Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience


Getting started with recording audio

Over at The Poetry Storehouse, there are two ways to submit. You can submit your own poems, or you can submit your readings of others’ poems collected at the Storehouse.

Here are some basic resources for those who may not yet have ventured into the field of audio recording but would like to. Putting together a basic set-up is simple and doesn’t require any expenditure. All you need is:


– Our top recommendation for ease of use and great FAQ support is Audacity, a free, open source software for recording and editing sounds, which works equally well for Mac and Windows.

Mac users onlyGarageband is a powerful recording and editing tool that comes with your Mac. Getting started with Garageband is a handy quick-start guide.


– Start with your computer’s in-built microphone, which in most cases can produce perfectly acceptable audio recordings if you set up your environment with care.

– If you want to upgrade your recording quality, there are any number of good USB microphones on the market, which you just plug straight into your computer. There is a good set of choices at this link, ranging in price from $40.00 to $100. I use the Blue Microphones Snowball model and swear by it.


A Newbie Guide to Recording

Basic advice on reading for a recording

Common recording issues and fixes

4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio


Really basic audio editing

Basic audio editing

Audio Post-Production Techniques for Spoken Word

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Who should read at poetry readings? – handy-dandy decision-making aid

There was a great deal of discussion recently on Facebook, on the Wompo Listserv (scroll down to Mon Oct 14 at 8.44am for subject ‘Recruit actors to do the reading at poetry readings?’) and at Very Like A Whale on one of our recent posts about recruiting actors to do reading at poetry readings. In following the discussion, I realized that at the end of the day there really is no ‘right’ answer as to who should read what at poetry readings (whether in-person, audio recording, etc). It isn’t a zero-sum, either/or question and the ‘right’ answer depends on your objectives.

So, what is the purpose of the reading event? When you consider the possible range of objectives, all of us should probably be doing ‘all of the above’ when it comes to poetry reading, and preferably all in equal measure, rather than hewing to the same formula (poet reads own poems to audience) 95% of the time. So, for example, consider the following preliminary handy objective-based aid to poetry-reading decision-making:

When to read your own poems to an audience:
– you want to convey to an audience what your poems mean to you.
– you want to improve your own public poetry-reading skills.
– you want to sell your poems.

When to seek others to read your poems for you (actor, fellow-poet, non-poet, whichever):
– you want to learn what nuances, connections & messages others perceive in your poems, particularly those you did not consciously intend to convey (which in turn will make you both a better poet and a more self-aware human being).
– you don’t yet have enough confidence in your public poetry-reading ability for the occasion.
– you want to learn how to improve delivery of your own poems by watching how others handle them.
– you want to sell your poems.

When to seek out opportunities to read others’ poems for an audience:
– you want to honor their work and improve your understanding of it (bearing in mind that what goes into and what you get out of reading aloud for an attentive audience differs materially and exponentially from muttering fragments aloud to yourself while you read on the couch).
– you want to practice the art & science of getting into someone else’s head (which in turn will make you both a better poet and a more self-aware human being).
– you want to find out if you are – or already know you are – better at presenting others’ poems than you are at presenting your own (apparently happens more than one would think).
– you want to improve your own public poetry-reading skills.
– you want to sell your poems.

I commend once again the excellent Voice Alpha blog post by Rachel Dacus on this and related themes.

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For Dummies series: ‘Why You Should Read Poems Aloud’

Found the entry below on the For Dummies website. I like When you read poetry aloud, read it as though you were delivering the poem to an attentive audience. Yes, muttering to oneself as one writes or reads really doesn’t count. To be useful, reading aloud has to be full attention and full respect, aimed at an audience:

When you read poetry aloud, read it as though you were delivering the poem to an attentive audience. Why? Here are the three most important reasons you should read poetry aloud:

Poets design their poems to be read aloud. The earliest poetry was oral. People chanted it, sang it, recited it — and they still do. From its earliest forms to the poems being written today, poetry has kept its close alliance with speaking and singing.

The music of poetry — that is, its sounds and rhythms — isn’t just for the eye and the mind, it’s meant to be given voice. In fact, as they write, most poets imagine someone reading their poems aloud. Poetry is supposed to be a living thing, and poets write accordingly, with an audience in mind.

— You’ll experience the whole poem if you read it aloud. Poems read aloud are different animals from poems read silently. A big part of poetry is sound and rhythm — and the best way to get the full impact of these important elements is to put them into action by pronouncing them with your own throat, lungs, teeth, lips, and tongue.

Sound and rhythm don’t exist just for their own sakes, either; they exist to give you pleasure (because humans naturally like music and rhythm in poetry) and lead you to the poem’s meanings. Commas, spaces between words, line endings, and other pauses may hint at melancholy, hesitancy, or passion. Punctuation has its traditional functions (exclamations! questions? wistfulness . . .), and it often also is used in unexpected ways — or not used at all. You may miss all these signals if you don’t read aloud.

— You’ll understand and remember more if you read aloud. Memory and understanding are everything. If you remember something and understand it, it takes up long-term residence inside your brain. And then you can use that knowledge as a building block to discover more and more about the world of poetry.

— From Poetry For Dummies by John Timpane


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