Remember, this is not an exercise in arm-waving, props-supported thespian extravaganza, but one which values the outward and audible manifestation of an inwardly-understood and enjoyed poem. Here are some activities to support that goal.
To develop performances in which you clearly articulate the poem, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of warming up. There are all sorts of techniques you might know from Music and Drama, but for something fun and simple, try a couple of tongue twisters to get your lips and jaws working, slowly at first then speeding up then slowing down again.
A good performance will come from a felt understanding of the poem, and that is likely to come from a process that involves shared readings, finding out the meaning of unfamiliar words and ideas, and exploring your own and other people’s responses. A good starting point for discussion can be to think of a question you would like to ask the poet if they could appear – and then try to answer it.
Pause and effect
Select a poem that uses punctuation to mark the way the writer invites you to read it. Think about what these marks tell us about the intended pace, timing and voicing of the poem then prepare a reading that attends closely to these, exaggerating pauses for effect. How useful a guide were the marks in developing your reading of the poem? Now try a poem that uses no punctuation marks.
Poets read their poems in all sorts of different ways; there is no correct method. Try listening to strongly contrasting performance styles of poets reading their own work, considering the varied effects that these styles have. The Poetry Archive has free recordings of over 300 poets reading their own work; start with Yeats, Eliot and Cummings.
Tone it up
Although some poets, such as T.S. Eliot, deliberately adopt a monotone style, you might prefer to think about using varying tones of voice to convey the shifting mood of the poem. Start with a page from the phone book and try reading it aloud in an angry tone of voice, an adoring tone or a puzzled one. Colour code mood shifts in one of the poems and prepare a reading that embodies them.