Reading Poetry: How to Avoid Monotony

All of us have heard Poetry readings where the speaker has fallen into a ramble of monotony.  Factors such a rhyme, rhythm, and general uninspired reciting tend to be the culprits behind this torture.  Poetry is meant to be moving, and not in the sense where you have a strong desire to move away from the speaker.  A poem being read aloud should conform to the rhythms the poet has deliberately and carefully written while reflecting your own sense of delivery style.  To avoid falling into the monotonous Venus Flytrap of Poetry, here are a few tips:

    Punctuation.  Poetry is meant to be read aloud, thus a good poet will have written a calculated rhythm for the speaker to follow.  While practicing your piece out loud you should have encountered a rhythm with natural breaks.  Use the poem itself to your advantage.  Commas, semicolons, colons, ellipses, line breaks, hyphens, stanzas, ANY form of punctuation is bestowed upon the speaker as a road map of how the piece should sound with pauses.  These punctuation marks are not placed within the piece to look pretty.  A particular mark often indicates the length of a pause.  A comma tends to hold less weight than a semicolon for instance.  Or, if you feel a longer pause is necessary, given the dramatic nature of your performance, expand the pause without being melodramatic (i.e. too long a pause).  Inversely, a stretch of words without break indicates no break/pauses.

    Variation.  Using dynamics of volume, altering tone, changing your pitch, pace variety, or anything else you can do to differentiate your voice helps to keep a Poetry piece interesting.  Interpret the lines you are saying; figure out the emotion/motive behind it to help determine what elements you should use.  Also, the poet might have left clues for emotion embedded within the text.  Poetry with many punctuation marks often reflects heaviness (sadness, caution, fear, etc. and are SLOW), and Poetry without breaks can reflect mania (panic, anxiety, excitement, etc. and are FAST).  Look to the lines for interpretation.       

    Musicality.  Poetry is a heightened, musical version of speech.  Hence the rhythms and rhyme a poet uses within their work to get the speaker's voice to conform to a natural tune created specifically for that poem.  Poems have a signature sound.  Try breaking that sound and a poem sounds odd and distorted.  Anyway, it can become easy to get lulled into a monotonous reading if the words mean little to you.  Reflect upon any Poetry reading or Shakespeare read aloud you did in high school.  10-1 says most readers succumbed to a boring pattern when they ignored points 1 and 2 of this article because they were not invested.  To uncover the musicality of any Poetry piece you have to feel the words, tenderly speak them, and want to reproduce their emotion with your voice.  Again, this falls back into properly interpreting and analyzing your Poetry selection(s).

    Free and Blank Verse.  Another solution to avoiding monotony is to select poetry that is inherently devoid of any repetitive nature.  Blank Verse is poetry that has a regular rhythm yet no rhyme.  Free Verse is poetry that has no regular rhythm, no rhyme, or any other form of pattern.  Therefore, it is fairly easy to understand why these forms of poetry are often selected.  Having less restraint makes it possible for the speaker to have less of a chance of entering into a dull, repetitive beat.  The benefit is that simple.  However, there is a draw.  If you decide to chose a piece of Blank or Free Verse be warned that there needs to be some structure.  Without any rhythm the audience will not be able to pick out the musicality of the piece.  Further, less structure increases your odds of speaking strangely and without good form

Four easy precautions, most of which you should be doing anyway as an interpreter, and your Poetry piece can avoid the bleakness of monotony.  Poetry is, in my opinion, one of the hardest forms of literature to read aloud.  Though the author provides a structure for how to speak, it can become stifling or easily turned into a repetitive pattern of rhyme if not carefully planned.  It's difficult, but the musicality can be found by a speaker willing to hear and feel the beauty of the words and structure crafted by the poet.