Poetry Aloud

(So there’s no ban on it)

 

Having just taken part last night in an Open Mik event and read some of my poems quite recently in two other different settings, I’ve been thinking a bit about what works and why.

 

There are technical things – having a clear voice and one that carries well (these are points on which I score well without trying much); knowing when to ignore an interruption and when to stop until it’s finished; not reading too fast or too slowly, in too melodramatic or too mundane a fashion (but this varies a lot depending on the nature of the poem) and knowing where to pause. A lot of this is helped by the same thing that’s crucial with public speakers – understanding how your audience will experience what you’re doing and being alert to signs of how they’re reacting while you’re talking/performing. Do they look a bit puzzled? Perhaps you should slow down a bit. Do they look entranced? You’re getting it just right: just keep the spell going.

 

Make the most of the sounds in the words you’ve used. That’s an important part of my own poetry, which helps.

 

But I always find selecting poems for public reading difficult. Outdoor venues with more distractions may mean a rather deep and obscure poem will miss the mark whereas indoor with 10-30 people it might have great impact. Humour is always difficult especially if you’re mixing it with very serious stuff. I tend to mix the more complex and murky poems (but not the MOST complex and murky) with comparatively simple and forceful stuff that might go down well at that noise-invaded outdoor venue.

 

Knowing something about your audience is important (including likely numbers – the atmosphere in a room of eight people is profoundly different to one with eighty, and if you expected one but got the other, that may throw you). However, I wonder if it isn’t AS important with poetry readings as with, say, political speeches. I’ve made tentative assumptions about audiences and then found them to be wrong: that many people there are fond of rather simple, upbeat popular poetry does not mean they won’t be able to handle something rather darker and less obvious; people who like rap may also like something slower and more contemplative and an audience of old people may react enthusiastically to a poem about coming to terms with death.

 

Finally, if you were moved to the difficult and sometimes painful act of producing your poetry, if the poetry means a lot to you, you should be able to speak it with PASSION. So do.

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2 Comments

  1. There is certainly an art to reading poetry aloud. Good for you doing this! I hope your audience enjoyed what you read.

    Reply

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