Tips on Reciting Poetry for Beginners

Rafaela Biazi

Rafaela Biazi

You did it! You signed up for your first poetry reading. So now what? Cue the nerves. Maybe some second-guessing. As the event approaches, you may find yourself running solid pep talks in your head. You got this. You can do it. Just do it.

Don’t let your uneasiness get in your way. It is perfectly normal to be apprehensive and just plain ol’ nervous. It goes hand in hand with doing anything for the first time.

Trust in yourself. You have decided to share your words and that is brave. It’s a step in the right direction.  

Now it is time to push the little voices to the side and get to work. What you do on the days leading up to the event is crucial. Take this time to be productive and avoid getting lost in bouts of worry. Make plans to polish your writing and practice your performance. Do what you can to put your best foot forward.

Don’t know where to begin?

Here are some useful tips to get you going and alleviate the stress. Refer to these guidelines as you prepare for your big debut!

It’s sure to enhance your work and help you go a long way with your art.

Shirley Tittermary

Shirley Tittermary

1.    Rhythm and Rhyme

Poetry is meant to be heard. For this reason, be intentional and deliberate when you select your poem(s). Choose a piece that follows the theme of the night, one that will resonate with the audience. You will be in a room of new faces. These lovely folks are not familiar with your style. For many, it will be the first time they have access to your work. 

Do all you can to present the most polished version of your poem. Smooth out any kinks or inconsistencies.

Think about the overall mood and tone of your piece, let this be a driving force as you revise.

Let’s say the tone is somber, how does the structure and syntax enhance it? 

Do your lines paint a picture? Are there plenty of sensory details?

It’s useful to look at the layout of your poem on paper. Consider the devices in play and see if each one serves its purpose.

Read it aloud and think of your words as a collection of sounds. Does it read fast or slow? Are there repeating sounds? Any breaks or pauses? Fine tune the rhythm of your piece.

No detail is too small. 

Ask yourself these questions and make sure each choice you make has a purpose. The more you work this out, the more opportunity you have to connect with your audience. 

If the revision process is new to you, read Rachel Richardson essay—“The Warmth of the Messy Page”. Richardson shares clutch revision tips.

For those of you who prefer visual aids here are some cool graphic organizers that will help you get started.

Kai Pilger

Kai Pilger

2.    Mic Check 1, 2, 1, 2 

Once your poem is tweaked, you’ll want to start reading it aloud. No matter how short your set will run, it is imperative you rehearse your performance. The “wing-it” approach might work for some, but it is always better to be prepared—especially if you anticipate sweaty palms.

It’s time to switch gears and look at your poem from a different angle. 

The new focus is delivery. 

Jot down a brief introduction. Don’t worry about getting this perfect or if you stray from it. This will serve as a precaution, a little something to refer to when it’s your time to shine.

You’ll want to say your lines over and over again. Try to close your eyes and visualize your words in your mind.

Create a system of markings and symbols to guide you along as you practice.

Repeat your lines until your pace is strong and steady. Use the voice memo app on your phone and record each take. Play each one back. Are your words clear and easy to understand?

Do all you can to memorize it. Reciting your poem from memory will leave you with more opportunity to engage with the crowd. Think of your notes as a handy resource, not something you intend to read from directly. 

For some this may be easier said than done. There is great literature out there on improving memory. Peter C. Brown in Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, shares useful strategies and techniques for improving memory retention. Check it out and see what works for you.

The more you practice the less there will be to worry about on your opening day.

Work on your delivery as much as you see fit. You decide when you are ready.

Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey

Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey

3.    Encore! Encore!

Your poem is revised, lines are rehearsed, and the big day is closing in. What could be left to do?

Have no fear the final touches are less time consuming and much more fun. These details all relate to presentation. Think of it as the last set of rehearsals, and a great opportunity to study your execution.

You’ll want to make your way to the mirror for this one. Stand proud and recite as if you were on stage. Map out how you would like to carry yourself as you go through your lines.

Body language is important. Keep your head up—avoid looking down at the ground.

Dare you engage in a little eye contact? As scary as this may seem, it’s always a great way to captivate the crowd.

Be chill and let your words take you. Get into a flow state. Find a right balance of speech and movement. Try to avoid flailing your arms or incessant pacing.

It might take a few tries. Keep at it until you know how you will convey your composition.

Lastly, use your artist flare to style it up. Pick an outfit you feel good in—a look that brings out your confidence.

All this groundwork will set you apart. Everyone respects those who commit and work hard. Show up and show out.

Leave them wanting more!

Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy

Often writers retreat and fear showing their work to the public. It is not easy to put out writing that is honest and close to you. Sharing your work is powerful. It is an act of self-love. 

This is your opportunity to nurture your passion.

Get out there and give it your all.

Have any questions or tips you’d like to share?

Leave a comment below!

Arlene MateoComment