Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-662rr Total loading time: 0.345 Render date: 2022-05-27T16:00:35.144Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Article contents

Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

Engaging with and amending the terms of debates about poetry performance, I locate the origins of the default, neutral style of contemporary academic poetry readings in secular performance and religious ritual, exploring the influence of the beat poets, the black arts movement, and the African American church. Line graphs of intonation patterns demonstrate what I call monotonous incantation, a version of the neutral style that is characterized by three qualities: (1) the repetition of a falling cadence within a narrow range of pitch; (2) a flattened affect that suppresses idiosyncratic expression of subject matter in favor of a restrained, earnest tone; and (3) the subordination of conventional intonation patterns dictated by syntax, and of the poetic effects of line length and line breaks, to the prevailing cadence and slow, steady pace. This style is popularly known as “poet voice.” Recordings of four contemporary poets—Natasha Trethewey, Louise Glück, Michael Ryan, and Juliana Spahr—demonstrate this style, which contrasts with more expressive, idiosyncratic readings by poets as distinct as Frank Bidart and Kenneth Goldsmith.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Aldrige, John W. Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New Assembly-Line Fiction. New York: Scribner's, 1992. Print.Google Scholar
Antin, David. Talking at the Boundaries. New York: New Directions, 1976. Print.Google Scholar
Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998. Print.Google Scholar
Baraka, Amiri. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Perennial-Harper, 1999. Print.Google Scholar
Basile, Lisa Marie. “Poet Voice and Flock Mentality: Why Poets Need to Think for Themselves.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonpost.com, 16 Nov. 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.Google Scholar
Bauman, Richard. Verbal Art as Performance. Long Grove: Waveland, 1984. Print.Google Scholar
Benedetti, Jean. The Art of the Actor: The Essential History of Acting, from Classical Times to the Present Day. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.Google Scholar
Bernstein, Charles. “Artifice of Absorption.” A Poetics. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 989. Print.Google Scholar
Bernstein, Charles Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bernstein, Charles. Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bial, Henry, ed. The Performance Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.Google Scholar
Bidart, Frank. “An American in Hollywood.” Watching the Spring Festival: Poems. New York: Farrar, 2009. 13. Print.Google Scholar
“A Complete History from Concept to Champions.” Slam Nuba. Slam Nuba, 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.Google Scholar
Drucker, Johanna. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Gold, Matthew K. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012. 8595. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Divinity School Address.” Emerson's Prose and Poetry. Ed. Porte, Joel and Morris, Saundra. New York: Norton, 2001. 76. Print.Google Scholar
Farrington, Holly. “I Improvised behind Him … ahead of Time': Charles Mingus, Kenneth Patchen and Jazz/ Poetry Fusion Art.” Journal of American Studies 41.2 (2007): 365–74. Print.Google Scholar
Fletcher, John. Message to the author. 7 Feb. 2014. E-mail.Google Scholar
Fletcher, John Preaching to Convert: Evangelical Outreach and Performance Activism in a Secular Age. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2013. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fried, Daisy. “Poet and Anti-poet.” Rev. of All the Whiskey in Heaven, by Charles Bernstein. The New York Times. New York Times, 7 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Frost, Robert. “Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same.” Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays. New York: Lib. of Amer., 1995. 308. Print.Google Scholar
Frost, Robert The Notebooks of Robert Frost. Ed. Faggen, Robert. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.Google Scholar
Frost, Robert Robert Frost on Writing. Ed. Barry, Elaine. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1973. Print.Google Scholar
“Fundamental Pitch Tracking.” HiPSTAS. HiPSTAS, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.Google Scholar
“Funding for Readings/Workshops.” Poets and Writers. Poets and Writers, 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.Google Scholar
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts, and Bibliography. Ed. Miles, Barry. New York: Perennial-Harper, 1986. Print.Google Scholar
Glück, Louise. “Witchgrass.” Wild Iris. New York: Ecco, 1992. 2223. Print.Google Scholar
Glück, Louise “Witchgrass (Audio Only).” Poets.org. Acad. of Amer. Poets, n.d. Web. 10 May 2013.Google Scholar
Goffman, Erving. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1981. Print.Google Scholar
Goldsmith, Kenneth. “Reading Traffic, Recorded at the WFMU Studios, Jersey City, New Jersey, September 2006.” PennSound. U of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. 25 June 2013.Google Scholar
Goldsmith, Kenneth Traffic. Los Angeles: Make Now, 2007. Print.Google Scholar
Gräbner, Cornelia, and Casas, Arturo, eds. Performing Poetry: Body, Place, and Rhythm in the Poetry Performance. New York: Rodopi, 2011. Print. Thamyris/ Intersecting: Place, Sex, and Race 24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grimes, William. “Something Happened on the Way to Bountiful: Everyone Sang Along.” The New York Times. New York Times, 27 May 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Grobe, Christopher. “The Breath of the Poem: Confessional Print/Performance circa 1959.” PMLA 127.2 (2012): 215–30. Print.Google Scholar
Groff, David. “The Peril of the Poetry Reading: The Page versus the Performance.” Poets.org. Acad. of Amer. Poets, 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Gross, Neil, and Simmons, Solon. “The Religiosity of American College and University Professors.” Sociology of Religion 70.2 (2009): 101–29. Print.Google Scholar
Gussenhoven, Carlos. The Phonology of Tone and Intonation. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Donald. “The Poetry Reading: Public Performance / Private Art.” American Scholar 54.1 (1985): 6377. Print.Google Scholar
Hass, Robert. “Listening and Making.” Twentieth Century Pleasures. New York: Ecco, 2000. 107–33. Print.Google Scholar
Hoffman, Tyler. American Poetry in Performance: From Walt Whitman to Hip Hop. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2011. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Howell, Wilbur S. Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1956. Print.Google Scholar
Hungerford, Amy. Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2011. Print.Google Scholar
Intonation, N. 1”. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Mar. 2013. Web. 3 June 2013.Google Scholar
King, Martin Luther Jr. “I Have a Dream.” American Rhetoric: Top 100 American Speeches. Amer. Rhetoric, n.d. Web. 28 June 2013.Google Scholar
Kramer, Jane. Allen Ginsberg in America. New York: Random, 1969. Print.Google Scholar
Krefting, Matt. Rev. of Woodslippercounterclatter, by David Grubbs and Susan Howe. Wire 379 (2015): 46. Print.Google Scholar
Lardas, John. The Bop Apocalypse: The Religious Visions of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Champaign: U of Illinois P, 2001. Print.Google Scholar
Lee, Byung Suk, and Ellis, Daniel P. W. “Noise Robust Pitch Tracking by Subband Autocorrelation Classification.” Columbia University, Academic Commons. Columbia U, Academic Commons, 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.Google Scholar
Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. “The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performances.” CHARM. King's Coll. London, 2009. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Lehiste, Ilse. Suprasegmentals. Cambridge: MIT P, 1970. Print.Google Scholar
McGurl, Mark. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2009. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meltzer, David. Howls, Raps, and Roars: Recordings from the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Berkeley: Fantasy, 1993. Print.Google Scholar
Middleton, Peter. Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005. Print.Google Scholar
Miles, Barry. Allen Ginsberg: A Biography. New York: Simon, 1989. Print.Google Scholar
Monotone, Adj. 3.b.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Mar. 2013. Web. 3 June 2013.Google Scholar
Monotony, N. 1.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Mar. 2013. Web. 3 June 2013.Google Scholar
Murray, Annie, and Wiercinski, Jared. “Looking at Archival Sound: Enhancing the Listening Experience in a Spoken Word Archive.” First Monday 17.4 (2012): n. pag. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Neutral, Adj. 6.b.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Mar. 2013. Web. 3 June 2013.Google Scholar
Novak, David, and Sakakeeny, Matt, eds. Keywords in Sound. Durham: Duke UP, 2015. Print.Google Scholar
Oliver, Douglas. Poetry and Narrative in Performance. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. New York: Picador, 2000. Print.Google Scholar
Pecora, Vincent. Secularization and Cultural Criticism: Religion, Nation, and Modernity. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.Google Scholar
Perloff, Marjorie, and Dworkin, Craig, eds. The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phelan, Peggy. “‘Just Want to Say’: Performance and Literature, Jackson and Poirier.” PMLA 125.4 (2010): 942–47. Print.Google Scholar
Plath, Sylvia. “On 50th Anniversary of Sylvia Plath's Death, Hear Her Read ‘Lady Lazarus.‘” Open Culture. Open Culture, n.d. Web. 30 June 2013.Google Scholar
Raskin, Jonah. “Allen Ginsberg, Howl, and the 6 Gallery Poetry Performance.” Gräbner and Casas 23-32.Google Scholar
Reynolds, David. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Random, 1995. Print.Google Scholar
Robson, Catherine. Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012. Print.Google Scholar
Rosenbaum, Susan. Professing Sincerity: Modern Lyric Poetry, Commercial Culture, and the Crisis in Reading. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2007. Print.Google Scholar
Rothenberg, Jerome. “The Poetics of Performance.” Vincent and Zweig 120-37.Google Scholar
Ryan, Michael. “Outside.” New and Selected Poems. New York: Mariner, 2005. 108. Print.Google Scholar
Ryan, Michael “Outside.” Poets.org. Acad. of Amer. Poets, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Santino, Jack. “Performative Commemoratives, the Personal, and the Public: Spontaneous Shrines, Emergent Ritual, and the Field of Folklore.” Journal of American Folklore 117.466 (2004): 363–72. Print.Google Scholar
Schumacher, Michael. Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg. New York: St. Martin's, 1992. Print.Google Scholar
Sherwood, Kenneth. “Elaborate Versionings: Characteristics of Emergent Performance in Three Print/Aural/ Oral Poets.” Oral Tradition 21.1 (2006): 119–47. Print.Google Scholar
Smith, Rich. “Stop Using ‘Poet Voice.‘” CityArts. Encore Media Group, 15 July 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.Google Scholar
Snead, James A.Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture.” The Jazz Cadence of American Literature. Ed. O'Meally, Robert G. New York: Columbia UP, 1998: 62-81. Print.Google Scholar
Somers-Willett, Susan B. A. The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spahr, Juliana. “We Arrived.” Well Then There Now. Boston: Black Sparrow, 2011. 19. Print.Google Scholar
Stern, Frederick C.The Formal Poetry Reading.” TDR 35.3 (1991): 6784. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sterne, Jonathan, ed. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stevens, Wallace. “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage, 1990. 165–83. Print.Google Scholar
Thomas, Lorenzo. “Neon Griot: The Functional Role of Poetry Readings in the Black Arts Movement.” Bernstein, Close Listening 300–23.Google Scholar
Thompson, Lawrance. Robert Frost: The Early Years, 1874-1915. New York: Holt, 1966. Print.Google Scholar
Trethewey, Natasha. “Monument.” Native Guard: Poems. New York: Houghton, 2006. 43. Print.Google Scholar
Trethewey, Natasha “Monument (Audio Only).” Poetry.org. Acad. of Amer. Poets, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.Google Scholar
Trollope, Anthony. Clergymen of the Church of England. 1866. London: Trollope Soc., 1998. Print.Google Scholar
Vander Ven, Tom. “Robert Frost's Dramatic Principle of ‘Oversound.‘American Literature 45.2 (1973): 238–51. Print.Google Scholar
Vincent, Stephen. “Poetry Readings / Reading Poetry: San Francisco Bay Area, 1958–1980.” Vincent and Zweig 19-54.Google Scholar
Vincent, Stephen, and Zweig, Ellen, eds. The Poetry Reading: A Contemporary Compendium on Language and Performance. San Francisco: Mom's, 1981. Print.Google Scholar
Welsh, Andrew. Roots of Lyric: Primitive Poetry and Modern Poetics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wharry, Cheryl. “Amen and Hallelujah Preaching: Discourse Functions in African American Sermons.” Language in Society 32.2 (2003): 203–25. Print.Google Scholar
Wheeler, Lesley. “Undead Eliot: How The Waste Land Sounds Now.” Poetry 102.5 (2014): 467–79. Print.Google Scholar
Wheeler, Lesley Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008. Print.Google Scholar
Whitman, Walt. “America.” Walt Whitman Archive. Web. 28 May 2013.Google Scholar
Williams, Bernard. Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002. Print.Google Scholar
6
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *