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Eleven Tips for Giving a Haiku Reading from Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a talk about presenting tanka poetry to an audience given by Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton, editor of red lights tanka journal, to the Fireflies Tanka Group. Her advice was spot-on for reading haiku to others as well. Marilyn graciously agreed that I could share the highlights of her presentation here, as adapted for haiku poets. Enjoy!

Prior to giving your poetry reading, underline words you wish to emphasize in your haiku.

Focus on how your words will benefit your audience. This will lessen your anxiety about giving the reading.

Context helps. Share some background information about your haiku with your audience to help them experience your words more fully.

Look at the foreheads of audience members as you speak. It will appear as if you are looking them in the eye.

Don’t speak in a monotone. Read as if you are interested in your haiku (and your audience will be too).

As you read, know where the silences are in your poems. These silences allow your readers space to enter the haiku.

Read each poem twice. Read once — pause — and then read again.

For the first reading, focus on clarity. The pivot of the haiku twists the reader and the audience into a new perspective. Read slowly and clearly enough to bring your audience along for the journey.

The second reading allows for emotion. Be open and vulnerable to the haiku during the second reading. It’s almost as if the reader becomes part of the audience during the second reading.

It’s okay to be vulnerable — it gives your audience permission to feel emotional too.

Reading for an audience can help deepen your ongoing creative process, whether your audience is one person or 100.

MARILYN SHOEMAKER HAZELTON edits red lights, an international tanka journal, and is a past president of the Tanka Society of America. Rostered as a teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, she has taught in public and private schools, a prison halfway house, and other settings. Marilyn approaches tanka as a pathway for empathy, understanding, and awareness. In writing and editing, she is looking for ways to creatively persist during this tumultuous time.

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Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first print poetry collection, Grasping the Fading Light: A Journey Through PTSD, won the 2021 Women’s International Haiku Contest from Sable Books. Her ebook of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Moth Orchid Press (formerly Title IX Press). Her most recent collection, After Curfew, is available from Cuttlefish Books. Connect with her on Instagram @julieblosskelsey.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thank you, Julie for posting. I’m new to Haiku and hadn’t really thought about reading it aloud — although I have read one of my Haiku to a friend.
    Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton gave some excellent suggestions.

  2. ‘Sucking Mangoes Naked’ is a fabulous title. Best of luck with your book and readings.
    Thanks for this article. It inspires me to get our group together for such an activity.

  3. ‘Sucking Mangoes Naked’ is a fabulous title. Best of luck with your book and readings.

  4. Thank you, Julie Bloss Kelsey for sharing Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton’s haiku performing expertise.

    I have just published a small, international erotic haiku/tanka/haiga collection titled, “Sucking Mangoes Naked” and I’d like to go around giving presentations, so this article comes pretty handy!

    The most interesting tip for giving a haiku reading was (for me) to incorporate silences, and besides, to read each poem twice.

    Thank you,
    Tad Wojnicki

  5. Enjoyed this. Thank you MARILYN SHOEMAKER HAZELTON.
    Thanks for sharing Julie.

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