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Free Yourself & Read
By M. Alouette
Many poets dread poetry readings for all kinds of reasons. The schmoozing. The self-promotion. The careerism Maybe they're afraid of meeting a poet whose work they love only to discover that they don't like them as a person. Maybe they're nervous about feeling obligated to spend money on drinks, food, and new books when they're broke. Maybe they don't want to leave the house and brave public transportation or figure out parking near the venue. But perhaps the biggest reason many poets fear poetry readings is pure anxiety. They are afraid of getting up in front of a group of people and reading. If this is you, be kind to yourself.
It is normal to feel anxious about doing a poetry reading. After all, reading your poetry before an audience is a form of public speaking and plenty of people hate that. You are no less of a poet because you're anxious about public speaking. Writing your work and reading your work are different tasks that require different skills. In order to move past your anxiety, you must first acknowledge it. It's hard to handle a problem if you don't diagnose it. Once you've made it that far, ask yourself exactly why you are anxious.
Are you afraid of public speaking in any form? Are you self-conscious about the sound or volume of your voice? Have people bullied you for the sound of your voice or said that you speak too loudly or softly? Do you have an accent, speech impediment, or tic that you don't like? Have people bullied you about your accent, speech impediment, or tic? Do you feel vulnerable sharing your work with a new group of people? Does doubt creep in when you read your work aloud? Do you worry that the audience will heckle you? Do you worry that people will come and speak to you after the reading? Are you nervous about the questions these people may ask?
These are all legitimate concerns. You are not weak for worrying about these things, but you deserve to free yourself from the need to be perfect. You also deserve to free yourself from others' judgment and do what you want to do. Most people are polite and generous at poetry readings. If you want to participate in a poetry reading where you've been invited to read, you should do it. The publisher, editor, or curator who invited you believes in you and your work. You have their support and this person has organized an event for you to share your talents. Fear is normal, but fear will also hold you back. Take a risk, just as you take risks in your writing, and take part in that reading.
Proper preparation will make the event less stressful and more enjoyable. The night before your poetry reading, relax and get plenty of sleep. The day of the poetry reading, try not to overbook or tax yourself. Wake up with your favorite morning ritual, drink lots of water, eat healthy meals, and allow yourself plenty of time to arrive to the event. Try your best to bring a buddy to the event so you have someone to talk to and sit by your side. To ensure you have a buddy, invite folks to the event with plenty of advance notice. Facebook event invites are fine, but it's often more effective to invite people individually in person or over text, so make the effort. Waiting until the last minute might mean flying solo—which isn't the worst thing, either. You are worthy whether you have company or not. And you might make a new friend at the event, anyway! Pack a water bottle or bring money for a beverage and use the restroom before the event begins. Arrive with enough time to get a good seat so you can see and hear the readers who go before you.
When it's your turn to read, breathe deeply and evenly. Project from your diaphragm and speak slowly so people all the way in the back can hear what you are saying. Read your words with expression—the same emotions you had in your heart and mind when you wrote them. Don't get flustered if you mess up. Repeat yourself if necessary and keep going. People came to the event because they want to hear your words. Don't cheat them (or yourself or your work.)
And when it's all over, bask in the glory. You did it! People probably have kind words to share about your work. Accept compliments graciously. Meet new people and say hi to ones you know. A poetry reading is an art event and there's no perfect way to do art, so be there for the experience. Be fully present in the moment because you owe your mindfulness to yourself and your audience.
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