OK, I’ll admit it. Not only have I never been to a poetry reading, I have never even considered it. The very idea of it is rife with clichés, for one thing. You know, some hippie-type who forgot time wearing an Existentialist, black turtleneck and beret while muttering navel-gazing notions into a malfunctioning mic.
Whoo-we! Sounds like fun!
Seriously, though, I wondered about the listening challenges as an audience member, too. I like to read as I hear, and poetry readings are one-trick ponies where you listen and make do with only one of your senses. No following the bouncing ball. No sing-along-with-Mitch screen behind the poet, showing each line as it comes up. Just me and my two ears. On our own like grown-up eustacian tubes.
But I’m told that I will have to do readings myself now. Me. A guy who speaks for a living but is afraid of speaking before groups.
Impossible, you say? Hardly. I know plenty of experienced teachers like myself who have no problem performing for students (on an Academy-Award-winning scale, too) but pale at the very thought of addressing a group of adults. (Perhaps it would help, then, to consider any group of adults as overgrown children?)
In any event, with my wife by my side, I will be attending the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem tonight where I will hear not one, not two, but THREE poets read. They are Jennifer Beasley, Martha Collins, and Ocean Vuong. Three styles, three approaches, three mentors. Surely I will gain SOMEthing from the experience. I even own Vuong’s latest book, Night Sky with Exit Wounds (meaning I can get it signed either before or after the reading). No doubt I will also have an opportunity to buy Beasley’s or Collins’ work.
With this initiation, the thinking is, I will be able to go boldly where many poets (especially the hams) have gone before: to a reading where I will have to be the sage on stage reading poems from my own book.
But first things first–attending this first.