A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

One More Open Mic

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Living Poetry is jumping into the Triangle area open mic scene with an Open Mic Workshop at Straw Valley Café. You might remember this is one of my favorite places to write—and now, it will be one of my favorite places to read.

The idea came out of poetrySpark’s Best of the Open Mic contest. Most of the poets had a good stage presence and delivered their poems in the allotted time, but there was one contestant who must have read the longest poem she had ever written. She went well beyond 5 minutes—more than doubled it in fact—and flipped the page not once, but twice during her stage time. This poet went so long, I had time to go to the bathroom and come back to my seat before she even finished. Needless to say, she didn’t win the contest.

If you’re a “page poet,” getting up to read in front of an audience may feel like torture. I know many good poets who rarely give public readings. In fact, the Featured Reader event was the first time three of the six poets selected by the judges had read their poems in front of an audience.  If you are not an experienced reader, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Pick a poem with audience appeal: That poem about your root canal may not be as interesting to others as it is to you (unless it is hilarious). Believe it or not, an open mic is a form of entertainment. People attend because they enjoy hearing poetry. Sometimes a poem that reads well on the page doesn’t translate well to the ear. That doesn’t mean you have to read fluff or avoid tear-jerker poems. Just be aware of which poems resonate with others.
  2. Know your poem: Read your poem before you step up to the microphone. Read it again. And then when you’re done—read it one more time. This step is particularly important if you are debuting a poem to see how people respond. You don’t have to memorize it (though the audience will be thoroughly impressed if you do), but the poem should be familiar enough so you can read it without stumbling over the words.
  3. Time your reading: Most open mic events have a time limit for each poet to read. Five minutes is enough time to read 2-3 poems (up to 25 lines each) and give the audience a little backstory for each poem. Having a good sense of how long your reading will take should help you feel more relaxed when you are on stage.
  4. Perform your poem (a little): Try to match your delivery to the poem. Be animated in your voice and use hand gestures if the poem is funny or lively. Be subdued if the poem deals with a difficult situation. Always, it is important for you to speak clearly and enunciate each word. The ear is not as forgiving as the eye and needs a little more time to process. Also, pay attention to your own punctuation—use commas, periods, and stanza breaks to pause, make eye contact, and of course, breathe.

Hopefully, you will overcome your fears of reading in public and join us for this event. If you don’t make it tonight, there are other open mic events on the horizon.

Author: poetsdoublelife

Poet and data guru living in Durham, NC.

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