Traditionally, one way to mock a poem was to read it (often in what we now call "poet voice") aloud. This was a way of saying that the words were neither memorizable nor worthy of memorization--in short, that they didn't constitute poetry by any useful definition. Today, parody has met practice as poets are caught on camera, in public, reading their own work. To be clear, these are not works in process. These weren't handed to the poet minutes before going onstage. And the poets didn't all suffer some catastrophic illness or accident that deprived them of short term memory. We're talking laziness and lack of craft. This being poetry's "norm" is proof of morbidity. Audiences don't object because there are no audiences.
Naturally, poetry editors, publishers and promoters can't accept this truth, even to the point of denying it. After all, it undermines everything they're trying to do. However, we can hardly cooperate in reanimating something without acknowledging that it is, in fact, dead. (We'll discuss how page poets and outlets will benefit from stage poets in future posts.)
Consider this albeit perverse view
It being a mode of speech, poetry needs to be performed. Not read. Would you watch a movie where the characters read from scripts? Or woodenly from prompters? And, no, we're not talking about equally unmodulated slammers screaming and gesticulating wildly for three solid minutes. We're talking performance, something so rare that we have to re-use the same examples over and over again.
To illustrate, compare Andy Garcia's performance of "The Goring and the Death" from Federico Garcia Lorca's "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías" to the dreaded "poet voice" we know all to well:
Brace yourself for Gregory Orr reading "Gathering the Bones":
William Ernest Henley's "Invictus", written in 1875, published in "Book of Verses" under "Life and Death (Echoes)", 1888:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Consider this appearance by Morgan Freeman on the Charlie Rose show when they discuss Nelson Mandala.
Rewind a few hundred times over the moment at the :38 second mark where Morgan laughs and gives a doleful look at Charlie Rose's offer of the poem's text. Note how incredulous the host is that a person--an award winning professional actor, no less--can actually [gasp!] recite a classic 16 line poem from memory.
Charlie shows us how dead English poetry is.
Morgan shows us how it can be reincarnated.