How to read poetry aloud

How to read poetry aloud

So you want to learn how to read poetry aloud.


It’s likely then you’re preparing for a special occasion where you are going to stand in front of others to deliver your chosen verse.
For many people this is terrifying.  They’re scared they’ll stumble over the words, won ‘t understand what the poem is about and consequently make a complete fool of themselves.

If that is you, relax !

A poem is not a poisonous snake. It will not bite and you do not have to tip-toe around it.
Learning how to read poetry aloud is relatively straightforward and  with practice you may even get to enjoy it!

Step one
Read your chosen poem through silently several times to familiarize yourself with its core ideas and images.
The more you understand the poem, the more likely your audience will be to understand it.
Allow yourself to see the images
created by the words in your imagination. Likewise feel the emotions.
The more strongly you identify with or own the poem the easier, it will be for your audience to follow.
Look up any unfamiliar words in an online dictionary for their meaning and pronunciation.

Step Two

Read the poem quietly aloud to yourself following the guidelines given by the punctuation, listening for its musicality or beat.
If you need them, there are tips for interpreting punctuation here.

Read slowly. Allow each word its space. The temptation is to rush. Resist it.
Once you’ve ‘got the flow’, stand up and read the poem aloud authoritatively.

Step three

Now that you’re more confident ‘play’ with your delivery, experimenting with vocal variety.
For example, what happens if you stress this word rather than that word?
You can find more about playing with vocal variety here.
Rehearse in front of several friends before going ‘live’.
Have them give you feed back on:
1. clarity
Could they hear and understand your words?
2. meaning
Did they understand the images and feelings of the poem?
3. speaking rate
Were you speaking too fast or too slowly?
4. voice
Too loud, too soft, too high, too low…
Incorporate their feedback and present your poem.
Extra tips on reading poetry aloud
• You do not need a ‘dramatic’ voice to be successful.  An assumed voice will seem artificial and strained.
• Remember to breathe. Holding your breath heightens tension,  which in turn heightens the tone of your voice.
• Use the natural pauses in the poem to take a breath, for example on a full stop or period.
• If the occasion is emotional for example, the poem is part of eulogy,   wedding or retirement speech, print it out in a large font so it is easily read.

Marking the pauses, breath or stress points using a highlighter,  will also help you remember what you rehearsed.
• Stand tall and relaxed, just as you would for delivering a speech.
• And just in case you need them, here’s tips for managing
public speaking anxiety and some good breathing exercises.

Reading poetry aloud is a gift
The ability to read poetry aloud is a gift of immense value to your  audience because the right poem, read well, expresses with and clarity thoughts and feelings that are often difficult to find  appropriate words for in ordinary prose.

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215 thoughts on “How to read poetry aloud

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