At my last school, Hillpark Secondary, I ran the Amnesty Youth Club and taught the students how to use multi-voice poetry to deal with human rights topics. While I was there, first- and second-year pupils performed “Another Night,” the most complicated multi-voice piece I have ever written, to tears and applause from the audience. Multi-voice is a style of theatrical poetry that is useful for showing different views of the same situation.
A teacher’s guide to writing multi-voice
Split the class into two groups.
Group 1: Pupils are told that there are two voices that try to out-shout and out-hate each other. They can write words that replace the words I have used in my poem. They just need to make the two antagonistic speakers use words with the same number of syllables. The word Peace remains the same throughout.
Group 2: Another group of pupils work on words that replace the words spoken by the Narrator. None of the words in the poem need to rhyme. What the Narrator says is what brings Peace into being. The word Peace at the end of each verse can be spoken by one voice or by many.
One class period can be spent just looking at appropriate words of hate and war and things that tend to bring about peace. The next one can be spent writing the poem. Another period or two can be spent on rehearsals.
A pupil’s guide to performing multi-voice
Firstly, don’t panic. It looks complicated but is all do-able. When doing first readings, it helps to look through the column of words that you are reading and underline any words/phrases that you are speaking at the same time as someone else, and underline those other lines too.
Each person reads down the page, so all bits of text at the same height on the page get read at the same time. It helps to print out the text with double spacing.
Lots of dots on your line of text signify that words that another speaker is reading are not to be spoken by yourself. The gap is not meant to be exact and will be fine-tuned in rehearsal.
When words and phrases are spoken at the same time, the resulting joining of sounds creates a new sound that can vary greatly—anything from chaotic to melodic. This sound is used to amplify or reinforce the action or emotion the character is portraying at that time. Speakers must ensure that their own lines are not overwhelmed by other speakers.
When there are only two speakers, these voices can be used effectively in opposition to each other, this being emphasized with the speakers facing each other.
Try out different presentation options in rehearsal. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Ashby McGowan is a School Technician at Cleveden Secondary School in Glasgow. Find him online at https://multivoicepoetry.wordpress.com/.