Thinking About the Reading at Poetry Readings

This morning a colleague made some gratifying remarks about me and about my poetry, and while she is the kind of person who is elegant and generous in her praise with everyone (which, in some ways, lessens some of my pleasure in the compliments), one thing that she did say that I think was not especially florid or fullsome was that I am a good reader of my own poetry.  That is something I value.

We all have gone to to poetry readings wherein otherwise excellent poetry is ruined by the person reading it.  Either they read in a monotone voice, devoid of inflection or life (which in turns sucks the life out of everyone in the audience), or they end every sentence in that pretentious “poetry voice” where the tone seems to ask a question even when it’s completely inappropriate to the text.  It staggers me when poets read their work poorly.  It makes me think that a) they never read their work aloud to themselves, even just to hear how the words sound together; or b) (and worse) they cultivate that affected “poetry voice” because they have seen it modeled at so many other poetry readings that they think that’s how poetry out loud is supposed to sound.

Let me assure you, it’s not supposed to sound that way.  It’s utterly gag-worthy that some poets choose to read their poetry to a live audience with anything less than an animated, interesting delivery.  Hello, poetry is PERFORMANCE–even “academic” “on the page” poetry.  Somehow our spoken word poets have gotten that message–that poetry is performance.  They know that poetry is a dynamic medium–so they damn well better deliver it in a dynamic way.

What’s the excuse for “on the page” poets?  Why do they read in a manner that so often turns off their audience?  When they give a dull reading, or read so poorly as to make the audience wish they had cotton to stuff their ears with, they are actually ensuring that the casual poetry audience member will never return and will worse, actually despise poetry.

This is my suggestion for poets to help improve delivery:

  • Practice in front of a mirror.  This can help you remember to look at your audience once in a while.  Look up from those white pages!  Reading in front of a mirror can also help you notice any obnoxious mannerisms you may have, like holding the pages as if your life depends on it, or twisting a lock of your hair, or if you look randomly to the sky.  (I had a philosophy professor who did this–I always wondered what on the ceiling could possibly interest him.)
  • Record your voice…Listen to how you read.  If you catch yourself using that phony, pretentious poetry voice, nip that shit in the bud.  If you find yourself reading without expression, underline words on the page that you want to emphasize, and then emphasize them.  Or, print out copies of your poems with different font sizes on specific words–make the font smaller if you want to decrease the volume of your voice; make the font larger if you want to speak a word louder.  
  • Videotape your performances.  I personally am not hugely keen on being taped.  But it’s beneficial.  Or so they tell me.  With everyone having video-capable phones these days, it’s easy and cheap to do this, and you will gain a fuller experience and understanding of your presence on stage.
  • Learn a few of your poems by heart.  Say them to the air.  Say them to your cat.  If you learn a couple by heart, that can give you a couple of minutes where you don’t need to rely on your pages at all, where you can fully engage the eyes of your audience… even your imaginary one.  One thing that can help you learn your poem is to record it and say it along with the recording.  (I mean, this is how we learn songs, right?  The principle is the same.)
  • Attend many poetry readings.  Notice what engages you as an audience member and then try to recreate it at the readings you give.  What makes a dynamic reader keep your attention?  See what they do right, and model that behavior in your own readings.  
  • Write poetry.  Alot.  And then only read the best material to an audience.  You would think this was an obvious suggestion, but it’s amazing how often poets will combine banal poetry with horrible delivery.  Then it’s a total suckfest.

I think I’m going to try to make a few poetry podcasts and put them here on my blog.  (Of course, I have to learn how to do that first–hahahah.)


So, Productivity Can Pay Off…

I haven’t totally maintained my goal to be sending out at least two submissions every day, but I’ve been pretty good about sending out several a week these last few weeks.  And today, Flyover Country Review published my poem “Stegosaurus.”  I’m so happy!  It’s my first publication in 2 years!  (Not counting being 25% co-author [with Karen Head, Blake Leland, and Bob Wood] of the anthology On Occasion:  Four Poets, One Year, which came out in March.)

I also have a couple of poems coming out in Kentucky Review.  As soon as they do, I’ll let you know!

Feeling Productive (For the Moment)

I read this post on Facebook about annoying status messages, and the gist of it was, “Don’t post things that make you look like a smug bastard.”  And it’s a valid message for blog posts as well.  So, I’m hoping that I don’t come across as smug when I say that I have been a submission queen lately–in the last 2 weeks, I’ve sent 2 different chapbooks out to contests and poems to 14 journals.  I am not admitting this for praise (because, after all, no one reads this blog), but just to show (myself) that I’m trying to take my writing more seriously.  Which I’ve been needing to do.  (As we know, if you write something down, it becomes more real.)

Submissions are hard for everyone.  But they seem especially hard for me, as I don’t have a good sense of how to put poems together in batches that make sense to me, let alone editors.  Often it seems that my poems are really just very different from each other, so trying to group them is like a nightmare.  So, I wind up not sending poems out–not the best idea, if I actually want to be a writer that people actually read.

But I’ve been trying (as I mentioned)–and while I don’t know when I’ll be successful with any of these 16 submissions (and already I know 2 weren’t, as I received rejections today), I feel like if I can just keep trying–maybe just sending one or two submissions out every day–maybe I can start getting my name out there and seeing that name in print.

Five Ways to Feel Christmassy… and Fail

1.  Christmas cookies burned.

2.  Looked at trees today.  It’s Dec. 7th, and the trees were totally picked over.

3.  There’s no Christmas music tonight that isn’t annoying me.  Really, “Feliz Navidad,” again?

4.  Had to give up making an snowman ornament because I kept pricking myself with the pins to make it.  And I had the wrong size pom-poms to make the ear-muffs anyway.

5.  Went to put up some Christmas lights in the front window, and put some on the Nordic Island pine that is in the window as well, but of course on both strings that I brought out (which were working last year), half of the lights were off.  If a 100 bulbs had to be busted, I wish it had been one entire string, and not 50 on both.  But now I’ll have to try to figure out which lights are blown on both strings.  It’s a real bitch to pull the lights in and out of their sockets too.  I got through 20 lights on one strand and thumb and forefinger are crabbing at the effort.  (Also, I’m afraid of breaking a nail.)

I know, I know, I know.  First World Pains.

Poems: Instructions to Make Impossible Things

Today I attended the SAMLA 2013 Conference, here at the Mariott Altanta Buckhead hotel (right across the street from Lenox Mall–and don’t I wish I had realized that, because I would totally have driven there and parked in the Mall lot–I took MARTA in instead), and heard some really great speakers on a variety of topics, from art, to fairy tales, to Dr Who.  The opening “pre-session” that I attended focused on the publishing biz for both academic articles and academic monographs–which isn’t something you’d think I’d be overly interested in, as I’m not on the TT.  But I went anyway, and I think I might have liked this session the best–because it was informative AND funny.

The main reason I was at the Conference was because of chairing the SAMLA Poets panel (again–really, I need to give this gig up–but no one else seems to want it, either).  And the three other poets on the panel–Emily Schulten (West Georgia), Andy Frazee (Georgia Tech), and M.P. Jones IV (Auburn)–were extremely diverse and interesting in their work.  Emily’s poetry explored her relationship with her brother, whom she had donated a kidney to.  In general, I’m not a big fan of “body” poetry, but what I liked about her poems was the relationship between siblings that she developed in her writing.  M.P.’s work struck me as both Southern and Poetic with a capital P–lyric poems, certainly, and quite good (his mirror poem about his dying brother was great), and he read with that “poetic authority” that I so admire–and envy.

And surprising to me most of all was Andy’s work, because I hadn’t heard his poetry before, and I had asked him to be on the panel because I knew he was a poet (and I like him as a person), but only gave him the sketchiest of directions about “something poetry and digital-ish.”  So it was exciting to hear him read because he’s written this series of somewhat found prose poems that have come to him mining eHow, lines from poems he likes, and of course, his own imagination.  As he was reading, I kept thinking, This will be such an awesome collection when he gets done… and how long will that be??

I’ve asked him to share his work with me, just because I’d like to see how it looks on the page and parse how he structures the poems.  They were really just cool–like the titles were a little funny, but often the poems themselves were serious and sometimes painful.  He said that “Poems [are] instructions to make impossible things,” which was just a brilliant, pithy definition.  I don’t know if that is an expression he made up, or if he heard it somewhere, but it really is awesome. In fact, I think Instructions to Make Impossible Things should be the title of that collection, whenever he finishes it.  (I think I’ll tell him that the next time I see him.)

There are a number of sessions tomorrow that I’d be interested in seeing–the Eudora Welty Society session, for instance (which is at 8 a.m.!).  And actually, I could make it, since our tennis lesson has been moved to tomorrow afternoon because of City Finals knocking us off the court.  But as I’m sitting here, I’m noticing that I’ve been sneezing and coughing alot today, and my throat is feeling kind of wooly… Which means, that cold I thought I’d successfully dodged last week is probably here.  So it’s probably best that I limit my exposure to other people.

I don’t want to share any more germs than necessary.  And let’s face it, if I could sleep in, who wouldn’t want to do that?


A Lark

Oh!  It’s raining!  Which has nothing to do with this post.

You may wonder why, after a break of over 2 years, I have decided to start writing here again,  The truth is, I forgot about this blog.

Oh bother, it’s stopped.  Crazy Charlotte weather.

Who even reminded me I had this blog was a new person at work who said she was reading some of my work online–which I thought meant she had stumbled on a few poems.  But no, she had found my rant about prezi.  I must have looked at her blankly when she said, “You know, your blog?”  And here I’m thinking tumblr, which is where I have (more frequently) written things.  Because I was tired of people stalking me at this blog.  (And yes, they were stalking me.  I mean, not like anything I put in this blog was particularly private–for heaven’s sake, my name in full blazing glory is on it–but still, a couple of people were reading it who I’d rather see be swallowed by a monsoon and drowned at sea than know Word One about me.)  So I kind of quit.  And then I forgot about it.  And started writing in tumblr.

So, you’re asking yourself, why now?  And aren’t the stalkers still stalking?

The answer to the first one is, I don’t know.  Except that it’s pretty boring watching my nephew because I’m not really watching him because he’s holed up in his room holding a very dramatic conversation with himself, or singing Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” (and by the way, is that Lou Diamond Phillips watching a plushie fight-to-the-death in their video?  WTF?), or singing operatic nonsense to the Mario Brother’s theme.  If I was in his room watching, I might be extremely entertained.  But as I am out here in the living room contemplating the meaning of nothing in particular, I thought it might be amusing to write a few lines in this sad ol’ unloved blog, for old time’s sake.

The answer to the second question is, so what?  Let them find out the huge secret that I’m babysitting this weekend.  Oh horrors!  How can they use it against me???  Oh!  I am wringing my hands in worry just thinking about it!


We’ll see how long I keep it up.  I’ll probably quit when I get back to my regular routine… you know, like tomorrow.

So, Here, All This Time, You Think You’re the Cool Aunt…

My sister and her husband are on a Miami getaway, right on the beach, and I have driven up to Charlotte for the weekend to watch my nephew who is The Best Nephew in the Whole World (TM).  Normally, when I visit my sister, he and I are totally sympatico, totally on the same wavelength.  It does not seem to be the case right now.

I’m not sure if it’s because he’s growing up, and so therefore thinks all old people are uncool; or if it’s because he’s downloaded this new Pokemon game, and wants to be alone with it in his room; or if I’m only cool in relation to my sister, whom he sees all the time, so I therefore represent a distraction from the normal order; or if he might still be pissed at me about last night…

When I abducted the router.

You see, my sister, in her instructions, said he needs to be in bed by 11:00.  And don’t let him sneak his devices and the internet in with him in bed, or he’ll be up all night, blah blah.  Typical Mom-ish type stuff.  So I let him know several times yesterday that he had an 11:00 curfew, which I don’t think he thought was for real.

So last night, he’s playing Mine Craft, and I come out into the living room at 11:15 and say, “Save your game.”

“What?” he says.

“Save your game, if you need to.”


“Router turning off in 5-4-3-2-1.”  And I unplugged it… and took it with me.

Oh man, was he furious.  “THAT IS NOT COOL” he says.

“You think not?” I say.  “I don’t think it’s cool that I told you your Mom said 11:00 was bedtime and here you are still up playing on the computer.”

He shuts the top of his MacBook Air and says “THAT WAS NOT COOL.  SEE, I’M SHUTTING IT DOWN.”

“Yeah, but only because I took the router.”

He shoots me this fierce expression  that could have melted stone.  The problem is, it makes me want to laugh.  Which of course, you can’t do, when someone (you love) is angry at you.

But that face he gave?  It’s the Doyle-passed-down-for-generations-pissed-off face.  It’s the look-down-your-nose-with-a-cold-stare-and-lesser-mortals-will-back-down-and-give-you-your-way face.  It’s the Godzilla-is-rampaging-and-about-to-level-cities face.  It’s the you-so-better-hope-I-don’t-come-at-you-with-a-knife-while-you’re-sleeping face.

But, as someone  who perfected that expression when I was 5 (and by the way, still frequently uses it her own self to let others know She Is Not Happy), it has zero effect on me.

I was like, “Sorry dude.  It’s time for bed.”

He tromped off to his room with his now-rather-pointless computer, and slammed the door behind him.  But I didn’t really hear a peep from him all night… so maybe he caught a few hours of sleep.

And of course, I returned the router to its rightful place this morning at 7…

So, I guess I am temporarily cool again.  At least untill 11:00 tonight.  ;-)