You can hear Robert Browning forgetting his own poem on a very early gramaphone recording by clinking here.

My publisher Crystal Clear kindly arranged for me to record some of my poetry in a studio. I enjoyed the hour or so, finding my way as I read and being surprised at how putting stress on a particular word or line can change the feel of a poem. Where the stress went surprised me, seeming to be dictated by my emotion as I read. One or two poems even choked me up a bit, but I was pleased that this didn’t seem to come across in my voice.

I was also aware of how important space and pace were, the silence between title and poem, stanza and stanza, line breaks, and even the space between words. I say I was aware of these; I was also aware that in order to have any mastery of technique I still have a lot to learn.

I remember my first public spoken word performance at the age of 8. My teacher was impressed with my 3 exercise book length stories (mostly plagiarized, although when asked, I denied this). She asked me to read them to the class and recorded me on a cassette tape. I also remember reading a poem about nuclear war for my godfather
Morris Cocking, a journalist and editor. He liked the poem. I never did follow-up his advice and become a teaboy at a local paper, then the tried and tested route to cub reporter and ultimately journalistic success. A road not taken.

As a teenager I sang and played a few times in pubs and folk clubs. I sang my own songs accompanied by my acoustic guitar, once with my friend Pete singing harmony. I don’t remember being nervous at all- perhaps singing and playing is easier than reading poetry, being louder and less ‘surrounded by silence’.
A friend recently sent me a CD taken from a cassette recording. I couldn’t help being pleased to hear that fresh-faced kid singing clearly and sweetly of love and loss.
Another road not travelled.

It’s nearly three years since I first read my poetry aloud. I remember waiting to go up to the mike, heart pounding and racing, stomach full of butterflies, unable to take in much of what went before me. Then, I was literally in the spotlight, this event being in a theatre, a ten foot high projection of my upper half on the screen behind me. The paper shook in my hand as dry mouthed, I delivered my poems quickly, said my thanks and returned to my seat, relived that I hadn’t fluffed my reading too badly.


As time has gone on I hope I’ve learned some tricks and composure; not to dither or fidget too much and to slow down (unless the poem requires breakneck speed).
Some readings are better than others. Once or twice I’ve found that sweet spot where nerves are gone. You can feel the intense focus of the room, breathing life into words without getting in the way of them. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does I feel I’m doing justice to the poem and delivering something which an attentive audience deserves.


  1. Really interesting to hear about your recording experience, Roy. I agree that stress, silence, pace and line breaks are really important. I think Mark Goodwin is particularly successful in articulating his work as I can hear the line (and word) breaks and almost visualize how each poem maps the page.

    I remember that I enjoyed reading Matthew Stuart’s ‘Inventing Truth’ even more for having his voice in my head after hearing him read from his pamphlet at Shindig.

    Nerves always affect me far more as a musician than as a poet and I’ve never been able to work out why!


  2. Mmm. I relate to your experiences so well. I shook so much the first time I read I could barely see the words in my notebook. I’ve never dared try memorising. If its any consolation, I enjoyed your reading at the pamphlets launch and you didn’t look nervous at all.


  3. Thank you Lindsay. I felt particularly good at the pamphlet launch. It’s always nice to recieve feedback on both content and delivery so I always try to tell poets if I thought they read well.
    I’m impressed when people recite from memory. Although I know some of my poems well,
    I like to have the safety net of the text.


  4. Hi Roy- interesting to hear its only been three years since your first reading! Seems like such a short amount of time to achieve what you have achieved! I was the same in my first open mic spot – I decided to have a few glasses of red wine. My hands weren’t shaking, but bizarrely, my right leg was, so much so that I was worried that the audience would be able to see….but I remember thinking afterwards that I did enjoy it!


  5. Thanks Kim. To have wine or not to have wine, that is one of the questions. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules to reading poetry to an audience. For example, people often site the need to make eye contact while reading. I’ve seen one or two mighty poets who haven’t even glanced from the page. They caputured their audience with carisma, presence and, above all with poetry.


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