How to Participate in a Poetry Reading

poetry reading


Poetry is a culture. For others to appreciate it, you can’t merely write it. You must also recite it. The purpose of poetry readings is to emphasize your joy for the art form. Hearing poetry is what first attracts people to it. Think about the nursery rhymes that you heard as a child. Those were poems, and hearing and speaking those words gave you a thrill. Poetry readings free verses from their pages. They create a community and allow you to test how your words reverberate with others.

Different Types of Poetry Readings

Poetry Conferences

Poetry conferences are like writing conferences. In general, a group’s leader recites poetry and provides a lecture about the work. Participants then complete writing exercises to nurture and strengthen their skills.

Poetry Festivals

At poetry festivals, several new, emerging and established poets gather to interact with the local community and gain press coverage.

Open Mic Events

Often hosted at bookstores, libraries, coffee shops or other venues where a group can gather, open mic poetry readings allow poets to recite their own works or the works of others. Open mic events have different rules about the length of a reading, the use of music or props, and the use of costumes.

Poetry Slams

Poetry slams are competitive events in which poets read or recite their works. Each poetry slam has its own rules regarding the originality of the poems read, time limits and the use of props and other items. The judges at these events are generally five members of the audience.

In the first round, all the participating poets read one poem. The top-scoring poets move on to the subsequent rounds. While the audience members can provide feedback (i.e., applause or jeers), judges must not let the audience influence their scores. The marrying of poetry and performance via slams has opened the world of poetry to non-traditional audiences, as the works become a tangible, intriguing experience.

Poetry Groups

Informal poetry groups are similar to book groups. The group reads a book or collection of poems and later meets to discuss the works. During the group session, participants read selected poems and may read their own original works.

Poetry Performance Tips

• Know the meaning of the poem, as well as the meaning of each line and word.

• Practice reading aloud before an event to know when to pause and how to pace the words.

• Have good posture and look confident.

• Maintain eye contact with the entire audience.

• If there are no microphones, project your voice so everyone can hear you.

• Enunciate and articulate the words in the poem.

• Avoid using a singsong voice when a poem rhymes.

• Use appropriate gestures, but don’t act out each word.

• Use your voice to give your words life and color.

Finding Reading Poetry Groups in Your Area

When you want to participate in a poetry reading, ask area libraries and bookstores about groups they may host. They may also be able to tell you about poetry groups or clubs that meet in the area. Keep in mind that nearby colleges might have poetry groups. If you don’t find a group in your community, create one with 10 to 12 people that meets each month.

In an October 2012 article in The New Yorker, poet Donald Hall advises, “Watch out. A poem must work from the platform but it must also work on the page.” Poetry was print before it became sound. By reading your works aloud, you’ll gain an understanding of how your poems truly resonate with all audiences.

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Significant Uses of Poetry Throughout History

poetry reading


Poetry is one of the oldest literary art forms. The earliest types of poems were often sung or recited to pass on oral histories, law and ancestral information because the rhythmic and repetitive forms made accounts simpler to remember before the development of writing. Poems that exist from ancient civilizations include fiction, historical accounts, love songs and instructions about how to perform everyday activities. The history of poetry is long and multifaceted as every culture used—and continues to employ—the literary form as a means of expression.

History of Poetry


The oldest known surviving written poetry include the Hieratic Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor from around 2500 B.C.E and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from about 2000 B.C.E. Other well known ancient epics are the Iliad and Odyssey from Greece, Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, and the Epic of King Gesar from Tibet.

Ancient Greek Poetry

During the 7th to 4th centuries B.C.E., the poetic movement developed by ancient Greek writers was one of the most culturally and intellectually significant in the history of the literary form. These writers developed almost all the classic forms known today. Notable writers included Homer, Sappho, Hesiod, Anacreon and Euripides. Many credit Aristotle with influencing the Middle East’s Islamic Golden Age and the European Renaissance.

Provencal Literature

During the 11th to 13th centuries A.D., the Middle Ages, musicians in France began writing lyrics despite Holy Roman Empire’s stomping down on creative expression. Inspired by Arab writers (e.g., Rumi) and Latin and Greek poets, the troubadours originally performed for royal courts before performing for different communities. The inquisition doomed the Provencal movement, making way for new movements.

Sicilian School

Taking their inspiration from the troubadours, Sicilian poets during the 13th and 14th centuries wrote about courtly love on the cuffs of the Renaissance period. The poets used their unique dialect to create poems into works of art. Poet Giacomo de Lentini further developed the sonnets and canzones, and invented new words, which became part of the Italian language. Instead of playing music with the verses, the poets of this era wrote poems for others to read. Poets like Dante and Petrarch spread the literary form across Europe.

Elizabethan Era

Poets such as Sir Thomas Wyatt and Geoffrey Chaucer helped modernize English literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sonnets became wildly popular as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer and others added their own touches to create works that are still popular today. Poets during the Elizabethan era used poems to write about everyday life, love and religion.

Metaphysical Era

In the 18th century, poets looked beyond religion and themselves. They often sought to explain their subjects by comparing them to love, philosophy, nature and the afterlife. The works of these poets—such as John Donne, George Chapman, Katherine Philips and Samuel Cowley—paved the way for American transcendentalism and Romantic writers.

Romantic Era

The Romantic era spanned three centuries—from the time of William Blake’s popularity in the late 1790s to Lord Byron’s death in 1824. The movement was one of the most illustrious in literary history. The poets of this era focused on nature, personal feelings, freedom of expression and their relationships. Notable poets of this era included William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly and John Keats.

American Transcendentalism

Led be Ralph Waldo Emerson at Boston’s Transcendental Club in September 1836, transcendental poets explored spirituality, the arts and utopian values. They rose against their seemingly puritanical culture and sought to form a socialized community. Many writers considered themselves Transcendentalists, including Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Beat Movement

The latest modern poetic movement, Beat poets created one of the most influential poetic eras within the last century. They expressed life as they defined it. The poetic form blended classical styles with narrative free verse, free-expression jazz and the seeking of spiritual meaning. Beat poets created a renewed appreciation for the writing and study of poetry. Well-known poets of this era included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tuli Kepfergerg, Diane Di Prima and Herbert Huncke.

Poetry takes on several forms, painting literary pictures of the cultures and civilizations from which they emerged. Whether they’re telling a story, describing a writer’s innermost thoughts, mocking a government or commemorating a life, poems have had the power to express the heart’s desires, fuel flames and entertain the masses more than any literary or artistic form in history. What will your words say about you?

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An In-Depth Look at Meter & Rhyme in Poetry


Words in poems are like dancers; they have rhythm and movement. When you read the words aloud, the words might flow or bounce or halt based on how the poet arranges them. While this arrangement contributes to a poem’s rhyme scheme and metric pattern, they also contribute to its meaning and tone. By understanding poetry rhyme and meter, you’ll have better insight into what the poet communicates and the emotions expressed.

Poetry Meter

A poem’s metric pattern describes the arrangement of feet in a line. A foot is a group of syllables, the natural breaks in a word. To identify a poem’s meter, you must first identify the feet. Types of feet include:

• Iamb: An unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g., the word “destroy”)

• Trochee: An accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable (e.g., the word “double”)

• Anapest: Two unaccented syllables and an accented syllable (e.g., the word “intervene”)

• Dactyl: An accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables (e.g., the word “merrily”)

• Spondee: Two consecutive accented syllables (e.g., the word “hum-drum”)

• Pyrrhic: Two consecutive unaccented syllables (e.g., the words “to a”)

Identifying the meter in a poem requires identifying the type of line length, the number of feet in a line:

• Monometer: A line with one foot

• Dimeter: A line with two feet

• Trimeter: A line with three feet

• Tetrameter: A line with four feet

• Pentameter: A line with five feet

• Hexameter: A line with six feet

• Alexandrine meter: A line with six iambic feet

To determine the meter, combine the type of foot with the line length. Iambic pentameter, for examples, is a line with five iambic feet. Identifying a poem’s meter helps determine the type of poem it is, such as a ballad, ode or sonnet. Knowing the poetic type, or form, gives you insight into its purpose and the emotions that the poet may express.

Poetry Rhyme

The rhyme scheme in a poem is another tool used create or identify a poem’s form. The scheme identifies which lines rhyme with each other using letters. Common rhyme schemes include:

• ABAB: The first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme

• XAXA: The second and fourth lines rhyme, but the first and third do not

• AABB: The first and second lines rhyme and the third and fourth lines rhyme

• AAAA: All the lines rhyme

• AAXA or AXAA: All but one of the lines rhyme

• ABBA: The first and last lines rhyme and the second and third lines rhyme

• AXXA: The first and last lines rhyme, but the middle lines do not rhyme with each other

Rhyme schemes may incorporate more letters as needed. A Shakespearean sonnet, for instance, uses the following rhyme scheme: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. The number of letters in each section tells the reader the number of lines in each stanza. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the last stanza has two lines.

Some types of rhyme schemes have formal names, such as:

• ABAB: Alternate rhyme

• AABB…: Couplet

• AAABBB…: Triplet

• AAAA: Monorhyme


• ABABB: Cinquian

• AABB: Clerihew

• ABBA: Enclosed

• AABBA: Limerick

• ABABABCC: Ottava rima

• ABABBCC: Rhyme royal

• AABA: Rubaiyat

• ABA, BCB, CDC…: Terza rima

In poetry, the elements within a work contribute to its tone and meaning, making the words multi-faceted. The next time you read a poem, study the rhyme and meter to see what new meanings jump out at you.

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Understanding Poetry Forms & Structure

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Poems are like maps. All poetry styles have some type of form, a physical structure that makes it markedly distinguishable from prose. Reading poetry is about more than taking in the words. It’s also about using the arrangements of lines, sounds and rhythms to get to the meaning of the words. The relationship between sounds, repetition and movement push words beyond their literal meanings, making a work larger than the sum of its parts.

Common Poetry Styles

Acrostic: A poem that uses the first letter in each line to spell a word or phrase

Ballad: A poem that tells a story

Cento: A poem that uses lines from other poems

Double-dactyl: An eight-line poem in which each line contains two dactyls, a long syllable followed by two shorter syllables (e.g. Roger L. Robinson wrote in “Double-Dactyl”: “Long-short-short, long-short-short/ Dactyls in dimeter/…One sentence (two stanzas)/Hexasyllabically/ Challenges poets who/ Don’t have the time.”)

Elegy: A sad and thoughtful poem, often about an individual who died

Epic: Long narrative poem

Ghazal: A type of classical Middle Eastern poetry with 5 to 15 rhyming couplets and a shared refrain at the end of the second line

Haiku: Traditional Japanese poem with three lines; the first and third lines have five syllables, the second line has seven syllables

Lyric: A poem about the speaker’s feelings, moods or thoughts

Narrative: A poem that recounts a story

Ode: A three-part poem about a serious subject

Pantoum: A poem with two or more four-line stanzas; the second and fourth lines in one stanza are also the first and third lines of the next stanza

Sonnet: A 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter; common forms include English sonnets and Italian sonnets

Shi: Classical Chinese poems in which the even lines rhyme

Tanka: Similar to a haiku, but follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern

Terza rima: A poem with stanzas that follow an aba, bcb, cdc, ded… rhyming pattern

Structural Elements in Poetry Styles

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem

Line: Individual line in a poem; it does not have to complete a sentence or thought

Couplet: Stanzas with two lines

Quatrain: Stanzas with four lines

Enjambment: When an idea in one line carries on to the next

Caesura: Punctuation that doesn’t occur at the end of a line

Feet: The type of two- or three-syllable unit on which a meter is based; a foot is the number and type of syllables in a meter; an iambic foot, for example, has an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g. the word “destroy”); types of meters include iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee and pyrrhic

Meter: Patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, or feet, in a poem; types of meters include monometer, dimeter, trimester, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, heptameter and octameter

Metrical patterns: The type of dominant foot in a poem and the number of times it appears in a line, such as iambic pentameter, a line with five iambic feet

Rhythm: The rhythmical sounds in a poem because of accented and unaccented syllables in words

Rhyme schemes: The pattern of rhymes at the end of the lines in a poem, indicated using letters; lines with the same letters rhyme with each other

Knowing about different poetry styles and the elements that make up a work is like having the legend to a map. Incorporate these elements into your own work to give yourself a challenge and to diversify your writing.

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