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Tag Archives: being a better reader of poetry

How to be a better reader (out loud)

cat with book, glasses

I’ve attended a lot of poetry readings, both as a reader and an audience member.  Over the years, I’ve evolved some pretty strong opinions about what makes a good reading.  So for what it’s worth, here’s my list.

  1. Don’t take more than your allotted time.  Practice your reading at home so you know how long it will take.  Otherwise you are shorting other readers’ time and probably boring your audience. Some readers set their phone to time them, or have a friend in the audience signal when time is getting near.  But if you practice, you should know exactly how many poems to read.
  2.  Always leave them wanting more.  If in doubt, read less.  If the reading is engaging, people will find your books or online work later.
  3.  I think it’s good to start by reading at least one poem by another poet.  This makes the reading more interesting and makes your own reading seem like a bit less of an ego trip.
  4.  Decide what you’re going to read ahead of time and MARK THE BOOKS or papers you are reading from. Don’t wing it and shuffle pages making your audience wait.  To me this is charmless, amateurish and dissing the people listening.
  5.  Vary the tone of what you read.  Don’t read all sad or serious poems.  Throw in some funny ones or alternate forms.
  6.  Do minimal explaining or introduction to your poems.  The poems should stand on their own.  Rambling stories are rarely as entertaining as you might think.
  7.  Speak clearly and loudly enough.  Bring your glasses.  Print out poems in large font if you have trouble reading.  Don’t assume the lighting will be good.
  8.  Wear something you are comfortable in.  Make some eye contact with your audience.
  9.  Gauge your audience and have backup poems.  Some venues or audiences are not appropriate for poems with curse words.
  10.   If you are a poor reader of your work, tend to mumble, not speak up, rush through your poems, or are just really nervous reading, the experience will be stressful for you and your audience.  Consider getting some coaching or take a speech or acting class. Performing your poetry in public is a very different skill from writing it.  It’s all right not to be a great reader, but every poet can be a good reader.