Poetry & Public Courtesy

As you may recall I cohost a monthly open-mic poetry reading and here are a few tips to make yourself welcome if you attend such an event; some of this advice applies to both readers and audience, most have to do with respect for the entire concatenation.

  1. Arrive a little ahead of the start time and sign in to read if that’s an option. If it’s a feature-only reading, don’t even try to read your work. If you can afford to buy the book, do so. Poets count on readings for a good part of their sales.
  2. Select your material ahead of time. Usually the host will say how much time each reader is allowed. Be ready to adjust accordingly. Long poems are harder to follow without a text. Be mindful of this when you choose. It annoys others when someone flips through a notebook in search of her/his material. Use a book mark or sticky note to mark the pages you will read. If there are children in the audience, please be respectful regarding the language. Parents may not care, but then again, they may storm out in the middle of your time.
  3. If you are reading someone else’s work, please mention that as you begin. Otherwise, the audience may assume it’s your work. Confusing, misleading, risky. Read whatever you like, but be open about whose work it is.
  4. If there is a sound system, use it. Get on the mic, or ask to have it adjusted before you start if it’s not at the right height or angle. If you are not used to a mic, be aware that hiss and pop are not a rock group, but a set of annoying sounds that may be magnified by the mic.
  5. Even if you are not entranced by another reader, pretend to pay attention. I take brief notes on a small pad I open before the reading starts and some of those jottings are not related to what I hear, but no one else knows this.
  6. Hearing people read straight from their journal/notebook/bar napkin annoys me, leaves me thinking that they don’t care enough about their poetry to craft it and give it at least a spit shine before taking it out in public.

Poetry readings are common as field mice. Colleges, libraries and coffee shops are common venues. Good ole Google will help you find one in your area if you don’t already know one. I think it’s a good idea to attend once and just listen to see if it’s a fit for you. Even if you hate it, no one ever died from listening to poetry. Well, maybe, but the worst poet on the continent can do no more damage than to put you to sleep. Just don’t snore, okay?

One response to “Poetry & Public Courtesy”

  1. “Even if you hate it, no one ever died from listening to poetry.”

    I think maybe Houseman wasn’t so sure . . .

    “And we poor chaps, ’tis our turn now,
    To hear such verse as killed the cow.”

    (The curse of remembering such lines is that whole passages (“Terrence, this is stupid stuff”) come back unbidden and jump out there when someone persists in reading some clumping banality, then sneers at meter as “that bouncy stuff.”


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