I think that as poets and consumers of poetry we can be entirely too sedate. Thus, I want to propose a new aspect to poetry readings: encores. Even at quieter readings of "page" poems (as opposed to "spoken word" poems), when there is a good connection between reader and audience, that energy should be recognized and honored with an encore. Musicians give encores. The whole idea of an encore is for the audience to let the performer know how much they loved the performance and don't want it to end. When Mark Doty read at Smith College a couple weeks ago, he said, as he neared the end, "Ok, I think we have time for three more poems." Someone in the audience yelled, "Could you make it four?" When Doty was done reading, we clapped and clapped and clapped and he did stand up again and take a bow, but it would have been so much more gratifying if he had given an encore.
The other thing I think we should embrace more is applause, which is another great way for the audience to interact with the reader. Normally at poetry readings, the audience behaves like concert-goers listening to sonatas: remaining silent through everything, no matter how moving. All the emotion stays inside the individual listeners. Sometimes, this is appropriate. The poems are more quiet, or they require some pondering before they sink in. However, certain audiences tend to break into applause more easily at poetry readings. This gives the evening more of the lively feel of a jazz show, in which audiences applaud throughout in appreciation of the artists' virtuosity. When Sharon Olds read at Smith College last week, people applauded after every poem. The part of me that was raised going to Classical music concerts with my family thought, "How uncouth!" but the part of me that loves spontaneous expression thought, "How wonderful!"