We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming (yea, that’s already happened) and before getting back to it, I’m going to ruminate on poetry — specifically, what I think it ought to be. I recently went to see a poetry reading combined with a string quartet performance at one of NYC’s bourgie hipster spaces. The string quartet was exceptionally technically accurate; the Bartok and Beethoven they played, if a bit lacking in performative soul, was spot on and error free — clean enough to bore me. The poets, however, were by and large lackluster, even on a technical level; save one, that is.
The lady who began the evening had obviously practiced long to develop a specific sort of reading voice, one that was as cavernous and large as she was petite and unremarkable. It moved me near to giggles, especially with the inflection and manner she employed to hone it, to drive its urgency home. There’s nothing like hyper-pronounced diction to suck the soul out of a speaking voice. Then there came an old man whose whiny poems, replete with the word “whats” and penny-ante sophisms and lacking any example of a close examination of the world as it exists outside paltry abstractions, made me fidget and drink my beer ever quicker. Finally there came a lady who, thankfully, could actually write a poem and whose reading voice was not farcical. She had one turn of phrase that was something like “the key is stuck in the lock again. I can turn anything into a self-portrait,” and which I really enjoyed. Generally her language was interesting, intimate, and engaging, so I have a new poet to look into.
But the experience of the evening — rather, what experiencing what was lacking about it — made me think about why I had written poetry (which I used to do a lot more often than now), and what I would have done differently than these people. It strikes me as rather slovenly to ‘read’ your work; memorize it. Most likely you aren’t going to perform an epic (unless you are the whiny poet going on about Russian balet and television cameras), and the imagistic little ditties that are in fashion now would not cost too much effort to commit to memory. It also occurs to me to write things that people would want to hear. Confessional episodes and Deep Reflections on things are fine; but they’re a dime a dozen, and if they aren’t interesting I should be able to throw my drink at the stage. If poetry’s going to be worth an evening, it needs to do something ‘interesting’; of course working out what that entails is a bigger problem.