Secondly, I too, prefer to visually SEE a poem, rather than hear it being read out loud. Also, I detest reading aloud, any of my own poems, mostly because how they visually APPEAR [how they are lined out] is as important to me, as what they say, and what they sound like.
I generally assume that poetry is meant to be read out loud, that its origin lies in an oral culture and that this origin has shaped the poetic tradition we know today. I know there are exceptions to this idea — that there are poets who prefer to have their work read rather than listened to, just as there are some plays that the playwright didn’t intend to be performed, even though the vast majority of plays are written for the stage. I’m not sure that analogy works, actually, since performance seems more closely related to plays than oral reading is to poetry. But my point is that I do tend to think of poetry as best experienced out loud.
But I do like Cipriano’s point that seeing a poem can add to its meaning. Seeing where a poet ends the lines and breaks up the stanzas matters (although I can’t always tell you why it matters). And certainly the line breaks don’t always (or even often) come through in an oral reading. I’m not quite sure how one should read the line breaks — I mean, whether one should pause at the end of a line or continue on if the phrase or the sentence continues and there’s no punctuation. Is there a consensus on this? I usually compromise on this matter by making a very short, barely perceptible pause at the line’s end if there’s no ending punctuation, and a longer, more dramatic pause if there is. But I’m not sure what the “rule” is, if there is one.
Then, of course, there are those poems that create a specific visual effect like George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” a poem that looks like wings on the page (check out the link for a picture of what the poem looks like in a 1633 edition). Or there are poems like this one from Susan Howe where the words are scattered all over the page, some of them sideways and upside down. It’s not clear at all how one could possibly read that poem out loud.
So perhaps I’m too quick to associate poetry, especially contemporary poetry, with the spoken word. The picture is more complex than that.
By the way, check out this video of a Billy Collins poem, over at Chekhov’s Mistress.