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Thoughts on Readings and a Poem by John

Posted by undergroundwritingproject on April 28, 2011 at 11:20 AM

A couple weeks ago, John and I had the great pleasure of attending an open mic hosted by the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series at Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs. I heard about the event through my writing buddy Iver Arnegard, who was the featured reader for April.


The layout goes something like this: first half hour or so dedicated to anyone who has something to read, then a break to mingle and make friends, and then the last half hour or so dedicated to a featured reader. Check out the series website here to keep posted on upcoming events and whatnot.


First off, let me say that Iver did a smashing job—which isn’t surprising because that’s just what he does. Plus I was pleasantly surprised because the whole group that read did great. And that can really be hit-or-miss during open mic time. (We’ve all been there, right?)


As I was sitting back being impressed by everyone I tried to think of things that make for a good reading. A lot of writers, seeing as how we’re always head-down with our noses in our keyboards, are uncomfortable giving readings.


And, dare I say it?, a lot of readings can be boring. That’s because we writers don’t always understand that readings are not about the writing, they are about the performance of the writing.


The next time that you have to give a reading, dear writers, here are a few simple, simple, simple things to keep in mind. You don’t have to be an American Idol, but you do need to:


1. Smile. Even if you’re reading something depressing, there will be a moment or two to smile at the audience.

2. Professional appearance. Now, I’m not saying that you have to wear a suit and tie, but you should be what I like to call First Date Presentable. Would you meet your first date with a stain on your shirt or your hair/teeth unbrushed? Probably not. Remember that you’re trying to seduce readers…and you can’t be seductive without deodorant. ’Kay? ’Kay.


3. Know your material. You don’t have to memorize it (but if you can, that helps). You don’t want to be stumbling over words that you’ve worked on for years. It makes it look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus you want to get your nose-out-of-notes remember? Look at the people who are looking at you.


4. Speak clearly. If you’re mumbling or not enunciating, the audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about. You could be telling a wonderful story or a beautiful-language laced poem but the audience will fall asleep if they don’t understand a word coming out of your mouth. Warm up with tongue twisters. Practice.


5. End strong. After many readings there’re opportunities for Q&A. Which is great. Audience participation and all. However, never end on an answer to a question. Know the last thing that you will say. If it’s one more poem, great. If it’s a quote, awesome. But don’t leave the last thing the audience hears out of your mouth to chance. It’s the impression that resonates the most.


There’s my thought process on the subject. John has a much more creative response—and we’ll end on that because resonance is what we end on, right?


Thoughts on a Poetry Reading

By John Ridge

What goes in a Poem?
Should it rhyme? Have a cadence?
Who counts syllables?
(That was a Haiku)

Where does the line reside between Prose and Poetry?
Is it blurry? Is it distinct?
I’ve heard people read Essays.
I’ve heard people read Poems.
I’ve heard people read Short Stories.
I’ve heard people read bits of their Novel.
To be honest,
I could only hear the Poems for their rhyming phrases.

Let me ask you this:

How do you read out a line that’s on this side of the page?

Do you lean over this direction?

What about here?

Do you lean forward on the podium?

Or should everyone be leaning on this side?

Hear me, Calliope. Hear me, Erato. Hear me, Polyhymnia. I beseech you, O Muses of the Ancient World, what is the way to a Poem? How can a mere mortal conquer the sound of thought? How can the sweet caress of your inspiration be called upon during the marriage of ink to paper? What are we to do?

I’m willing to bet the answer is something similar to:

Whatever you want.

Talk about whatever you want.

As long as it’s important to you.

Words, when especially spoken, need time to sink into the human brain.

So don’t throw Spaghetti against the wall.

Unless you really like throwing Spaghetti.

Then have at it.

Don’t talk too fast.

Don’t talk too slow.

Be abstruse, adroit, ardent, audacious.

Be eccentric, eclectic, efflorescent, eloquent.

Be impertinent, impetuous, incisive, ingenious.

Be obstinate, ornery, ostentatious, outright.

But, most importantly, be you.


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Reply Debbie Meldrum
3:17 PM on May 2, 2011 
Great information.

@John, will you be reading this at the next open mic?
Reply Jenny Maloney
3:46 PM on May 2, 2011 
I think he should and I think he should bring spaghetti.
Reply Deanna
2:46 AM on May 3, 2011 
I agree with both comments (the spaghetti needs meatballs though). And don't we always say in writers group that you should read your writing out loud to make sure that it makes sense and has a flow and rythym to draw your reader in?

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