We’ve all been to terrible literary readings. We’ve all heard monotonous poet voice and people who mumble and apologize their way through their work. Let’s not be one of those people, OK?
Don’t read too fast.
Your grandmother in the last row wants to be able to hear your words, not just a slur of your voice. Enunciate and read slowly, it will make you sound less nervous. Read like you enjoy your work not like you can’t wait until the reading is over so you can hit the bar. Even if that’s how you feel, you don’t want to communicate that to your audience who will surreptitiously post to facebook about how they can’t wait until the reading is done so they can hit the bar.
Don’t read too slow.
Don’t read slow enough that your words lose all meaning. Don’t be afraid to vary your speed when your work requires it. Don’t give your audience a chance to take a nap between your lines.
If you can’t do voices, don’t.
Don’t feel as if you have to be in character if you can’t swing the voices. Everyone will be happier, really. Nothing is more embarrassing than a fake southern accent.
Keep your voice in your natural mid to low range.
I learned this from my friend Kate who has a bit of a squeaky voice but is an amazing poet. Say “hm” out loud. This, if you’re not thinking about it too hard, is your mid range. Try to stay there when you read. And if you’re a poet, for god’s sake, never let your voice rise in the middle of your line and end your lines in your middle to upper range. This is called poet voice and it makes any self-respecting elocutioner want to stick a fork in her eye.
Read like you fucking mean it.
This is your best defense against poet voice and monotony. Read like you’re telling a good story and are just getting to the juicy parts. Read like you’re trying to keep your little brother from crying from boredom on a long car ride. Read like the sad parts are sad and the happy parts are happy. Don’t overact, just let yourself feel it.
Never apologize. Keep your intros short. Let your work speak for itself. (True story: a reasonably famous poet came to my grad school and every single one of his poem intros was longer than the poems themselves. Leave some surprise for your audience.) Read like you care. Read like it’s important. Read your good work. Never apologize.