on poetry readings:

you have thirty minutes to make your case. show me you’ve thought about it (this includes your garments). don’t waste time with “framing.” use your time with verve. don’t give us an apologetic “nearing the end” marker. I want to see your energy focused on the words, you invested in the words. those words are your being. your case. come on.

thanking people is nice but it eats into performance time; everyone knows you are grateful to be there.

in some rare cases the patter is part of the whole art form, it’s essential. but in general a little framing goes a long way.

speak into the mic. that’s why it’s there. feel free to use the space. you don’t have to stay still the whole time. you can hold the mic, if you want to.

nothing you do should be perfunctory.

nervousness is good: focus it.

if you are going to drink water during your reading, consider making a kind of ceremony of it.

when I say “speak into the mic,” I also mean, enjoy hearing your voice in the monitor. let your own voice resonate in your head and in the room.

I have lots of other thoughts on poetry readings.

8 thoughts on “on poetry readings:

  1. isn't 30 minutes awfully long for one person? one is guaranteed to be infamous for half one's time on stage…. seems like that would be awkward.

  2. Some pretty good advice here, seems to me, coming at it strictly as a listener (but as one who has stood up before a crowd in other contexts).

    You might have gone nuts listening to Philip Lamantia read, who “framed” his poems with substantial “patter” (your words). That was just the way it was with him; I can't really call it an “art form” since I don't think there was much artifice in how Philip talked between his poems. That's just who he was.

    However, there was “art” in how Lamantia recited his poems. And thinking of his brilliance that way, it causes me to suggest you consider expanding your list, to amplify what I think is contained in your term “performance.”

    Remembering Philip, I'd tell poets: think of cadence. Dynamics. Pauses. Word emphasis, drama. I swear to Andre Breton, Philip could say the title of a poem, e.g., “Touch of the Marvelous,” and make it a poem itself, via an unexpected full pause here, a slight pause there, a short rolling of a particular syllable, etc.

    There is possibly an interesting tension between the poetry reading as performance and as a more simple (can't think of a different word here) reading, with the poet just being her/him non-performing self.

    Think of — to take two extremes, importing almost non sequitur music references — the differences in going to a rock show by KISS, all costumed with abundant stage pyrotechnics, and interplay aimed directly at the crowd, versus, say, the Dead, with band members in baggy sweats or cut-offs and t-shirts just standing up there playing, not talking to the audience. Both valid ways of “show business,” though the Dead's approach was and in some ways mostly still is the exception.

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