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Performing Poetry

Performing Poetry
By Colin Holcombe, Editor, Poetry Magic (reproduced with permission).

Spoken poetry WAS poetry for a long time. Poetry as words on a page is a comparatively recent development, and some of the world's greatest literature originated in recitation handed down by word of mouth. That tradition has hardly survived in the English-speaking world, and performing poetry now means a) slam poetry integrated with improvisation and music as a type of performing art, and b) the reading of poetry out aloud in classroom, workshop or poetry reading.

Poetry Reading and Slam Poetry
The two conceptions are not radically different, and the elements of performance govern both. Primarily they are theatre, where the artist engages directly with the audience, and both require an outgoing personality and skills that cannot be learnt from books or the internet. Practice is essential, and the besetting sin of those who read their work in public is to suppose that clarity and a pleasant delivery are all that is required.

In fact the skills needed to perform poetry are as taxing as those required to write it, and it can be astonishing to hear what a trained voice can do with a very indifferent piece.

Academia bases its assessment on the written word, and many poets dislike a professional polish being given to their productions. Slickness and staginess are the usual complaints, but the truth may be professional jealousy: the spotlight shifts from the writer to the performer.

Important considerations lie behind this matter. There is poetry of the greatest refinement that does not come across in readings, and there is poetry deservedly popular in performance that looks crass and bombastic on the page. How these two aspects are to be balanced — dramatic intensity versus quiet integrity — is for the practising poet to decide. Experience is needed in both directions, just a good playwrights have usually trod the boards for a time.

The suggestions below are aimed at poets who must occasionally read their works in public, and the essential message is practise, practise, practise.

Some Suggestions
1. Learn the basics of the actor's trade: relaxation, breath control, articulation, voice projection and modulation. Do this as a positive daily workout if you're on the poetry circuit, not as a chore left to the night before.

2. Rehearse the performance so thoroughly that the actual reading seems habitual and natural.

3. Entertain. Be genuinely friendly to the audience. Address them directly. Secure attention. Play to their responses.

4. Memorize the pieces sufficiently so that only the odd glance at the script is necessary.

5. Leave nothing to chance. Check lectern, microphone, space on the stage, how you make your entrance, place your script, etc.

6. Know where you are on the evening's list of readers, and arrange your pieces accordingly. You'll feel easier, and so will they.

7. Anticipate interjections and problems; prepare handy responses.

8. Enjoy yourself. Have a good time, and the audience will too.
Source: http://www.poetrymagic.co.uk/performing.html

Fri, 14 Apr 2006 12:00 pm
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I am a relative newcomer to perfomance poetry. It is so liberating to be able to share my poetry with others who feel as I do passionate about the spoken word. At all levels I enjoy giving encouragement and support to others who share my passion.

I feel that Performance Poets are a free uninhibited cauldron of rare talent.
Working with original, dramatic, inspiring ,humorous and sensitive outpouring of words.
A Foundry of Wordsmiths hammering out the nuts and bolts of poetry.
A Phenomenal fantastic contribution to the Literary World.
Long may they continue flooding our minds with their sensual sentences and musings .
Wed, 5 Sep 2007 07:17 am
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Performance Poetry

I am very much new to the field of performance poetry and to get up of stage at the Howcroft Inn was a major step for me. I have an inherent stutter and Parkinson’s, both of which affect my speech and breathing. The gang down at the Howcroft were very supportive of my work both up to and on the night for which I sincerely thank them.

I have a real passion form my poetry and write what I feel. When I came off stage after reading my 1st poem I felt a real buzz and I wanted to go back on. I am now a ‘Poetry Junky’ and am keen to get back out there. The Howcroft was a perfect place to get my feet wet, a great introduction to ‘Performance Poetry’.

Now I want to go for total emersion. Although well received I don’t think I chose the correct poems on the night to introduce my varied work. Looking back I should have, for my first time , 1) chosen the poems before the night and 2) rehearsed them.

I say long may medium to share and appreciate poetry, sharing each others take on the rich tapestry called ‘Life’. I am proud to be part of it.


Fri, 7 Sep 2007 08:43 am
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As of today, I have been performing for two years and theres still so much to learn, its great!
Mon, 10 Sep 2007 04:01 pm
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<Deleted User>

congratulations on your achievement thus far Cayn,
Tue, 11 Sep 2007 11:58 pm
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I hereby induct thee into the ancient Order Of Performance Poets.
So from now on you can call yourself Cayn White OOPS
by royal decree
King Paul I
Wed, 12 Sep 2007 05:23 pm
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I feel Performance Poetry requires a positive stage presence. An Alter Ego, that often writes in solitude but then wants to share, needs expression. Watching Poets perform inspires and directs experimentation in finding a style that feels comfortable and easy,but bearing in mind ; was it good for me and was it good for you. WOL is providing a wonderful opportunity for Poets on all levels to perform in a safe and friendly atmosphere. Why the Arts Council turned down their Bid, beats me. they should have been at the Howcroft last night it was Brilliant.

Mon, 17 Sep 2007 08:45 am
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Hey Val, thanks for your comments about Write Out Loud. We do it out of passion and enjoyment. The Arts Council seems to have an elitist view of the arts: if it's popular (e.g. Write Out Loud nights) it can't be art.

Your description of the relationsip between writing and performing is absolutely bang on, in my humble opinion. We are of the view that the coming together, the sharing in a live forum of something once personal and solitary, is an enormous act of trust that is repaid by the receptiveness - the uncritical acceptance - of the group. Everyone holds the performer/reader in a positive regard because they recognise just what it takes to get up there and parade your naked words in public.

We are really glad to have you adding your wit and erudition to our events and this discussion, Val.

Mon, 17 Sep 2007 09:27 am
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Thanks Julian. I certainly felt the trust and acceptance last night ,otherwise I doubt that I would have shared the poems I did.
Mon, 17 Sep 2007 01:07 pm
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Hi Julian/Paul

Just a thought. I amonst others would find it useful if when performing on stage there was a music stand available for placing our poetry sheets on.

It would be great fore me as my hands shake more on stage and also when work is delivered the audience will see the performers face..

See you all soon


Sun, 7 Oct 2007 10:32 pm
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In my early and fruitless attempts to introduce an air of gravitas to WoL performances I brought a folding music stand. Unfortunately it needed a qualified engineer to put it up, and I was then accused of affectations beyond my calling. However if you'd like to use it I'll bring it to the next Howcroft and you can adopt it.

Tue, 9 Oct 2007 02:38 pm
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<Deleted User>

You can get robust and easy to erect music stands at that music shop at the bottom of Chorley Old Road for cheap quids. Use paper clips or blutack to secure your words, especially at outdoor gigs.

If anyone is interested in performance skills I'll do a workshop for £5 a head at BACM in Horwich or somewhere. Let me know. I've been performing for a hundred years.

Tue, 9 Oct 2007 11:22 pm
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"Spoken poetry WAS poetry for a long time. Poetry as words on a page is a comparatively recent development,"

I've always wondered what the evidence for that was... the earliest extant written poetry we have goes back as far as 3000BC (hymns to the Goddess Ishtar by Queen Enheduenna, in fact) so I personally suspect that they've grown alongside one another from the time writing was invented.

But, of course, hymns to a Goddess were, like the OT Psalms, intended to be chanted/sung rather than simply read, so there is still a large measure of performance involved here. I suspect this is true of early Greek poetry too (Sappho and the like.)

Story-telling and oral poetry do have a long tradition, of course; but so does written poetry.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 02:26 pm
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The fact that here are all these people sharing their innermost thoughts, their outermost ones, too; sharing what makes tthem laugh, their take on the world and on themselves; people taking risks together. It's an act of trust that's bound to bring folks closer together - apart from when it has the opposite effect of course, though that is usually when we slip back into that judgmental mode again, instead of accepting.

I feel all that, too, Sophie. Though you put it so much more eloquently than I can - you bastard! ;-)
Wed, 9 Jan 2008 02:36 pm
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And I thought I was yammering in a vacuum: that original 'essay' SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING before anyone - ANYONE - is allowed to stand up and do performance poetry in any venue. I now understand a certain air of discouragement in some persons whom I have met recently. Keep hammering at it, Julian, keep hammering. Don't give up. The message is too important.

I sure would like to know who or what 'the establishment' is. If I don't know where to find it, how will I know if I ever get there?
Wed, 1 Jul 2009 04:12 pm
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Stephen Wade has written a helpful guide called "Writing Performance Poetry" £8.99 from www.straightforwardco.co.uk
Fri, 10 Jul 2009 08:38 pm
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<Deleted User> (5973)

Poetry should be performed and if possible by the person who wrote it - the reason = you get to see what made them write it (if they are not too taken by nerves, which hit us all from time to time).
Also you might get a feel for the emotions that were present when the poet opened up on the page.
Sun, 26 Jul 2009 04:27 pm
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<Deleted User> (5646)

I thought this a different thread when i first began to read it.
Was caught by Sophies last comment here. How very true!
Mon, 27 Jul 2009 03:48 pm
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''Why the Arts Council turned down their Bid, beats me.''
Val Cook

Perhaps Val It's because they would rather give their friends £2,000,000 for some 'bricks' or maybe WOL is not invited to the 'right' dinner parties...should ever it remain so.
Fri, 7 Aug 2009 11:38 pm
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Could be the North - South divide Tommy?
But hey! we appear to be surviving and thriving in the face of adversity. Great evenings of Performance Poetry throughout the North West are our evidence.
Sat, 8 Aug 2009 12:08 pm
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<Deleted User> (6513)

For me, the last thing that constitutes 'good' performance and/or ‘good poetry’ is the effusive outpourings of emotions and the sharing of our innermost thoughts. When this does occur, I recall what a friend once wrote to someone who was complaining that he didn't appreciate the soul behind the words: “I believe you have "poet" confused with "Boy Scout leader." And I believe you have "open" confused with "empty." ”

Personally, I think the same applies to performance poetry. It has to be tolerably good poetry that is performed well, otherwise it’s too often vacuous, self-indulgent drivel. And by ‘good poetry’ I don’t mean poetry that has to read well on the page. As a poem – as opposed to a virtually random outpourings of emotion – a piece that owes more to oral composition techniques can be just as ‘good’, indeed better, than one written for the page.

Neither do I think that ranting constitutes poetry – or performance for that matter. Save me from the seemingly maniacal preacher-poet who screams his/her gripe-of-the-week at me. And, equally, the hey-dude poet who seems too cool to care but who really really does. Ya know?

No, I don' t want to experience navel gazing public confessions or spleen purgings unsuccessfully disguised as poetry. I want to hear good poetry performed effectively. Well "performed poetry", be it at a poetry slam or within the dusty halls of academia, is the goal.
Tue, 11 Aug 2009 03:57 pm
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