Friday, April 18, 2008

Kooser Daddy?

Saw Ted Kooser – former Poet laureate of the United States – read last night. It was the third time I have attended a reading by him, thus the third time I heard a lot of his stories and jokes between his pieces.

Now I don’t think this is a bad thing and I can certainly sympathize with the guy. We all have our pat stories our go to anecdotes the one-liners we toss out speciously on the fly. I think these little segues are a very important part of any feature reading, many of which have been born in the cauldron of a moment and then reissued over and over – because they work.

A feature reading should be considered as a whole set, the patter in between the pieces a way to keep touch with the audience and to measure their interest. If one has the audacity to stand in front of a group of people and expect that crowd to listen then the speaker should be prepared.

Here’s a list of my pet peeves re: poetry readings in no particular order.

Going on too long.

Kooser read for about 40 minutes and he was the poet laureate – do you think your work deserves more stage time? Nobody, not even your mom, wants to hear you go on and on and on for an hour and a half. In the same vein – if there is a time limit set – say two poems - do not read two twelve minute epic pieces on your failed love life. Don’t ask the reading’s host for more time while you are up at the mic – this is a cheesy ploy that puts the person responsible for your opportunity in the first place on the spot in front of the rest of the audience. Leave your listeners wanting more is the mantra that should be adhered to.

Explaining every piece before you present it.

Granted, every once and awhile you may have an arcane reference in a poem that could use a bit of explanation. But, I could not give a rat’s ass about how you were feeling, where you were sitting, what you really mean, the TV show that inspired you, your favorite movie etc. etc. etc. If everything you are presenting requires a preamble it most likely also requires a bit more rewriting. If your poem cannot stand on its own no amount of propping it up with an introduction is going to save it.

Rifling through a stack of papers.

Are you telling me that getting up in front of this audience was a surprise to you? You may think that flipping through your stack of poems written on paper bags, post-its, grocery store receipts, a couple dozen composition books or scrolling through your PDA will lend you a devil may care aura of nonchalance when in reality it just makes you look unprepared and disrespectful of your audience. Similarly, don’t drop your pages to the floor as you finish reading the words on them unless your goal is to have your listeners stop listening to your words and look at the papers strewing the floor. (Most times this goal is applicable to the practitioners.)

Pleading with your audience.

If you have to continually ask your listeners “are you feeling me?” “Know what I mean?” or some other variation – chances are they don’t

“I just wrote this now…”

I have never heard a poem prefaced with this line that was not a self indulgent piece of garbage. I have no curiosity whatsoever in the scribbling you were doing while others were at the mic. Firstly, it most likely is going to sound as if it was just written – secondly it only shines a spotlight on your disrespect for every other person at the reading pointing up how you do not care to listen to others. Don’t tell me that you were “inspired” by something you heard either. Take a quick note if you have to – then write the piece when you have appropriate time to devote to it.


Stop screaming. Volume doesn’t denote importance. People scream when they are mad – are you mad at your listeners? If not, why are you yelling at them? While I’m at it – slow down, enunciate your words – you took the time to put them on page (I hope) – take the time to speak them clearly

Kooser did none of the above. Whatever one may feel about his writing, his presentation was gracious.

Okay – that’s my short list. Feel free to add to this. What are some of you least favorite reading faux pas or reader stereotypes?

1 comment:

Amy Sparks said...

Michael, love your new blog. Very fancy and fun to read.

Missed Kooser due to mandatory attendance at Claudia Rankine's reading at CSU. Damn, I wish the poetry community talked to each other about conflicting dates. This isn't NYC...!

Also like your tips on reading.