Reading V.S. Hearing Poetry

We’ve kind of dabbled with this topic in class, but now it has truly hit me how different poetry is when one reads it, versus when one hears it aloud. I was awestruck listening to Cate Marvin today. Each and every poem of hers sent goosebumps up and down my skin. I loved the way her inflection would change with each individual word, and how one could immediately tell what the tone of the poem was. It was so amazing to hear her voice speed up, slow do, and pause. Listening, I could close my eyes and watch the scenes and images she was describing float so perfectly and effortlessly in my mind.

Later in the day, still obsessed with her and her poems, I was Googling around when I found this. Two of her poems were on this website. Even though I already heard them each aloud, I quickly wanted to read them again.

The one that really struck me is the one below.

High School: Industrial Arts

The lesson today is: someone always gets hurt.
Will it be you or another fool? This is a choice.
We provide the tools and materials. The saws,
the wood, nails, and supervision. Fall not now
in love, for it is merely a distraction from your
assignment. Now, create this uninspired name
plaque, build stacks of unstable shelves, lament
your lack of craft as the heat of your lust forms
in vaporous pools on the floor just below your
work table. You thought this class would mean
an easy credit. Welcome to our workhouse. No
one leaves this building whole. Consider now
how this building’s roof’s akin to the lid of a jar,
tightly screwed, and you’re the inhabitant within,
you’re scrabbling at its glass, yet we’ve punched
no holes in that aforementioned lid. Now, make
something! Make something no one can use that
no one wants. Don’t ask why. It builds character.
Someday you’ll look back on these days fondly.
Here are your goggles. There’s the eye-rinsing
station. No, this is not art! Ladies, stand back!
We don’t want you cutting those pretty fingers
off or sawing yourselves in half. This is a man’s
work. You, wipe that smirk off your face. Last
thing I need is one you girls dying on my watch.


When I read it in my own head, I realized I did things a little bit differently. I paused at areas Cate didn’t, I let certain words linger on my tongue that she trailed right through, and I didn’t read it in that stern, schoolteacher voice. In my mind I read it with a softer, gentle warning tone. Isn’t that interesting? It made me wonder if Cate would be okay with this happening to her work when I read it to myself. And no matter whether I read it in my mind, or hear the poem aloud, I still adore it. I truly, absolutely love it. But it’s so different now, like there is a part one and a part two. I love how she read it to us, but at the same time I like my reading of it as well.

I really believe all poetry (or any writing) should be “performed,” not just read. In 7th grade I was accepted to Stony Brook University’s Young Writers Workshop. At the end of the week we had the opportunity to read what we wrote aloud in front of our families, friends, and other adult writers who just were finishing up their own workshop. All week I had been stressing about how my short fiction story was not as well written as others that were going to be shared. I was terrified to share mine since (at that age) I thought I would be laughed off the stage. When it finally was the day of the reading I remember other kids rushing through their great stories, and no one getting a chance to truly enjoy them. I knew how beautiful they were, and it saddened me that the audience didn’t get a chance to really immerse themselves in them. When it was my turn, I almost thought of it as acting out a performance. I wasn’t just reading my story aloud, but presenting a moment in time for the people listening to get lost in. I had to read slowly, clearly, and make the people want to hear more (I feel so corny writing this). After I finished reading, I remember getting so many compliments on my story from people. Even though I don’t think I had written the best story, by taking my time “performing” it I was able to intrigue the audience.

I feel like I got off on a little tangent here (like most of my blog posts end up doing), but the point is reading a poem aloud versus in one’s head can make it almost like a different piece. I feel like it’s so important for a writer to read whatever it is he/she wrote aloud for everyone to hear so the audience knows how the writer envisioned it would be. However, reading in one’s own head gives the reader the chance to interpret certain elements how they chose to do so.

I hope this made sense guys! I guess I just had a lot to say on this topic?

One Reply to “Reading V.S. Hearing Poetry”

  1. I definitely agree that poems become entirely different creatures when read aloud! I’ve been to readings where the poet gives out hard copies of their poems, and the difference is so big that sometimes I don’t think I’d recognize the same poem if I didn’t have it right in front of me! Personally, I try to make my poems look the same way I would want them read aloud. This can be a little hard, but reading them while you write them (which is hard to remember to do) can help you decide where punctuation and breaks will evoke the same sort of pace and inflection you would give it while reading out loud.

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