A poetry reading is a public oral recitation or performance of poetry. A public reading is typically given on a small stage in a café or bookstore, although reading by prominent poets frequently are booked into larger venues such as amphitheaters and college auditoriums, to accommodate crowds. Unless otherwise indicated in advance, poetry readings almost always involve poets reading their own work or reciting it from memory—the recitation of a work by another poet is normally the act of a well-known poet who chooses to read a few poems by lesser-known poets or old friends that the poet feels should be more widely recognized. Poetry readings often involve several readers (often called "featured poets" or "featureds"), although normally one poet is chosen as a "headliner."
American poet Donald Hall described the increase in emphasis on public readings of poetry in the United States in a 2012 New Yorker magazine blog post where he recounted it a phenomenon that grew in the last half of the twentieth century. Hall, who speculates that the change may have been due to the star power of Dylan Thomas, wrote, "It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public. In the twenties, it was Vachel Lindsay, who sometimes dropped to his knees in the middle of a poem. Then Robert Frost took over, and made his living largely on the road." Hall suggests that poetry readings have shifted the focus of poetry more towards sound, adding that "In concentrating on sound, as in anything else, there are things to beware of. Revising a poem one morning, I found myself knowing that a new phrase was repellent, but realized it would pass if I intoned it out loud. Watch out. A poem must work from the platform but it must also work on the page.".
A poetry slam is a competitive format that has become increasingly popular, especially in the United States, since its inception in the 1980s. Much of the poetry featured at slams has adapted to a hip-hop sensibility.
- Hall, Donald. "Thank You Thank You", The New Yorker, 26 October 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Video showcase recorded at poetry readings in Southern California
- Video showcase recorded at poetry readings in Vancouver, BC, Canada
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