What Not To Do When Giving A Reading--

Here is a list of things I wrote down to remind myself what not to do when giving a poetry reading.

(Tomorrow I'll post my What To Do at Poetry Readings list)

What NOT to do at Poetry Readings--

1)  Don't read too much or go over your time.

2)  Don't laugh at your own jokes.

3)  Don't try to be too cute even if you are too cute.

4)  Don't assume this is your only chance to read and you'll never have an opportunity like this again as you will end up squeezing way too much into your time and/or refuse to leave the stage.

5) If there's a theme or subject to reading (i.e.  Poems About the War), don't read poems about penguins, unless those penguins are in the war.

6)  Don't read too many poems about your kids (even as a parent/mother, I started to find this a little annoying)

7)  Don't have nervous laughter, even if you're nervous. Nervous crying is better than nervous laughter.

8)  Don't believe that your job is just to read your poems, it's not-- it's to connect with your audience and let them leave with something that's more than how wonderful you are (or I am).

9)  Don't believe you're all that and a book of poems.


  1. I am guilty of the nervous laughter. I hate it!

  2. Don't tell a story longer than the poem.

    Don't apologize.

    Don't read utterly drunk.

    Don't read the same poems in the same order each time.

  3. Don't expect your host to have water for you. Bring your own.

    Think carefully about what shoes you're going to wear.

    Don't forget to thank your audience.

    Don't put your mouth on the microphone.


  4. Yes, to all of the above.

    Don't read drunk -- that's good.

    Don't forget to thank your audience -- and your host/hostess.

  5. Excellent advice!

    About not reading too much is really key--too often a poet will rush to cram in as many poems as possible, or will think a twenty minute reading can contain 20 poems. Leave the audience wanting more is my little rule of thumb.

    I look forward to your to do list!

  6. Make sure people can hear you.

    Learn how to loosen and tighten the thingie on the mike that makes it go up and down, and adjust accordingly.

    Don't read too fast. Don't read too slow.

    Start with something funny (XJ Kennedy taught me this, though come to think of it has he written a serious poem?).

    Don't just mention all the faces you recognize; welcome and thank those you don't recognize.

    Some people can drink lots of high balls before a reading. I envy them because I have to be sober, or mostly sober. If you are a lightweight like me, hold off on the booze till after the clapping.

    Practice reading your poems a little bit before you get up on stage and belt them out. That way if you're nervous you might not lose your place or get tongue-tied.

    There's a special place in hell for those who disregard time limits.

  7. These tips are too true! And too funny :) and the comment that says there should be a place in he'll for those who ignore tome limits? Yes! For me I'd add something I haven't been doing lately but that I need to do more-- if you are short , buy and carry a simple step stool :) I suggest the bright red one I got at target

  8. I especially agree with Susan's comment "Don't tell a story longer than the poem." I was once at a reading where the poet only read about 5 short poems in 20 minutes because each poem had an elaborate introduction and explanation.

    One "don't" I would add -- if the featured reader is followed by an open mic, and you are there to participate in the open mic, don't attempt to read every poem you've ever written as if you are the featured reader.

  9. Don't stand there paging through your book or notebook deciding which poem to read next. Plan ahead.

    If the introduction to the poem takes more than 10 percent of the time it takes to read the poem itself, the poem isn't finished yet. (You haven't said everything in the poem that you need to say.) You might want to work more on the poem before you read it to an audience.

    Don't read in a dry monotone so that the poems are indistinguishable from your (overly long) comments between the poems. (I saw a really famous poet -- well, famous as poets go -- do this at a reading many years ago.)

    Don't mumble inaudibly at the podium through the entire reading, and then insult a member of the audience who complains that they can't hear you. (Saw a semi-famous writer do this once.)


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