(The poetry starts around 1:23. Make sure you stick around for S&O’s “Beat Poets” song.)
Poetry readings suck. They are exercises in the worst kind of narcissism: the narcissism of a bad actor. There is nothing worse than having to endure two hours of bullshit from people you don’t even like. If you attend poetry readings regularly, then you are probably a wanna-be poet. And if you behave yourself at such readings, then you are definitely a loser. If you want to get a poet’s attention, here’s a simple formula: attend a poetry reading, politely approach a poet, punch the poet in the mouth. Not only will you get the poet’s attention, you will have accomplished something that not even the poet you’ve come to see could have accomplished: the creation of an almost pure act of poetry.
Of course, you could also stay home and write poems. But that would require you to be comfortable with long periods of loneliness, anxiety associated with the feeling of missing something, and mostly heart-breakingly intense bouts of solitude. For those of you who can’t bear the responsibility of becoming a poet, you can continue to attend poetry readings and, after you leave, perform the ritual of bitching and complaining about how shitty they are–and how awful so-and-so’s stuff is–as you drive/are driven to the nearest Taco Bell or whatever.
I attend poetry readings very infrequently. And when I do I do it for two reasons: one, I have convinced myself beforehand that I will learn something about writing poetry (by attending and actually listening to the poets read stuff at the reading), and two, I believe I will discover something about the mystery of existence (I know, stupid romantic). Simply put: people, signs, architecture–lots of things–intrigue me. Especially super fucking weirdo, but seemingly simple, things. Like the poetry reading that took place in a car wash in Austin, Texas, last week. Below, I provide you with a scintilla of evidence that poetry readings don’t have to suck, that somewhere in the world poetry people are trying to do it right, attempting to make–in their very own uniquely foolhardy way–a little miracle (which, by the way, I have always associated with crime).
Michael Davidson (aka herocious) reports from Austin on the Sad Sad Sad Fest: A Car Wash Reading (first posted by Michael on Alt Lit Gossip):
“I tweet: I’m reading a tiny story aloud today at a car wash on MLK and Airport in Austin. Come say hi at 7pm :) I don’t tell anyone I work with about the event, not even to make small talk in the copy room.”
“At home I practice reading aloud the story I plan on sharing at the event. I delete words I don’t like, then I delete entire sentences I don’t like.”
“We discuss a meeting place. We decide on 21st and Guadalupe, the same corner with the Daniel Johnston alien frog.”
“Alicia Fyne, the event organizer, is in her car in the far left bay, just like she said she would be. There are people packed into her car.”
“We meet Alicia Fyne, Andrew Hilbert, Joseph Green, Cheryl Couture, No Glykon. There is beer. There are flasks of whiskey. In other bays at the car wash, people are washing their cars. A friend shows up: David Nguyen. Other people enter the far left bay, lean against the tiled walls, introduce themselves. It’s fun. No one gives a shit.”
“To hold a reading where you least expect it. To hold a reading where it doesn’t fit in. Behind me I hear people ordering from Popeye’s.”
The Sad Sad Sad Fest was the name given to Alicia Fyne’s monthly readings series wait . . . what? The writers reading at Sad Sad Sad Fest on November 7, 2013: Michael Davidson, Cheryl Couture, Andrew Hilbert, No Glykon, Joseph Green, and Alicia Fyne.
Note: This post will be part of a series called, “Making the Scene”. The series seeks to report on readings that happen in your neighborhood. If you’ve got something to report, hit me up.
twitter: @janeysmithkills tumblr: kottonkandyklouds.tumblr.com
A few weeks ago, I gave poetry readings a hard time on HTMLGIANT. When I wrote the article, I was aware of its potential to generate conversation. However, I had no idea just how much conversation it would generate.
To everyone who participated in the conversation, thank you. I can’t say that I liked everything that everyone had to say (just as many of you didn’t like what I had to say), but that’s okay. Everyone’s allowed an opinion. In fact, as creatures of language, it’s impossible for us not to have opinions because language relies on difference in order to make meaning; or at least that’s what I think Derrida would say. It’s only sensible then that our opinions (not just yours and mine on this particular matter but everyone’s opinion on anything/everything) should often differ.
To get to why I’ve titled this article “I Still Don’t ‘Get’ Poetry Readings,” though, I’ll tell you it’s because I don’t. I don’t “get” poetry readings. I don’t “get” them not for a lack of trying. I don’t “get” them because I don’t understand what readings hope to achieve within the broader framework of culture. I’ve been to many poetry readings, some of which have moved me so deeply that I cried (Tomaž Šalamun) and some of which have failed to reach me (though also not for a lack of trying). Despite how very different poetry readings can be from one another, I’ve noticed that they all share the same quality of autonomy. It seems to me that the poetry reading desires to be a space that exists for itself and through itself. My complaint, however, isn’t with the poetry reading’s desire for autonomy but rather with the inaccessibility this desire creates.
In my last article, the solution I was pushing for was to make poetry readings more “accessible,” more transparent. Here, I’m pushing for the same idea. Accessibility is what defines the Electronic Age in which we live. Accessibility is about mass consumption, and mass consumption is about power.
In this essay, as well as in the last, I’m urging poetry readings to actualize their full potential: to realize their power.
I’ve read through all the responses to my first article on both HTMLGIANT and Facebook (no, I’m not friends with Hoa Nguyen, but her wall is public), and I strongly feel that my last essay was deeply misunderstood. To clarify the position of my last essay, I’ll respond to a few of the responses that point to its underpinnings.
I think the response that best contextualizes my first article and the meaning I intended it to summon forth is this one:
I’m a soon-to-be graduate of an M.F.A. program in creative writing. All I have left to do is teach a few classes, defend my thesis, and read a few books. Oh. And I’ve also been tasked to write a report on a poetry reading. This last point is why I’m writing to you now.
Let me backtrack for a moment though to tell you that before I was an M.F.A. student, I was an undergraduate working my way towards a B.A. in creative writing and a B.S. in advertising. Before that, I was a teenager that lived with my father, who was a professor, and my mother, who was an English major. My mother took her major very seriously, and as a result I began reading Poe, Melville, Plath, Tennyson, and other “canonical” writers at a very young age.
In short, I’m no stranger to poetry.
However, after going to the Hoa Nguyen reading at the University of Colorado at Boulder on February 21st, I realized that I don’t really “get” poetry. Or rather, I kind of “get” poetry, as much as it’s possible to be “gotten,” but I don’t “get” poetry readings.
After the reading, I confronted a friend about my dilemma: having to write a piece on something I don’t really understand. He recommended I read the VICE article by Glen Coco titled: “I Don’t ‘Get’ Art.” I ripped off the title, but what choice did I have when Coco said it so well the first time? Coco’s title is modest. It blames no one but Coco himself for his inability to “get” art.
There are others, however, who are more hostile towards poetry and its various, associated artifacts.
With the whole Lena Dunham Girls craze sweeping the nation, I thought I’d watch her film, Tiny Furniture. What particularly stuck out to me about the film was a statement one of the characters made about poetry. It went, “Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at. Poems are basically like dreams–something that everybody likes to tell other people but nobody actually cares about when it’s not their own. Which is why poetry is a failure of the intellectual community.”
April 26th, 2013 / 12:00 pm
1. Holy hell. Antichrist, the film, might have ruined my life. And on top of that, it was one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. Talk about content versus craft. Fuck.
2. I dreamed last night that I had a reading in front of 1,000 or so people, and I hadn’t prepared. Got up on stage and couldn’t decide which poems to read. Blake Butler offered to read one of my poems for me, but I wouldn’t let him and proceeded to babble and choke my way through something until some audience member began playing the piano…
3. A girl I like: