Susan Rich readsThis is a guest post by Susan Rich.

National Poetry Month means that schools, universities, art galleries, and bookshops are hosting poets, asking us to come read our work. And if you’ve ever attended a reading, you know that the experience can be profound or perilous, depending.

I’ve given a good deal of thought about what makes a good poetry listening experience. As someone who goes to poetry readings and also gives them, I like to try and figure out what makes me enjoy a reading.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of listening to the poet Oliver de la Paz read his work. He is a superb poet and a superb presenter of his own work. Here are a few things I learned from him this afternoon:

  1. Welcome your audience. Before Oliver began reading he talked for a little bit about what he would read and where he comes from. Since he was visiting at a college, he emphasized what it felt like to grow up in his hometown of Ontario, Oregon, and the trouble he’d fallen into as a boy to keep boredom at bay. Trouble? Boredom? He had these students completely ready to listen.
  2. Read a diverse selection of your work. Sometimes there are poems that we feel might be “too dark” for our audience; perhaps we don’t want anyone to feel down on our behalf. But the truth is, people come to poetry readings wanting to feel, wanting to be moved. Don’t be afraid to read your intense poems but you can also offer something light, something loving as well.
  3. Tell stories between your poems; give places for the audience to pause. This is something I often need to be reminded of because for many people new to poetry — or new to a particular poet — the story is the gateway to the poem. I’ve seen superb poets skip this step to the detriment of their own work and I’ve seen “ok” poets with a brilliant set-up keep their audience fully engaged.
  4. Mix it up! This week I’m reading at two different venues with two different friends. Instead of the one-poet-then-another routine, we are going to try something new. Perhaps we will each read a poem with the word “blue” in it or we will both read a love poem, or a break-up poem. The idea is that we will integrate the poems and make a sort of “living anthology” so that the experience created will be new and fresh. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  5. Always, always, enjoy yourself! I try to arrange for a dinner with a friend or an after party whenever I read so that I know there will be something to look forward to besides the reading. I enjoy readings but it is an intense experience and I am most happy afterwards when I can chat with people. Knowing that good food is involved makes me feel I’m singing for my supper.

After my book launch at Open Books in Seattle, I wrote a Top 10 List of things to think about when you launch a book. These tips will work for any reading at all — book or not. You can read more at The Alchemist’s Kitchen.
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Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which was a Finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award. She is the recipient of awards from Artist’s Trust, The Times Literary Supplement of London, Peace Corps Writers and the Fulbright Foundation. Individual poems appear in the Antioch Review, New England Review, Poetry Ireland, and Prairie Schooner. Along with Brian Turner and Jared Hawkley, she is editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders, published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation. Susan runs The Alchemist’s Kitchen blog on travel and the creative life; she is also cofounder of Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women.
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NOTE: This evening, Thursday, April 17, 2014, the Northwind Reading Series presents Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon at the Northwind Arts Center in Port Townsend.

what have you found?

April 16, 2014

The Found Poetry ReviewHow’s your daily poetry output for National Poetry Month? There’s no shortage of prompts (for this month and any month), but one of our favorite offerings comes from The Found Poetry Review. Each day’s blog post is a mind-bending prompt from the OuLiPo writing movement. For example, here’s today’s prompt (day 16):

“The chimera of Homeric legend — lion’s head, goat’s body, treacherous serpent’s tail — has a less forbidding Oulipian counterpart. It is engendered as follows. Having chosen a newspaper article or other text for treatment, remove its nouns, verbs and adjectives. Replace the nouns with those taken in order from a different work, the verbs with those from a second work, the adjectives with those from a third.”

Give it a try! Or…if OuLiPo doesn’t inspire you, have a look at NaPoWriMo, The Music In It: Adele Kenny’s Poetry Blog (where she has pre-posted a month’s worth of prompts), Christopher Jarmick’s Poetry is Everything or some of our previous posts on poetry prompts.

Happy writing!

Ciao Thyme - Taste for Poetry

Today, Tuesday, April 15, 2014, is your last chance to purchase a ticket to Taste for Poetry — the sensational dining extravaganza that supports the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest. This year’s dinner (on Tuesday, April 22) will feature Moroccan-inspired fare by the Ciao Thyme kitchen magicians, poetic interludes by Angela Belcaster and excellent company around the table.

Go now: Brown Paper Tickets!

poetry fence!

April 14, 2014

Poetry FenceThere are many ways to enjoy poetry. Renee Adams, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, likes to share it, outdoors, so she created her own poetry walk. The fence that borders her property is her “Poetry Fence,” displaying favored poems that Adams changes every week throughout the year. Nice! Read the full article in the Washington Post.

island poetry

April 13, 2014

Orcas Issues

In honor of National Poetry Month, Orcas Issues has revived its April Poetry feature to offer a daily poem online by an Orcas Island, Washington, poet each day this month. Click to see April Poetry for 2014 as well as 2012 and 2013.

good news

April 12, 2014

Poem-a-DayIf you’re one of the people who still enjoys reading a newspaper, perhaps you’ll be happy to know that The Academy of American Poets (those good folks at Poets.org) has struck a deal with King Features, a unit of Hearst Corporation, to syndicate the popular Poem-a-Day program. Beginning April 14, “King Features will make Poem-a-Day available to editors at a wide range of publications, potentially growing the readership for the daily poem by many times its current reach.”

Poem-a-Day is a weekday feature that delivers a previously unpublished poem along with brief biographical information about the poet and a few words “written by the poet providing context and insight into the composition.” Poem-a-Day is being offered free, so if you are a King Features subscriber and you don’t see poems in your local paper, ask for them!

Read more at Poets.org. (And if you’d rather get your poems by e-mail, you can still subscribe to Poem-a-Day.)

Free Poetry Books!

April 11, 2014

Big Poetry Giveaway 2014

It’s April, it’s National Poetry Month and it’s Big Poetry Giveaway time once again! (Here’s last year’s post.) Now in its fifth year, the Giveaway is an easy opportunity to expand your poetry library. Here’s how it works: participating poets are asked to give away a minimum of two books of poetry — their own and/or someone else’s. (Many elect to give away more than two.) They post the information about the books on their blog, then, to enter the drawing, visitors leave their own information as comments. At the end of National Poetry Month, each poet holds a drawing and winners get a book. So easy.

Kelli Russell Agodon, who started and maintains the Big Poetry Giveaway, has done the heavy lifting by providing a list of “50 Poets Giving More than a 100 Books of Poems” on her blog, Book of Kells. Just click the links on that page to visit each poet’s site. (You can also visit Big Poetry Giveaway on Facebook.)

As a bonus, here are a couple more…
Carey Taylor, who’s giving away four books of children’s poetry
and
Mark Jay Brewin, Jr.

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