Whose Voice?

A while ago, I stumbled across a web page, the location of which I regret not noting, where I had the option of listening to a bot read aloud from one of my published books. How unsettling it was to hear several lines presented by a machine. There was even a choice of type of voice (male/female, British/American/other accent) for the reading. Ideally, the added expression and volume might have enriched the total effect. But realistically, how could the tone, inflection, pace, and points of emphasis match my own, preferred rendition? Some human performers bristle with energy and drive a poem hard, to dazzle or shock. In contrast to such “Actors”, are what C.S. Lewis termed “Minstrels”, who “recite in a wooden, singsong voice”, shutting listeners out. Even a change of venue can alter the way a poem is heard. For instance, poets at an awards ceremony listen far more critically to the winning poem than does a lunchtime crowd in a public square. And woe to the reader who doesn’t adapt for the squirms and giggles of a grade-school class.