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How To Get Started Hosting a Poetry Reading

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You want to build a community of poets in your home town by hosting a regular reading series. It’s a big commitment, but here are steps you can take to get started.
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: 1 hour a day

Here's How:

  1. First, attend all the other poetry readings you can get to, whether they are in cafes, universities, bookstores, street festivals or nightclubs.

  2. Think about what it would be like to host each reading you attend, whether you would want to and why.

  3. Talk with the hosts about their experiences. Tell them you’re thinking of hosting a reading and volunteer to serve as a substitute host for a week when they are going out of town.

  4. While you are in this “thinking period,” formulate the purpose for your reading series — decide specifically what you wish to accomplish for yourself, for the poets who read there, for the audience.

  5. Choose a format in accordance with your purpose:

  6. If your focus is on giving poets a place to get feedback on their works in progress, you might choose a poetry-only open mike.

  7. If your purpose is to give poets performance exposure to a broad audience, you might choose an open mike that includes other performance arts like music or comedy.

  8. If your purpose is to get a team together to send to the National Poetry Slam, you would naturally choose a slam format.

  9. If your purpose is to bring poets whose work you love to your town’s audience, you would choose a format that features one or two poets at each event, with or without an open mike, and seek funding to pay visiting poets.

  10. When you’ve specified your goals and chosen the format, it’s time to begin hunting for the right venue: decide first whether you want to look at coffeehouses, bars, bookstores, clubs, or community college auditoriums or theaters.

  11. Choose a neighborhood and visit the local venues on the day of the week and at the time of day you’re thinking about, to see if they are open, what else is going on at that time, whether you can expect walk-in street traffic.

  12. Introduce yourself to the owners of venues you are considering, describe what you want to do and enlist their support.

  13. Decide what equipment (microphones, sound system, lighting), seating, signs and funds or materials for flyers and advertising you need. Work out an explicit agreement with the owner spelling all these out.

  14. Whether you want to establish a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly reading series, get the venue owner to commit to several months, to give it time to build an audience.

  15. When you set the date for your first reading of the series, allow plenty of lead time (at least a month) to publicize it. Go back to all the other readings in town during that time and announce your new reading.

Tips:

  1. If there are other ongoing reading series in your town, think about what you want your reading to do that they don’t do.
  2. Try to choose a time and day that does not conflict with the established readings, so that you are not competing for the same audience.
  3. Enlist the help of your poet-friends and listen to their ideas while you are formulating your purpose -- if they share in your goals, they are likely to remain committed to the day-to-day work it takes to put on a reading.

What You Need

  • Lots of energy
  • Dedication to the art
  • Courage to take the mike
  • Heart to support poets
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