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The Spoken Word: Go Public with Your Writing

Why You Should Perform Your Work By Brenda Ann Burke

The January program will consist of members reading their work to the assemblage. A lot of writers loathe getting up and performing in front of a group. But it is an important part of the publishing and marketing process. Following is a reprint of an article telling us why it is important. The article is about performing poetry, but what the author has to say holds true for any kind of writing. ___________________ Many people who write poetry would never consider reading their work in public. This article explains why reading in public is an important part of being a poet.

Okay, so you’ve been writing poetry for a year, maybe a few years. You’ve sent some poems off to small journals, maybe even had a few published. But you’ve never actually stood up in public and read your own work. Well, what are you waiting for? Here are some of the reasons poets don’t read their work, and some arguments as to why they should.


Billeh Nickerson’s comment, captured by Dennis O’Driscoll in the The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006), would express the view of many writers: “Reading poetry to strangers is a very intimate act. It’s kind of like a poetic lap dance.” Well, yes. And if you are writing as a form of personal therapy, then by all means keep your poems to yourself and your circle of family and friends.

But most writers write because they have something to say and want to communicate it. Speaking your poem adds to the dimension of communicating, not only the meaning, but also the music of the work. It will make you part of the community of writers who listen and speak as well as read and write.


Some poets feel they don’t write the kind of poem that will make the audience laugh or seem to respond. True, some poems and ways of speaking them do provoke a more vocal audience response. That doesn’t mean that other poems are not being received and responded to. It could be that your work gets through to one or two members of the audience in a truly significant way. Listen to some recordings of great poems — Jack Ross and Jan Kemp’s collection Classic New Zealand Poems in Performance (Auckland University Press, 2006) is one good place to start — and remind yourself of how powerful the spoken word can be.


You don’t need to read regularly. But you will write better poetry through learning how people react to your poems. It can be important to discover that a poem you thought was simply ironic scares or offends some listeners — especially if you intend to submit the poem for publication!


“Standing and delivering” is a powerful way to present a poem. But it’s perfectly fine to read, and to develop a personal style. Janet Hunt, in her 1998 biography of the great New Zealand poet Hone Tuwhare (Random House, Auckland), related that Tuwhare preferred not to memorize: “There are different variations of your own poems when you come to read them in public.” As for “performance anxiety,” performing is a skill that can be practiced and learned. There is lots of help available — check out the advice on the Poetry Magic Web site, for example. The most important reason for reading your poetry is that performing is an affirmation. You may be worried that people think you are a little — unusual? — for writing poetry, and you’re probably right. But you do make poems, so why keep it a secret? Take the plunge and go public — you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be. ______________________

Brenda Ann Burke died of cancer on 23 September 2009. She was just two weeks shy of her 50th birthday. She discovered New Zealand’s Far North in a 60k ultra marathon on Ninety Mile Beach. She moved from Wellington to Ahipara, near Kaitaia, in February 2009 to connect with her spontaneous, creative self. Read more at sunflower117#ixzz0bt88LrOL

Food For Gossip

President’s Corner

Carrying On! We gather together on Saturday, January 16, 2010, for a late 2-4 p.m. Denny’s brunch and sharing of our writing, our way of testing the waters with new work. Each person who wants to read gets between three to five minutes before we get out the proverbial hook.   At our following meeting on March 20, mystery writer Al Cook will speak. Find out more about this clever guy at his Web site,   Shopping in Borders this holiday, I bought their last copy of Too Much Money by legendary party animal and illustrious Vanity Fair contributor, Dominick Dunne, who began to write at age 50. Before wrapping and mailing it off to my book-loving mom, who has moved to Cambridge, Mass, I could not resist reading it. This hilarious, commercial, gossipy novel is a delightful swan song for Dunne (1925-2009) indeed. He shamelessly skewers the nervous ultra rich of New York City while celebrating a brave journalist/protagonist who will not be cowed by them.   While nursing a persistent cold over New Year’s, I have been holed up reading playwright Moss Hart’s autobiography, Act One (published in 1959), given to me as a Christmas gift. Hart (1904-1961) describes his passion for Broadway and a slow climb out of poverty. He wrote his first play, The Beloved Bandit, under a pseudonym and agonized as he watched it fail out of town. Then, while supporting himself as a theater director and summer-

Letter to the Editor Hi, Everybody!

camp social director, Hart wrote a play a year for the next four years. None of them were produced, however, and he was starving.   Finally, Moss Hart teamed up with Broadway veteran, George S. Kaufman. Over several arduous months they collaboratively wrote and rewrote Moss’s sixth inspiration, a comedic play about Hollywood’s transition from silent movies to “talkies” called Once in a Lifetime (1930). Even during that play’s torturous out of town trials, all-night rewriting of scenes was going on in hotel rooms. I was greatly relieved to read the final exciting chapter of Act One, where Once in a Lifetime became a smash Broadway hit and Hart was able to lift his entire family out of poverty. His later big hits included You Can’t Take It With You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939)   Unfortunately, Hart had a heart attack in 1960 while directing a stressful out of town tryout for the Lerner and Loewe Musical, Camelot. The show opened before he fully recovered and he and Lerner were still reworking some scenes after the opening. Moss Hart died a year later, at the age of 57.   What a tribute to perseverance and determination to succeed! ____________________

  See you on the 16th at DENNY’S DINER, HOLLYWOOD, 5751 SUNSET BOULEVARD (Sunset Exit Off the 101) —Tom Howard

Anonymous, Contributed by Mary L. Ports Miss Mary Jane Brown was a bright little girl Bubbling over with spirit was she, And mischievous too, but I’m sorry to say At times she was bad as could be. One day she was naughty from breakfast time on From one thing to another she went, Until mother’s patience, its limits had reached And young Mary upstairs was sent. Being told to remain there until she’d confessed To God, just how bad she had been. Then – if she could make up her mind to behave She might venture to come down again. Not very long after, Miss Mary appeared With a satisfied look on her face And mother said, “Well, did you tell it to God? And did He let you out of disgrace?” Mary paused for a moment and seemed quite subdued Then she said with a smirk and a bow, “Mr. God wasn’t home, so I told Mrs. God And it’s all over heaven by now!” —Etude Magazine, date unknown

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to share some good news with you ... In August I submitted a nonfiction story to Patchwork Path, which is similar to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I recently found out that the story, about my second wedding, has been accepted and will appear in the Patchwork Path anthology entitled Wedding Bouquet. The book is scheduled to be on the market in May 2010. Happy New Year! Kellee Henderson

This good news was submitted by her proud grandpa, Joe Panicello


The official newsletter of the National Writers Association Los Angeles