Hello. Things I Learned In the Process. Planning & Hosting A Poetry Reading is fulfilling, uplifting, engaging. It is full of curious things and mistakes and a rearranging of names and the thinking real hard about google entries and emails sent to cafes and professors and readers and flyers and walking in the rain to reach the little room at the top left corner of the University to write thank-yous and welcomes.
There seemed to be a gap in the non-thematic poetry readings in my city of Dundee, and, while there were other similar events being hosted by the University, I wanted to host an evening that specifically highlighted poetry. And so, with the support of my professors and fellow classmates, I organised an event entitled: The Road We've Taken.
I'd recently reread Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken (1920), and it led me to think about the roads we---as students, as professors, as artists---chose to take.
What roads have we chosen to travel? What roads have we been forced to walk? Are they the less-traveled? The beaten paths, marked by our families, our histories, our hopes? How often have we taken roads never travelled before?
With these questions in mind, I invited some of the distinguished poets, some dear professors, and a number of talented writers to read their own poetry. There wasn't a set theme because I knew: whatever one chooses to write will always be a product of who they are, where they have been, and where they hope to go.
I had never organised an event like this before. I remember feeling the weight of all the wonderful things that this night might bring and still, wondering where exactly to begin. A few of my friends asked me to post a step-by-step guide on how to set-up a poetry reading in hopes that someday someone might be keen to lead a prose night. So simply, here's a few things I learned that will hopefully help a similar event run smoothly.
first: think about the reason for the event & find a way easily express this.
If you decide on an audience, I promise it'll be so much easier to decide on a venue and/or location. Is there a theme? If so, write a paragraph about what inspired the theme. Reading why you were inspired to create this specific prose and/or poetry event will encourage others to explore this theme in their own writings.
Who do you want to read? Planning 'The Road We've Taken,' I posted about the event in a Creative Writing group chat. After a few days, I wrote down the names of those who had direct messaged me with interest, and then, I began contacted people via email with more information. It's also handy to think about readers you enjoy listening to. Are there any poets or friends whose work would add a sense of diversity, poise, character, and/or professionalism to the list?
My goal was to distribute the time evenly between students and professors, allowing both to appreciate the youthfulness and experience that each reader would bring to the event. Perhaps have a think about what kind of audience you wish to attract as well as the kind of atmosphere you wish to create? Would you like the reading to be student-orientated? Or, a range of readers from all walks of life?
second: decide on a length.
How long will the event last? How many poets? How much time will each poet be allotted to read?
Think about the structure of the event. Will there be a break? Think about the attention-span of your audience?
fourth: find a venue.
Consider the noise? The space? The location? Where will most readers be able to easily congregate? Do you have a microphone, or will the venue supply one?
fifth: invite and contact poets/prose readers.
When you invite a reader, explain what your event is all about and why you'd like them to take part. Make an effort to be as professional as possible as it will set the tone of the event. Perhaps create a PDF invitation with all the information.
Small, intimate audiences can be lovely, and yet, if you are aiming for a larger audience, I'd really encourage creating a Facebook Event & sending invitations 4--6 weeks in advance so that those interested in attending can plan accordingly. Perhaps create a flyer that you can post online or stick in cafes and other venues. Tweet. Share details. And tell friends face-to-face.
seventh: welcome, thank you, and goodnight.
On the day of the event, as the host, arrive early. Make sure that you're on the same page as the manager at the venue. See that the room is properly laid out. That the microphone is in order. If you are co-hosting/co-organising the event, give yourself ten minutes to run through responsibilities----making introductions, etc.
eight: greet guests as they arrive & give clarity.
Remind readers of the running order. Greet everyone as they arrive. You have the beautiful power to create a warm and appreciative atmosphere for the reading, and others will adopt this, I promise!
nine: stay calm.
Little things may happen. Tensions. Or unexpected mishaps. Misreadings. Nerves. That's okay. Don't worry. Things always seem a little more chaotic to you, as the host. Just remember that you are a carrier of peace and by responding in a calm, poised manner, everything will sort itself out.
Remember to personally email/direct message readers and special guests to thank them again for attending and giving an evening to support you and celebrate creativity.