Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tips for Poetry performing

Not that I'm an expert really but you see, today marks the first anniversary of the first time I ever read a poem of my own out in public in front of strangers, (happy birthday to me) and i've had a lot of exciting poetry related adventures ever since, so here's my tuppence worth on what I've learned, but please do remember I'm only a year in, would you take advice from a one year old? didn't think so, so don't blame me if this is completely useless - maybe I'll update again after another year. Here it is anyway.

1. Don't try to be something you're not - people can smell bulls**t - and some of the nicest comments I've had are when people feel you're not conning them, that you're being geniunely yourself.
2. Use your nervous energy. Think about a brilliant band or singer you've seen live, and the energy of the main performers, how they hold the crowd's attention just by being full of life. Be full of it - in other words - which contradicts the first point, but i did warn you.
3. Like your audience. If you like someone it's a well known fact that (sometimes) they find it very hard not to like you back. Love them, they're all cuddly nice people, remember that.
4. Take your time - not everyone has the words in front of them, they can't read back if they've missed something, take it as slow as you need to in order to make it clear. This is a recent tip for me, and something I'm only starting to try and put into practise, it is tempting to just want it over asap, but I think it's valid.
5. Enjoy - it's one of the most fun things you'll do, even if you have a bad one, you're doing something amazing that most people wouldn't dream of doing, and it's easier than rock climber - congratulate yourself and celebrate accordingly afterwards.
6. Learn stuff off. Learning stuff off is powerful for a few reasons. It sends the poem to the same place in your head as the stuff you had to learn off in school, this tricks your brain into thinking it's actually a timeless classic of a poem, and you'll believe in it accordingly. Also makes reading stuff out feel like an easy lie down in a soft bed. Warning - this does take up A LOT of brain space, and you will find it harder to write while learning stuff, because any time you use a word from one of your poems you end up goin off on a mini recital inside your own head. Also the info may push out other useful information, such as how to dress, how to drive, how to talk to other human beings - all of which can be seen as a mixed blessing as it will help with your image as an eccentric poet.
7. Care about it - try to relive the moment you wrote the poem as you read it. The emotion will come out more if you are really living it.
8. Think about the introductions to the poems, no intro is better than a half assed one, for some poets the intros can be more entertaining than the poems themselves.
9. Be competitive - no one wants to see you fail except the poet who's on straight after you, size them up, you're not goin to let them beat you are you? Get determined to make them sweat, do your very best and raise the bar.
10. Do it. Get out there and practise, at low risk, high risk, any risk opportunities, take every chance you get to try it out - bar mitzvahs, my radio show, whatever - it'll all help. Your poems were written because of a moment or an emotion, people experience moments and emotions all the time, your poems deserve the chance to get out there and be heard.

Ah if only I could put any of the above into practise...


Emerging Writer said...

These are very good pointers. I was thinking the other night that (some) poets could learn a lot about infectious passion from watching bands playing their music.

What about poems that are page poems, not so much stage poems and how to tell the difference?

beedlemama said...

Great advice Niamh. I was a performance virgin until your radio show, and it was the BEST start! I still think that is waaaaay easier than a room full of people, yelp. Maybe the DQ in me could save the day.. I need to flippin write more first though and stop blogging, dammit.

the watercats said...

Reckon thats probably true for any performance.. could I add... always have a pee before you go on
:-)... Nicely observed!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Interesting and thoughtful tips there Mrs,Niamh, you performance guru, you.

Emerging Writer said...

I've another one, don't wear a short skirt (or shorts) unless you have a podium to hide your literally knocking knees behind.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Thanks Ew I think wearing a short skirt is where I went wrong the last time.

Niamh B said...

EW - thanks - will try and think about the page v stage thing and come back with a humble summary. And yep, re the skirt, I remember you telling me to wear something comfy for the first one, can you believe it's a year ago, anyway you were and still are dead right on that.
BM - You were great on the radio - there is no reason why you wouldn't kick ass on stage as well, you have the material.
Watercats - that's a good one alright, but I always think needing to go brings a little bit of extra excitement to the performance, the will she, won't she frission for the crowd.
TFE - Thanks! & yep the skirt was definitely where you went wrong, "because i am a girl" I can get away with such things.

Matt Bolton said...

some good points there, I think that you need a mix of confidence and humility, other words - you are the best there but you are not a muppet. I dont know about the learning them off bit as I have a terrible memory and would worry about forgetting something, panicing and then making a massive mess out of it. But then again, I have only ever done it twice!!

Niamh B said...

When I had only done it twice it was a struggle to look up from the page, and I only read one - max at a time, so it does take practise!
But yeah - that's a good point on the learning - you need to know it so well you could nearly say it backwards, so that the fear of forgetting isn't there, but i find it good to have it in your hand anyway, just in case!

Another tip - Start off with a short poem with lots of rhymes, practise alot and if there's words you find you mix up allow yourself to mix em up and continue the recital. This'll help deal with any fumbles on the day, and actually led me to a line I like better in Techno Tribes - instead of "kicking heels, licking windows", I often say "licking heels, kicking windows" so mistakes can be ok sometimes too.

Lorcan said...

I've made a few attempts to do a blog since, Niamh, but when the window of opportunity comes I end up reading yours. Then today, when I had an hour, I wrote a letter to someone instead. So all that would have been blogged will now be read by just one person in Gulfport, Missouri. And I might never read it again. But that's ok too, maybe. So keep bloggin!

Niamh B said...

Lorcan, letters are the original blogs. See Swiss's blog for opinions on letters recently. Do let us know if and when you get round to it though!

Pure Fiction said...

Great stuff - Have pasted and saved. Thanks a million for some really sound advice - Now, off to practice in front of husband/mirror/in-laws/the dog.

Niamh B said...

Best of luck with it PF - am sure you'll fly it!!