Saturday, September 4, 2010


When doing a poetry reading, it is always best NOT to take yourself too seriously. Prepare, yes. Have your papers in order, yes. Rehearse a little. Know your audience. But all of us who read our words aloud have grown to appreciate nobel prize winner Wislawa Szymborska's sentiment:

Poetry Reading

To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds?
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare
it's time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining,
the rest are relatives. O Muse.
The women here would love to rant and rave,
but that's for boxing. Here they must behave.
Dante's Infemo is ringside nowadays.
Likewise his Paradise. O Muse.

Oh, not to be a boxer but a poet,
one sentenced to hard shelleying for life,
for lack of muscles forced to show the world
the sonnet that may make the high-school reading lists
with luck. O Muse,
O bobtailed angel, Pegasus.

In the first row, a sweet old man's soft snore:
he dreams his wife's alive again. What's more,
she's making him that tart she used to bake.
Aflame, but carefully-don't burn his cake!
we start to read. O Muse.

Okay, so I did Vertigo Xi'an Xavier's Canton First Friday! The Poetry Spectacular last night. Beautiful night, fun arts event for families and galleries. Highly recommended. Don't wait for a written invitation. The streets were hopping. It wasn't raining at all and some of the crowd even came inside for the poetry reading.

In the theater, the opening act was the local HS forensics team. They wept, screamed, and scratched their skin through three performances. The audience clapped politely as one watched her kids drown on the Titanic, one drank bleach, and one (even more frighteningly) attempted humor. Then they all stood up with their entourages and noisily discussed how well they did as they departed and as I was being introduced. Michael mentioned to a couple of them that my poems have been used to win several state forensic oral interp competitions. Perhaps one kid shrugged.

Then a young woman came to the stage as I was putting my folder on the music stand.
"What time is the open mic?"
"After the feature," answered Vertigo, the emcee (who is working overtime to build this event and sincerely seems to be a great guy).
"What time is that?" She asked.
"Are you leaving?" He asked.
"Yes. I’ll come back to read. I’m first on the open mic."
"You should stay for the feature," he nodded to me, standing at his elbow.
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “most poetry bores me, no offense.”

How could I take offense?

The rest of the evening went much better and we were treated to energetic performances by Mary Turzillo and Geoff Landis among others. Will the poetry gods forgive me for cutting out for the first poet in the open mic and then returning for the rest of the evening?

As I departed, the young woman (who had returned to chat through my last couple of poems and use her cell phone to take pictures of her friend) called to me, “you’re leaving? I’m crushed.”

My reply, “no offense.”

cross-posted at saraholbrook.blogspot


John B. Burroughs said...

What a story... and thanks for making me smile more than once.

I'd originally planned to go when I heard you were featuring. But my wife had surgery yesterday (all went well) and I wanted to be here for her.

Karen Sandstrom said...

God I loved this.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Despite the part of the crowd that left (and the other part of the crowd talking in the back), it was a good reading. I'd never been to the Canton First Friday before-- quite an event! I want to take some time and leave work early next time I go, so I can see some of the art, and not just the poetry. (We stopped for a bit to eat and then walked around a bit after the poetry, but the crowds were mostly by the time we were walking.)

Yeah, I think it's pretty rude when people leave after they read at open mike, but leaving for the featured poet !! Yow.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

And I might point out that the next first Friday will be October 1, and is slated to feature none other than MIchael Salinger.

Check out the flyer, or take a look at the Canton First Friday page.

John B. Burroughs said...

I attended the Canton "Spectacular" for my first (and only) time last month and, thankfully, there was no walkout and no distracting chat during the readings - but there was also no opening act before the feature.

I also witnessed (and competed in) my first ever slam while there and won $50! I found the gathered poets/witnesses respectful, attentive and (for the most part) engaging.

Such rudeness as Sara described is inexcusable. I'm optimistic that it's also exceptional.

mary Turzillo said...

Oh gawd. Those kids. I was so embarrassed for them.

Which was good, because they obviously didn't have the brains to be embarrassed for themselves.

sara holbrook said...

Let me say again -- this is a terrific event. The space is just right for a poetry reading. I'm looking forward to returning next month.

Unknown said...

There's a lot going on at First Friday, so I understand the audience coming and going. Folks pop in, listen for a bit, then move on to another event. That's never bothered me, though my hope is that the poetry grabs their attention and keeps them there longer than they planned to stay.

But for a participant to only want to be there for her turn at the mic is beyond rude, it is outright inconsiderate. This was one of those moments where I had to remind myself that beating someone over the head with a mic stand would be a bad thing. (Especially since it was the theater's mic stand.) If you don't like others' poetry, why are you trying to perform at a poetry open-mic and compete in a poetry slam?

I'm considering mixing up the show a bit in the future. Maybe do the open-mic at the start of the show, followed by the feature then the slam. Some of the other poetry events in NEO have mixed up the order to positive results.

John B. Burroughs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John B. Burroughs said...

I've seriously thought about starting with the open mic at Lix and Kix - there are benefits to that - it means people who want to read are more likely to show up on time (I hate having to start late every month because of poets being notoriously late) - plus it ensures there's a full audience by the time feature begins. We tried that at our Snoetry festival and it was aa success - we started with open mic at 1 and started the features at 2. Though we had a small crowd at 1, we had a packed bookstore by 2. But when you only have one or two features, it might be different (we had 40 that day, so plenty stuck around), and you run the risk of having the open mic'ers who only want to hear themselves read leave before the feature begins - a huge injustice to the feature. So I'm not sure what the solution is. I guess it depends on who's there any given night.

michael salinger said...

I've been to venues where there are two open mics - one of five or six folks before the feature with a strict 1 poem limit - and then a second after the feature with a little looser vibe.

It has worked well - sometimes the folks in the first feature are drawn from a hat - sometimes they are the first to sign up , up to the host as to how they are picked.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau