Please read the poems on this site aloud--three times if possible--to invite your body to connect with them physically. This physical experience invites your musical right brain to join your logical left brain in the poetic experience, offering the most enjoyment. Especially if you are used to reading poems in free verse, reading Annie's poems aloud will help you get in sync with their rhythmic patterning.
Please don't feel intimidated if you know nothing about meter. Most people who have loved poetry throughout history, even most poets who write in meter, haven't known the names of meters or how to scan. The metrical level in Annie's poems is designed to do its work behind the scenes. Just as you don't need to read music to enjoy it, you don't need to know anything about meter to enjoy Annie's poems. (That said, if you are interested in learning more about meter and scansion, check out these courses.)
HOW TO READ POETRY IN METER ALOUD
Adapted from the preface of Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, edited by Annie (Random House, 2018).
To enjoy these poems most fully, READ THEM ALOUD. You can do this in the usual way, or you can read them “silent-aloud”: allowing the sounds of the words to enter your awareness physically as you read. Either way, you will feel how different meters change a poem’s energy, how they affect your heart, mind, and body. As you absorb the poems in this way, you will actually be using a different part of your brain (your right brain, activated when we hear music or metrical poetry) than you use when you read poetry without meter (which you understand with your left brain, where we understand prose).
Metrical poems are meant to be absorbed and savored as you move along. Try reading quite slowly, tasting the feel of the poem in your mouth (this is most fun aloud of course, but you can do it even if you are reading silent-aloud.) To best get the hang of it, at least whisper the poems, if you can’t say them aloud for some reason. It will be fun to pay attention to any physical sensations you have as you read (your heart racing, a sense of excitement in your stomach, your heart slowing, a relaxing of your shoulders, or a sense of calm).
The key to performing metrical poetry aloud, on which all other fluency rests, is to mark the end of every single line with an audible—but not too audible—pause. If it’s too audible, you can distract yourself or your listeners mentally by interrupting a sentence. But what most people raised on free verse don’t realize is that if the pause isn’t audible enough, you will create an even worse distraction, a physical one, by burying the physical signposts created by the pauses at the end of each line. This end-of-line signpost is necessary to align the lines with each other as we experience the poem. Performing metrical poetry the way we perform free verse—by continuing sentences across the linebreaks without a pause—forces listeners to steal attention from the meaning of the poem while they reorient themselves within the pattern of lines. Good performers of metrical poetry, on the other hand, signal each line-ending appropriately. They communicate, audibly and with grace, sensitivity, and panache, the place of each line-ending within its own sentence and also within the larger passages and movements of the poem.
Luckily, metrical poems that know what they are doing make it easy and pleasurable to perform them well. When you encounter a sentence that continues past the line-ending, try giving just a slight physical bow to the line-ending by lengthening the final syllable of the line just a hair—maybe by about 25% of the length of a normal syllable—as you pass it by. Aim to signal the line-ending clearly and unequivocally with your voice—yet to do it so briefly that, even while the listener’s body is acknowledging the start of a new line, their mind won’t even notice but will remain entirely focused on the words, just as if they were hearing prose.
When the line ending corresponds with a comma, a phrase ending, or some other break in the meaning, you can pause a tiny bit longer. And when the line ending corresponds with a sentence ending, then you will have the opportunity to stop as long as you like, choosing the most expressive length for your pause. Finally, if the line ending coincides with a larger turning in the poem’s meaning—a place where words offer the opportunity for reflection or suspense—you might pause still longer for really dramatic effect. One of the joys of performing great metrical poetry is the opportunity to embody a poem as if it were music. And the choices we make as we interact with the line-endings of the poem, in real time, are some of the most important musical instruments at our disposal.