Poems May Be Great, but 'Poet Voice' Is the Pits

It's a slow, unnatural style of speaking, say researchers
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2018 3:47 PM CDT
Science Proves Boring 'Poet Voice' Exists
We can only assume he suffers from Poet Voice.   (Getty/theprint)

Just as newscasters have their own speaking style, so, too, do poets. And it's pretty boring. Described by Rich Smith at CityArts as "a precious, lilting cadence" marked by pauses "where pauses need not go," the phenomenon of "poet voice" has now been cemented in science thanks to English professor Marit J. MacArthur. After hearing monotony at poetry readings, MacArthur and two colleagues at the CSU Bakersfield, compared 60-second recordings of 100 poets reading their own work with recordings of Ohioans discussing current events and identified a clear difference, reports Atlas Obscura. In what MacArthur classifies as "monotonous incantation," the poets spoke more slowly—33% paused for at least 2 seconds at times—and in a narrower pitch range. An algorithm studied 12 factors in all.

"In a more natural conversational intonation pattern, you vary your pitch for emphasis depending on how you feel about something. In this style of poetry reading, those idiosyncrasies … get subordinated to this repetitive cadence," says MacArthur. "It doesn't matter what you're saying, you just say it in the same way." The study published in Cultural Analytics also examined differences among the poets themselves. It turns out that seven of the 10 most expressive readers were African-American females born before 1960, while five of the least expressive were African-American females born after 1960. That might suggest that modern poets, at least while reading in public, "feel pressure to lean into certain aspects of Poet Voice in order to find success in a landscape dominated by white men," writes Cairo Giaimo at Atlas Obscura. (More poetry stories.)

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