86º ~ lots more sun today than in the past few days together, heading back toward 100º for a high, good breezes in the high branches, nothing much in the lower
Over the past few days I've been mulling over a series of questions about how poets read their work in public. These are not new questions and they have been with me for years and years. I know that some of it is a matter of taste, but I'm wondering what you all think, Dear Readers.
In an oversimplified X versus Y formula the question is, to pause between poems, providing brief anecdotes, or to only read the poems and let them do the talking.
|image from creativecommons.org|
I have this question as both a poet and an audience member.
As a poet, I try to find a good balance in the middle. I try to avoid explaining the upcoming poem because I know that the poem should speak for itself, and as an audience member, it drives me crazy when a poet explicates his or her own poem before reading it. However, as a poet, I'm not comfortable reading just the poems with a brief, quiet moment in between. As an audience member, when poets do this, the poems tend to blend together and get a bit "soupy" for me, unless I'm super familiar with the poet's work.
This question has resurfaced because I ran into a colleague on campus the other day, and she had attended my reading on the 12th. She is not a poet and not an English instructor, which becomes part of the mulling. My colleague stopped me to thank me for providing the interludes between poems. She said that poetry is so powerful that she needs a bit of down time between poems. She also commented that sometimes my tiny introductions helped her get into the poems since she was relying on her hearing rather than reading.
Now, of course, my ego shone a bit brighter after talking to her, so take all of this with a grain of salt, but her comment got me to thinking about the poet's job as it relates to a non-poetry-writing audience. When we do a reading, who do we imagine in our audience? Are they mostly poets & writers? If so, do they need less interluding and more poetry-only? If there are many folks in the audience who are non-writers, or beginning writers, is the poet doing a good thing by providing "breaks"?
Another comment that has stuck with me since the reading is that one of the library staffers who attended the reading confessed that she isn't a huge poetry fan but that she enjoyed my book and my reading. This got me to thinking about our opportunities to widen the poetry audience. If we stand up and read to the audience as if everyone lives and breathes poetry 24/7, then are we hurting more than helping? What is the poet's responsibility? Does it change with the location / audience? Does the poet need to adopt different styles at different times? Is this a "betrayal" of the work?
All of this leads back to the question of accessibility, I suppose, and the poet's agency in creating a poetry community. Lots and lots of questions there. Let me know what you all think, if the questions interest you, of course.