5 Tips for Performing Poetry

We asked fantastic poet Victoria Adukwei Bulley to give us some top tips for performing poetry. Victoria is one of our Rising Stars: New Young Voices in Poetry. Watch a video of Victoria performing Afro Hair Haiku

1. Watch others perform.

Do this online as well as in person. Watch their body language, listen to what they do with their voice. How do each of these make you feel in combination?   How is the poem given life through the performer? Remember that the poem should always come first – no amount of gesticulating or volume will make the poem any better. The point is to learn how to convey a message, and to do so in a way that serves the poem and you as the writer of it.

2. Know your poem.

Even if you’re reading it, you should be over-familiar with it. This way, if you trip over a line it’s incredibly easy to re-direct yourself without even a shadow of a glitch being apparent to the audience. Reading your poem aloud to yourself ahead of your performance will enable your mouth muscles to get into gear.

3. Warm up.

Stretch your body before you go onstage. Clear your throat and have a drink of water nearby – bring it onstage with you for back-up. If I’m feeling particularly nervous and I want to use some of my time on stage to warming up (without saying that this is what I’m doing), I’ll share something small from another poet I admire and read that to the audience first. Not only does that show them that you’re a reader and poetry supporter, too, but also that you’re present and wiling to share. All the better if the opening poem is a gateway to the themes of your own work.

4. Connect with the audience.

Speak to them, not at them. Acknowledge that they’re there, thank them for being present. Ask questions, if it’s relevant. Oh, you’re an introvert too? No matter. Connection can be as simple as occasional, meaningful sharing of eye contact. While it’s a positive thing to become more confident – and you will, the more you share your work – don’t feel that you need to ‘get used to performing’. Part of the nervousness we experience before going onstage is about knowing we’re doing something that’s important to us and wanting it to go well. There are ways of managing these nerves, but in and of themselves, these nerves are healthy.

5. Accept applause.

Don’t rush offstage. Don’t just do something, stand there, as the saying goes. Confidence can be as quiet and as powerful as this. Say thank you, wait a couple of seconds, smile, then leave. Leave space between your poems, too. This gives the audience a moment to digest what you’re sharing with them.