||I had never been to a poetry reading
until these past few weeks, when I attended several, in various venues, with various
individuals and in contrasted formats. It was interesting to see and hear not only the way
the poets read their poetry, but also to see how we, as members of the audience,
interacted with them.
|It was held at the library of Michigan
The first type of reading that I attended was a
reading with discussion, questions and answers. It was held at the library of Michigan
State University, given by a writer who wrote mainly prose, but was so influenced by one
of his teachers so much that he turned to poetry into a "side" occupation. He
was quite good at it, having won prizes and having three of his collections published by
the University Press.
Predictably, there were many students in attendance, most of them there to get extra class
credit. There were also those who liked to think of themselves as "intellectual"
types, there to obtain the "deeper" meaning of what the poet was saying. Then,
there were those of us, like me, who were merely there for the sheer enjoyment of hearing
someone read their work.
The author began by giving us some personal background, and then began to read samples of
his work. He seemed to read very quickly, almost too fast for most of us to really hear
what he was saying. It was probably because he was fighting a cold that he read in this
manner. But we all sat there, listening intently, and applauding after every work was
| "No, it's just a poem
about my dog, who happens to be yellow."
When he had completed the reading portion of the
event, we next turned to the question and answer session. There were the usual types of
questions: "How did you get started?" "What made you decide to write
poetry?" Then there were the deep questions like: "Do you feel that you used the
dog in your poem 'Yellow Dog' as a metaphor for man's struggle against the Industrial
Revolution?" (Really, this was an actual question.) To which the author, quite
pleasingly, said, "No, it's just a poem about my dog, who happens to be yellow."
Which drew laughter and applause from the audience. Finally, a writer who writes about
things we could identify with!
After the reading was over, I got an opportunity to talk to the poet for a moment, and
took that time to ask him if he felt that there was a "death" of the writing of
"form" poetry, and were more poets now turning toward free verse? He said that
he felt that there was somewhat of a death of this and that he tried to write in a mix of
form and free verse. He also hoped that more poets would learn about writing in forms to
become better poets.
I went to a couple of more readings in this venue. They were about the same, with the poet
reading his own work, questions and answers with the audience, and of course, sales of the
poet's latest book, which could be autographed.
I wondered about the literature these poets read. Who were their influences growing up? It
would have been very interesting to have the poets read poems that influenced them. To see
how the creative process begins. To see how they interpreted them. One of them did read
something from another poet, but it was merely to illustrate the poem of their own that
they were going to read, not that it was an influence.
The next type of reading that I attended was an "Open Mic" type of reading, held
at a local bookstore. Here, poets sign up beforehand to have a few minutes to read their
own work, but also anything else they like. As it said in the advertisement for the
reading, "Read your own work, read another person's work, or even read the Phone
Book." The people attending this reading were, of course, poets themselves, their
friends, and anyone who happened to be walking through the bookstore and wondering what we
|It can be very nerve wracking to get
up in front of a group of people and read a poem, let alone your own writing.
It can be very nerve wracking to get up in front of a group of people and read a poem, let
alone your own writing. I was very nervous when I arrived to sign up. Complicating
matters, it turned out that they were not going to have a microphone set up for us. We
were told to "project, and speak very loudly." This did not make things easier
on everyone's nerves. I mean, personally, it is one thing to take that first step and post
our work at Passions. You generally hear from people that like your work, but it was
entirely another thing to get up in front of people and read it. To see how they would
react to what I was reading. Would they like it? Would I be able to be loud enough? Would
they understand it?
As the time got closer for me to read my work, I became even more nervous. Then they
called my name. I was introduced as "a new Lansing poet," something that made me
stop and chuckle for a moment. Imagine, being introduced as a "poet."
When I approached the designated area, I now noticed that there were indeed quite a few
people in attendance, close to 50 or so. I took a deep breath and began by greeting the
audience. I then read the one poem I had prepared.
It's a funny thing that being up there in front of all those people, I found myself
surprisingly calm. I read my work loud enough, and even made eye contact with the
audience. They were paying attention. They were concentrating on what I was saying. Part
of me even believed some of them were hanging on my every word.
The poem finished, they applauded and I thanked them and went back to my seat. Relieved
that it was over, but surprisingly finding myself wishing that I had read more.
Some of the poets read prose. One of them read favorite poems. A storyteller read from
Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends," reminding us that it was the 25th
anniversary of the publication of that work. All in all, it was a very enjoyable time, one
that I look forward to doing again.
|She introduced herself as the editor
for a local literary magazine, and invited me to submit the poem that I read at the
A personal note: after the Open Mic reading was over; a few people approached me. They
stopped by to say that they really enjoyed my reading and my work, one of them even wanted
me to e-mail them a copy of it. There was one woman, however, who had a little more to
say. She introduced herself as the editor for a local literary magazine, and invited me to
submit the poem that I read at the reading, as well as at least one other poem to her for
consideration to be published. This was something I never expected. I won't know until
early next year if my submissions will be accepted, but it was enough to be asked to
I would encourage everyone to go to a poetry reading in your area. They're usually
mentioned in the local newspaper, or at local bookstores. If you live near a university or
college, check with the libraries or the English departments to see if they hold any
readings. If you live where these kinds of events are not held, why not try to have one of
your own? Talk to your local library or High School English Departments, invite people to
come and read not only their own work, but also whatever they would like to read. You
might be pleasantly surprised.