How to Prevent Monotony

Reading poetry aloud can either result in musical language or a monotonous bore. Riddled with tight rhythms and precise meter, poetry is a form of literature that can quickly become a predictable tune. Unfortunately, the performance of poetry requires better. Readers must do all in their ability to prevail against monotony and remain fresh, stimulating. By using the following preventative tactics, a reader can help to ensure that their Poetry selection remains melodious.


After a cutting has been made, refer to the source material and the cut piece to form an interpretation. Look at poetic device, structure, tone, punctuation, historical and authorial context, and much more to find a theme and understanding of the piece. Interpret not only the whole but the beats (sections of mini-builds and ideas that can stand alone as an excerpt) as well. Figure out ways to convey the sentiment behind every line, a stanza, and the whole piece. Feel the poetry. Understand the emotion behind it and devise a method to deliver the interpretation to the audience. When a performer begins to invest themselves in their piece, and own the words, then they are more apt to thoroughly express the work--not blindly recite words. This is the first step in avoiding monotony.

Use Punctuation Wisely

Every poet instills meter and rhythm into their work. And every bit of punctuation, or lack of, is the poets device to translate a poem’s words into this rhythm. Periods, colons, ellipses, hyphens, semi-colons…they all mean various things in regard to how to say a line. A period, for example, denotes a longer pause than a comma. A comma in fact is meant to be a breath. Breaks in lines also refer to a pause. Lack of punctuation implies the line does not stop and is to be read continuously. Italics or boldface are stressed words.

Anyway, punctuation is important for figuring out how to say a line of poetry. Follow the punctuation. If the poet indicates a pause of some sort do so. It is good to note that when reading lines, when at the end of line where there is no punctuation then there is no pause. Looking at an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s “I Do Not Love You…” this can be visualized (pauses will be indicated by the boldface in parentheses):

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, (BREATH) or topaz, (BREATH)
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. (LONGER PAUSE)
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, (BREATH)
in secret, (BREATH) between the shadow and the soul. (LONGER PAUSE)

This is the intended rhythm. What will add diversity, particularly when presenting a poem with a more regular meter, is to add feeling and weight behind each pause. Make it mean something. These little details will maintain the poet’s intended rhythm for the poem without become to methodical.

Using Either Free Or Blank Verse

Free Verse: poetry that has no regular rhythm, no rhyme, or any other form of pattern

Blank Verse: poetry that has a regular rhythm yet no rhyme

With either form of poetry there is less restriction to fitting into a formula; the perfect reason why these two forms of verse are used frequently. They both contain a form of structure, albeit a structure that can be unpredictable and varying pending on which verse is being utilized. While this does offer some protection from becoming monotonous, there is the adverse affect of having too little structure. If not careful, and if choosing free verse of the most outrageous variety, a reader may end up lost within the poem, with little idea how to read aloud.

The safer poem of the two is blank verse. There is a definite, regular rhythm throughout the piece and the perk of no rhyme (often the cause of reciting in a routine pattern). Free verse can offer the potential of constantly surprising the audience with the no-barrier, near complete freedom it uses. It does offer some insurance of having rhythm; just not regular. It is really a matter of how clever a delivery a competitor wants to attempt. And how attuned they are to a poem’s natural rhythm and tune. Be careful though to select free/blank verse with enough structure that it resembles poetry and can be read aloud with limited difficulty.


Vocal variation is of particular importance when fighting monotony. Staying with the same levels and types of vocalization is one of the quickest ways to distance one’s self from the emotion of the piece and the audience. After interpreting the meaning behind all aspects of the poem, use the vocal variations of tone, pitch, pace, and dynamics to create an interesting performance that conveys the emotions/theme. Below are definitions:

Tone refers to the characteristic of a sound. In literature, tone is the attitude of the scene towards a subject/audience. For example, a tone for a poem can be warm, somber, or childish, etc. In linguistics or from even an acting perspective, tone is the inflection.

Pitch is the highness or lowness of a sound. A squeak would be high pitched, a rumble low.

Pace is the slowness or swiftness of speech. It can either gradually increase/decrease or begin at one speed.

Dynamics are the loudness or softness of sound. Sound levels can either increase (crescendo) or decrease (decrescendo) over time. Or, for impact a sound can fluctuate between levels without a consistent build.

Various levels of pace, pitch, tone, and dynamics all mean different things. For example, of someone where to speak in a slow, low manner an interpretation of that sound could be that that person is groggy from sleep (just one of many interpretations). Nearly limitless possibilities of combinations exist, each with its own meaning. Use variations to not only accurately present emotions from the poem, but to create builds and to keep a piece intriguing.

A familiar, predictable piece with little inspiration or ownership is dull. To keep from numbing an audience, using techniques to prevent monotony are vital. In-depth interpretation and ownership of language, elaboration of punctuation, the use of blank and free verse, and vocal variation are all methods to safeguard for a vigorous performance. Remember, feel the words. Own the words. And it is almost definite that a performance will never be dreary.