Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where were you? Reading Your Stuff Aloud: Delivery. On-Line Floricanto

November 22, 1963


I overslept that morning, skipping Zoology 1A. Freshman year ambiente in Sequoia Hall, Casitas dorms  overlooking the Goleta swamp, was hazardous to early morning class attendance. Radio news blared down the hallway, the disquieting narrative slowly intruding on the dream. Dallas. Kennedy. Kennedy. Kennedy has been shot.

I stride two doors down to the day room where Walter Cronkite reports soberly on the color t.v. Shot... sped away...the hospital. No news.

The professor walks into the Chemistry 1A lecture hall, sets down his briefcase, looks up at the seated amphitheatre, asks, "Is he dead yet?" and begins the day's lecture on Boyle's law, or whatever.

When the class exits onto the plaza, its thorny coral trees blaze their red blossoms or should have, and drip spent blossoms on the shoulders of sobbing coeds who lean onto one another's shoulders for comfort. Kennedy is dead. Ask not...the bell tolls for Camelot.

Half my dorm flunked out that first semester. Some joined right away; we heard others had been drafted to go off to JFK's war in Vietnam. My roommate flew helicopters. I wonder about Kaufman, Sterling, Tony the debater who was so eager to go.

Reading Your Stuff Aloud: Delivery
Note. “Reading your stuff aloud” is a third-Tuesday monthly feature at La Bloga. Last month's Reading your stuff aloud column was on manuscripts. 

Michael Sedano

There is no “right way” to deliver a reading. Standing, seated, mic’d, big auditorium, at the dinner table, video, all manner of settings and audiences influence the writer’s decisions on what to read and how to present the words.
Martín Espada is the undisputed master at reading his own stuff.
Time and place play key roles in content selection. A reader always asks, what am I going to read and why this? Now the responsibility to craft a capable oral presentation begins.

Generally, a reader will elect from three likely models to fashion a reading:

Delivery to fit the purpose. The comfortable, “safe” choice that risks little and asks little of the performer. Anyone is ready to do this at the drop of a hat. Some writers are eloquent by nature. Most audiences deserve a higher level of effort.

Delivery to fit the text. A considered, analytic reading. The reader is animated yet restrained, especially when the text has subtle drama or requires minimal coloration. Here is Ron Arias reading in a measured, reportorial voice. Arias manages animated nostalgia within the boundaries of a restrained interpretation:

Delivery to depict an interpretation. More often than not, this option best suits debut and emerging writers. In some settings, a recital would be welcome variety, such as a panel of grim, unconsidered performers. Oral interpretation of literature especially suited to poetry. Here, Magdalena Domínguez presents her  interpretation of her husband Marco Antonio Domínguez' poem, En el corazón de Aztlán:

Access to an audience comes with responsibilities: honor your words, honor their time, fulfill the sponsor’s expectations. Accountability results from effective preparation, planned presentation, and follow-up.

Select your best stuff. How long is ten minutes? Start with five pages. Think of your audience. People want to be entertained. Audiences enjoy vicarious experience, novelty, quality, and are prepared to buy a book today, if that’s the host’s purpose and you have something to sell.

In the ten minutes allowed, your audience will gain a sense of who you are as a person, as well as evaluate the worthwhileness of your art. People start out well disposed to enjoy you and your presentation, so a  prepared reading reinforces their favorable attitudes.

A poorly presented reading, on the other hand, commits an unforgiveable sin: depriving gente of ten minutes of their lives they’ll never get back. This redounds on your host and future invitations.

Naturally, you want your words to be meaningful. If the words are exciting, you want people excited, if the words are sentimental you want people empathetic, if the words are argumentative you want them to sit up and take notice! Read like that.

Helen Viramontes gestures at the lectern.

Follow a simple practice plan. Visualize the entire event from the moment you take the spotlight until you sit down. Include preliminary remarks in your ten minute plan and practice them, too.

Work with a coach as you plan the reading, record video and evaluate three practice readings. A spouse or partner's an excellent coach as this person won't shower you with praise but will work with you to make your presentation effective.

Practice makes dull if you overdo it. A reading needs to feel fresh to the listener. A three-step practice routine provides all the information a writer needs to put on a satisfying reading.

Video tells the truth. Don’t make television, just point and shoot at a wide angle. Read all the way through, no stopping for flubs or ringing phones. Treat it as an artifact.

Follow playbacks reading along with the printed text. Mark your slips and phrases that deserve emphasis. It’s OK to add or change a word, or omit something from the text, if that makes oral expression smoother. Many writers discover reading aloud helps edit a piece.

Plan on twice the amount of time to review as to record. If you can, get two recordings on one day, let it rest, then do the third practice reading another day.

Have a listening agenda, aural and visual. You are looking for skill first, elements to enhance and repeat. Focus on a handful of key considerations.

Vocal variety and pauses are a reader’s principal tools to add texture to strings of words. Some readers use vocalics to supplant “he said, she said” tags. Pauses make words and phrases stand out. In general, most readers profit from slowing down between words, longer spaces at sentence and paragraph periods. Be mindful of the ephemeral nature of speech. Audiences battle distractions and give the reader maybe half their attention. A measured pace often provides a more comfortable listening environment.

Articulation, the clarity with which your mouth forms sounds and your body exhales them, improves when speakers slow down. When you do not have a mic and need to project, speed can diminish intelligibility, especially when you strain to be heard.

Avoid self-correction. When your tongue slips keep on going. Listeners want to hear what’s next, and don’t give a hoot about an occasional flub. Force yourself to get through the entire reading and do not start over.

Poets have the grace of meter to guide performance and engage audiences. Prose writers, too, look to establish rhythms and vocal patterns of their own. Used to help differentiate characters by giving them a voice, separate narrative from thought,  reflect a stylistic or rhetorical flourish, vocal variety and articulation deserve lots of attention. Some forms of poetry, like Tolteka's, become celebrations of timing and meter:

Gesture and movement are the physical tools a reader applies to enhance the presentation. If using a hand-held or wireless mic, the reader is free to walk, to deliver themselves whole body to the audience and their words. Microphones and lecterns tend to make people plant their feet and hide behind that hunk of wood. In such a setting, eye contact and hand gestures will be one's only resources. A reader who stands to the side gives the audience something new to look at while allowing the speaker to convert some of that nervous energy to movement.

If you get to move, move on an important transition in the text. Your audience will derive keen satisfaction when movement conforms to story.

Beware distracting movement. Bring gestures up chest- or shoulder-high, and close to your body. Grand sweeping gestures work for appropriate text. Pounding on a lectern rarely wins points. Convert that energy to vocalics and gesture. When wardrobe or coif malfunctions occur mid-reading, make the best of it. Watch Xanath Caraza-de-Holland deal with an unruly wave, using it to emphasize the meter of her poetry:

Eye contact is a reader’s most available gesture, and highly desireable. As you evaluate the text, plan places where you will look out at the listeners and make eye contact. Audiences grown accustomed to a reader's typical glance-and-nod technique appreciate your style as well as your eye contact. Manage the physical text to allow visual interaction--a smile, a sly glance, a direct gaze. Books, typed pages, computers, phone screens each offer individual delivery opportunities.

For a special, memorable treat to audiences, memorize a paragraph or two, perhaps the climactic part that concludes your reading. Deliver these sentences with direct eye contact to add a dramatic frisson to the audience’s experience.

If you spot photographers in the audience, make eye contact with the lens. Hold it for a moment to allow a good portrait.
Eddy Bello-Sandoval uses the book more like  a prop, she knows the piece so well.

After two planned rehearsals, combine all your plans and changes on paper. Plan a final tour de force recording and follow-up. Your final playback focuses on two issues: Identify at least three specific features you liked about your performance. Identify a single thing you’d do differently: more of, less of, eliminate, add.

Now you have a plan. The next time you read that text, you’ll be onstage. It'll be different than any reading you've practiced with its own virtues, and the planned ones, too. Have a plan, work the plan. The formula of a successful reading.

A few extraneous issues.

My voice is awful. Your speaking voice contains your writing but does not define it. When you hear yourself in a recording, that voice is what audiences hear conveying your words.  That's what you sound like. And if it's video, that's what you look like.

One's voice is like a face. Little to be done to change the one you have. Fortunately, audiences don't give a hoot when they hear a run-of-the-mill voice. After all, effective public readings come less from the voice of the reader and more from the voice in the writing.

Stagefright, aka Communication Apprehension. There isn’t a public speaker in the world who doesn’t get excited just before taking the floor. That adrenaline surge is a good thing, that’s your body telling you all is in readiness to deliver an effective reading. The best way to control “stage fright” is to come prepared.

Good Models. As a consumer of spoken word art you’re exposed to various styles and skills. When you find a presenter to admire, imitate them. See how a technique works for you, does it feel good? Recite someone else's work, do an hommage, share how you hear another poet's voice.

Appearance. Wear comfortable shoes. There’s an old saying that’s true, “you can’t orate worth a dang if your feet hurt.” Plan for distractions. If you jangle or rustle, maybe you can use sound effects in your reading. Cameras generally dislike plaids, fine checks, or all-white. Solid colors work well. Many people are allergic to scents as well as bad breath so dress accordingly.

Be experimental. This goes with imitation but also in what you read to people. Put together a programmed reading, a literary showcase of your work. Work on new readings, have something “in the can” to keep your appearances fresh for yourself. Put your work on video.

Find opportunities to read aloud. If you are employed in a team setting, you’re likely expected to deliver reports. Adopt an oral style, become comfortable and aware of your expressive capacity. A wonderful way to loosen up a reader’s reticence is reading to children. Kids want you to make funny noises and do singsong stuff you’d never do in a reading. Maybe not ever do in a reading. Maybe try just one or two hoots and toot-toots in a reading.

Saturday on La Bloga: "How Editors Think" Author Marcela Landres in Q&A

Click here to read Rudy Garcia’s piece on former Simon & Shuster editor Marcela Landres who has agreed to answer questions from La Bloga readers about anything having to do with getting their stories, books or novels published. If you’re an aspiring writer, you must check this out!

On-Line Floricanto Penultimate Tuesday of 2011's Only November

The Chancellor at UC Davis said she supported her UCD police before she said she doesn't support her UCD armed forces. When Francisco Alarcón launched the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070, the enemy was over there, in Arizona. How frustrating to see the enemy also sits in the Chancellor's Office at Francisco's own UC Davis. My sympathies to the UCD familia for what has befallen them.

This week, Alarcón and the group's co-moderators submit five Before-Davis responses to what Arizona has come to represent for America and the world over.  This week's artists include: Raul Sanchez, Joe Navarro, Claudia D. Hernández, Nancy Aidé González, Francisco X Alarcón.  José Hernández Díaz, translator.

"Brown Angels at Work" by Raul Sanchez
“A revolutionary vato loco” by Joe Navarro 
"¡Soy Quetzal!" by Claudia D. Hernández (with English translation by José Hernández Díaz)
"La Virgen de Las Calles" by Nancy Aidé González
“Political Saguaros / Aguaros politicos” by Francisco X Alarcón

Brown Angels at Work          
By Raul Sanchez 

Brown Angels at Work was inspired by Nancy Aidé González poem
'La Virgen de las Calles' also appearing in this edition.

They are everywhere
we see them mowing lawns
raking, blowing leaves

dangling from buildings tall
washing windows painting
roofing houses, cooking

serving smiling, parking cars
picking fruits and vegetables
breaking their backs

selling flowers, fruits
on freeway ramps
attending church, going to school

college bound
these angels don’t fly,
they walk the same brown earth

like you and I sowing seeds
of prosperity deep down
this American soil

moving the economy’s wheels
on the axels of immigrant sweat
Brown Angel Sweat

lately the wheel
has lost momentum
stagnant, stuck in

discrimination’s mud
fear and intimidation.
Only brown angels can push

this wagon up and down
prosperity road.
If brown angels could fly,

hover over fertile fields and cities
they would do miracles
on this American land.

A Revolutionary Vato Loco
By Joe Navarro 

Are you a veteran?
She asked
Yeah, I said
Soy veterano
A revolutionary vato loco
A barrio warrior
In the people’s army
Soy veterano de
La lucha contra el
Yanqui imperialismo
I’m a guerrilla fighter
En las calles de Aztlan
I’m one of the many
The proud

I’m a resistor
Refusing to accept
The occupation army
And being treated as a foreigner
On the lands of
My ancestors
Sí, yo soy veterano
De la causa
Struggling for the dignity
Of poor and working class
I’ve waged a war
Against ignorance
And have battled for peace

Yo soy veterano
Del movimiento chicano
Y de toda la gente oprimida
I am a veteran freedom fighter
En solidaridad
Con todos los soldados
De la gente

--Joe Navarro
© Copyright 1999

¡Soy Quetzal!
By Claudia D. Hernández

a tu cielo
no conozco
de fronteras

Mi plumaje
roza llanos
que me claman

Es tu brisa
que me guía
a senderos
que no anclan

¡Soy Quetzal!

Tengo alas
con matices
rojo vivo
verde fluido


yo navego
en tu cielo
donde todos

Nos cruzamos,
Nos miramos—

Con mi pecho
bien erguido
impregno el viento

Que me hechiza
a encarnar
la libertad.

¡Soy Quetzal! (English translation by: José Hernández Díaz)

Rooted to
Your sky
I know no

My elegant
Graze meadows
Which claim
My name

It is your breeze
That guides me
Toward land

That does not
Anchor me

¡Soy Quetzal!

My wings
Have tones of
Vibrant reds
Fluid greens


I navigate
Your skies
Where we all

Cross, gaze
And harmonize—
With my
Expanded chest
I impregnate
The wind

Enticing me
To embody

La Virgen de Las Calles
By Nancy Aidé González

She stands on the
busy street corner
selling delicate red
and white roses
hugged by baby's -breath
and luminous cellophane
resting in a
once discarded
plastic bucket.

She understands the innate
beauty of roses,
their fragility
their fragrant hope
as they grow slowly
from bud to
embracing change,
as they flush into
full bloom.

She knows of
piercing thorns
and truth,
of crossing
barbed wire

She understands
the prickling sting,
the aculeus
of being an outsider.

She wears a large
sweatshirt with USA
emblazoned in block
print across her chest
but she misses
Mexico and the
small town she was
raised in .

A red and green
rebozo hangs down
upon her head shielding
her from the flugent sun,
a gift from her mother,
a reminder of home.

People stride past her
lost in their own thoughts
hustling to work,
on pressing errands,
wandering down the tangle
of the Los Angeles

She is La Virgen de
las Calles,
waiting with a
heavy heart,
full of yearning,
dreaming of
new horizons,
a fountain of
humble tenderness
and abounding love.

La Virgen de las Calles
comprehends the
nature of roses,
their vulnerability
their need for nettle.

©Ester Hernandez.   "La Virgen de las Calles." Used with permission.

By Francisco X. Alarcón

In Mesa, Arizona,
even the saguaros

voted SB 1070 creator
Arizona Senate President

Russell Pearce out of office
by pointing to the clear

cloudless desert sky
and telling all voters:

"open your arms and
extend your hands

don't become another
extremist closed hard fist"

November 8, 2010

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


en Mesa, Arizona,
hasta los saguaros

votaron contra Russell Pearce
el creador de la SB 1070 y

Presidente del Senado de Arizona
para así echarlo de su puesto

apuntando al cielo claro
sin nubes del desierto

y diciendo a todos los votantes:
"abran los brazos y extiendan

las manos; no se conviertan en otros
puños duros y cerrados de extremistas"

8 de noviembre de 2011


"Brown Angels at Work" by Raul Sanchez 
“A revolutionary vato loco” by Joe Navarro 
"¡Soy Quetzal!" by Claudia D. Hernández (with English translation by José Hernández Díaz)
"La Virgen de Las Calles" by Nancy Aidé González
“Political Saguaros / Aguaros politicos” by Francisco X Alarcón

Raúl comes from a place south where the sun shines fiercely. He lives in a place surrounded by asphalt, cement, full of rushing cars, coffee houses, fancy houses, empty houses. Where seasons shine and hide in the winter months. Where birds stop on their travel south to the land of the sun Where blessed rain, oh! blessed rain falls. 

Joe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, poet, creative writer, teacher, activist, husband, father and grandfather who lives in Hollister, CA.

Claudia D. Hernández was born and raised in Guatemala. She writes, illustrates, and manually binds children’s books. Her photography, poetry, and short stories have been published in The Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak, Hinchas de Poesía, Poets Responding to SB1070, La Bloga’s on-line Floricanto, and in the first anthology of Poetica del Colectivo Verso Activo for Poesía Latinoamericana en Español.

Nancy Aidé González is a Chicana poet, writer and educator.  She currently lives and works in Lodi, California. Nancy graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in May of 2000.  She has contributed poems to Poets Responding to SB 1070. Several of her poems have been published on La Bloga.  Miss González is a participating member of Escritores del Nuevo Sol, a writing group which honors the literary traditions of the Chicano, Latino, Indigenous and Spanish-language peoples.
She teaches first-generation, Mexican –American migrant elementary students. She enjoys teaching her students and giving back to her community.  She holds a Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in School Administration from California State University, Stanislaus. Nancy Aidé González is involved in Chicano Organizing & Research in Education (C.O.R.E.) a non-partisan, research and advocacy organization that aims to improve the educational environment of all Chicano/Latino students.   She is currently working on a novel about Chicana women.

Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, is author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992)  His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His book of bilingual poetry for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award. He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions.  He teaches at the University of California, Davis.  He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:

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