Deciding what to read at a venue that offers open a minefield. Is it a case of shutting your eyes and choosing the first few poems that you point at?

I feel comfortable enough at a few venues (Word Tree ...and Poetry in the Hut) that I bravely venture with new work. Test the water (cliche I know) so to speak. Difficult to let new work fly....often I'm editing minutes before I get on stage ....often I'm editing as I read.

And there are regulars that will tell me what they 'really' think- will offer up 'that was too repeated yourself in the last stanza....or had them.'

But what to read at a venue that you have only visited a few times? How do you know what sort of audience you will have?

Plan A is to always bring more poems than you intend to read. There is nothing worse than knowing you have time to read 3 poems, bring 3 poems then notice that the audience is not getting into any of them. Honestly, those are the times when you feel you are reading from a blank page and just making it up (badly) as you go along.

Gauging your audience is an art form in itself. And honestly most people that go to a venue that offers up spoken word, poetry or short willing and able to listen, (apart from those few that are only there to read their WONDERFUL work and can't understand why others must be there at all...go on, admit you know at least one of these :) )

Most audience members are there to enjoy, to listen, to take something home with them. They are not there to heckle, to judge or to call out 'get a real job' from the side lines.

Plan B is to practice reading the poems out loud- there is nothing worse than reading something so fresh and new that you stumble over phrases, mispronounce words and make a total bodge of the job.

Plan C is to look confident. Must admit that this is difficult. My heart wants to jump out of my chest, my palms become clammy, my face reddens and I 'know' that I'm about to make a fool of myself. I have this no matter where or what I read. If someone is listening, paying attention....the nerves come clattering in.

The real lesson I've learnt is to keep on. The more you get out and read, the more you learn. What works, what doesn't, what an audience expects, what they will put up with, how to read those small signs that you are losing them or worse, that they are all now looking out the window and wondering how soon you will get off the stage.

Hopefully, this Saturday, none of the above will happen. I will be reading at Stoppingallstations
with Michelle Leber.

And remember if I look confident, see plan C....I'm just faking it, but don't let on.


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