The Art of “Reading” and Book Manipulation

Knowing how to create a well-structured, cleanly put together Poetry/Prose book is crucial for an edge. Knowing how to fully-utilize a binder, however, is required to win. The binder is a part of the reader. Understanding techniques and tactics for how to thoroughly use this black book are just as imperative as being capable of using voice. These are not wanted skills; they are expected ones.

Standard Hold and Grip

For the majority of a Poetry/Prose round there is one type of position that will be used. This standard position differs slightly between competitors, yet it is roughly the same. First, know that the binder belongs in a left-handed hold, flipping pages with the right. This position is less awkward, and less prone for mistakes, because being able to grip pages pre-turn is easier with the binder in the left hand (try holding the book in the right to experience the closed space which deters turns). Also, holding the book in the right hand requires a reader to move their entire left arm across the body to grab a page. This looks inelegant at best, nonfunctional at worst.

While holding the binder be sure to never allow it to lay flat. It is simply unattractive. Presentation is a part of performance so embrace looking clean. Instead, keep the binder in a “V” shape. Grip the spine securely in the left hand, supporting the cover facing the audience with fingers; the cover facing the body with the thumb. For extra support, nestle the edge of cover facing the body roughly into the crease of the elbow. Keep the binder at a comfortable “reading” level. Not too low where it appears as if being hunched over is the only way to read, and not too high where facials are hidden. Also, allow for an appropriate distance between the body and the binder--too close prevents “reading” and too far away causes the competitor to strain to see the words on a page.

Not a Prop, But…

A Prose/Poetry binder is never to be used as prop. Nor can it substitute or represent any sort of set piece. It is illegal and cheesy. However, a binder can be subtly used to display emotion. This is achieved through alterations of how the book is held. The standard position for book cradling is proficient for most parts in a piece. Yet, periodically there are instances where slight variation can add levels and layers to a performance.

As the binder is not by law required to stay in one position, it can be moved around for effect. For instance, if a character felt the need to grab onto something and hold it close and tight, the binder can be gripped and hugged to the body. Inversely, if in a certain moment a character felt repulsed the binder can be “pushed away” from the body as well. Obviously there are other reasons and motivations as to why the binder could be hugged or held at a distance, but in either case neither of these techniques should be practiced extensively. If used sparingly and with the strongest motivations, these two binder tricks can intensify any mood.

The Other Hand

The gesturing right hand usually only comes into contact with the Prose/Poetry binder when a page needs to be turned. Most competitors, when not gesturing, usually keep this hand at the their sides. And that is perfectly adequate. However, to add some variation and make use of space, do not be afraid to place the gesturing hand onto the binder. Given the emotion of the character or atmosphere this technique can actually add presence. For example, when in a tender portion of the piece, hugging the binder with the left while holding the cover’s edge closest to the audience with the right hand creates a complete hugging sensation. It can also show distance of a character as this look closes the reader’s body off to the audience. Further, it just looks visually pleasing when the right hand grips the cover while the binder is held in the standard position . OR, if a large gesture is needed do not shy from fully opening up the body by extending both arms wide. The hand holding the binder is allowed to move. The point is, depending on the emotion portrayed either binder gesture can add another level of physicality to a character.

Another note about the other hand. When anticipating a page turn it is completely acceptable to pre-grip the page. In fact, it is suggested. This action allows for a reader to prevent missing a page turn and clumsily attempting to cover-up the blunder. Besides, it looks nice to the eye and shows a level of control.


Everyone knows that in Prose and Poetry no actual reading is done. This fact is insignificant however. It is the illusion of reading that is important. These are events for telling stories, and reading is their method of delivery. While every region/district/judge has their own opinion for what constitutes proper “reading” technique, there are basic guidelines that should be followed to achieve good “reading” skills. First, never quickly glance at the words on a page and look up. Actually read a little (a phrase or small sentence) and add some visual weight to the time clocked looking at a page. Second, do not spend more time in the pages than making eye contact with an audience. Find a good ratio of how to divide time. Typically, with pages not completely saturated with text, reading a few times per page is acceptable. Roughly every three sentences a portion should be read (give or take depending on the length of sentences). Third, plan when to read. Planning when to read will eliminate stress from wondering if enough reading is being done. It will also add control over the style choices of a performance. Use reading to create an advantage and a character choice. In moments of anxiety, shyness, calculation, avoidance, etc. use the page to divert the character’s eyes to the book instead of the audience. This serves as a visual for the character’s need to not connect with others or of being self-involved. Further, reading prior to a revelation, and then re-connecting with the eyes, can be a powerful tool to shock an audience.

One more note about reading: beware of falling into the binder. Keep the book in the standard position (or a variation as long as it is not covering the face) and slightly tilt the head. Mostly use the eyes. Facials cannot be hidden behind a binder. This alienates the audience, and it increases the odds of losing vocal projection because sound is being projected into paper, not the back of the room.

These little techniques for using a Prose/Poetry binder are certain to add a polished appearance to a performance. While basic, a reader who is unable to employ these tactics will appear amateurish. Very much of performance is related to presence, and knowing the basics of book use leaves the impression of know-how, control, and ability. Besides, every competitor begins someplace, and it is only through the mastery of the essentials when evolution can transpire.