When I ask poets whether they improvise, they generally reply in the affirmative. As the conversation develops, however, it usually becomes apparent that they are trying to grasp the role of the unconscious in their writing: their surrender from time to time to the uninterrupted flow of language and thought. This often occurs while writing in private, a process Roger Dean and I have previously called applied improvisation (1997). But contemporary poetry that declares itself as improvised in real-time in performance has been, and is still, relatively rare. While music improvisation in performance is an extensive field, particularly within jazz and its outgrowths, it has not blossomed in the same way in poetry. Poets seldom refer to themselves as improvisers, and writing for the page remains paramount. The public poetry reading (which usually centres on the rendition of pre-written words on the page) continues to be central to the social ambience of poetry, rather than the poetry performance (which suggests more forcefully the possibility of improvisation). Nevertheless, for a small but highly significant number of poets, usually influenced by music, improvisation in performance has been central.