Monday, October 26, 2015

Yes please, no more Poet Voice

I'm glad somebody finally said this: Stop Using Poet Voice:
The chief injustice of Poet Voice is that the tone too accurately projects the kind of self-serious and highfalutin vibe that puts off potential audiences for poetry and gives fodder to writers who want to claim that poetry is dead, dying or has been dead a long time. (For the record, poetry is UNdead, motherfuckers. Do a page search of this article for “green face powder” or “Captain Eliot” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) In its willowy whisperings, Poet Voice screams, I am The Oracle and you are a hotdog cramping up in a plastic folding chair. It’s condescending and it makes me want to expose the man behind the curtain. 
I suggest poets look to the theatre for direction. If you’re a poet writing poems that have a speaker—no matter how reliable or fragmentary—do what actors do. You are on stage, aren’t you? Pick a character that makes sense with the poems, square your shoulders to the audience, and project to the back of the room. You’re not trying to talk down a bear; you’re trying to be the bear. Deciding on reading styles that suit or productively play with the content of your poems will add meaningful layers to the poems, which will make for a richer performance experience for everyone involved. 
Another thing poets can do is just say no. Don’t read. These days, poets are expected to be very good not only at writing poems but at promoting those poems, performing those poems, sending those poems out for publication, networking and organizing tours. It’s a rare bear who can operate gracefully in all of those arenas, but not everyone can or has to be that bear. If someone’s not good at performing on stage, they can even get someone else to perform their poems for them or use one of the many social media outlets to promote the poems instead. Put it on Instagram! More people will see that than will go to a reading.

I do wonder if the author Rich Smith is giving the poets who use the Voice too much credit for modesty though. He seems to think that when they adopt the "Poet Voice" they are inadvertently coming off as The Oracle. I would suggest that they sound condescending because they actually do think very highly of themselves. They do consider themselves The Oracle. 

Being a successful poet gives you very little material rewards nor, in most circles, an elevated social status. So when you do find a small group of people willing to sit and listen to you recite your work, you are going to milk that tiny sliver of ego-boosting acclaim for all it's worth - and that's when you get to play The Oracle. I've seen it happen with off-off Broadway actors with very little accomplishments - if you do treat them with respect some of them become entitled, arrogant egomaniacs. 

Many people in the arts are assholes - so it is no surprise to me that some poets are too.