It’s almost April and that means it’s almost National Poetry month. Throughout this month, I’ll post a poetry-based blog post every week. And if you live in the Triangle, I’m teaching a poetry workshop on Sunday, April 17th from 2 to 4 p.m. at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest. Click on the link for more information. All writing levels and genres are welcome to this two-hour workshop. The fee is $25.


Nancy OlsonSo on to this post, which is dedicated to the late Nancy Olson, former owner of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh who dedicated her life to reading, sharing good books and championing local authors to make Raleigh a required stop on national book tours. She lost her battle with kidney disease early Easter morning. Nancy was a beautiful person who made everyone she met feel loved and special. When I first started writing, one of my goals was to read at Quail Ridge Books and that moment happened in April 2007. I had the opportunity to read in her store again in 2009, 2012 and 2014.


Next Thursday you scheduled yourself to read at your first open mic and you know you don’t want to bomb. Don’t fear—help’s on the way! Open mics are fantastic opportunities to meet fellow travelers on the poetry scene, get feedback on your poems and gain the necessary confidence to perform your poetry in public.


After a decade of poetry reading experiences here are ten tips I’ve curated for you so you’ll be remembered for your presence and poetry, not for the mic you knocked down or for the spit you sprayed on the front row.


  1. Attend a prior open mic where you plan on performing as a listener to best gauge the audience. Think hard about who your audience is and what poems they’ll appreciate. Hey, I know I’m stereotyping, but if it’s an older, retired crowd, you might want to steer away from slang and pop culture. If it’s a younger crowd, you might want to try out your R-rated poetry slam stuff.
  2. If you only have 5 minutes to read, make sure you practice your poems with a timer so you don’t go over. Sequence your poems so they flow and don’t read two suicide poems back-to-back. End on an update or funny note! Also account for any introductions or ad libs you do during your five minute slot.
  3. Unless you have all of your poems memorized (good for you—you’re awesome!) Print your poems out on colored paper. Choose a nice blue or lilac so when folks take your photo, you won’t be holding blinding white paper. Or place your poems in a black binder like folks in the church choir do. Or if you read from your book of poems, be sure to carefully mark the pages with colored stickies so you don’t look like a dope fumbling through your pages.
  4. So you don’t have to hold up your papers, bring your own collapsible music stand. You’ll look professional even if you don’t feel it yet.
  5. When you first approach the mic, adjust it and then leave it alone. Notice how the other readers are sounding at the mic so you can adjust your voice accordingly not to sound too soft or hard. 
  6. Make real eye contact with real people in the audience—don’t just spray the crowd. Eye contact requires you to have memorized some of your lines so you’re not constantly referring to your paper—do it—this is how you connect with the audience. 
  7. Speak slowly—one thing I hate at open mics is a new poet who rushes through their beautiful poetry because they’re nervous. 
  8. If the crowd laughs at your poem (not at you, with you!) make sure you pause and not step on your laugh. Soak it up! 
  9. When your reading’s almost over, cue the audience with, “I’ll close with this poem about me fighting a bear in the Maine woods.” 
  10. It’s okay to drink one adult beverage before a reading, but not more than that for obvious reasons. 


Your Turn:


What tips on reading your poetry at an open mic did I miss? Please share here!