Some useful tips for performing performance poetry at performance poetry performance nights.

1. Sit at the back. Don’t sit at the front. If you sit at the front, when it’s your turn to perform you’ll be performing to an empty chair.

2. Also, if you sit at the back, the audience will clap for longer while you’re walking to the microphone.

3. If you are a prop poet and you bring a cow to the stage, don’t point out that you’ve brought a cow to the stage, because people can see that you’ve brought a cow to the stage.

4. Don’t milk it.

5. If you bring books to sell, beg the host for a slot in the first half. That way you can sell books during the interval and still have time to run off and get the train. Make sure you can change a twenty.

6. If someone says they like your stuff, they usually mean it. Sometimes they say it so that you’ll automatically reply that you like their stuff, but not always. Sometimes they’ll say it because you were awful and they feel sorry for you, but not always. But most of the time they mean it.

7. I mean, I think they do.

8. I’m pretty sure of it but you’ve got me thinking, now.

9. If it’s an open mic, spell your name legibly on the sign-in sheet. I usually end up being announced as Rupert Graham.

10. If you’re performing haiku, for gods sake, we all know what haiku are, so you don’t have to explain what a haiku is. Syllables and stuff. The explaining is usually longer than the haiku. Sodding haiku. Same goes for acrostics and villanelles.

11. Don’t get rat-arsed.

12. If you’re using props, check for light fixtures and obstructions.

13. I mean, is it me, or do haikus always seem like they should be longer?

14. If you want to have a laugh while performing, make eye contact only with one audience member, then glare at them, give them the old state, really freak them out.

15. It’s not a competition.

16. Well, except for slams. I forgot about slams.

17. Don’t give away all your poem in the introduction.

18. If you bow to the audience at the end of your set, don’t bang your forehead on the microphone. It bloody hurts.

19. The long walk back to your seat is still part of the performance. Maintain your aura. Try not to trip over handbags. And listen out, because the compere might make some wise-arse remark about you.

20. Always leave them wanting more. Try to do less than the time allocated. The host will love you for it.

21. Make sure your flies are done up.

22. Sitting at the back gives you a sense of mystique.

23. If you really want to infuriate the host, turn towards them almost at the end of your set and ask, ‘Have I got time for another two poems?’ They will always be too polite to say, ‘No, sod off’.

24. If there’s a mic, then don’t say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll perform without the mic. Can you all hear me?’ The people at the back who can’t hear you won’t hear you say ‘can you hear me’. For goodness sake, use the damn mic!

25. Not everyone enjoys the phrase ‘this poem requires some audience participation. Let’s practice, shall we?’

26. But poems with audience participation get stronger applause because the audience is clapping themselves, and most of them are relieved that they don’t have to do any more audience participation.

27. There really is no subtle method in plugging a book.

28. I reiterate, if you’re using props, then check for light fittings.

29, Don’t hold a massive folder in front of your face while you’re reading.

30. Practice at home, time yourself, and aim to do less than your allocated slot.

31. Talk to the other poets.

32. Look for the following: a poem about a cat, a poem in which the performer uses the expression ‘You have no right to tell me how I must feel, how dare you tell me how I must feel’, a poem in which the poet turns on the waterworks halfway through, a poem about some Ancient Greek myth which you’ve never heard about but then everyone laughs knowingly and you laugh too even though you have no idea what they were going on about, a poem which finishes with everyone just going, ‘Mmmmmm’, a poem about being a poet, a poem with a modern cultural reference or metaphor which everyone laughs about and again you join in even though you have no idea what they’re talking about, a poem in which the poet does that strange thumb and forefinger pinched motion as it plucking a finely tuned delicate word from the ether, another poem about a cat. There’s no wrong way to do it, but give yourself a point for each of these!

33. Enjoy the whole experience!

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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