One of the particular fascinations about getting together with Matt and Ann was the deep listening involved in how delivery affects the way content is received. As writers of poetry in a highly visual culture, we may be geared to the visual effect of a poem, how it appears on a page, how we visually engage with the words, lines and stanzas. As presenters, our purpose instead is to tune into the aural.
When poets approach the mic after an introduction, they have a pivotal moment to establish the tenor of their presentations.
Poets whose presentations I most enjoy create a bond with their audience then so there’s grace in the room no matter what happens and the poet and audience are briefly entrusted to each other. A poetry presentation may be among the most intimate of arts.
Before poets launch into even a title, there are the usual things any public speaker does to establish trust. They can make eye contact around the room, thank the audience for coming and the host venue and sponsors for organizing the event, and acknowledge the good company of the other poets presenting with them.
Then there are the unusual things. Maya Angelou began her presentations by singing songs as bridges to the musicality of her work. Some poets introduce their theme if they have one. If they don't and they'll present poems that go beyond dark, some poets assure their audience that they'll note any poems in advance that warrant trigger alerts.
And there are things poets in the audience can do also. By applauding after the presenter's introduction and after each poem, an audience signals general receptivity it can then modulate, whereas silence is just silence. The punctuation applause provides also allows presenter and audience to pause and recalibrate.