Poetry: Tips for Reading Aloud

Band from Montreal

You’ve written it, revised it, revised it again, let it sit for a while, then revised one last time, and now you’re finally ready to share your poem. That open mike night can seem pretty intimidating, though, if you’re not sure how to read your poem out loud. Here are some tips for reading your poem in front of an audience:

 

  1. It’s a good idea to practice reading your poem five times, ten times, or even twenty times if you need to. Even if you wrote it yourself, it still can be difficult to cold-read a poem. You need to get to the point where you’re comfortable with the line breaks and the syntax – you don’t want to be surprised by your own enjambment, after all. Try reading it silently first, then when you feel you have gotten familiar with the movement and rhythm of your poem, start practicing reading it aloud. The more practice you get in, the more comfortable you’ll feel reading it in front of others.
  1. Read your poem to some friends. Once you’ve got the poem down, have some family or friends listen to your performance. Have your friends give you feedback about how your voice is carrying, how your speed is, and whether there were any parts of the poem that they missed or couldn’t understand. They can help you modify your delivery to make certain the poem’s nuances come across clearly to your audience.
  1. Make a clear, easy-to-read copy of the poem from which to read. Enlarge the font if you need to, put it in a binder if that is something that might help you stay organized. Even if you’ve practiced so much that you have the poem practically memorized, it’s easy to have a panicked moment once you’re in front of a crowd, and having a good visual aid can make all the difference.
  1. Remember to make eye contact. If you have practiced well, you shouldn’t need to stare at your copy of the poem the entire reading. The audience wants to be entertained, to be engaged with the reader on the journey of the poem, rather than just being read to. Make sure that when you read, you glance down at the page to check your place, then look around at the audience. Make eye contact, even for a microsecond, with multiple audience members before glancing back at your page(s) again. Not only does it make you seem more present in the room, but it makes you appear more confident.
  1. Try to relax – it’s going to be fine. No one’s career ever ended because of one bungled line, or because they got a coughing fit in the middle of a reading. It’s not like Evening at the Apollo – the audience isn’t waiting for you to fail, but rather is hoping you will succeed. Reading in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking, but if you’ve practiced and if you let yourself enjoy the poem, you’ll have the pleasure of sharing that enjoyment with your audience.

 

Young woman singing

 

Want to hear some great readings? Here are some lists:

The 10 Best Recordings of Poets:

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2014/jun/06/the-10-best-recordings-of-poets

Famous Poets Reading Their Own Work:

http://www.openculture.com/2008/03/listening_to_famous_poets_reading_their_own_work_.html

10 Celebrities Reading Famous Poems:

http://flavorwire.com/280070/watch-10-celebrities-reading-famous-poems-aloud

Button Poetry on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ButtonPoetry

Poetry Out Loud:

http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poems-and-performance/listen-to-poetry

 

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