What NOT to Do at a Poetry Reading, Rant #1


For those of you who have gained enough renown that folks are actually asking you to do real time readings of your poetry, I have tons of advice.

(These are also known as rants, because apparently what is obvious to me is not obvious to everyone else. It is kind of like how climate change is not being equated with gravity: the love rocks have for the ground, which for most of us is Super Obvious.)

I will eventually talk about the Mechanics of Reading in Public, and cover the Problem of Random Microphones, etc. But right now I feel the need to explain why you should never feel the need to explain too much. Archibald MacLeish once said, “If the poem can be improved by the author’s explanations, it never should have been published.” So never spend more than a few seconds explaining a poem. We want to hear the poem, not your explanation.

Do not hunch over the microphone. Your posture should be the posture of a professional human, not of a sloth.

When in doubt, do ask, “Can every one hear me?” In my experience, unless it is a Very Intimate Setting, the folks in back cannot.

And do, PLEASE, show respect for your audience by PLANNING ahead on what you are going to read. Do not just say, “Gosh, I wonder what I will read.” That is just an egotistical time-wasting lack of respect. Alvin Ailey dancers never go on stage saying, “Gosh, I wonder what dance I am going to do.” The New York Met does not congregate on stage saying, “I wonder what opera we should do tonight. Do we have any requests?” Prepare your reading. Hell, you might even want to practice it once or twice!

And, for those of you in our Studio Audience, if you have been dragged to a poetry reading by your (probably female) significant other, at least do us the favor of trying hard to pretend to stay awake.

Much obliged.

Image by Doug Savage.

PS: To catch one of my recent poems, go to this blog.

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