Tag Archives: performance reading

Writing for Spoken Word

Busybird Publishing Open Mic Night by Kev Howlett
Busybird Publishing Open Mic Night by Kev Howlett

Last week I had fun at a workshop facilitated by spoken word poet, Krystle Herdy, at the Society of Women Writers Victoria. I have written a poem or two in my life but it isn’t my preference. That doen’t mean that I don’t appreciate it. In fact I encourage writers of prose to dabble in poetry of some form because it will add a lyrical quality to their work. It’s also a lot of fun to play with words.

At first the group was a little shy about getting up to read their work but they soon found their way and were belting out poems within an hour. Once they got the idea that the spoken word is as much about attitude and how you perform it and that the written form doesn’t usually translate as well when read aloud, they were out the front with attitude. This group has an age range of around 40 to 85 years of age, so it’s an awesome sight to see a 75 year old woman talking about politics or love with attitude.

I had the feeling that overall, the group felt quite liberated by the workshop after being given permission to ‘perform’. So here are some things to think about if you’re writing for performance:

  • Be bold about what you’re saying, this comes back to attitude
  • Use concrete images. You don’t want to lose the audience with complicated descriptions where they may lose track of what you’re saying.
  • Repetition can be useful to get a point across.
  • Rhyme can also help as it can help people latch on to images.
  • Metaphor creates images for listeners.
  • Illiteration (repeating first letter of a word like silly Sam) makes images more concrete.

Once you have your piece written down, you need to work on the delivery. Spoken word isn’t about writing a poem and getting in front of people to read it. You need to practise your performance, remembering that how it’s written isn’t necessarily how you perform it. The emphasis on words will be different to how you’ve put it on paper. Here are six things to work on to deliver your work:

  1. Strong, confident posture
  2. Make eye contact with your audience
  3. Project your voice
  4. Enunciate your words
  5. Use facial expressions to fit the tone and words of your piece
  6. Practise the work before you go live.

Spoken word is as much about theatre as the actual words and there are people who concentrate soley on this type of writing. There are many places where you can go to see or participate in spoken word events, such as our open mic night (third Wednesday of the month) or places auch as Melbourne Spoken Word. There are some poetry slams out there that pay good money too, if you’re up to the challenge.

Give it a go, it’s a lot of fun.

Blaise, the book chick

The joy of listening to stories

Image by Kev Howlett
Image by Kev Howlett

My love of stories started when I was young, living in the bush. My mum would read aloud to us, or tell us stories, then encourage us to write and draw. Once I became a proficient reader, I would read Enid Blyton to my brothers – that was about all we had access to. Of course, it was the 70s and we didn’t have television, so it was our form of entertainment. We had a small radio that could pick up BBC radio on a good day and if we were lucky there would be serial readings of a book or play. Watership Down is one that has stayed with me.

Storytelling is an ancient art form. Listening to a story is very different than reading it in your head because the reader will choose what to emphasise, adding light and shade to what might already have light and shade. The sound of the storytellers voice will also add rhythm and lyricism to a story.

Oral stories have been passed down the generations, especially in cultures that do not rely on the written word to record their history, and for many people with low literacy levels, these stories are what binds them to their community. Certainly in a western culture before printed books were the norm, stories were told around the fire connecting us to each other while imparting wisdom to our young.

Years ago when I worked in the library system, we organised for an oral storyteller to appear at a library, offered comfy chairs, wine and crackers and a warm fire. The event was booked out (I like to think it wasn’t because of the wine) and the attendees loved it. They were engaged – laughing, sniffling and cheering along – with the stories. The storyteller was so engaging and she brought fairy tales, fables and contemporary stories to life. It felt like the whole room was part of it, as if she was talking to each of us, making the event feel intimate and indulgent.

Maybe that’s the key? To be made to feel intimate with another person, to feel indulged to be able to sit back and absorb the story without having to work for it? It’s not something that I really want to figure out or analyse (there is most likely a thesis written on the topic somewhere), rather to seek out the pleasure of it and share it with other humans.

Busybird Publishing has been running a monthly open mic night for a few years now. Writers, poets, lyricists come to share their work. And it is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure to hear their work and a pleasure to see them enjoy themselves as they offer their stories to the audience. It’s also an automatic payoff that as people get in front of an audience more, their work improves as does their oral presentation. I encourage anyone who is writing in any form to seek out live readings, such as our open mic night (or check out these guys http://www.storytellingvic.org.au) and see where it takes them.

Blaise, the book chick