Help Wanted: Reading Ideas

I’ve started pulling together poems to create a poetry manuscript. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it with bravado, if not confidence, so I won’t talk about how I feel about this event.

But I will venture into my worries about reading my poetry aloud. If I have to read someone else’s words aloud, I am an excellent reader. I rarely make a mistake, and my voice delivers the goods with correct expression and a pleasing sound.

Unfortunately, I just can’t get it right when I read my work. Part of the problem is I hate the “typical” cadence many poets adopt when reading their work aloud. It’s very fashionable, but I think it’s boring. Sometimes I approximate that style without succumbing entirely. Sometimes I try to read as I feel the material. What I can’t get down at all is reading like an actor, which is what I would like to do.

Here is one poem in a reading I did in Los Angeles in 2010. This was my heartfelt style, and I got a lot of compliments for the reading that night, though I can see much room for improvement.

And here are a couple of audio versions I recorded this year for the literary magazine A Clean Well-Lighted Place: “Calculating Loss” and “From Both Sides.” Here I tried to compromise, but I’m very unsatisfied.

The other poets in this magazine do a much better job reading their poems.

Practice doesn’t seem to work for me because I feel as if I am floundering about how to read aloud.

So should I go back to my heartfelt style? Or is there a 3rd and better way of reading? Any ideas on what I can do to improve my reading?  I’m hoping you have some fabulous ways to decide how to read and then how to go about doing so.


Filed under Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Research and prep for writing

28 responses to “Help Wanted: Reading Ideas

  1. For putting together a poetry manuscript, there’s a great book called “Ordering the Storm” that helped me generate ideas. As far as reading aloud, I got nuthin’. I never enjoyed doing it when I wrote poetry. I feel reading aloud has become more performance-based since I was doing it back in the 90’s (at least in my neck of the woods) and it’s just not for me. I was a pretty boring reader.

    • Luanne

      Mareymercy, thanks so much. I’m going to go check out that book! Thanks anyway re the reading–it is so true about it being more performance-based now. I’m not a performer . . ..

  2. Your voice sounded cool, I quiet like it though I must confess I don’t know how to help. You read from the heart, sorry that I couldn’t be more helpful!

  3. When I was station in California. I read at three poetry readings a week. I got better with experience. Like all things. We must practice. Ensure the poem or story we are reading. Using our voice. We stress the important parts of a tale. We gain confident with time.

    • Luanne

      Johncoyote, 3x a week?! That is amazing. I can see where practice would make perfect in that case. I can’t imagine ever reading that often. But maybe reading more often at home out loud would have part of the effect?

  4. When in doubt, go for the heartfelt. You sounded great!

  5. I’m with the heartfelt group. Well done!

    • Luanne

      Elyse, thank you! As I just mentioned to Jill (above), the heartfelt is so much easier for me than trying to monkey around with how to do it!

  6. You didn’t sound nervous at all and what I liked about your reading is that you didn’t go too fast and you enunciated the words clearly so you were easy to understand. Great job.

    • Luanne

      Anneli, thank you so much for your kind comments. I did do a reading years ago at UC Riverside where I read too fast, and my friend commented that I read too fast, so I never forgot that.

  7. I think if you feel what you are reading, the listener will be drawn to it. It’s much the same with music, I can tell when an artist is onstage and they have no connection to the song they are singing. Just be you, I think that will make it work just right.

  8. jeannieunbottled

    I would just read it like a normal person — no singsong. Heartfelt is best.

    • Luanne

      Thanks, Wilma! Do you have any recordings of you reading your writing?

      • jeannieunbottled

        I have a tape somewhere. Mike created a musical background (upbeat) for it that was far from what I had imagined (grim), but it was interesting all the same.

  9. It is hard to really know the best way, but whatever seems comfortable and not forced is a good way to go. I liked your tone and your voice, your poetry is lovely, I cannot offer any constructive criticism but go with the heart also. How about a combination? I like sing song with children’s poetry. I like the book, “Each Peach Pear Plum” that has a lot of nursery rhyme characters in it. My grandkids love the way I read their books but I am not a poetry reader… I like to listen!

    • Luanne

      That is so kind of you to say. Apparently the heartfelt is the approved method, so I guess I should stop trying to figure out how to read! Re children’s poetry, I do too!

  10. Beautiful lines, Luanne. You enunciate well, go with “heartfelt;” may I suggest adding a bit more passion to your voice~ you are an amazing writer!

  11. Probably no pre-set style would work for more than a tiny fraction of the poems you want to speak. Since you do well when speaking other people’s poems, while speaking one of your own poems it might work to pretend to yourself that you are speaking someone else’s.

  12. Powerful poetry! I agree, the heartfelt worked best for me, but I was moved by some of your other readings as well, so they worked too. Have you heard Matthew Dickman read his poetry? I love how he does it, which sounds “heart-felt” to me. I like his poetry better when he reads it aloud than I do on the page, although I like it there too. But his reading adds so much to it. Like anything, with practice you will eventually find your reading voice, that which feels natural and heart-felt and easy to do.

  13. Pingback: 10 Things I Learned about Ordering My Poems | Writer Site

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