Sunday, September 24, 2006

More reading (over)planning

The set for my 8 minutes' worth of the upcoming Five Women Poets reading has come together almost by accident. The poems I've selected aren't necessarily the best poems I have written in the past year, but as I went through poems (stopwatch at the ready for timing them), these seemed to want to hang together. Hm.
  1. [poem by someone else, not completely decided yet]
  2. The Total Loss Department (1:07)
  3. The Aging Sailor Remembers (1:13)
  4. Sleeping in Space (2:17)
  5. Arrival (1:48)
#3 and #4 are likely to confuse and consternate anyone who believes poems are always autobiographical, since I'm neither a retired ship's captain nor a space shuttle astronaut. Hee.

I wish I had more opportunities to read -- I really enjoy it, though putting together my set always gives me fits a little bit. I suppose I need to plan out my introductory remarks more carefully, so that I don't find myself babbling. But there's a fine line between "avoidance of babbling" and "too stiffly scripted." I always find myself a little put-off when a poet reads their intros word-for-word from the page, as I think the intros are a good opportunity to connect with the audience a little bit, be a little bit human. While there is something to be said for not talking between poems at all, letting the poems speak for themselves, I generally enjoy hearing what the poet has to say, and find that I feel more included somehow when they chat a little bit.

What about you guys? Do you script your introductory remarks? Make notes about what you want to say but ad-lib based on the notes? Ad-lib entirely? Eschew introductory remarks altogether? Do you do anything differently for a "hometown crowd" where you know many of the people in the audience, as opposed to an audience of strangers?

If you do readings, what do you like -- or dislike -- about doing them? Besides, of course, the rockstar treatment, the limo ride to & from the venue, the bottles of champagne delivered to you backstage, the groupies hanging around the stage door after ... What, does that stuff only happen to me??


Charles said...

I generally don't like it when a poet reads somebody else's work. It seems odd to me. It should seem like covering a song, but to me it's always felt like something else.

I don't script out what I'm going to say and I've learned now to really keep what I say between poems to a minimum. The work will speak for itself--the only time you should really comment is if you have information that is critical to understanding the poem or if there is something about the nature of reading it aloud that may cause confusion (for me, recently, this was that I have poems titled with the homophones "weight" and "mail," so I explained which word I meant before I read them).

I would encourage you to practice your work enough that you almost memorize them so you can maintain good eye contact with the audience while you read.

And don't forget to read some silence into your work. :)

Garbo said...

I like it when the reader is willing to give me a hint as to what the poem's basically about, or what event triggered the poem, or some clue. When the audience doesn't have any background at all, it makes it hard for us to "get" the word choices, historical references, etc. I remember I did a story about the most famous case of past-life regression through hypnosis -- the Bridey Murphy story -- and absolutely no one knew what I was talking about. So I wrote a short intro so people knew.

I don't know how it is for poets, but when I am writing a short story from a particular character's point of view, then that can obscure facts or make things confusing, because there are things the character doesn't know or understand, or takes for granted. Another story I did a long time ago was about someone stealing a friend's body from a mortuary in order to do a Native Amerioan type cremation instead of the embalming/cemetery burial the family had planned. I thought the audience would understand this, but everybody was pretty confused. I am sot sure how much more explanation would have helped, but I think it might have helped if I'd said, "you know, traditional funeral and burial methods seem freaky to me, and if I die and somebody in my family tries to bury me in a coffin, I hope a friend will steal me and cremate me." Hmm. . .or does explaining make potential listeners run from the room?

David Vincenti said...

I have a dozen readings or so under my belt; please scale this feedback appropriately.

If I know my audience will be mostly amateurs or non-poets (like when I trot myself out as "the engineer who writes poems"), I do usually introduce myself/my work and script a few transitions.

If I know my audience is likely to contain a non-trivial fraction of deep readers and/or experienced writers - especially, perish the though, people whose work I love - I spend more time inside the works and less between them.

If I write anything out, I stick it to the poems with PostIt Niotes so I can pull them off and discard them without shuffling papers at the micropohe - this helps if I've misread the audience in advance and just want to throw all the notes away.

And I do like doing readings, but this is already too long. I'll get those comments out a different way...

Lyle Daggett said...

I tend to keep intro remarks to a minimum, both at the beginning of the reading and at the beginning of each poem. Ideally no more than one sentence of intro per poem, and then only when it really seems like it might be useful.

For instance, I might explain briefly that the title or first line of a poem is taken from another poet or writer. Or, in one case -- where the poem title refers to someone living in Stockholm -- I sometimes explain briefly that the title refers to the town of Stockholm, Wisconsin.

But most of the time I trust the silence around the poems. A general rule of thumb I use is that if the intro remarks about a poem take up more than about five or ten percent of the total space or time the poem takes, then the intro remarks are too long. If the intro needs to be that long, then it may be I've left something important out of the poem that needs to be in it.

There can always be exceptions to any of the above, but those are general guides I follow.

In general I like doing readings. When I first was doing poetry readings, many years ago, the usual custom then was for the audience to hold off their applause until the reading was done (i.e. not to applaud between individual poems). I tend to prefer that, rather than the more recent practice (which seems to have become common starting sometime in the 1990's or a little earlier) of applauding after each poem. I think the applause disrupts the concentration of the room. I like the steady building of sensual kinetic energy that can occur as the poems move in the surrounding silence of the room. The silence becomes part of the poem, adds to it. Almost like a radar echo, bouncing back to the poems. When I'm reading a poem to an audience and I can hear the radar echo, I know the poem is working on them.

One other thing I frequently do is take maybe twice as many poems up to the mike/podium/whatever as I'm actually going to have time to read. Then I only read as many as I really have the time for. Having extra poems gives me the ability to improvise, change my mind, as I go along, based on how the people in the room are responding.

Montgomery Maxton said...

When I read over the weekend to four hundred eyes I did indeed have the poem tickering in my head like a CNN alert, but I found it hard to always look up, I felt like it was my life flashing before me on the paper where the poem was and it was all I could do to take a peep.

I may be in Indy, Anne, just may be.

Radish King said...

I rarely if ever, preface my poems. There is nothing more irritating to me than a poet blathering on for five minutes about a 10 line poem. Instead, I channel my nervous energy (which is equal to that of a squirrle or 3 sugar filled toddlers bungee corded together) into a kind of terrifying stand up comedy which is honestly off the wall. I never know what I am going to say in between poems, and neither does anybody else. That's just me.

One thing I do, and I do it religiously, is practice. I practice and time myself. I practice reading and reminding myself to slow down then read much slower than I think I should. I set the timer on the mircowave and just read away, leaving time in between poems for breathing, inappropriate jokes, etc.

I always try to take less than my allotted reading time. Always leave em wanting more.