Whether you like it or not, readings are part of being a poet who is trying to flog a book (or pamphlet). As it happens, I rather like them. They are a chance to show off, at least. But mainly, I enjoy performing my work, although I'm not a 'performance' poet in the commonly understood sense. Although I always read out my work when I am writing it (the composition process happens somewhere between voice and page), it is only when I have a room of people looking at me that I really get a sense of how the poem could sound, which is often different from reading to reading. Reading other people's work aloud does this too -- even poems I know well can offer something new when spoken.
A lot of poets plan readings very carefully. I know I should, but it only makes me nervous. So, I try not to think about it until I enter the room and get a look at the audience. When events feature open mic slots, especially when the guest poet goes on last, this is a real help, as it is usually possible to pick up a couple of cues from poems that have already been read out as a starting-point for my own reading. Otherwise, I try to use my initial poem as the one that is going to capture people's attention, then take it from there. There's no use giving them a tiny, quiet and possibly slightly obscure poem to begin with. It might work on the page, but the opening of a poetry reading needs something big and bold. Equally, I've always found that the last poem works well if it can make the audience laugh. I don't do comic verse, but something that at least makes people smile is a good note to end on. By now, I've come to realise which poems can raise a titter, and I keep them in reserve. Only once did this go horribly wrong when my last, humorous poem, a sure-fire hit at every other reading, left an audience stony-faced. You can't win them all.
The thing I like least about readings is the terrible sense that, if the whole audience doesn't rush to the book table clutching a greasy tenner in their hands to buy the book, they must have hated the whole thing. This is silly, I know. Not everybody has the money to buy new poetry books every day of the week, and most people will probably not be instant fans in any case. It is lovely when people do buy the book and want to talk to you (or even when they just buy it!), but I've had to learn to take myself to a far corner with a glass of wine and ignore the business end of things. This also involves resisting the urge to fall at the feet of the few hapless book-buyers who have parted with their cash.
Happily, I have quite a few readings and other events in the coming weeks and months. On 19th March, I'll be in Birmingham taking part in one of the Vanguard readings (full details above). Then, on 12th April I'm taking part in the Ledbury Poetry Salon, which will involve and interview and a reading (further details to follow). On 27th April, I'll be appearing at a new event, In Your Own Words, organised by Miki Byrne at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury (from 17.00 to 19.00). Let's hope they all laugh at the funny ones!