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Write to enhance interactivity.

Every public performance has some level of interactivity. It may be that the audience only has the opportunity to applaud at the end of a poem or song, or poetry can be much more interactive. Here are some techniques for enhancing interactivity:

  • Write in a chorus or repeating verse. Have something that the audience can join in on. You’ve heard this in many a song, but it can also be done with recitative poetry. Les Barker has a poem called Déja Vu where the first verse just keeps coming back around. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. At least it will seem familiar if you ever hear the poem. There are also poems specifically structured to have repetition. The villanelle form is one of these.
  • Build in a call and response. This is done in the musical traditions of the Blues, and also found in some religious services. Another place this technique is found is sea shanties. There is no reason it can’t be done with spoken rather than sung poetry.
  • In humorous works, it is possible to make what is coming so obvious and to allow the audience to know that they should join in that they will. The English poet, Les Barker, does this in some of his recitations. He pauses for the audience to join him and say the line. Many of these lines are very painful, but most audiences enjoy certain types of pun and pain.
  • There is a form of performance poetry, an English tradition, where the audience is actually expected to contradict the speaker. This is like the call and response, but a little more specialized. Les Barker also has an excellent example of this form in his “Jason and the Arguments.” The basic premise of the form is that the speaker or poet makes a positive statement, which the audience, often acting as characters in a poetic play, disagrees with. The more vehement and interactive the disagreement, the better. They can go back and forth between poet and audience for several rounds on the level of: No, it isn’t! Yes, it is! It may be a lowbrow technique and better for the saloon than the salon, but it can also be quite edifying, relieve one’s aggressions, promote a bond with the audience creating interaction, and it can really break the ice if you’ve other poems to recite. Of course, the audience may also argue with other poems after experiencing this when you did not intend for them to do so.
  • Some poets or singers will take suggestions from the audience and compose something on the spot. This may be done as an aggregate piece or one suggestion, one poem.
  • Can you think of other ways to make the audience part of the performance?
Give your audience an experience. Be there for them, not for you.

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