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There are poetry workshops, but no reading workshops: how not to go over your time, how to choose a set, how to present yourself to an audience. So the poetry improves, but the presentation of it just keeps getting worse. I’m not speaking of spoken word here: I am talking about all poetry. Poets ought to learn how to present work as well as produce it.

I wish I could teach a workshop for a semester like this: first month, the students memorized two poems a week, but also practiced reading poems from the paper.

Second month, they slowly introduced their own work amid the poems they had memorized so that their poems were naked and rubbing up against Stevens and Ai, and whomever.

Finally, in the last month, three students would do a fifteen minute set per class, and leave time for criticism.

I don’t care how shy poets are; I’m sick of their introversion being inflicted on me via their bad readings. The second you stand up in front of an audience, you owe that audience a well articulated reading–not a performance, but most certainly a presence. Of course this would affect how poetry is written as well. Eloquence and the use of good rhetorical devices instead of syntactical sloppiness and an over reliance on images might start to prevail.

Show-don’t-tell is lousy advice. Horrible advice: showing must tell, and telling must show, or both are equally suspect. The ear matters too, and you cannot build that without hearing poems outside the confines of your skull.

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Joe Weil is a lecturer at SUNY Binghamton and has several collections of poetry out there, A Portable Winter (with an introduction by Harvey Pekar), The Pursuit of Happiness, What Remains, Painting the Christmas Trees, and, most recently, The Plumber's Apprentice, published by New York Quarterly Press. He makes his home in Vestal, New York.

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  • srirachacha January 10, 2014, 1:01 am

    I would take this class

  • tcs January 13, 2014, 1:54 am

    I’d love to take a class like this – I suspect that my poetry on the page, and not just my reading of it, would improve a lot. Who knows, if I can get enough writer friends in my area together I might just informally organize something like this myself…

  • David J. Bauman January 16, 2014, 3:27 pm

    Thank you for addressing this head on! I took my son to a reading at a local university which has a great reputation for poetry. Unfortunately even the guest poet spoke to the podium, not to the audience, and the majority of the students in the writing program read so quietly and tonelessly that I wanted to stand up and shout, “Don’t you people want your work to be heard? This is why people consider poetry boring!”

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