How to Breathe

Breathing correctly is an often-overlooked element to consider when performing poetry, but can be improved through simple techniques.

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As performers, the tool we poets use above all else is our voice. The same voice we use speaking in daily life, yet more. Deeper, clearer, more powerful. And yet, most poets won’t be able to give you the most basic advice on breathing technique, the foundation of our voice. It’s something we do so naturally. However, for the beginner or the less confident, breathing can become a point of trouble.

Before I go on, note that the faster you speak, the less breath you have to power your voice. You are not being timed on any imperative scale, nor will your vocal dexterity be the thing that people remember. Take your time. Take breaths whenever you need them. Don’t let yourself go light-headed and dizzy because you’re trying to get the poem out in one continuous exhale.

Vocal projection requires the effective use of your lungs, diaphragm, and abdominals. The diaphragm is an umbrella-shaped muscle; as it comes down, it draws the lungs lower—filling them up. As it does this, it forces the abdominals outwards.

To see this in action, place one hand on your belly button and another on your lower spine. As you breathe, you’ll feel this distance between your two hands increase. Focus on this movement.

Next, place your fingertips on your belly and exhale, making a quick, sharp huh sound. You should feel your stomach contract and your abdominals moving as the sound it made.

Repeat this small exercise until it becomes a natural motion, then move on to making different sounds and feel how they produce different motions. The phrases “Buy some food”, “Run a mile”, “Get a paper”, and “Take your time” are commonly used due to their mix of consonant and vowel sounds.

This conscious act strengthens the breathing and lets you investigate how your body should move as you perform poetry. You can increase the difficulty of this by lying on your back and placing a large heavy book on your belly. Try to move the book using only your breathing and speaking. Celtic poets would do something similar, lying in a dark room with a heavy stone on their stomach.

As you repeat these exercises, once a day if you can, you will notice your ability to project your voice increase, making the act of speaking easier and bringing a whole new power dynamic into your performance.


Next: Resonance

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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