Last night, I was the featured poet at Everett Poetry Night for the first time. This slot had been scheduled months ago, but recent developments (mostly related to the misbehavior of my car, and my lack of funds to get the needed repairs right away) had me wondering whether or not I would be able to go. But, having skipped the trip to Everett for the last several weeks already, I was determined to not flake out on the one night I had obligated myself to go.
I gave myself plenty of time to run into problems and still get there—which is pretty much what happened. Then it was simply a matter of waiting the five-and-a-half hours for my turn to get on stage and read some of my poems. Eventually, of course, the time came.
Overall, I’d say things went fairly well. I alternated between reading eight-word poems from my latest book, older poems I had typed out so that I wouldn’t have to bring a bunch of books on stage, and some of my newer poems.
Response to individual poems varied. My impression is that, for the most part, my newer poems got a better response—at least, in terms of audience reaction. I was a little disappointed that my Harvey Keitel poem, which got a great response at the Creative Commons Celebration last month, didn’t at least a few courtesy chuckles—but this should not have been a surprise, since that’s basically the same reaction it got the last time I read it for basically the same audience. But I was happy that the newer poems got such a good response, as I have been feeling that they have an emotional center that most of the poems I wrote in November lacked.
Still, I felt that something was slightly off. My inclination is to point to feeling tired after having been at the café for five or six hours before I read, or to worrying about my car and whether or not I would make it back home without further trouble, or even to not being as prepared as I could have. But I have come to the conclusion that it is none of those things.
I am still playing it safe. The poems that got the best response were the ones that revealed feelings, showed vulnerability, did not try to hide. Nearly all of the poems I chose to skip did those things. But I did not want to be a downer, so, except for the eight-word poems I asked the audience to choose by calling out numbers (the poems in the book are numbered), I tried to pick poems that would be more ‘entertaining’.
In the new year (if not sooner—it depends on what happens with my car, which I hope to have repaired next week), I will be working to change this. When I write poems, whether they are serious or whimsical, I am trying to be authentic and truthful, to reflect what I see and experience, and how I feel. I need to do the same thing when I present my work for an audience. I already do this with my books; I need to do this when I read for audiences, and trust them to take the journey with me.
You are my witnesses.
(8 December 2017)