I am giving my first ever “real” poetry reading in a few weeks. Whenever I go to readings, the writers are charming and chatty and tell stories in between selections of their work. How do you do that? I am not at all confident in my ability to improvise witty remarks in front of an audience. It’s nerve-wracking enough reading the poems! —Tongue-tied
It’s not your job to be ingratiating. Leave that to lounge singers. I find it embarrassing when a poet tries to be liked, or explain what he or she was thinking when she wrote blah-blah-blah. Patter is just a distraction—an apology.
My advice: Memorize the poems you plan to read. Anything spoken by heart commands attention. Bring the poems with you, so you can consult them if need be—but really, the way to win an audience over is to get up there, say your poems in a loud, clear voice, face out. Then say thank-you and get off stage.
Dear editors of The Paris Review:
I find it difficult to focus on writing when I’m working from home. Do you have any recommendations for spots in New York to haul your laptop to? I’m looking for a place that inspires literary greatness, like the Rose Reading Room, but with later hours. Or maybe some advice on how to handle distractions at home?
The Rose Reading Room is one of my favorites, too. Here is a list of writers’ spaces, some with late hours. I can’t vouch for any of them, but I did use to get work done in the back room at Cafe Pick-Me-Up, on Avenue A, and at Housing Works, in Soho. Another strategy—if, like me, you’re shy about using a laptop in public—is to leave the computer at home: Print out whatever it is you’re working on, triple-spaced, and take the typescript and a notebook to a dive bar with loud music. (That way you won’t overhear anybody talking.) When I lived in a crowded apartment on Elizabeth Street, I did extensive edits and wrote long memos in the back room at Botanica, on Houston. I suspect you could do the same at the Holiday Lounge, on St. Marks—really anywhere that isn’t very friendly.
Also, in my experience earplugs are underrated. The trick (they don’t say this on the package) is to lick your fingers and twist the plugs into thin little cones before you insert them. It sounds kind of gross, but it works.
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