Are you a poet or reader of poetry interested in improving your ‘reading poetry for an audience’ skills? Send us a recording of yourself reading (or a link to one) and a note on where you think your problem lies to nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com. The Voice Alpha gang will review it and give you feedback and recommendations.
We encourage you to consider reading poems by other people so as to remove the potential for “author’s blinders.” Because copyright may be an issue, several generous poets have donated a poem for free use in this project and you may choose from a range of donated options here. You may also use any poem that is out-of-copyright or Creative Commons-licenced, or one of your own poems.
Voice Alpha’s stable of regular contributors will publish our collective responses along with your recording and initial message, and invite further comments from the community. We will publish your recording and message anonymously, upon request.
Previous Voice Alpha reading advice:
Reading from outside the poem (Rachel Brown)
Group reading and group critique of ‘Wonder Woman’ by Collin Kelley
Pace, tone and upward inflection (Scot Siegel)
Issues with breath, returning to reading in public after years (Risa Denenberg)
What to do about ‘slavish attachment to iambic pentameter’ (W.F. Lantry)
If you need technical assistance, see qarrtsiluni’s suggestions on how to make an audio recording. If you can’t make an MP3, we can convert from other formats, including video. Please query first, though.
You may use any of the following poems for your reading:
earth by Ivy Alvarez
How To Make A Raft by Eliza Albo
Sleepless Beauties by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Gacela of Consumer Apathy by J.P. Dancing Bear
First Queer Poem by Brent Goodman
Wonder Woman by Collin Kelley
Dreaming in Couplets by Kathleen Kirk
My Love Never by Reb Livingston
Reasons I Resisted Kissing Your Sister by Scot Siegel
the party by Nic Sebastian
Storage Unit by Hannah Stephenson
The Fires by Ann Tweedy
Imagine Saying It In Your Middle School Classroom by Donna Vorreyer
How to Make a Raft
by Elisa Albo
You will need the following items:
canvas, tractor tire inner tubes,
twine, wire, sawed off oil barrels,
wooden planks, nails, cut up branches,
a back door, a compass, the end
of a rope, a final straw, to have
had it up to here. Aspirin, some
honey, a shot of cane aguardiente,
an ocean of hope, a cup of grace,
a hand, two arms, a thread, a chance,
sweat, tears, blood, gall, sugar,
no salt, bread, ingenuity, super-
human courage, your dog. Take
plenty of fresh water, a red cross,
a blue sky, a white flag, a sail,
a symbol, a word, a joke, a song,
a line of poetry—preferably Marti.
You’ll need a sunny day, a starry
night, a good wind, a statue of
la Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre,
an olive branch, though a palm frond
may do. Take your birth certificate,
passport, marriage license, diplomas–
you’ll lose them at sea. A pad with
the telephone numbers of Uncle Tito,
Cousin Juanito, your niece Maria Elena–
you’ll lose those too. Don’t forget
your most cherished photographs.
Before you leave, give away or sell:
your dresser, bed, clothes, shoes,
appliances, paintings, plates, T.V.
Take only what fits inside. When
you build a raft, everything changes
forever. If you return, you’ll find little
of your former life. You”ll get used
to your new life. While in the water,
stay calm, watch the horizon, don’t
bleed, don’t think about what lurks
below, only what lurks behind. If
you make it, you’re free. Muy bien.
from Passage to America
by Ivy Alvarez
the rain loves the earth by extinguishing
the sweet burn of day, smoothes the dry furrows
with wet blunt fingers, signals each visit
by taps on the door. it does not forget
to wake the buried seeds warm in their beds,
gently thrums until each pokes out a head
first yellow. darkening when the sun comes
loam crumbs, brown earth melts under water’s welts
succumbs to its cool press, the balm of day
gives up the shoots. the stems are gentle spears
beneath the disconnected leaves—
a snail gnaws at the tender flesh of stems.
the raindrops follow the curve of its house
glint a sparkle and seep into the ground
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
She watches her teenage daughter pitch
a fit, complete with hysterical
sobbing, door slamming, and screaming.
Some part of her turns to stone
as her daughter hurls nasty
accusations about lack of love and ugliness.
She thinks of the ancient fairy tales
with their adolescent girls left to slumber
for a hundred years. She wonders
where she could find a witch
to cast this spell.
She would settle for a tower,
her daughter locked up safe,
maybe with a spinning wheel or loom
to keep her fingers busy.
She thinks of boarding schools and pharmaceuticals,
the modern answer to the ancient spell.
She thinks of how quickly a blessing turns
into a curse. She pours the last
of her bottle of wine and waits.
Gacela of Consumer Apathy
by J.P. Dancing Bear
What I know about immunity is taught by the eyes
of sick caged rabbits, moving to heaven
for our vanity. My guilt is heavy as a brick.
I saw someone with rabbit eyes clutching a lipstick
like a carrot, behind boxes of cosmetics stacked
heavy as bricks, immune to heaven’s light.
I was rabbit-punched by the brickly kiss
of glowing consumer angels, immune to responsibility,
who promised heaven in a sterile but pleasing wrapper.
My hand turning a heavenly radio dial, immune
to the rabbit-tongued announcers talking bric-a-brac
in a language of parsnips and bright flowers.
I sought diplomatic immunity in the City
of Rabbits, a heaven from the ravages of hawks,
a brick wall to block the language of feral dogs.
Under the brick facades all eyes turn upward,
almost in prayer, to the rabbit of the moon
immune to the cumulous heavens around it.
First Queer Poem
by Brent Goodman
Of course I shake all my martinis Sapphire,
appreciate art, MFA’d, these shoes international,
chocolate chaise zen-modern, whip-smart attire.
By necktie noose I am a creative professional.
By night I product my hair to a perfect mess,
unwind my tongue around velour conversation.
Oh, do stop. My mirror adores me when I undress,
big boy, abs groomed smooth to chiseled definition.
Eyes up here, buddy. Your future wife is watching.
No secret: married me sometimes rest-stop cruise,
flashing headlights like sad lost deep sea creatures.
I live on the surface. I’m for real: ask me anything.
How dramatic my coming out, tears blurring my eyes.
Father puts his fork down. My mother feigns surprise.
by Collin Kelley
The day I told my parents I wanted to trade in
G.I. Joe for Wonder Woman must have set off alarms.
I wanted to surrender my guns for the golden lasso,
more than the dolls, mind you, I wanted to be
I don’t remember who stitched the costume,
blue underwear with glued on stars, a red bustier
wrapped around my seven-year-old sunken chest,
the golden eagle oddly deflated.
The headband and bullet-deflecting cuffs made
of cardboard and the length of rope my father had
spray-painted gold in the yard hooked at my side.
I lassoed my poor dad first, demanded the truth,
but there was no magic in those rough, twisted fibers.
If the rope could have squeezed out an ounce
of what he was really thinking,
I would have been dressed up as Superman or Batman,
a manly cape flying out behind me as I ran
around the back yard, hidden from the neighbors,
while my dad devised a way to build
Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.
– publication credit to MetroMania Press and Seven Kitchens Press
Dreaming in Couplets
by Kathleen Kirk
I hang up the phone, the knife still in my hand.
I touch its serrated edge, leave behind
the bread for dinner. I walk into the heat
of Miami, after the rain. Ahead a tourist
bus rounds a curve between cypress trees.
No one cares, no one fears for me!
I must leap the swamp to reach the meadow.
Over the water, I remember how
to fly, the secret hidden for so long
I did not see the patterns of these wings
waiting in the grass. All those who have gone
before me, I praise. All those who have done
this blindly, with hope. Here we are in the leaves
of grass again, flying toward our griefs.
My Lover Never
by Reb Livingston
Lovers never were supposed to be our friends.
That’s passion’s funny lie.
Matrimony had a lover,
they took bike rides together,
shared an angel sex partner
tied her to a cement block and utterly rejected her.
My lover never gave a handjob
in the muck, hardly.
My lover is a sex lamb, incensed
like that man over there,
pruning his foreign foliage, ignoring me.
Awfully American, pretending not.
A fancy American wearing stripes.
I’m wearing a skirt.
I tried to call, a little hurt.
Attending yet another wedding.
My lover pumps a bright bicycle,
hoards wire hangers, licks moths,
finds pleasures inside his mouth.
We must atone some, my love.
Something inside must climb and crinkle.
Reasons I Resisted Kissing Your Sister
by Scot Siegel
Do you remember the Playboys we cached in the hollowed-out
eucalyptus? I never found them again. How about those nights
we spent cat-fishing at the quarry below Payless. When that monster
locked its jaws on your wrist and began to swim, I thought of
And do you remember getting lost in a storm sewer, the roar
of Oakland Avenue above our heads; then the pinpoint of light
through the catch basin that was welded shut: I was tempted
to kiss her then.
But later that summer, at camp without you, I walked with a girl
from the east high on a desert trail, our hands clasped beside
the Tawanamas, mountains bristling before a storm: For a moment,
I thought of you and your mother back in the city; I was hoping
you were sober; I almost thought of your sister, but the girl’s fist,
warm in my palm, juniper smoke in her green eyes, and the blue
sky turning purple in the distance…
Do you remember the grassfire we set on the hill above your
house? That was the last time you told me your sister wanted
to kiss me. But her chest was flat as the valley, and her face
freckled and pale as the oat grass. She looked like you, brother,
and I thought you knew better.
– Originally published in MiPOesias
by Nic Sebastian
I will have a party and invite
Thursday for Thursday has glossy
black hair and a ticket
I will invite the road to
Nizwa which is snaking and wears
skirts of orange silk embroidered
with humming birds I will invite
your birthday which is a green perfume
opening with bright citrus its notes are
bergamot its notes are moss it dances
bolero and the guests
of honor at my party will be
your years to come they will offer me
cinnamon twigs and fire
by Hannah Stephenson
You don’t have room for it, or present need.
Twelve place-settings of china, inherited.
A hulking, dusty treadmill, adjustable speed
and incline. A set of golf clubs, their heads
pushing out of the bag like hungry cats.
Your toys. Barbies naked together, piled
on plastic shoes and metallic gowns, flaps
of cardboard folded in on top. Files
crammed in a metal cabinet, not sorted.
Your apartment is small, only one closet,
and no basement. So you pay for public storage,
park the boxed oddities that don’t fit
at home. You visit once or twice a year,
dread the shhhhh of cardboard being slid
on concrete, the horror of spiders nesting here,
the uneasiness rooted in lifting up lids.
by Ann Tweedy
………………. nobody gets out of it, having to swim
………………. through the fires to stay in this world
……………….……. –Mary Oliver
today i remember the two oxen
tied by their horns to the rails
of a flatbed truck in mexico.
the horn of one had come off and
blood spurted from the hole.
the animal squirmed with pain
as the truck lurched along the road
today the fear of being loved
consumes me. i stare straight
at the cresting wave that will
engulf me and report how weak
and hesitant it is, as if my words
could hold it at bay. as if
shimmery ripples would slake me.
as if i could choose
not to be swept away
–from Beleaguered Oases
Imagine Saying It In Your Middle School Classroom
by Donna Vorreyer
It is the perfect syllable to stun.
Hurl the heft of it with the precision
of a surgeon. Savor every letter –
the lit-fuse sizzle of the f: better
still, the guttural punch of the u,
before the whipcrack of the c-k. Do
it just this one time. Pull it from under
the piles of late papers, each dumb blunder
that makes you wish you waited tables. Watch
them recoil in horror, whisper and clutch
their hands in disbelief. You know they can’t
touch you. Their eyes follow you, timid, slant,
afraid to meet your gaze. Hands on your hips,
its sweetness drips like honey from your lips.