This past Sunday three of us with poetry chapbooks read to a warm, receptive audience in the community room of the public library. Here are some things that made the reading work very well:
–Refreshments: cookies, fruit, pastries, juice, nuts
–Informal atmosphere and introductions
–Choice of poems to read to an audience
As one of the poets, Kathryn, said, “We have three very different voices,” and we did, but serendipity wove us together. We all had some humor in our poems (and in our “patter” between poems), and we all happened to have music in our poems. Who knew?! (I even sang a phrase mid-poem, a bit of embedded lyric that is also conversational enough in passing not to be recognized as a song lyric, unless sung!)
I say, “Who knew?” because we did not rehearse, nor get together beforehand to discuss what poems we’d choose, which I think is most often the case at poetry readings, yes? Oftentimes poets come together as featured guests, or in a group reading, and have some poems prepared and some backups, based on what others read. See Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s account of this Miami Book Fair reading! So not rehearsing is probably the norm.
Sometimes, though, I do “rehearse”—specifically with my poetry class, mostly new poets, reading on a shared theme, in a museum setting, and mostly to time the poems, so we don’t go over our allotted hour. Reading aloud to each other is indeed 1) good practice 2) something we do regularly before feedback and as a revision technique, and 3) it does reveal common themes and serendipitous strands.
For Sunday, I chose some poems with the other poets in mind. For example, I brought 3 train poems because I had read and loved Tim Hunt’s “Train Window” (and posted it in my blog ), and, during my set, I requested that he read that one. Serendipitously, he had planned to read it anyway.
The microphone was essential in our public library setting, even though we had plenty of privacy, tucked into the basement auditorium space reserved for large events. Staff did pass by in the hall, there were latecomers, and the “free and open to the public” nature of the event brought a mix of ages and some people who have difficulty hearing.
Kathryn was least comfortable with a microphone. “I tend to move around a lot when I read,” she told us, and I had shown her how the microphone could detach from its stand, but she stayed put, which was good, as we could all hear her in her whimsical, wry, and honest delivery, and her energy went into the poems instead of movement, except for eye movement, that impish glance to the left when she was being…impish.
The informal atmosphere came from speaking directly to the audience in our brief introductions to the poems, and leaving off fancy introductions of the poets themselves. Introductions in which a host reads a biography and lists accomplishments can sometimes intimidate an audience and sort of turn them off or close them down in advance. But our audience remained eager and open, ready to listen.
Tim Hunt read from his forthcoming chapbook Redneck Yoga, with “redneck” settings, language, and music. As he is a “self-proclaimed redneck,” he means nothing pejorative in the label. He also read from White Levis (as in jeans). Kathryn Kerr read from her forthcoming Turtles All the Way Down, in poems that give voice to a turtle “as a cranky middle-aged woman.” We got to hear that cranky turtle voice.
All three of us chose poems that could be heard and received in one hearing, especially with a wee bit of set up or context for the hearing. We stuck with mainly shorter poems, or longer poems in sections. We had room for darkness and complexity, but we also offered poems that could be readily grasped or accepted, if not necessarily completely understood. We hoped and intended to connect to our audience, and so we did.
Comments afterwards confirmed this, and the audience stuck around to chat, eat, and buy books, before heading off to Sunday afternoon football on tv, or other delights. And, because we three poets stuck to the 15-20 minute limit on our “sets,” we were out of there in an hour and a half. Satisfied our audience and left them wanting more.
If you want confirmation, here’s a review from Julie Kistler at the theatre blog, A Follow Spot.
What are your own experiences with:
–microphones (or lack thereof)
–adapting to the venue (see Carolee Sherwood on flexibility, etc. in open mics post!)
–rehearsing or preparing as a group for a group reading
–timing, allotted time, poets respecting this (or not)
–host’s introductions of poets
–poets’ own introductions of individual poems (and see Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s post!)
–serendipity in poem choices, or serendipity in general