Friday, May 22, 2009
Some poetry reading secrets
I find it really frees me to prepare the reading beforehand: to time with a stopwatch (easily found online) all the poems I intend to read (good reading practice anyway), and then plan the performance down to, say, the half-minute. (I also plan for alternative poems I might feel like reading.)
On stage, with no distractions related to time, I know exactly where I am in the performance, and can focus entirely on delivery, etc. Believe me, uncertainty about time -- how much you have left, whether you're in danger of running over -- can affect your focus more than you even realize.
One large bookmark with the poems, times, page numbers and talking points is better than all those silly little bookmarks or post-its poets often use.
Some moderators, owing to personality or circumstance, can be time Nazis -- again, best not to go through the humiliation of being told you have time left for just one short poem, etc.
Don't read too fast. Don't use what Mayhew calls "poetry voice".
Better to recite poems than to read them, actually -- that's the way it was done by the Ancient Greeks and other oral cultures, as well as, of course, by the best performance poets today -- but with so few gigs, it seems a questionable investment of time (time again: seems an obsession in this post!). Reciting one or two poems can be pretty dramatic.