Poetry is an oratory art. It is important to be mindful of poetry’s role as a
performance as well as entertainment. Some basic poetry reading guidelines will
ensure you give the best recital possible.
Preparing to Recite Poetry to an Audience
Know your material.
The best way to boost your confidence level when reciting poetry is to
know your material inside and out.
Recite phrases naturally.
Try to recite each
sentence or phrase as naturally as possible, as if you
were speaking to someone one-on-one.
Speak loudly and clearly.
If you’re going to be reciting to a large audience, your recital will sound
better if you project your voice. Imagine the sound coming from deep in
your belly. Imagine each word and phrase rising up, lifting out of your
mouth and flying across the room like a bird. This visualization sounds silly
but it’s important to think of your words as lifting over your audience. You
want to make sure that the people in the back of the room can understand
every single word you’re saying.
If you’re nervous when standing up and speaking in front of a crowd, you’ll
likely tend to speed up so as to get it over more quickly. Be aware, though,
that if you’re afraid of people judging your performance, ruining your
recitation by rushing through it won’t improve their estimation of your
abilities. Speak slowly and enunciate each word clearly.
You’ll know you’ve slowed down enough when you feel as though you’re
too slowly. Try to resist the impulse to speed up.
The only thing worse than a performer pausing awkwardly at the end of
each line is a performer who drones on in monotone. Use the context of
your poem to determine its delivery. If a poem is sad, recite it like you just
heard that a friend’s loved one just died and you are offering your
condolences. Is the poem funny? Recite it as if it were the funniest joke
you’ve ever heard. Most of all, plan areas in the poem to emphasize. Plan
pauses in your delivery (although don’t pause too long or people will think
you’re finished and start applauding – and starting up again when your
audience thinks you’ve finished is awkward and embarrassing).
The key word here is “plan.” Good performances require proper planning.
After you’ve practiced in private on speaking slowly, clearly, and projecting
your voice so people can hear you, you should record yourself (either on
audio or video tape) and review your performance. Did you speak too
quickly? Mumble? If you videotaped yourself, examine your posture. Are
you slouching? Fiddling with your hands?
Knowing the weaknesses in your performance will help you to focus on
those areas and improve on them.
Showtime: Tips for Giving a Good Poetry Performance
Now that you know your poem, have practiced reciting it, and are ready to
perform your poem in front of an audience, here are some tips to consider to help
in your performance.
Dress for success.
You want people to focus on the
words you’re reciting, and not your
appearance. So, dress conservatively formal for best results.
Strike a pose.
How you stand will affect how you recite a poem. Don’t slouch. Keep your
shoulders back (so you can throw those words out farther) and don’t put
your hands in your pockets – it makes your shoulders slouch and ruins
your vocal projection.
Try to stand still – instead of rocking back and forth, try to focus your
nervous energy into the words, delivering them with more intensity and
Don’t look down.
Now that you’re standing up straight, you also want to be sure to recite out
to the audience. Don’t look down at your feet. It helps to pick a point in the
back of the room just slightly over the heads of the audience and look out
to it rather than at the faces in the crowd.
Oscillate while you recite.
While you’re looking out, not down, you’ll also want to turn slightly from
one side of the room to the other to make sure you address everyone in
the room. Think of an oscillating fan that rotates back and forth to cool off
the entire room, or a water sprinkler system that rotates to spread water to
all of the grass.
Don’t qualify or apologize.
If you mess up, don’t apologize, just start the last phrase over and
Messing up a poetry recitation isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind that
people want you to do well – they’re all there to support you and hear
some poetry. The better your performance goes the greater the
audience’s enjoyment, so remember that they want you to succeed and
are happy that you’re reciting a poem for them.