Kevin’s Rules of Poetry Reading Etiquette: For Everybody

I go to a lot of poetry readings. I have noticed a lot of things, good and bad, that affect how a given reading will go. On one occasion, where another poet’s lack of consideration effectively ate up a good chunk of what would have been my reading time, I got so frustrated that I made up a list.

Now that enough time has passed that I can address this calmly and rationally, I will now continue with my rules of poetry reading etiquette—this last set being a few general rules for everybody.

Turn off or silence your cell phone

Nobody wants to hear someone’s excessively loud/cheesy/annoying/inappropriate ringtone or notification sounds in the middle of a poem. If you can’t or don’t want to turn off your phone completely, at least turn off notifications. You can turn them back on later—I promise.

The exception to this rule is for readers and/or hosts who set their alarms to avoid going past the allotted reading time. When I do featured reader slots, I always set my phone to give myself a one- or two-minute warning—and I let the audience know this before I start reading, so they don’t start looking around for the rude person when my alarm goes off. (I also set the alarm to play something relatively quiet, like The Art of Noise’s ‘Moments in Love’, so as not to startle anyone—especially me.)

Leave the fragrances and scented products at home

A lot of people have allergies or chemical sensitivities. By coming to a reading as scent-free as possible, you help ensure that none of the hosts, readers, or audience members will experience allergic reactions, headaches, and other unpleasant things.

Leave the pets at home

Again, a lot of people have allergies. Some people may have phobias or past experiences with animals. Either way, dogs sometimes bark, and that can be disruptive. However cute or friendly you think your dog is, it is generally best to leave Fido at home.

Before you bring them, consider carefully whether your children will find the reading as interesting as you do

Maybe your kids are into poetry. Great—bring them along. But maybe they’re not. In that case, if you can leave them with a sitter, or provide them with an alternate activity, you reduce the likelihood of a tantrum or the antics of a bored kid.

Support the venue or organization

A lot of readings take place in cafés and other for-profit venues. Buy food and drinks, or contribute to the tip jar. Recommend the venue to others. If an organization is sponsoring the reading, make a donation, if you can. If you enjoyed the reading, go again.

Have fun

I have found that the readings I enjoy the most are the ones where people are having fun. Fun is contagious. A host who is having fun puts everyone else at ease, and that generally results in a better experience for everyone.

(14 August 2016)