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.