Mention ‘performance poetry’ and people invariably roll their eyes. You see performance poetry has a bad rap, but this is because few give themselves over to performance in the truest manner. I am somebody who can proudly says that they are indeed a poet … and a performing one at that.
This has, in part, something to do with the fact that I am currently studying a PhD in performance poetry at the WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). I am the only person in the state studying performance poetry at this level as far as I am aware … and with just cause too: it is a poetic form that is so excitingly fresh.
My golden rule to poetry is Be The Experiment! You cannot achieve anything by merely thinking about it… unless the goal is to merely think. Learn to set yourself parameters. Stick to them. Make your own rules. Provide justification as to why they are your rules. Learn to be scientific about poetry. Approach it with rigour. Have fun, naturally, but don’t flit across forms mastering none: develop your own poetica. This way, you learn how to write by investing the head and the heart together. Be the experiment. Yield new thoughts.
When judging submissions for Fremantle Poets 3: Performance Poets a number of factors were looked at. Naturally a primary consideration was voice, the power it gave to the statement, the clarity it contained, its ability to create range plus the poets ability to affect and connect, especially through pre-recorded electronic means. And, as a performance poet, these are some things you should consider:
PROJECT: sit at the top of a flight of stairs. Recite your poem so it touches the bottom step. Keep reciting over and over. Modulate the volume until you can hear it touch a tipping point in the distance. Once it comes back to you and you can hear the resonance and echo of yourself speaking, while reading, and it’s clear and precise … that is when you are ready to perform. This is called projection.
(LET THE VOICE) CIRCUMFLECT: it is the lilt, the wave, the pitch and fall of the voice. Learn how to make it bend – not the poem, your instrument: your voice. Spend time by yourself making all the noises you possibly can. These noises should make you laugh. They should also weird you out a little too. And there’s no need to bring them to the stage … in fact, please don’t … but you have to know how your voice will bend – and eventually break – so that you can master its scope.
(NEVER!) EXPECT: if performance poetry were all about the parties and fast cars, we’d all be rock stars. But we ain’t. You should never expect applause when you perform, not after any poem, no matter how good you thought it was. Humility is your greatest weapon. Strive to be unique, not modern. Be humble, yet certain. Do it for the poem.
If all else fails, read poems to yourself in the dark of a winter night, or pre-dawn of a summer morn’. Allow yourself to fold up into the most ingenious shapes and hide there between the words as they jostle and awake.