I have just spent three full days watching a whole host of poets come and grace a mic at the Poetry and Words stage at Glastonbury Festival. It has been an absolute pleasure. It has also been the best learning curve for me. I have noticed things that make the audience cringe a little, I have watched audiences react the same way to certain types of performance and look offended by certain phrases made on stage. I started to compile a list of things that I want to work on as a poet. Then I took the list and asked poets backstage and audience members in front of the stage what they thought. I put all their advice together. I hope it is useful.You don’t have to agree!
Tips for a poet reading their poems to an audience
by Glastonbury Poetry and Words
I have also given a prize for each tip. If you feel you need practise, go and watch the poets who are named below!
- Be humble. If there is an audience there, you should be grateful for them. You need them more than they need you if you want to do poetry gigs. I was once told when nervous backstage ‘Fuck the audience, do what you want, it’s not about them.’ I disagree. Just say thanks. Be humble.
‘Humble poet’ prize: Kate Tempest
- Speak to the audience, don’t ignore them.
‘Speaking to an audience poet’ prize: Dreadlock Alien
- Don’t expect people to be amazed by lines you like in your own poem. It probably means more to you than it does to them. You wrote it. Accept that and let them enjoy the bits they want to.
Allowing all expectations poet prize: Bohdan Piasecki
- Don’t expect an audience reaction to bits of your poem that normally gets a reaction. Each audience is different. And please don’t wait or leave a pause for this. If there’s normally a laugh in a certain place and you wait for a laugh that doesn’t come this time, it’s awkward. I’ve done it!
Letting audience react differently poet prize: Deanna Rodger
- Smile. Poetry can be serious, cool, but when you smiled at an audience, they smiled back. They seemed to enjoy it and listen more.
Smiling poet prize: Spoz and Toby Thompson
- If you have books and CDs, tell people. Don’t be embarrassed you have that. It’s a good thing, be proud of your work. All the male poets spoke about their books and CDs when I was watching. The female one’s didn’t. This happens a lot and I am very guilty of this. Tell yourself: If people like you and they want to buy it, let them. Let them! Last week I had a gig. I had 10 books in my bag. 5 people asked me if I had a book. I said no and gave them a business card instead because I was embarrassed to take their money. Kate Tempest had a great phrase this week “I’m embarrassed to sell it but I’m really fucking proud of it.”
Being proud of your merchandise poet prize: Luke Wright
- Don’t judge an audience – don’t tell them they are middle class, Guardian readers (most often used comments according to audience members). Don’t tell them you are preaching to the converted. You don’t know that for sure. A lot of arts and poetry audiences are left wing Guardian readers. But not all. And even if you are, it is annoying to be put in a category. Not all left wing Guardian readers go to poetry gigs and not all poetry gig audiences are left wing Guardian readers.
Non-judgemental poet prize: Anna Freeman
- The audience don’t normally know the poets on stage and they are generally not the poets’ friends. So in-jokes might be a bit tiring for them. I was told.
Hosting without in-jokes host prize: Ali Gadema and Joelle Taylor and Dreadlock Alien
- Do not tell the audience how good / funny / sad / amazing your poem is before you start it. They will decide what they think. When someone tells me a poem will make me cry, it won’t. Because I’m stubborn like that.
Allowing the audience their own brain poet prize: Adam Kammerling
- Have a good time. At least try. If you don’t, and are a moaning git on stage, the audience doesn’t seem to have a very great time either.
Not a moaning git poet prize: Stephanie Dogfoot and Erin Fornoff
Have a great poetry career!