Week 5: Voice and Tone


Poetic diction--or voice and tone--gives a poem its character.  Word choice, internal rhyme and pauses in the poem all inform a poem’s voice and tone. Is the poem ironic or earnest? Delicate or saccharine? Consider Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse.” The nursery rhyme tone and sarcastic diction totally dictate our experience of the poem.  (You can listen to Larkin reading the poem here).

Voice can also refer to the poem’s speaker, and that speaker’s point of view.  Frank Bidart famously took on different personas in his dramatic monologues, such as anorexic Ellen West, and murderer Herbert White. Notice how the voices in the poems shift, where there are inconsistencies in the poems.

Select one of the poems below and read it for internal rhyme, casual versus formal tone, pauses and beats.  Is the tone or voice ever “off key”?  Write it in your own tone or in your own voice.

Poem 5: Urban Renewal by Yusef Komunyakaa
Poem 6: Crimble of Staines by Jeanette Allée.  Note this poem’s use of slang--and that we don’t need to understand the slang to "get" its tone.

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