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Memorize it!

Mike Agranoff is a singer/songwriter who also creates long, story recitations. His advice is as follows: “Don’t read the work. Memorize it and deliver it without notes. It frees you up for better eye contact and direct communication with the listener. At the very least learn it to the point where you only have to refer to notes briefly.”

This advice may be hard to follow for someone like Les Barker who carries around his 67 chapbooks filled with what are probably more than 1,000 poems; however if your general performance repertoire is substantially smaller than his, you might consider it for the reasons that Mike Agranoff listed.

On the other hand, there’s always an opposing view. Peter Berryman says, “Don’t worry about memorizing. We use our stage songbook always, on a music stand in front of us, and receive very few complaints. From what I’ve seen, poets don’t memorize but read from their books. I don’t know why songwriters don’t do this more often. Of course, ideally it’s better to memorize everything, and after many performances we find we have memorized most lyrics in spite of ourselves. We rarely glance down at our book, except when performing new works. But long ago we decided it was either use a book or spend the rest of our lives detasselling corn.”

Contemplating a lifetime of detasseling corn could probably contribute toward turning anyone into a great poet/songwriter. Is that how Robert Burns managed?

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