This is the easiest blog post ever because Gary Longden kindly emailed me the original of his handout for the day, as compiled by himself and Maria Taylor.
So, with kind permission, here are their tips, verbatim, for reading at an open mic:
1. When an organiser says a reader has 3 minutes and isn’t allowed to go over and read more than 2 poems then you must absolutely stick to this, no ifs and buts.
2. Have you actually read your work before the event? I mean out loud, even if it’s to a row of teddy bears in your bedroom? Have you figured out where the stresses should be and how your voice could be used effectively?
2 Just because something is a ‘page poem’ doesn’t mean you can’t do a lively and stimulating reading, in fact it may work in a much more subtle and effective way. This is better than doing a foghorn impression of what you think is a ‘performance poem.’
3. Look up now and again at people, don’t just clutch a sheet of paper in front of your face.
4. Punctuation – use it! Respect your full stops, pause when necessary, don’t pause when it isn’t required.
5. Can you read your own handwriting?
6. Don’t overdo the intro, if it takes you 5 minutes to introduce a six line poem then you have to wonder if the poem actually works by itself. Don’t tell the story first, have a bit of mystery, but by all means mention – briefly – what your audience may be interested to hear.
7. Out of courtesy, if you are going to mention ‘other stuff’ i.e. a fab new comp you’re running, tell the organiser first.
8. What’s the event? Poetry? Oh so, you’re going to read an extract from your novel instead? Our survey said, ‘I don’t think so.’ At least ask the organiser, some places are more flexible than others.
9. Don’t offend people please… they don’t like it. I once had to endure something bordering on misogynistic, it was awful. I didn’t clap, not many people did. Avoid arrogance, people don’t like it either. They like confidence though and clear delivery.
10. As much as arrogance is a pain, don’t be all coy and apologetic. Avoid saying things like ‘this is a crap poem,’ just read the darn thing.
11. Enjoy! It’s your space. You can make friends and be part of a supportive crowd. Also, you never know who’s listening…
12. Try and visit the event as a spectator only at least once before. Each event has its own character and modus operandi. Your ability to fit / make an impact will be enhanced.
13. If you nave not visited the event as a spectator before, ask to be placed towards the end so that you can get a feel for proceedings first.
14. Have a selection of material ready. If you can capture, or challenge, the zeitgeist of the evening, that may help you to prosper – and you can never anticipate what the person before you may just have read.
15. If you need to wear glasses to read – wear them.
16. The stage can be dark, large fonts on scripts are good.
17. Either mark the pages on the book from which you are to read clearly, ideally with protruding coloured adhesive labels, or print off individual numbered sheets, one page per poem. The rising panic in the voice of the poet who gasps, “I know it’s in here somewhere” benefits neither the poet nor the audience.
18. If you are going to use an e-reader/ i pad, make sure that you can work it beforehand.
19. No poem, however good, is any good, if it cannot be heard. Ideally, ask a friend to sit at the back to signal you if you are too quiet (or too loud).
20. Open mic venues often have irregular seating. Make a point of addressing various parts of the room. If you are not interested in them, do not expect them to be interested in you.
21. One good poem is enough to be appreciated by the audience, who will anticipate subsequent appearances by you with enthusiasm. Attempting to deliver your collected works in three minutes rarely succeeds.
22. Prepare your set so it has a beginning, middle and end, not a start and finish
23. Decide which poems need contextual introduction- and which do not
24. Remember that everything that you do from the moment you stand up to the moment you sit down is part of the performance
25. Oh, and be nice to the organiser!