So here's some notes I took at the Skagit Poetry Festival on what TO DO when giving a poetry reading--
What To Do When Giving a Poetry Reading
1) Leave the audience wanting more!
(If someone comes up to you after the reading and says, "Oh, I wish you would have read 1 or 2 more poems" then congratulations! you were a success!)
2) Read a variety of poems that you feel the audience would connect with.
3) Allow for that space/quiet after reading your poem or while reading. There is no need to fill every moment with your voice. Let the audience absorb what you've just said before you go on.
4) DO check your watch and rely on yourself (not others) for how much time you have left.
5) Stay within or under your time limit.
6) Do remember that your job is too keep the audience interested and with you, not just to read your work.
7) Do choose work that people understand by listening and do not need to have in front of them to understand. And if they do need to have the poem in front of them to understand, make copies for them.
8) Do be self-aware.
Listen and watch for cues from your audience-- are they shifting in their seats, are they muttering to their neighbor? --or-- Are they breathing with you, acknowledging stronger poems with body language and/or voice/applause?
9) Give them something to take away - this does not need to be a physical gift, but ask yourself, What am I giving my audience to think about during this reading? What will they take away from this?
10) Do stay on theme or topic, and if there is no theme or topic, maybe create one for yourself. It's much more interesting for the audience when things tie together and the reading feels thoughtful and planned.
11) Do be yourself and don't feel you need to create a persona of what you think a poet is. A poet is you. You can wear Gap clothes or dress in vintage. You can be highly articulate or more slangy. There is no wrong way to be a poet, but present your best self (as Oprah would say) to the audience.
12) Be honest and open. If you're nervous, say so. If you're happy, sad, if there's something you want them to get out of your reading or listen for, tell them. Connect with your audience.
13) Do remember the audience is there because they want to support you (not scare you or bring you down). You are one side, they are the other and the poems are the bridge. Allow them to meet you in the middle and it will be a good reading.
14) Afterwards, if someone wants you to sign your book for them. Look them directly in the eye and sincerely say thank you. Give them your time for that moment, make them feel as if they are the most important person in the world.
At the Skagit festival, I had 5 poets sign my book-- Two of the poets I knew and were friends with, but 3 I didn't. Of those three, one made me feel this way. The other two were truly polite and wonderful, but only one poet completely directed his attention to me (and I saw him do this to other audience members when they had them sign his book) and it was truly something I appreciated and will remember.
(More on who that was in a later post...)
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