Finding the right voice for reading your poetry is important business. I think of my favorite local poets, Mendy Knott and Leah Gould, both have excellent voice when they perform their work. The voice for each of them, I’ve noticed, is unique to their performance. When their poem begins, it’s noted in the tone, accent, and lilt of the voice they speak in. This is not to say each piece they perform sounds the same. The pieces seem to have their own flavor as well, but there is some consistency to the voice these poets deliver their work in.
I am still trying to find my performance voice.
I read, and read, and re-read the same poem again and again. For me, part of the struggle is nerves. No matter how much I practice delivering a piece or how confident I feel about it in my living room, when I get in front of the mic I lose the voice completely. I think nerves have a lot to do with this.
While over the years I have developed some comfort with reading pieces in front of an audience, I am still very nervous about mics. In part this comes from childhood stigmas around being dubbed “loud” by people with disapproving looks on their faces as they admonished me, “Why are you so loud?” or “shhh!”. I have a pretty naturally loud voice and more so when I’m excited. I also don’t have a lot of experience with mics. I fumble with the stand if I am forced to adjust it on my own. I never know quite how far away to hold my mouth. I hear some people boom into the mic while others I can barely hear. I can’t seem to discover the formula for speaking clearly while not shouting unknowingly.
My nerves contribute to me rushing through my work. This is never good. When you rush through your work, people can’t fully digest your poem. People want to hear every word. You want them to hear every word too, otherwise you would have edited some of those words away by this point.
This summer I need to push myself to perform more work in public for the purpose of playing with and finding voice. I am going to mention this to my writer’s group Friday night as well and hope to work with it some there too. I’ve also started recording myself reading my poems in various styles. I record once with a basic reading, give it a listen and then speed it up or slow it down for the next recording. I just keep tinkering with it until I think I’ve improved it.
I am so proud of how my writing has developed in the last year or so. I put a lot of effort into taking my talent to write and developing the skill to take it to the next level. I will continue that development with my work as well, but it’s time to put some of that focus on my performance. Voice is a good place to start.