Advice for a Poetry Reading

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Inside of two weeks before my first poetry reading, I often solicit advice from experienced poets who have read many times at many venues. Part of me asks about myself and the poems I should choose. The other part asks about the crowd. Or maybe “the crowd” (accent on quotation marks). What I’ve heard so far:

  1. It’s possible no one will show up. (Do you read to no one if “it” arrives and fills the assembled seats with its nothingness? Does a tree in a forest primeval make a sound if it falls beyond human ears? Discuss. At the mic. Or possibly the mike.)
  2. Crowds can be fidgety. Remember that as you decide on poems for the reading.
  3. Have fun.
  4. Start and end with stronger poems.
  5. Mix types of poems–funny, sad, long, short, reflective, assertive. Repeat and contrast, repeat and contrast.
  6. Introduce each poem with a brief anecdote. Accent on brief.
  7. Have fun.
  8. Don’t read too fast. In fact, you should think you’re reading a bit too slow. That will be about the right pace.
  9. Project and enunciate.
  10. Practice reading your poems beforehand. Not a little. A lot. Especially if you’re a tyro.
  11. Have fun.
  12. If you sell copies of your book (or even a single copy of your book) afterwards, give thanks. It’s gravy. Don’t expect dozens of listeners to beat a path to your signing table.
  13. If you’re featured with another reader, give her/him the option of going first or second.
  14. If your fellow featured reader is the hottest poet since the King James Bible writers, call in sick.
  15. Are we having fun yet?
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One thought on “Advice for a Poetry Reading

  1. AND read the poem the way it appears on the page (especially if it’s open form). Without using “poet voice,” you still should be able to suggest to the listeners the shape of the poem on the page. Pause at the end of each line, not raising your voice in a tremulous question like a valley boy/girl, and allow the lines breaks to guide your emphasis and expression. Later at home, you may even have to re-write the poem after realizing the way you actually read it sounds much better than the way you wrote it.

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