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Pie chart, male poets, by archive. We also wanted to consider class, in part to test Basile's association of Poet Voice with MFA programs with white, straight instructors and with the upper classes, but it would be very difficult to characterize the class of a poet without extensive biographical surveys. Some poets clearly identify as working-class in their upbringing, such as Eileen Myles. Others, like John Ashbery, might seem upper-class, as he attended Harvard and Columbia, yet he grew up as the son of a farmer outside Rochester, New York.
The Walt Whitman Archive
How do such changes of cultural milieu and education affect a poet's voice, in performance and in conversation? This, too, would be an interesting question for further research. We also considered whether poets' graduate studies often for MFA, but not always took place at the University of Iowa, whose graduates might be thought to be particularly influential as creative writing instructors and well-published poets who read widely. Our approach to considering different categories related to identity and background is informed by theories of intersectionality, which first gained footing in feminist criticism and demands application to the empirical study of performance styles.
Specifically in our analysis, we aimed to apply a concept called "intracategorical complexity," first elaborated by Leslie McCall, which:. Black women , to expose the underexplored complexities inherent to these categories; while these approaches may undermine categorization or approach [it] obliquely, they do not necessarily reject the use of categories altogether.
Instead, they insist[s] that categories contain more within-group differences than typically assumed, often explicitly demonstrating the inadequacy of standard categories to reflect lived experiences and social realities. We are not directly concerned here with the history of discrimination or activism, which intersectional theory and work often focus on, but such identity categories certainly matter in the U.
Again we refer to Spahr and Young's findings that mainstream U. Also relevant here is the fact that literary scholars and poets, as much as anyone else, can be influenced by broad identity categories — related to aesthetics, ideology, race, ethnicity, class, gender, and so on — in generalizing about how poets perform, in listening to poets, and in forming expectations for how they should or will sound, and in perceiving how they do sound we refer to Smith and Basile as examples here.
For listeners and audiences, such identity perception and expectation based on stereotyping is inevitable; our brains use it to navigate the overwhelming complexities of daily life — and of contemporary American poetry! And identity categories matter in terms of poets' self-perception, of course, and in various ways they influence the performance styles they adopt.
But it is well to remind ourselves that every category vastly reduces the complex variety of the things, or poets, it groups together.
This ought to be especially the case with the performance of poetry, which, while it may or may not turn out to be as conventional in performance style — in our research, defined by prosodic patterns — as its critics believe, evolves among a group of highly creative and idiosyncratic individuals. However, we also wanted to analyze the data with open minds, susceptible to unexpected insights and negative results and, importantly, to the possibility that different aspects of a poet's individuality, identity and training might combine and manifest in her performance style in surprising ways.
Such an approach, again, assisted us in evaluating both popular assumptions, like Smith's and Basile's, that class, race, ethnicity, and gender overdetermine poetry reading styles, as well as scholarly insights and arguments about normative poetry performance styles, including the alleged tendency toward "neutral delivery" noted by Wheeler, Allison's aesethetic-ideological oppositions and his sense that a "humanist" style dominates, and the possible influence of Spahr and Young's "mainly white rooms" on dominant performance styles. Figure 5. Pie chart, poets by sexual orientation.
As a basis for comparison with poetry reading styles, we chose a corpus of conversational speech. Why conversation? First, though we recognize that all speech is performative to some degree, influenced by context and audience, conversational speech is less premeditated, and it is often less formal than a poem in syntax and prosodic patterns. That relative irregularity makes conversational speech an apt contrast with reading styles that audiences often hear as highly regular in prosodic patterns. Second, conversational speech also tends to be fast, and we thought that poetry reading might be comparatively slower.
Third, there are also anecdotal suggestions that contemporary poetry performance might be more conversational in style than earlier poetry 41 or that it should aspire to be more conversational in style. While it might be ideal to compare recordings of poets reading poetry with the same poets in conversation or interviews, it proved challenging to find adequate recordings of some of the poets doing anything other than reading poems. Instead we used recordings of other individuals speaking in a laboratory setting, drawn from the Buckeye Corpus of Conversational Speech recorded at Ohio State University in We sampled 60 seconds of continuous or nearly continuous speech from 19 Buckeye speakers of the 40 recorded , who were described as "native central Ohio speakers" and "middle-class Caucasian" 3.
The speakers were all over 40 years of age at the time of recording, meaning that all speakers were born before Because the Buckeye Corpus samples a specific region, class, age, and race of speaker, it might be more precisely termed, native central Ohioan white middle-aged late twentieth century conversational speech.
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In short hand, we will refer to it as conversational speech. In addition to the Buckeye conversational speakers, we included samples of two other types of performative speech, including an excerpt from an early version of Martin Luther King, Jr. Religious-political oratory and radio drama are among the many types of performative speech that are open to the prosodic analysis we undertake here.
We chose these two speakers because they are well-known, and because they offer notable contrasts to norms in both conversational speech and poetry reading. It can be downloaded and installed for free for academic use.
The Project Gutenberg eBook of Poems, by Christina G. Rossetti
Ellis at Columbia University to work with precise accuracy on the noisy, low-quality vocal recordings common in the audio archive of poetry readings. This algorithm measures what human listeners perceive as vocal pitch, also called voicing the fundamental frequency, the vibration of the vocal cords, as measured in hertz , every 10 milliseconds in a given recording.
Vowels are voiced speech. Without getting too technical, unvoiced speech is typically composed of consonants, like "t" and "s" and "p", the sound of which is produced in the mouth, without vibrating the vocal cords. Unvoiced speech does not register in human auditory perception as having pitch. To calculate words per minute, we used a powerful forced aligner called Gentle that can create rough transcripts of speech recordings, and line up a given transcript with that recording, word by word, delivering precise timing information.
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Finally, we further analyzed the resulting data about pitch and timing, in the samples and the nineteen Buckeye recordings, in Matlab with a script written by Miller. Specifically, we developed twelve prosodic measures to reflect what we perceive as the salient features of pitch and timing in poetry performance. How fast does a poet read? How often does she pause? How long are her pauses? How regular or irregular is the rhythm of her reading?
How predictably or unpredictably does she pause? How contrastive is her pitch? Based on the data about the twelve prosodic measures, we propose four stylistic tendencies that begin to characterize reading styles more precisely than the binary of neutral vs. We would expect poets who read in a more Formal style to have predictable rhythm and speak relatively slowly, with fairly regular pauses.
A more Conversational poet would use less predictable rhythm and would speak relatively fast, with a less regular pattern of pauses. Whether Formal or Conversational in speaking rate and rhythm, a poet might also read in more or less Expressive style — that is, she might use a wide pitch range and highly contrastive pitch, or she might use a narrower pitch range, little contrastive pitch. The four tendencies might combine in different ways.
In aggregate, the prosodic measures we have developed have not been applied to the analysis of poetry recordings. The transcript of the recording created by Gentle, corrected when necessary, produced the number of words read, which was divided by the length of the recording and normalized, if the recording was longer or shorter than one minute, to reflect the speaking rate for 60 seconds.
Poets typically average around WPM. We do not consider pauses less than ms because fully continuous speech also naturally has such brief gaps in energy, nor do we consider pauses that exceed 1, ms that is, 2 seconds , because they are quite rare. Sonia Sanchez. We would expect more Dramatic and possibly more Formal styles to exhibit longer pauses, while Conversational styles would exhibit shorter pauses Welles and King have fairly short pauses, between.
In these samples, Sonia Sanchez. Again, we would expect more Dramatic and possibly more Formal styles to make frequent longer pauses, while Conversational styles might pause often, but not for long. Female and male Buckeye speakers both have a pause rate of about 1 per sec. King has a pause rate of. Juliana Spahr 3. A low value for this measure might also predict a Dramatic style, judging tentatively from the value for our Dramatic example, Frank Bidart 4.
The female Buckeye speakers have values of 7. This focuses the rhythmic complexity measure on rapid, syllabic-scale voiced-unvoiced patterns. For this measure, Juan Felipe Herrera 6. Smith 9. As with Rhythmic Complexity of Pauses, higher Rhythmic Complexity of Syllables likely indicates a Conversational style, while lower indicates a more Formal style.
Our example of a Conversational-Dramatic poet, Frank Bidart , has a value of His is close to King's , at 13, while Welles' is The female Buckeye speakers have an average of 16, male Buckeye speakers This focuses the rhythmic complexity measure on slower voiced-unvoiced patterns, at the scale of the phrase rather than the syllable.
For this measure, Jericho Brown 1. Our example of a Conversational-Dramatic poet, Frank Bidart , has a value of 2.
King's is 5. The average for female Buckeye speakers is 2. For this measure, Jorie Graham hz and Richard Blanco 81 hz use the lowest average pitch, while Lucille Clifton hz and Alberto Rios hz have the highest. King exhibits fairly high pitch, at Hz, while Welles is fairly low, at Hz. For this measure, Natasha Trethewey 1 octave and Matthew Zapruder.
King is close with a range of 2. This is simply a measure of how fast pitch is changing.