5 Reasons You Should Read Poetry Aloud

by Treehouse Editors

Jean Glaub

  1. It sounds good! This one almost goes without saying. Actually forming the words with your voice has a deeper effect; you’ll be able to feel the calming ah, soothing oo, and hissing s. I love the sounds in these parts of “To Go to Lvov” by Adam Zagajewski:
    To go to Lvov. Which station
    for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew
    gleams on a suitcase…
    …and grass snakes like soft signs
    in the Russian language disappear
    into thickets…
  2. It makes you slow down. Skilled readers can absorb words pretty quickly, and that’s often an advantage. But poetry sinks in slowly. It tends to be dense, like a stuffed suitcase that takes a while to fully unpack. It’s also intense, especially lyrical poetry, and you’ll be less likely to get brain freeze if you take it in slowly. “The Steppe” by Boris Pasternak is a beautiful poem to savor.
  3. Rhythm can be hard to see.Modern poets aren’t as likely to use the obvious rhythms of meter, but can still write wonderfully rhythmic poems using looser cadence, an incantatory effect (like in repeat-after-me ceremonies), or a certain number of accents per line. That last one, more formally called accentual syllabic, is easy to hear in hip-hop and rap, where the beat emphasizes the stressed syllables. An astonishing number of unstressed syllables can fit in between, making the rhythm almost invisible on paper. These are some four-beat lines from one of my favorite music artists, Lupe Fiasco:
    Westside Poseidon, Westside beside ’em.
    Chest high and rising, almost touching the knees of
    the stewardess and the pilot. Lucky they make you fly with
    personal floatin’ devices. Tricks fallin’ outta my sleeves.

    A lot of Lupe’s lyrics have more normal rhythm, but this song, “Dumb it Down,” shows off some poetic skills (or tricks up his sleeve). And if you thought hip-hop was just subwoofers and explicit lyrics, our editor Caleb Ward’s blog post might help you appreciate its literary side.

  4. You’ll remember it better. When I look up someone’s phone number, I have to repeat it to myself like a chant until I can dial it, or else I’ll forget it. I’m guessing you do too. Repeating out loud is a time-proven way of memorizing something; it involves more regions of our brains than reading silently. And the next time you stare in awe at a bird of prey soaring above you, you might recall some powerful words from “The Windhover” by Wallace Stevens:
    High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
    in his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
    Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
  5. You can share it with others. A lot of people won’t sit down with a poetry collection and read it through. But if you’re hanging out with family or friends, they (probably) won’t mob against you if you say, “Hey, this reminds me of a poem I’ve been reading. Could I share a few lines?” They might even ask to hear more. But if they roll their eyes and don’t seem receptive, then try going to a poetry reading, making a phone call, or uploading a video to YouTube. If you have the right software, you can even make a sort of music video to accompany your words.

For those who are in the deaf community, or have trouble speaking, or are simply curious about something awesome, check out sign language poetry.

What’s your favorite poem to hear out loud?

Jean Glaub is a poet from Raleigh, N.C. Her rhythmic story “Inverse” was published this year in Randall Library’s flash fiction collection, Search and Discovery. Jean rides a motorcycle year-round and has a keen interest in World War II, geology, and Russian.