ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How not to organise a poetry reading

Reflect on this
At the risk of getting totally bossy in my old age, here's a follow up to my last post on how not to give a poetry reading. I've organised a few in my time, but I've also been to and read at some truly appalling events that should go down in the annals of ineptitude.

I am not talking about the wonderful chaos of Paris Lit Up Open Mic, where anything goes as us three hosts try to herd the cats every week. No, I mean the more serious end of the scale.

Here's my top ten what not to dos and why, if you want to help your guest readers and the cause of poetry:

1. Do not start late. Start on time - your audience are there, waiting. Don't keep them twiddling their thumbs or they will walk out and probably not come back. This rule applies everywhere except Paris (and probably Italy for all I know), in which case do not start on time or your poet's friends will not hear her read, as like everyone else they will be twenty minutes late.

2. Don't choose a bar, quiet or otherwise. Bars are places where people go to socialise. They are noisy and bar staff do their jobs, making coffee, putting ice in glasses and pulling pints and chatting to their punters. Poets do not like shouting over this, let alone competing with those who come to the bar to drink and talk to their friends.

3. Do not choose a room above a bar, quiet or otherwise. See 2. above, because no matter how apparently silent you think it is on the afternoon you go to look at it, the bar noise will seep upstairs and ruin the reading. Plus the audience will be up and down, in and out, buying drinks and ignoring the poets. That said poets and their audiences are a thirsty lot, so you do need to provide access to drinks at some point if you want them to stay.

4. Don't expect poets to lose their voices. Provide a microphone and most importantly, a microphone stand. Poets are not circus performers and cannot juggle books, papers and a mic. Provide something for them to put their books on too. Music stands are as cheap as chips - buy one.

5. Do not ignore your poets. Introduce them to the audience, but try not to make them sound like they are wannabe Nobel prize nominees (unless they are) by reeling off dull lists of all the book titles they've published, awards they have won and where they went to junior school. Reading out their bios is deeply sleep inducing and they can readily be found on line. Stick to the recent and the latest book being plugged and some engaging nugget about them.

6. Don't let readings run on. Tell your poets how long you want them to read for and ask them to stick to it. You might need to re-emphasise this on the night. Only the crazies and self-indulgent will disrespect you on this. If they do, short of dragging them bodily from the stage,  you need to find a  polite and seamless way of asking them to stop.

7. Do not ignore your poets, again. The chances are they are reading for you for free in order to be able to sell their books. Help them in this endeavour by pointing out the book stall and have prices clearly on display and someone to whom cash can be given. You wouldn't believe the number of readings I've been to where no-one can tell me how to buy the book. I have no idea what I have missed. Oh, and beer and books are not good table-fellows.

8. Don't sit back and relax. If you are organising the reading, organise it. You will probably not have time to socialise yourself or listen much to the poetry, your job is to make sure everything is all right on the night. You are directing and producing a performance.

9. Do not ignore your poets, again. Tell them they read well and thank them for coming. even if they were awful and you never want to see them more. The poetry world is a small one and you cannot know who they know or with whom they might be able to put you in touch. Plus we are meant to be  nice people, aren't we?

10. Don't end late. End on time. Your audience need to be encouraged to buy books, drinks, etc. and not have to rush off home before the last metro.

Bon courage.

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