Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top 10 List for Listening and Giving Poetry Readings

Photographer: Logan Jenott
Just one week later and the glow of my book launch for Cloud Pharmacy at Open Books: A Poem Emporium is already beginning to fade; almost disappear really. This past Sunday was the book launch for Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon and so I've had the chance to read as well as listen. Here is what I learned:

1. Plan ahead; even over prepare. The first reading for a new book is important --- like a party for a newborn --- everything needs to go right. Bringing a book into the world, your book, is no small matter and so it's worth all the extra time to get the introduction and the order of poems just right.

2. Flowers make everything better. I brought a spring bouquet of flowers to Kelli's reading and I was lucky enough to receive flowers as well. This gives a sense of the joyousness of the occasion; plus it's spring in Seattle and everyone feels better with flowers in their arms.

3. Don't be afraid to make people cry. This sounds a little strange to my ears but it's true. I think as readers we want to make people laugh when in reality it is the more intense moments that I usually remember. My reading began with the poem "Blue Grapes" which includes the line "Is it easier after you're dead?" The poem focuses on the relationship between the dead and the living. Two people close to me (and close to the front of the reading) had just lost loved ones and they both told me, in similar ways, that the poem healed something important --- even with tears. I suspect they were allowed to feel --- and isn't that what we want at readings?

4. As a reader, it's your job to provide something tangible for the audience, something that they couldn't get if they read the book alone. Of course there's hearing the poems in the poet's voice. I know after attending a reading it's easier to hear the poet's cadences in the lines and read the way (perhaps) the poet intended. But I also mean offering little pieces of information that might provide insight into the work.

5. Be sure you have a friend or two willing to take pictures. Trust me, you will remember so little of the actual day that looking at pictures afterwards is a must.

Selfie by Kelli Russell Agodon after her marvelous event
6. Let friends help out; they want to be involved. There are so many details to think about on the day of your reading (flowers, food, party favors) that it can be overwhelming. It felt so good to be the official ride to get Kelli from the bookstore to her after party. I liked being needed.

7. Have an after party! Another way to thank your friends and family is to throw a party immediately following the reading. Both Kelli and I did this by reserving a private room or a section of a local restaurant not far from the bookshop. It feels really good to extend the afternoon.

8. Give out party favors. For The Alchemist's Kitchen I wrapped pieces of lavender chocolate and left them on everyone's chairs. This year I printed out different photographic images of Hannah Maynard's work and offered them as artistic prompts to writers and artists in the audience. Kelli printed out postcards with a poem from Hourglass Museum and a personal note.

9. Remember to thank everyone! You will look out at the audience to former teachers, lovers, friends, and family. They've all helped you to become the writer that you are. Let them know that they are your community; that they matter so much.

10. Don't forget to enjoy your day! On the drive over to the bookstore, in real danger of being late for my own reading, I turned up my music and sang so loud the street lights took notice. I put on Lake Street Dive's "Bad Self Portraits" and I danced down the highway in the driver's seat. After all, the reading couldn't begin without me. A book launch is a culmination of many years of work, make sure to enjoy the sweetness as long as you can.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Susan. Better than so-called 'secrets to success' is hearing the details of savoring, and sharing, your success!

  2. Thanks for listening ~ and for the flowers!

  3. Good advice. I've not tried the flowers, but it seems a nice idea

  4. I hope to read with you again one day, Famous One!

    1. O Kate lyn, I would love that too! Maybe in your hood? Would love to do a reading in one of the twin cities :-)