Kevin’s Rules of Poetry Reading Etiquette (the concise list version)

The following is based on fifteen months of poetry readings and open mics. I fully intend to post a more rant-y version of this later to reflect a couple of recent experiences; for now, I think this simple list will be appropriate:

Kevin’s Rules of Poetry Reading Etiquette
for poets, hosts, and audiences


  1. Keep your introductions short.
  2. Stay within your allotted time.
  3. Speak loud enough for people to hear you.
  4. Speak as clearly as possible.
  5. If you stumble over a word, just keep going.
  6. Make eye contact, at least every now and then.
  7. Don’t spend too long looking for a particular poem.
  8. Keep explanations of your poems to a minimum—if they’re longer than the poems they’re explaining, they’re too long.
  9. Give your audience a heads up about anything affecting your performance


  1. Let your featured readers know the order in which you plan to introduce them.
  2. Confirm with readers the names by which they would like to be introduced.
  3. Be clear with readers (featured or otherwise) about how long they will have to read.
  4. Enforce the allotted times.
  5. Except to inform the reader that his or her time is up, don’t interrupt.
  6. Keep personal comments between readers to a minimum


  1. Arrive before the reading begins.
  2. If you are late, enter the room and take your seat as quietly as possible.
  3. No matter how bored you may be by a particular poem, at least make it look like you are paying attention.
  4. If you find yourself coughing or sneezing a lot, it’s okay to leave the room for a moment.
  5. Even if it’s just a token golf clap, applaud when appropriate.


  1. Leave the fragrances and scented products at home.
  2. Turn off your cellphone ringers.
  3. Leave your pets at home.
  4. Consider carefully before you bring them whether or not your children will find the reading as interesting as you do.

Fellow poets! If you think of anything I may have missed, let me know.

(14 March 2016)