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Read your poem aloud, to an audience

This week’s guest on Poetry from Daily Life is Gemma Campanini, who lives in Springfield, Missouri. Gemma’s writing career began before she could actually write. Her grandparents transcribed her stores for her over the phone. By the time she was 14, she loved poetry and short fiction. In her teens, she published her first book of poems called “Gensamt för mitt futurä me”. More recently, she enjoyed researching and writing her senior thesis on how to write and perform poetry as a tool for emotional growth. A unique fact about Gemma is that over the last few years she has been slowly perfecting her vegan pho recipe. ~ David L. Harrison

Let your poem be heard, let yourself be seen

Human speech is rich in rhythm. When a person speaks, certain syllables are naturally emphasized, while others blend into the background. In this way, ordinary conversation becomes poetic. The language is captivating, whether organized as a poem or not.

Is there a particular voice that, with the person’s other mannerisms, you find simply infectious? I bet you can think of a certain voice, a person, you love to hear speak. An actor, a lover, a musician. You would probably call that person charismatic.

Charisma is by nature enjoyable to witness. And what if there was a way to take charisma and mix it with good poetry?

There is.

I got into performance poetry as a teenager, and since then I’ve continued my commitment to poetry events: poetry open mics, poetry slams (think competitive open mics, with a cash prize), and writing workshops (where people gather to write poems together).

When poets read their work to a crowd, that’s just how vulnerable and human it can be. Poetry becomes communication, a back and forth dialogue between poet and audience. This also applies to written poetry, in that the reader has reactions, but here the conversational aspect takes place in seclusion, in isolation.

Bring the poem to the stage instead, and poetry becomes a catalyst for community building. Supportive audience reactions serve to empower the poet. There is no better way for a poet to feel truly heard and seen.

When I perform my own poems, I like to have a friend record me. Hopefully, I’ll get a “good” response from the audience (laughter, murmurs, snapping, or my personal favorite: wheezing), and I’ll analyze that recording later for two reasons.

First, hearing my audience helps me improve my performance next time: for example, I think about where in my poem to pause, where to lift or dampen enthusiasm.

More: Poetry from Everyday Life: Marilyn Singer explains how to read a poem aloud

Second, I listen to my audience’s response, and I allow myself to feel honored. I did it. I made those people laugh. I am creative enough, intelligent enough, to influence these people. I made them laugh, think and feel. It’s worth something, right? I must be worth something.

In summary, humans are reciprocal, conversational creatures. And I see poetry that way too: really a tool for building community. If you haven’t attended a poetry event before, I strongly encourage you to do so. Join the conversation. You also have something to say.

Gemma Campanini has managed several poetry projects, such as the “Show Me Poetry” slam every last Sunday in downtown Springfield. Her work appears in the 2023 Bards of Moon City anthology and in two 2024 anthologies. Books she recommends are: “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron; “Free Verse: A Step-by-Step Guide to Free Verse Poetry,” by Robert Stephens; and “The Garden of Thought,” by Noah Weaver.

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