A Performance Poetry Manifesto

Sun 30 December 2001
By John Mark Schofield in Poetry
  1. There are no great performances without great audiences. A great performance is a collaboration between the speaker and the listener. Performers should view the attention, silence, and appreciation of the audience as valuable gifts that should not be squandered.

  2. Only perform works that you like. It doesn't have to be finished; it doesn't have to be perfect; you don't have to love it -- but at least like it. Make sure there's something about it you're proud of before you share it with us. If you think it's boring, why should we think any different?

  3. Don't be afraid to fail. A good reading is a place where it's safe to fail once in a while. If we don't fail sometimes, we aren't being daring enough.

  4. Know your tools. As a poet, your tools are your words, your voice, and your microphone. You should know your words well enough that it doesn't sound like you're reading someone else's scribbled handwriting. Rehearse. This is a performance. Pay attention to how you sound, especially if you're using a microphone.

  5. Reach the audience. If you're sweating, you're doing good. If the audience is sweating, you're doing great. If your work does not reach the audience, never blame them. Instead, change your material or your approach. While we all write to please ourselves, we must also consider how other people will perceive our work. If we truly wrote just for ourselves, we would simply put our work in a drawer when it was done. There is no shame in sincere applause, and popularity does not necessarily imply mediocrity.

This manifesto should not be thought of as a list of rules, but a starting point for a discussion among poets and those who love poetry.