Tuesday, 24 June 2014

How not to give a poetry reading

No need to dress as a glampire unless it is Hallowe'en
I’ve been to so many readings in the last few years, some of which have been nothing short of master classes in how not to give one. So here’s my top ten DON’Ts for showcasing your work:

1. Don’t start late. Start late on time – the audience does not like to be kept waiting. Think how tetchy you get in the theatre when the curtain doesn’t rise on time. If the audience are late, tant pis.

2. Do not answer the telephone while another poet is reading – politely ask everyone to silence their phones. Make a joke about putting them on vibration if you like, depending on the crowd.

3. Don’t ignore the microphone, if there is one. It is there for a reason – so people can hear you beyond the front row. No matter how much you think you can project your voice, you are not an opera singer and the noisy bar where you are reading is not an acoustically designed auditorium. If you are uncomfortable with a mic, tant pis, learn how to use it.

4. Do not sit down. You well be seen and heard much better if you stand up, which you need to do to breathe properly and you are, after all, giving a performance.

5. Don’t chat between poems. This is boring to your audience wanting to hear the poem, and breaks up the flow of your work and the impression that the audience has of your voice. Sometimes it is impossible to know when the chat ends and the poem starts. Explain the odd word or strange thing if you must, but otherwise just READ.

6. Do not stop in the middle of your poem to explain anything, ever. This is an even more heinous crime to poetry and your work - see 5. above with bells on.

7. Don’t use high pressure sales tactics to shame your audience into buying your books. Nothing will snap the purse shut faster. 

8. Do not consume anything beforehand that is going to interfere with your ability to read and deliver your work clearly. No-one looks good intoxicated on stage – actors, musicians, poets, poetry. You are not Dutch, unless you are, in which case you already have courage.

9. Do not name drop – no-one is impressed. It does not make your work better. You are judged on your work, not who you know. Audiences don’t like to be made to feel inferior and the chances are most, probably being poets themselves, are influential and important, or have influential and important friends anyway.

10. Do not over-run. If you are asked to read for ten minutes, read for ten minutes, look at your watch, but not during a poem, and end on time – people get bored and have buses, metros, planes to catch and you want them to stick around and buy your wares, don’t you?

Bon courage.

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