Reading poetry aloud goes hand-in-hand with writing it. But for many of us, reading our work out loud is an intimidating part of the creative process — just because the words come easily on paper doesn't mean they're always as easy to speak, especially if they convey tough personal experiences or share deeper feelings. Performing poetry in front of other people can feel intimate and vulnerable, and for anyone with stage fright, it can be downright scary.
That said, reading poetry aloud can also be incredibly powerful. Your words take on the greatest meaning when they're shared with others, and reading them out loud gives them life and emotion that they don't always have on the page. If reading your poems in front of an audience makes you nervous, you're not alone — and that's why we made this list of our favorite tips for making reading your poetry out loud easier!
- Use a dictionary. One way to make reading poetry aloud easier is to make sure you can say all of the words. Before you perform a poem, use a dictionary to look up anything you don't know. If you wrote the poem yourself it's likely you already understand the meaning of the words you chose, but you still may not have said them out loud. If that's the case, make sure you check out the pronunciation of any long or difficult words before a public reading, and practice saying each one clearly and correctly. This will help you to avoid confusion onstage.
- Slow down! Always speak slowly when you're reading poetry aloud. At first it may sound funny or awkward to slow your roll, but trust us, your audience needs more time than you think to process your words — they don't know the text like you do, and they probably won't have it in front of them for reference. It's also common to speak faster than normal when you're nervous or in front of a crowd. To help yourself maintain a slow pace (while also keeping your rhythm), mark appropriate pauses while you practice. If you write these breaks directly onto the page, you're more likely to memorize them as natural parts of the poem.
- Turn up the volume. Project! When you read a poem in front of others, get loud! If you're feeling nervous, you might be inclined to reflect your discomfort in your tone and speaking volume. Anticipate this by making a mental note to project your voice — let your words fill the room, and direct them towards the people sitting in the very back row. You don't want anyone to miss out on your piece just because they can't hear it.
- Practice reading poetry aloud. We know you've heard it a thousand times, but practice really does make perfect. Reading your poetry aloud is personal, so it isn't the same as reciting a passage from a textbook in class, and preparing will only serve to strenghten your performance. Practice, and practice often! Read your own poems out loud until you know them by heard, then test this out with other poems that you love. Try to mimic the feeling of speaking to an audience by reading in front of a mirror or to a family member. You can also record yourself with a phone or computer so that you can play your performance back and hear it as your audience would. Don't freak out if you hate the sound of your own voice — turns out everyone does!
- Relax! Our best tip for reading poetry aloud? Learn to relax. Breathe deeply, read with confience, and let yourself enjoy the beauty of your poem. Allowing yourself to feel truly calm and confident will show in your demeanor and in your presence onstage. This will help draw attention to your words and fully bring your listeners into the world of your poetry. We know they'll be happy to be there!
Reading poetry aloud is hard, but it shouldn't keep you from sharing your amazing work. If you have any tips of your own on how to read a poem out loud, let us know @PowerPoetry — and if you're determined to become a poet, check out the rest of Power Poetry's resources!