How to Host a Poetry Reading


by Shay Tasaday

NOTHING CONTRIBUTES MORE SIGNIFICANTLY to people's experience of your poetry than your reading it aloud for them. The best place for this is a poetry reading with an open mic. However, if the organizers of an event don't allow an open mic, they are most likely intellectual snobs who just want to read their own self-absorbed attempts at literature. Your only choice then is to host your own event, starring you, and thus allowing you to open up your weathered spiral bound notebook to the world and read all the poems you've saved up for all these years, even the brand new one you just wrote on your way to the reading. Or the even newer one you wrote at the table while waiting for the other poets to finish reading. There are a few simple things you can do to make your poetry event successful and fun for everyone.

1. Pick a venue that is sympathetic to poetry, or at least lets you use some tiny area in the venue. Coffee houses are the traditional places for poetry readings because the people who linger there are open to creativity. You can tell because they all have laptops. Also, the coffee sometimes helps them to be attentive. Unfortunately, the only coffee bar in your neighborhood or town may be a Starbucks, and they may not have the room for you to perform, since their displays of CDs, coffee grounds, tee shirts, and packaged biscotti are important for their business. A local bar would also be a good venue for a reading. Maybe they already have musicians playing and will allow you to perform before the heavy metal set. Just make sure to finish within your allotted time. Musicians are wonderful, creative people, but you don't want to take away any of their gigging time, which they treat as a mamma bear would her cub, even though they never start on schedule. The audience in bars is also sympathetic to poetry, although you may have to speak up to be heard above the jukebox, the giant TV screens, and the talking.

2. Invite a group of your fellow poets to perform.
Your friends and fellow poets will leap at the chance to read their works at your reading. Just make sure to give them a limit of five minutes or three poems, whichever comes first; if they want to read more than that, they have to host their own reading. Also, remember to schedule yourself last, since it is your event and you are the main reason people are there. However, since people sometimes leave poetry readings early because of personal engagements, you may also want to read in the middle of the event, and even between the other poets, to make sure everyone gets to hear your work. In fact, maybe you should start off the reading with some of your wonderful poems. Don't know any other poets? That's okay. You can meet a whole bunch through online social networks. Some of them may take the initiative and want to meet with you before the event to discuss each one of your great poems, maybe in a motel or in the parking lot of an all-night convenience store. Go make friends or, better yet, colleagues! Poetry brings together a wide range of interesting people.

3. Consider making your reading a slam-style one. A poetry slam is a competitive event in which poets perform their work and are then judged by members of the audience, sometimes even in the middle of the poems. Imagine everyone in the bar yelling and holding up scorecards while you share your most intimate feelings, all the secret things you have labored to express! Is there any better way to get immediate feedback and have people tell you how good your poems are? Unlikely. And remember, poetry slam poems are most often read in a very particular style, sort of like a rambling, angry car salesman on fire. Make sure to practice that and the accompanying hand gestures in the mirror. Also, the poems are often very long and repetitious. Repetition is important! Repetition is important!

4. Consider the plusses and minuses of an open mic. Much like amateur night at the Grand Old Opry, an open mic gets the audience in the spirit or the event, since everyone gets to read their own poems. This will get people to stay, at least until they have had their turn. Interestingly, open mics everywhere tend to attract similar people. There is always the old man who reads the very, very sad poem about his dead wife. How sad. Or the hip hop teenager who wants to be a rapper. So talented. Or the shy young lady who whispers her poem so no one can really hear it, but everyone claps at the end anyway. Remember, many of the poets there are amateurs who were once like you, unheard of and unfamiliar with hosting a poetry reading. This is your chance to give them an opportunity to shine. But of course you must limit their time strictly, perhaps to one minute or one poem, whichever comes first. If they go over their allotted time, you may want to physically remove them from the stage. No one likes a spotlight hog, especially at a poetry reading.

See, all it takes are few simple steps to make your reading successful and fun for everyone. Now planning an evening together with a group of fellow poetry enthusiasts may make some people joke that your social life is officially over. Haw haw! In reality, hosting a poetry reading is not only a great way to meet fellow poets, who are always fascinating, it can also be a great way to meet people you will want to date. And if they say they are on behavioral modification drugs within ten minutes of meeting you, don't be alarmed. What kind of people did you expect to meet at a poetry reading anyway?

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