Poetry Readings

I’ve gone to 7 reading, 4 poetry workshops, plus a haiku conference in the last 3 weeks. Less than I intended to and pencilled in to go to, but more than I could have.
People keep commenting on how I go to a lot of things. Greg Betts did a double-take at seeing me at his reading a year or two ago, remarking at how I’m at everything.
I don’t always put readings in my calendar nor take pictures, but as near as I can reconstruct, er, looks like I’d have to agree with the general idea.
I’ve seen about 70 feature readers and about 60 more at open mic this calendar year. That’s about 1 poet in person a day on average. (That’s the same accuracy of average that has all these families with 0.5 of a kid to take on vacations.)
But that *is* a lot of activity, isn’t it. That’s including writers festival, and only counting only the poets. That’s not including reading online, magazines, books, workshop round tables, online workshops circles and email poem exchange.
On the other hand, it takes the place of music and TV. How much of the time do other people who don’t go to as much have music on rotation, or watch or rewatch movies?
I’m not even sure when I started going to as many readings. I was going to readings in the early 90s and workshopping in the 80s but I guess I kicked into overdrive thanks to Bywords in 2004 when I got in the John Newlove tribute chapbook and had to go to this thing called “Writers Fest” which was happening on my doorstep and I didn’t know about it.
So, am I getting my time’s worth from all these readings?
Poetry readings can go either way. They are a crap shoot.
Why? Could be how that third consciousness of the personality of the group in the room that rises. Could be the reader being totally on, or having an off night, or material happening to resonate with what’s been going on in listener’s life. Depending on what I have hooks to catch with.
So many random factors.
I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.
Sometimes my wavelength may get a better noise-signal ratio from the page than most conversation. Or the reverse.
I go whether I know the poet or not because if I only go to what I heard of I’m just giving myself the same information on closed loop. I want to discover new ideas.
Okay reading are about half the time. I am no worse off for exposing myself to the words and the social. Not transformative but ok. There are a few phrases or a fragment of an idea that are pleasing. I get an orientation to some people. Tidbits of what people are doing.
Good reading nourish and leave me a notch higher in energy and well-being than before. It is pleasant or interesting and engaging with a mix of waiting for something salient to come. Might be flat or sour notes but I am glad I dragged myself out of home. That might be third of the time.
Negative memories are easier to pull. Readings can leave me fidgety, crabby, bedraggled, drained, put upon, or shut out with nothing to click with, internalizing the palpable anxiety or anger or grief of the presenter, bored or risk of sputtering about quitting this form of recreation. It’s a minority of the time but an evening-long shadow.
That’s probably (to continue a bit of pataphysics-measuring here) a fifth of readings. Those are definitely a notch or few downwards. Sometimes the social afterwards can bring back up to where I was before or a notch or few higher.
Excellent readings remind me why I go and why life is good. The poetry, ideas, language and presentation leave me high and energized for a day or few afterwards. I feel supremely satisfied during. Any associated social is just bonus. They humble me. I would happily apprentice to the mastery of skill. Those might happen once or twice a year.
The Tree Reading of Expeditions of a Chimaera (Bookthug) by Oana Avasilichioaei and Erin Moure in October was one case of excellence.
Monty Reid reading at the AB Series this February was one.
Barry Dempster‘s reading at the Plan 99 last week was the most recent case of I-could-die-happy-now sort of reading.
As much as its good to say something turned my crank, I’m always hesitant to say what I could feel because of the potential for reverse reading. There’s an implication of competition, of win-lose for the other 98%.
It’s like at a writers festival when there were two novelists on panel. I could see the book table was being watched afterwards by one of the novelists who was trying to casually observe. I felt distinctly conspicuous and penitent buying the book of the other author.
No one wants to not be the top pick. Maybe that’s just the backsliding Baptist in me piping up. The cost of any pleasure must be paid in guilt and unnecessary apology.

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  1. I so know what you mean. Sometimes I have to drag myself to readings, since I’m a shy introvert with energy problems. So when it’s a not great one …
    But as you say, when it sparkles, it sparkles. Barry’s reading Saturday left me so inspired, I think my poetry has taken a turn for the better. As for the socials, I’m working my way up to them.
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Pearl. It’s helpful to read them.

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