Saturday, March 03, 2012

Poor Poet's Guide to Being a Performance Poet

Technorati Profile
The Uptown Poetry Slam started in Chicago at the Green Mill Jazz Club, circa 1986, and soon became an international phenomenon, thanks to impresario Marc Kelly Smith. So anyone from this town who has anything to do with poetry does, or has done, performance poetry on stage. We need to set an example around here!

Otherwise, you might as well be some suburbanite sitting in a basement by yourself with a stack of envelopes and postage stamps, nursing a plastic tumbler of boxed wine.

Performing poetry doesn't mean just giving a poetry reading. It means breaking the fourth wall and leaping into the crowd with your poetry, if only figuratively.

How do you "perform" poetry or get into the "perfpo" scene? I started in church. Praying helps. But I also volunteered as a commentator and got lots of practice in front of my audience, i.e. the congregation, by presenting field-tested material, i.e. biblical passages.

Simultaneously, I also volunteered to read at least one of my own poems at every open mic reading I attended, which at one time, were legion.

I also took voice and breathing lessons at St. Nicholas Theater Company, in between serving as a volunteer there as well, though you may find this unnecessary.

Memorize at least one of your poems. A performance has to mean you lose the page. Once you get past dwelling on the words, you can move on to your oral and dramatic interpretation. The poem is then released from the mind to the body. The words go on automatic pilot and the actor or actress takes over to transform and deliver the words to the audience emotionally.

I eventually memorized 10 or more of my own poems and actually created a charm bracelet of these poems. My bracelet comprised silver charms I bought on ebay, each one symbolizing an important feature in a given poem, whether it be a sardine can, mermaid, owl, etc., which I attached to a slim bracelet, also purchased on ebay. I wore the bracelet to performances to remind myself on stage which poems I might care to perform, without the need to riffle through pages of a book or peek at an odd index card in case I went completely blank.

But the biggest breakthrough I experienced as a performance poet was to study different accents (there are CDs at the local library) and apply them to a couple of my poems. I read one poem set in Ireland with a Dublin accent. Hearing Frank McCourt read the entirety of "Angela's Ashes" on audio also helped me master some of the subtleties. For another poem, set in the south, I ply a Carolina accent. When I perform these poems, in particular, I really get outside of myself and feel as if I enter the world of the poem, in the purest and most complete sense. ◦