October 19, 2007

Advice to poets on reading

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — crcb @ 10:25 pm
Tags: , ,

Mood: aciculate

Poetry readings every day: could be a description of heaven or hell. I’ve been going to readings for twenty years now, and taken part in quite a few myself. I think I’m qualified to offer a little advice to the readers, in self-defense if nothing else.

  1. You may say a few words to introduce a piece or define unfamiliar terms, but don’t explain the poem. If the poem doesn’t speak for itself, you have more work to do. Do not make the intro longer than the poem.
  2. Don’t frame a poem with both an introduction and an epilogue. Go on to the next one.
  3. Don’t apologize for a poem. If you don’t like it, why are you making us listen to it?
  4. Don’t dedicate every poem to a member of your writing group.
  5. Pick out your poems beforehand. Nothing says, “I didn’t care enough to prepare” like making the audience wait while you decide what to read.
  6. Rehearse. At least once. We all like to surprise ourselves in the act of writing, but surprising yourself in the act of reading does not make for a smooth delivery.
  7. You want to “perform” your poetry? Go for it; I like risk-taking. The best you can hope for, however, is that only 20% of the audience will find it pretentious.
  8. Do try to animate your delivery a little. My computer writes poetry, but I don’t let it read it out loud.
  9. Don’t come in late, or leave the moment you’ve read your poems.
  10. Don’t go over your allotted time (or, for an open mic, your allotted number of poems). Don’t say, “just two more,” then read three or four. That’s just cruel.


  1. this is a very simple but useful list – thank you.

    i especially agree with #10 – no matter how wonderful the poems, there’s a limit to how many i want to listen to, especially if a lot of people are reading.

    Comment by seaswell — October 22, 2007 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  2. Absolutely. I heard Charles Simic read a few years ago, and he timed it just right. Sometimes it seems that the smaller the talent, the longer the reading.

    Comment by crcb — October 25, 2007 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

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