Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Poetry reading’ Category

Giving a Good Reading

In 52: A Writer's Life, Poetry reading, Shelley Widhalm on September 29, 2013 at 11:00 am

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

For some reason, I’m not nervous when I give a reading, but that doesn’t mean I connect with the audience either.

I gave a reading during the Loveland Loves Literature event Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Loveland Feed and Grain, a depilated monster of a building that will become part of ArtSpace, a live-work center for writers and artists.

More than two dozen literary and performing artists took the stage over two days for half-hour or full-hour slots. My slot was a half-hour, which I shared with a poet friend of mine, Ravitte Kentwortz.

Before I read, I talked with another writer, who recommended grounding my energy by imagining my feet as connected to the floor. She suggested I throw my energy to the back of the room to include everyone in the audience.

But once I was at the microphone, I rambled more than I wanted to about each piece. I read a short story called “Tainted Proposal,” based on a coin toss, as well as three poems and a two-page excerpt from my novel, “The Fire Painter.”

As I read, I kept reminding myself to look at the audience. I forgot to make eye contact, too focused on reading slowly as if I was doing a book-on-tape to add personality to my words.

On hindsight, I wish I had reviewed my collection of articles on giving a gogod reading. Here a few of the suggestions:

• Vary the pace or content, choosing work that differs in subject matter, length, pacing and tone. Make sure what you choose is not all exposition and includes some dialogue, imagery and a strong story line. Edit out the “he said” and “she said” markers. (I did all of this.)
• Mark your text for voice and emphasis. (I highlighted my dialogue blue for the male character and red for the female character.)
• Think of your reading as a performance. (My short story character, Jane, was a librarian, so I dressed conservatively, wore glasses and had my hair in an updo.)
• Select pieces that relate thematically. (Umm, I didn’t do that.)
• Explain the context of what you’re reading, such as summarizing the plot for an excerpt from a novel, or the inspiration for a poem. Write this out ahead of time.
• Rehearse, reading the work out loud and enunciating clearly. Practice in front of friends.
• Time yourself. (I never could figure out the length, but somehow I kept my reading to 15 minutes.)
• Publicize your reading via social media, Flyers and emailing friends.

Poetry on Stage

In Poetry reading, Shyness on July 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I hit the stage again this week, my shyness in tow. My friend Tim Byrnes, a multi-talented musician who writes his own songs and plays the guitar, let me have a few minutes of his stage time Wednesday night at the Mandolin Café in downtown Loveland.

After Tim introduced me to the dozen or so people at the coffee shop, I read three poems, including “Leaves, Me,” which I memorized and performed last week in a fashion show competition.

I told myself that I wasn’t nervous and that I’ve done this before.

First, I threw in some humor, comparing myself with Emily Dickinson, because we both have written 1,000 poems, well except for one difference: most of mine remain unpublished.

I told the story behind each poem.

And I used gestures and expressions to act out some of the lines.

Despite a rapid heartbeat and the printouts gripped in my hands, I tried to look up at the individual audience members. I was surprised to see that they had stopped what they were doing to hear my reading. I expected them to talk, put in orders and ignore me.

Again, I eased into the spotlight. By the second poem, I engaged my serious poem reading voice, using the right cadence and tone to capture the meaning of my words. In other words, I got into what I was doing.

My heart calmed. My hands stilled. And again I fell in love with the stage.

I am starting to see that this label I put on myself, that of shyness, does not apply to every situation. I didn’t feel shy on stage. Maybe a little nervous and scared that I would make a mistake. But that’s different.

I guess I have to get rid of the baggage of my past, which includes calling myself shy, socially awkward and last pick, and step into the rest of my life, not as if I’m on stage, but as if I am in the now, being real and living, breathing and doing.