Preparing For A Poetry Reading

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

I’m reading tonight at a conference put on by a local organization called Colour of Poverty.  The conference, From Poverty To Power, has been on for the last three days.  The organizers wanted to include arts that reflected the topic so two fellow poets and I will be on stage tonight.

Who better than poets to know about poverty!

This is my third reading this year.  I read my fist commissioned poem, Spreading The Roots and Reach of the Living Tree, at a law conference in March; I read an essay, On Reading Chrystos: Her Words Are Not Vanishing, about challenging rape culture via poetry at a literature conference in early April; and tonight I’m reading poems about poverty.

I have a pre-reading ritual before every reading that might help some of you writers who read in public.  We all do things differently.  This is my humble advice.

Choose Poems That Fit The Event

Although a lot of my work is about fighting oppression I’m a fight fan who writes about boxing and MMA once in a while.  I wouldn’t show up to a rally about stopping violence against women and spew off poems about my favorite pugilists.  Know what I mean?

Choose Poems That Fit The Time Limit You Have Been Given

Time is precious.  It’s the one thing we can’t buy.  When it’s gone it’s gone!  When asked to do a reading you are usually given a time limit.  Respect it!  Respecting a time limit is respecting the organizers who asked you to read, the audience who is giving you their attention, and your fellow presenters.  Make sure the poems you choose fit the allotted time you have been given.  It might be a good idea to choose poems that have you finish early.

Send Poems On Video To The Organizers

When I was commissioned to write a poem early this year I sent the organizers three videos of my previous readings. I did this so that they could get an idea of my writing and reading style, and for them to direct me toward what type of poem they wanted me to write for them.  This is only possible if you have videos of you reading.  I totally recommend you tape yourself reading at events for memories and so that people can see what you are about.

Use The Mirror Technique

The mirror technique takes many forms.   People use it for various reasons: affirmations, self love, meditation, spirituality…

I know a survivor of the Residential School System, a Canadian-colonial government and church plan to “kill the Indian and save the child”, who uses the mirror technique every morning.  He stands in front of his mirror and says loving and affirming things to himself to combat the lies forced on him while imprisoned in residential school as a 4 year old after being stolen from his family.

The way I use the mirror technique for readings is to read in front of the mirror.  I check my posture, grip, stance, and appearance.  I also walk around my room while reciting my poem or essay.  But usually, unless I’m giving talk or running a workshop, I stand in one place which is why the mirror technique is a good one.  It helps you get used to yourself and it gives you confidence.

Read Poems Out Loud Over And Over To Yourself And To A Friend

Before I leave my apartment tonight I will have read and re-read my poems out loud several times.  It helps to identify spots in your work that need certain intonations, breaks, silence, and points of eye contact with your audience.  You want your reading to go smooth.  A smooth reading is easy on the ear and it makes you look good.

Before I read my essay at the ACLA conference two weeks ago I read it aloud to two friends.  They timed me and took notes on the reading for feedback.  Their help was crucial.  They identified spots that needed re-working and emphasis.  Reading to them helped my reading the next day go smooth.

I hope this helps!

Try them out and let me know what happens.

If you have your own techniques share them!

Peace, prayers, poetry.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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  1. Danny says:

    Great article on pre event rituals and pre event planning!

  2. buriedinprint says:

    This sounds like great advice: hope all your preparations “paid off” and that you enjoyed the event!

  3. Pingback: A POET’S POINTERS ON PUBLIC READING | Black Coffee Poet

  4. Pingback: BCP READS @ POVERTY TO POWER 2013 | Black Coffee Poet

  5. pdlyons says:

    Reblogged this on Pdlyons's Weblog and commented:
    good info here. thank you!

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