By Jayne Barnard
We’ve all seen them, and many of us have been them: authors standing up front with their nose in the book, mumbling, inaudible beyond the second row. The audience isn’t fidgeting because they don’t like the writing; often it’s the delivery that’s killing you. Yet you can land the basics of good delivery in a few minutes of practice a day. You’ll give better readings and enjoy them more (or dread them less).
The key is to relax the muscles. The mind follows the body’s relaxation. When your mind and body are relaxed, your vocal muscles are relaxed. Your voice’s richness of inflection and range of emotion are set free.
Here’s how you get there: first, relax your neck & shoulders. This is not a fitness test: don’t strain or force beyond your comfort level.
Neck scoops – turn head to one side; tilt nose toward shoulder and slowly trace a semi-circle down across your chest and up the other side. Rest on a three count and go back. Repeat 3x each way. Don’t force your neck further than is comfortable.
Shoulder rolls – slow forward 3x, then slow backward 3x. Change it up by rotating them opposite to each other.
Torso twists – forearms up front and holding each other, turn side to side slowly from the hips, no forcing or straining to go further than is comfortable. Twice each way is fine.
Do any other stretching that seems good to you.
Next, relax the tiny muscles of the face.
On all of these, breathe in through the nose for a count of 3, and out for a count of 5. Do each twice.
Run the tongue-twister of your choice three times. Exaggerate every syllable.
Now: Rehearse your reading out loud. Words your mind can say perfectly your mouth may not be familiar with; practice those. Let the emotion and drama resonate through your warmed-up, flexible voice. Mark places to breathe if you tend to forget.
At the event:
Just before you go up to read, scoop your neck once or twice, roll your shoulders. Waggle your jaw as if there’s a big wad of chewing gum in there. Then get to your position, make eye contact with one person, and remember to breathe.
How long have you been a member of NOWW? I have been a member of NOWW for just over a year.
What do you normally write? I write mostly poetry, although I have written some plays and stories as
Do you have a favourite book or favourite author? I like many types of fiction and poetry. Ian McEwan is a favourite. I love Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, Doris Lessing, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Julian Barnes Anne Marie Macdonald, Jane Hirshfield. Recently, I have really enjoyed all 3 of Joseph's Boyden's novels, particularly, "Through Black Spruce". I love many poets and back when I studied film, I made a film based on the poem "Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda. It was shot in Montreal and is bleak and moody.
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to writing: I came to poetry again in a big way after years of writing sporadically I think because of my years of meditation practice and time spent in nature where no pretention or artifice exists and also because after years of being a very active mother with a full-time job it did not leave me with a lot of time and energy for writing. But I studied and made films when I was younger and I have always loved films and was recently asked at a NOWW event whether my love of film affects my writing. I did not answer the question very well at the time, but I think actually the imagery of film and poetry share some similarities. I often start with my experience of images in my poems, like a bird on a branch, an unusual cloud, hydro lines crisscrossing the sky, a tired wrinkled face. And my meditation practice has given me a certain freedom to sometimes have the ability to avoid the tired predictable ruts that my cognitive linear mind imposes. I can just be and hear and see what is around me and connect with it to write about. This connection is very powerful which I use to discover what is really important to me.
Tell us a bit about your writing and what writing means to you. Where do you find inspiration? I recently won first prize in the NOWW poetry contest which was a complete surprise to me, to know that my work can touch others. I see writing poetry as play, as allowing me to be a child in an adult world. As I get older, I care less about being a respectable and responsible adult, and want to enjoy the beauty of the world. Natalie Goldberg, who is a Zen practitioner like me and a writer who has written a lot of books about writing, has been an inspiration for me by encouraging me to kill my censor and just write. I write constantly, almost 3-4 poems a week and it is an escape in a highly busy stressful job. I have a confession. There is a meeting room in Toronto I go to regularly, and so many offices are full of ugly art, but this room has a painting of a cowboy beside his horse facing a mountain. It looks like Montana. And I sit so I can face that painting, and when I need to, I just go into that painting to exist under that sky beside that horse, feeling the wind and the sun. That is what I do. I am planning a month long trip to the wilds of Mongolia in June because it is one of the places left in the world, where people are nomads and live very directly with the earth and nature. I love adventure and would be a nomad if I could. Poetry allows me to be nomad in my mind, using my imagination to travel and see and hear and feel the wonder of the world under my fingernails, down the street, across the world.
Can we see you at any upcoming NOWW events? I will be reading at the November reading and plan to attend the workshop in November as well. I really enjoy going to these nights and hearing other writers.
Where can we learn more about you and your writing? I have a FB author page called Siobhan Hilary Farrell, but tend not to use it very much. I will try to do more of that. I have not published much yet besides The Walleye, NOWW and Literary Thunder Bay but I am now making a concerted effort to start publishing more as I have amassed hundreds of poems.
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself! A detail about me that not many people know is that I have a small tattoo of a hummingbird sipping nectar on my back, which I got 2 years ago in a small village in Thailand. I had a sunburn at the time, but my daughters dared me, and since it was done in the traditional old-fashioned, dip a needle in ink and jab multiple times into your spine method, it was quite painful. When it was over, I was so teary that the nice tattoo artist gave me a bunch of lychee fruit he had picked. I ate them with my girls later.
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