What I hate is that fake, halting, staccato style of reciting that all poets use now. Ugh. Listen to Yeats read Innisfree & then the modern poet “doing” Yeats on poets.org & you’ll hear what I mean. WBY just reads a rhyming poem. The new guy. Is all. Stopping. To make sure we know. It’s a poem.
Abso-fucking-lutely. I’ve only been to a few poetry readings, but by far the best were the slightly older crowd who read with flow, rather than EMphaSISing EVery SINgle LINE in the SAme WAy. Is that a stage that all poets go through, or what?
I think I’m just the opposite. I don’t like poetry but I enjoy poetry readings. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I don’t dislike poetry but I have a hard time connecting to a lot of it. The added human element of readings makes that connection easier.
i hate when poets believe that “these poems will be enough and that all the audience needs is to hear me say these words because i am a poet.” i also hate when there is a reading featuring a large group of readers and a reader goes longer than 4 or 5 minutes. it’s like, “bro, there are like 20 people reading here. you’re not the only one.” most readers at awp are guilty of this. scott mcclanahan is the only reader that this complaint doesn’t apply to. also, don’t explain your poems. also don’t overemphasize the “humor” of your poem.
i like poetry readings that are short and entertaining. i have too much boredom vs. busyness in my life and i demand to be entertained. please make me forget for a moment that i’m a human being with a life outside of what you’re reading.
also don’t talk too long. also, public expressions of appreciation for the people who set up/hosted the reading are annoying. just thank them in person.
also, don’t talk about how you’re a poet or make jokes about it. when you do that it makes me feel like an asshole.
I don’t think most readings are worth going to – most poets cannot read well, most people at the reading aren’t very good – see above comments – even when the poem is decent. If I can’t laugh at a reading I am usually convinced it wasn’t very good – If I can laugh, I can be made to weep – then it is a good reading. I love the poetry in the authors voice but many times the author doesn’t understand that the reading of it is as important as the final writing of it. There is an art to both that escape most people writing poetry most of the time.
I like good poetry readings, but I think they’re rare. Because a poetry reading is a performance. And a LOT of poets put zero thought into performing. I find that in some circles making a spectacle of your reading is even stigmatized– it’s considered ‘gimmicky’ or (god forbid!) ‘slammy.’ And some poetry just does not perform well no matter what you do with it. Pretty much all my favorite poetry to read on the page is a fucking nightmare to sit through at a reading. The reading environment doesn’t exactly reward density.
When I do readings, I never read what I think is my ‘best’ stuff– I go for the poems with exaggerated/ridiculous voices, conversational syntax, and, most importantly (of course!), a sense of humor.
I almost exclusively read stuff that I have no intention of trying to publish. I don’t read joke poems– I fucking hate joke poems– but almost every poem I bring to my readings relies more on humor than I care to on the page. A lot of my favorite page-poetry devices invite/demand rereading and so just do not function in a reading. So humor it is.
And I pretty much shout the whole fucking time I read, that too. And sure, once in a while, a line that I want to kill falls flat. And sometimes I feel like a jackass w/ my over the top readings. Usually, though, I don’t. In my experience, audiences at poetry readings are pretty much always grateful and generous when a reader tries to engage them instead of just droning on and on for ten or thirty minutes.
“most people at the reading aren’t very good – see above comments – even when the poem is decent”
I think that’s the main problem. The poem may be brilliant on the page, but there’s is a fundamental difference between a poem that is written to be read from a page and a poem that is written to be performed. Quite often those that write the former aren’t adequately aware of the latter.
I am a poetry fan, which means I read a lot of poetry. And a published poet. I stopped going to readings years ago. Even when my book came out, I only did a few readings. Luckily, large crowds (30-40 people – large for me, large for a poetry reading, small for Mayakovsky) came out. I put my whole body into the reading, let myself become a vessel for the exalted language which is what poetry is. I like the feeling of transfiguration that can take over the room when poetry is well performed/recited. It takes a lot out of me, though. Anyway, I’m working on a novel now.
Derek Walcott had this great bit of torture humor that he’d break out whenever asked to comment on American poetry and public readings–he’d say the trouble with American readings was “da-dum da-dum da-dum da-DUM,” which was the line-by-line cadence almost everyone he ever heard read used, flat build up with a forced crescendo, and to accurately reflect his experience of public readings once he began doing this he would not stop until you yourself demanded he did.
I prefer reading other people’s poetry to hearing them read their own, generally.
Some things that make me nervous: “The poem may be brilliant on the page, but there’s is a fundamental difference between a poem that is written to be read from a page and a poem that is written to be performed. Quite often those that write the former aren’t adequately aware of the latter.”
I think this is a common feeling, but I would actually argue that truly excellent poetry walks the line between spheres. As a poet, if you’re paying attention to the music and rhythm of language, you’re going to be able to follow that pulse in a reading–maybe it won’t be performative (I say, thank god), but it’ll have flow and life blood.
Also, I see how audience members respond to funny–but you can’t ride on funny alone. I LOVE humor–but you gotta have something else. Many poets make me laugh, and I’ll never remember a word they write (and some make me laugh, and I remember them forever). The other night in Athens is an example of how poetry can fuck you up in the most marvelous sense. Joseph P. Wood read poems that made me want to run screaming around the room, made my stomach hurt, made me want to crawl into a cave–and he read them like he meant them. That’s something. Make me uncomfortable, make me joyous, make me want to die–just make me do something.
Matt Hart’s reading at the Lincoln Mem. during AWP made me buy his book. He made it an experience and put all his energy into what he was doing. If you can set a mood while reading, you’ll probably do alright. If you can make me feel like I’m 16 and at some all-ages show, then you’re killing it. Most readers don’t understand this, nevermind put it into practice.
Maybe audiences should stop being so polite and supportive and start booing and throwing shit. I wouldn’t mind being booed so much, at least it means you’ve connected with the audience instead of boring them into apathy.
I sometimes make jokes about how much I dislike poetry readings – the jokes are very funny, by the way – but then I stopped myself mid-joke recently to consider whether it was really true, and counted the poetry readings I liked. It wasn’t hard to think of good examples of poets who can read their work and do it justice: Claire Bateman, Tomas Salamun, Terrance Hayes, and then lots more others. It’s easy – and tempting – to complain about bad poetry readings, but in the end I think many/most poets know how best to present their work, and do a good job, even if some of them take too long and I want to go get something to eat.
Some really good readings I’ve seen recently (mostly at AWP): Paul Legault, K. Silem Mohammad, Douglas Kearney, Ariana Reines.
All of them were funny, but none of them were just funny. Maybe humor helps so much because, at a poetry reading, it’s the only thing the audience is really allowed to audibly react to. The shared reaction that creates a communal space you can all listen together in.
But then people don’t usually react audibly at movies either. Maybe unfunny poets should read in darkened rooms, under a spotlight, so the audience doesn’t have to think about the other people there?
Another thing, all of those readings had some kind of momentum. Something, even if it was just nerves, that seemed to propel the reading from poem to poem. Ariana Reines had some really long between-poem digressions, but even those had the same kind of energy.
i think good readers own their words and feel them but this may or may not mean they ‘perform.’ although i like readers who are a performance, it is also great to see someone simply read who really means the words. reading, though, is a skill and art that’s developed. we certainly can’t expect every reader to start out as a great reader any more than every poet can start out a great poet. let people have their trial and errors and they’ll get better.
Nick Demske’s great. Prageeta Sharma’s great. Charles Simic’s great. Arda Collins is great. Michael Earl Craig is pretty good. And sure, some people suck, but that’s the case with everything—I wouldn’t across the board simply say that poetry readings aren’t worth attending based on a few bad readings one has been to.
I’m a poet who mostly hates interacting with other poets in any form other than their poetry. The person you’re talking to at AWP or arguing with (or agreeing with) on some obscure blog of 10 readers is not the same person who wrote the book, no matter how strangely invested you or they might be in the opposite assumption.
Be funny, or sexy. Is it so hard? Then isn’t mutually exclusive to great content, BTW. But, hello, we are standing here. Talk to us. What story would you tell me at lunch? Lean in, and tell me the BIG thing that happened that day. Be excited. say, “Can you believe that shit??”
I find my interest in poetry readings varies depending on the delivery style. In Melbourne I have noticed two different styles: a slam style and.. not slam. The latter is wafty and reflective, usually female poets employ it. And slam is more like the defjam poetry readings that you see online, like Sarah Kay & Anis Mojgani. There can be a happy medium, too. I also think that some styles of poetry are meant to be purely performative and other styles should stay on the page. I once had a poem of mine performed at a university drama production and it was probably my least favourite poetry reading of all time. But performing your own poetry can be really nice.