audience. You need to add an extra element.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t feel qualified to make a general statment on the art of reading poetry alound in Toronto – I haven’t explored the scene enough. The Toronto Poetry Slam at the Drake Underground is an incredible event, and demonstrates just how dynamic and exciting poetry can be, but it’s a very specific type of poetry – it’s Spoken Word. I think there are a lot more ways we could make traditional poetry readings more entertaining. When I was studying in Edinburgh a few years ago, for example, there was a fantastic monthly poetry event called The Golden Hour; it involved musicians, poets, short story writers and artists all performing in one night. The atmosphere was always lively and light-hearted and fueled by wine. The audience didn’t take themselves seriously, and neither did the performers. Indeed, the audience performed as much as the performers did. I think Canada needs more of these – unrestrained, unscripted, anything-goes poetry events.


Katherine Leyton gets paid to write about porn & lust every weekday from 10 to 6. At night, she writes poetry. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in The Malahat Review, The Feathertale Review and Room. She is also the founder of How Pedestrian.


More interviews in this series.


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