Prose and Verse World

"Words ought to open windows and lift souls."

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On Reading Your Novel or Poetry in Public

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Anyway, some writers have an abject fear of reading their manuscript aloud in public. Even some actors have that fear, including Jimmy Stewart, Bruce Willis, and Julia Roberts, to name a few. I recently experienced some of this fear myself when I was interviewed about two of my books  (Sissy! and All Parts Together) for Kansas Public Radio. I had a large microphone placed mere inches from my face and when the radio announcer asked me if I was ready I said, “No, I’m a good writer, not a good speaker.” But she told me I’d be fine—especially since she was taping me and would later edit the interview. But earlier I also spoke like on Channel 6 television, and boy was I ever nervous! I see the same kind of nervousness with poets and  well as story writers. One major way in calming your fears is to forget about the fact that you’re speaking to a large audience but that you’re only speaking to yourself—out loud this time.

In addition to the the aspect of nervousness, I’d also like to point out a couple of things that concern me about writers who give talks. It irks me to no end when a novelist gets up and starts reading large excerpts from her book. This bothers me on two levels: (1) I’m not visually impaired and can read that book myself, thank you, and (2) I came here to learn about the author—who she is, why she wrote the book, what obstacles did she face, etc.  I’ve also got a beef with poets who read their poems aloud. For Pete’s sakes, man, if you’re just going to get up on stage and in a monotone voice read the words on the page, why am I here? What I expect from a poet who is going to give a reading are two things: (1) some background or introduction to the poem so I can get visually prepared for what happens in the poem, and (2) some emotion that the poet felt when he wrote that poem.

I mean, can you imagine Walt Whitman getting up at the podium and reading “O Captain, My Captain” in a monotone, boring voice and displaying no compassion for a great president who was slain? I think some poets ought to take acting lessons so they could dramatize their poems, don’t you?  And while I’m on the subject of poetry, please don’t read to us something that’s so obscure that I end up saying to myself: “What was THAT all about?” If the poem read aloud is so deep that it requires reading it to yourself slowly and thoughtfully at least a dozen times, don’t expect me to get it if you only read it once.

Anyone out there agree with me on this?

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Filed under poetry reading poetry fiction novels writers speaking public speakig novelist poet poets Advent Tom Mach

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