View Full Version : Poetry reading question

01-25-2016, 11:03 PM
Hey Y'all, I'm normally a mystery writer, but do write poetry too and one of my poems is being published this spring in an anthology. I have to do three readings, one with Naomi Shahib Nye and the OK Poet Laureate, etc.—so I'm like totally terrified. All advice welcome. Here's the question:

My poem is written with enjambment. (I think that's the term for lines that don't end with the sentence.) I chose that technique because when you read it stopping at the ends of lines, iti has one meaning; and when you read it as sentences, another.

I was practicing reading at my writers' club and had chosen to pause at the ends of the lines, because that version carries the central emotional message of the poem. One of the listeners said that I am supposed to read it to the ends of sentences. She was really sweet about it, and though she isn't a poet, was trying to be helpful.

Is it incorrect for me to read the poem to the ends of lines as opposed to the ends of sentences?

01-25-2016, 11:21 PM
I think it depends on the poem. To me, the meaning of a poem is the most important part, and I read aloud, always, for meaning -- and I use line breaks for meaning when I write. I pause where I feel a pause creates meaning, both when reading and writing. And I too use the technique where the line can have a dual meaning when you pause at the line break or at the end of the sentence.

(I do not pause to emphasize internal rhyme or the like -- rather often I use a rhyme in the middle of a sentence, but at the end of a line. That's fun for reading it silently on paper, but I think it would take away from the meaning of the poem if I worked too hard to stress it in a line.)

Without seeing your poem and hearing the way you are reading, it is difficult to assess what works best.

For what it is worth, I am attaching a couple of my poem threads where I've included sound cloud links to my readings -- that will give you an idea of what I do. (The sound cloud links may be a few posts past the one that includes the text, but at least you will be able to look at the text when you hear my reading.

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?310075-hospice (password: citrus)

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?299320-Requiem-for-Uncle-John (password: citrus)

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?297429-The-Last-Walk (password: citrus)


I think overall, what I do is pause slightly, or shift my voice a bit, wherever I want to emphasize something. (Some of my poems have no periods at all -- but they do have breaks.)

01-25-2016, 11:39 PM
That's very exciting!

I agree with Cassandra. Indeed, listen to other poets reading their work. (several of us has poems at SoundCloud). Record your own there and play it back to yourself a few times, so you can find places that you need to work on emphasis.
Rewrite a "reading version" for yourself before you record it so you can follow your own cues as to how to put across the meaning you intend.

Good luck!

01-25-2016, 11:47 PM
FYI, you'll find a bunch of sound cloud readings in the last couple of pages of the Absolute Poets' Collection Thread. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?30943-Absolute-Poets-Collections&p=9336140&viewfull=1#post9336140

Also, William does some terrific readings of the first few sections of his Thorn Forest (the links are somewhere in the thread). http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?290649-The-Compleat-Thorn-Forest-(A-Gift-for-AW)

And Stew's idea of doing some practice runs and writing out the poem to emphasize the way you want to read it is a great one.


oh, and congratulations!

01-26-2016, 05:10 AM
Y'all, THANK YOU! These links are great. And I'm so glad I'm not doing this wrong because I totally want to read it to bring out its true meter and emotional context. Since the poem is short, I think I'll give out little bookmarks with the poem on it - as a promo for the anthology. Is that done? Or is it not cool?

01-26-2016, 05:36 AM
Since the poem is short, I think I'll give out little bookmarks with the poem on it - as a promo for the anthology. Is that done? Or is it not cool?

It might be a good idea to check with the organizers/sponsors of the reading and with the publishers of the anthology to see if they have any objections.

They might think it's not appropriate to have just your poem on a promo for an anthology that includes the work of many poets, or to have one poet hand out such a promo and not the rest. To be on the safe side, if it were me, I'd ask before I went ahead with the idea.

01-26-2016, 08:23 AM
Good points, Cassandra. Thanks for the advice, I'll drop that idea. So many people give things away, but my first publisher had advised me to never print even a business card. She said those things only give people permission to not buy the book. Maybe I'll put the poem up on the smartboard as I read.

Luckily, I have a super-supportive local critique group and they're willing to do two more rehearsals with me. I'm reading poems, six-word memoirs (which are like tiny poems), a short creative nonfiction and a short article at the scariest event, Scissortail. It's also, in some ways, the most exciting ... if I don't have a heart attack. :e2paperba

Thanks again!

01-27-2016, 02:20 AM
You can follow the AW Poetry Forum Spoken Word Poet of the Summer of 2012 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDh_4tO_S5Q&feature=youtu.be) link in my sig for one of my readings :D

Good luck, and let us know how you get on...

01-28-2016, 03:30 PM
kborsden, thank you. I will use it. I'm feeling a little bit more confident since talking to the organizer about the room, the mic and podium. I'll be reading for a total of about 13 minutes. (15 allotted, but I'm planning it short so I won't run over.) So I'll need an emotional arc to carry the audience through it. When we planned the pieces to be read, I luckily built a little bit of a story arc across them - as there are several shorts of both prose and poetry separated by a few of my 6-word memoirs.

- My writing club advised that I put the work to be read in a binder. Large font. Many of the shorter ones I know by heart, but it will all be written down in case I get spooked.

- Now with y'all's help, I'm using colored text and spacing to add emphasis and pauses. (When nervous, I tend to read fast.)

- I'm going to try using rhythm sticks to accent changes of pieces. Just a tiny, single tone. The use of sticks matches my title and theme.

And thanks to y'all, I now feel more confident about reading my most powerful poem the way I think it should be read.

How do y'all do this all the time? Poetry is so deeply personal. It's like an emotional wringer just to plan the reading.

04-03-2016, 06:01 PM
April started with intense terror, a dark threat hanging over me. Coughing, stumbling, slashing up my own stories paled in comparison to the threat of April Fools Day. What if I stood up and they said, "April Fools!" My heart went into palpitation territory.

I walked up to the podium. They didn't shout me down. But what if nobody laughed where they were supposed to laugh? They laughed. What if nobody clapped? They did. The room was filled with professors and literary editors. I felt certain they would think me a hack. But they LIKED it. They kept walking up to tell me for the rest of the con. They asked me to sign books.

April began terrifyingly FAB!

Thanks again for your help, fabulous poets! Note that this is a copy of a post I put in the April 500 Words a Day thread over in M/T/S but I wanted to share how it went because y'all were SO HELPFUL. I could not have done it without you, Lucie.

04-04-2016, 05:19 PM
Wonderful! I'm glad it went so well.