Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just Read It Already

by Susan

Bearlodge Writers has a simple rule for their critique sessions:

"cut the crap and read ... and pass the chocolate!"

In other words, don't waste time explaining yourself before you read your piece to the group. Don't apologize if it's a first draft (remember... you can't edit nothing). Don't give a long-winded spiel with the entire history of your piece.

You know what? It's a good rule when you get behind the podium at a reading as well. Too often I have heard someone spend longer prefacing their poem than reading it.

Beware. It can suck the life out of the piece.

While some writing may need a small piece of context, most can stand on its own. You do not need to justify yourself before you share your work. You are a writer, and you have every right to be heard. It's natural to be nervous if you are inexperienced with reading, but your audience wants to hear your work. Go for it. Plunge right in. You don't need the verbal equivalent of throat clearing.

Trust your listeners. Have faith that your work stands on its own merits. Don't hesitate. Cut the crap and read.

And reward yourself with some chocolate after the applause dies down.


  1. Right on, Susan. We've both heard five-minute prefaces to a half-minute poetry or two-minute prose reading that had our minds wandering off into the ether. Good advice, particularly about passing the chocolate.

    But I do remember something that Ted Kooser said at the WWI conference in Casper back in 2009. He said that we should provide a brief, and his emphasis, as is yours, was on brief introduction to a reading. He said that we write for humans and that "you have to make a connection with the audience, be a human being among other human beings." He feels that we should make that human connection so the audience is receptive to our work.

    He went on to say that we shouldn't tell the poem in prose before we read it. And he would be pretty much against reading something in first draft. Perhaps a 20th draft or later that still might need some polish, but certainly not the "I just jotted this down as I sat here" draft we sometimes hear.

    Of course it's different at a critique group when we're struggling with some piece of writing and need someone to tell us if we have any reason to continue. Then read and pass the chocolate.


    1. Ted Kooser is a wise man and an amazing poet. It makes sense to make that human connection. I think the times I've really had a hard time with intros were when, as you paraphrase him, the entire poem is told before it is read. Thanks for stopping by, Art.

  2. I don't know. I could go either way on this. If you tell people what a poem is about or why you wrote it (briefly of course), that could either connect with them and help them enjoy it or take away the magic. Some of the fun of poetry is trying to understand what it is about, and/or applying it to one's own life. I think it depends on the piece. If there is an introduction, I would definitely not want the writer to give too much away. But that said, I can sometimes be one of those uber-explainers, so this advice is a great reminder for me!

    1. So.... sort of like a movie trailer? Want some context and a reason to listen in, but not the entire thing? Everything in balance is probably a pretty good way to go.

      Personally, when in doubt, I'd rather have someone go into it completely with no intro. If there's a movie I really, really want to see, I flip the channel very quickly when the ads come on so I don't get too much in advance. But that's just me!


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