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 Know Your Audience By Joannie Kervran Stangeland

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PostSubject: Know Your Audience By Joannie Kervran Stangeland   Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:37 pm

Know Your Audience
by Joannie Kervran Stangeland

As a poet, you write the work that needs writing—what wakes you at three in the morning, clamoring to be said. But after you write it, who hears it?
Ellen Bass has said, "I see the poem as real—there’s a real person on the other end of the poem, the reader. I’m a real person talking to that reader. When I write the poem, I’m first talking to myself...When I think about the reader then reading it, I want the reader to actually understand what I’m communicating."
If you’re writing an occasional poem for a wedding, a birthday, or a special event, you probably have a pretty good idea of who will hear the poem and where they will hear it. You think about what you want to say to that particular audience.
When you don’t have an audience you know, your poems still speak. They connect with those who are in the chairs, reading the page, or an audience you don’t have or know about yet. Your poems are words and words are communication—a conversation, a confession, a call to action. Even the most intensely private passages become a dialog when you send them into the world.

Who Is Reading Your Poems?
When you’re submitting poems, journal editors are your audience—and Poet’s Market gives you an opportunity to learn more about that audience. In the listings, the editors of each publication tell you what kinds of work they’re looking for.
Get to know their guidelines. The listings in Poet’s Market include basic guidelines, such as the publication’s reading period, whether e-mail submissions are permitted, and other preferences.
Your audience changes from journal to journal. Some publications focus on specific forms, such as haiku, cinquains, or prose poems. Others want work only from a specific community—for example, people of color, Canadian writers, women, or teens. Find the journals that make the best fit with your poems. They are your best and likely most appreciative audience.
Be aware of the themes that are wanted. Some journals are centered on specific subjects, such as nature, science fiction, humor, travel, or medicine and healing. Other publications switch themes from one issue to the next. If your poem fits their theme, they are part of your audience—at least for that issue.
Most entries include a web address, so you can visit the publication’s website to confirm that the guidelines are still the same. A publication may have switched over to e-mail submissions or an online submission manager, or the reading period might have closed early. You can also order a sample copy or read any poems posted on the site. Seeing what editors have chosen in the past can give you a better idea of what they’re looking for now.
Check for the most recent information you can find. The editors you’re sending your poems to read through many submissions, and one that hasn’t followed their guidelines is going to get the wrong kind of attention.

Who Is Hearing Your Poems?
You can find an armload of articles that bemoan the decreasing audience for poetry. But let’s forget about the masses and focus on the folks who show up.
Your audience needs to hear you. Be sure your audience can hear you. Check the environment: How big is the space? Are you in a coffee shop—with a loud espresso grinder—or in a bar or in a bookstore that uses crinkly plastic bags? If you aren’t sure how well your voice is carrying, go ahead and ask. If a microphone is available, use it. You might not be as loud as you think you are, without it.
Your audience is here to hear you. You’re here to share your poems. Take charge and be generous with your poems and your voice. I think of it as “owning the room,” but it’s also like being the hostess of a fabulous party for all your friends. You want to connect with the passion that fired your poem when you were writing it, and you want to connect with your guests in the room.
Your audience wants to know you—a little. Long introductions to each poem might be too much information. After all, it’s about sharing the poems. But some background information can help your audience connect with you and the poem. And it’s a different kind of listening, giving them a chance to rest a bit before the next poem.
In a 1985 interview, Carolyn Kizer said, “Dylan Thomas was a success not because he was a great poet, but because he read magnificently...I’m modest about my poetry, but I’m not modest about my reading. I’ve worked hard to be good at it, and I’m proud of it.”

Reading well is a gift to your audience and to your poems.
If you have books with you, let people know, quickly. It isn’t the best time for a lengthy sales pitch, but someone might want to take your poems home.
At the end of the reading, if at all possible, stay and talk with people. This is another chance to get to know your audience, even after you’ve read. You’ll learn more for the next time.
Are there any content or language restrictions? If children are part of the audience, or if you are being recorded for broadcast on the radio or on television, you might need to adjust your choice of poems or change some of your wording on the fly.
On the about.com website, Bob Holman recounts an all-ages poetry event and describes the readers as poets “who temper when necessary (“France”? for the “F” word? Genius!) but are never anything less than the poets they are.”
You are a member of your audience. When you’re at an open mic reading, remember to be a good audience to all the participants. They will be part of your audience when it’s your turn, so you want to treat the other readers with attention and respect.

JOANNIE KERVRAN STANGELAND's poetry has most recently appeared in CHEST, Horticulture, and Journal of the American Medical Association. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, A Steady Longing for Flight (winner of the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award) and Weathered Steps (Rose Alley Press). Joannie has been writing poetry for nearly 20 years. She has been a Jack Straw Writer, and her poems have appeared on Seattle-area buses. Joannie also blogs at http://poe-query.blogspot.com, and she hosts a video series, "A Writer's Guide to Microsoft Office" (www.youtube.com/officeonlinevideos).

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Know Your Audience By Joannie Kervran Stangeland
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