October 18, 2005

At a University Poetry Reading

At a University Poetry Reading

In the small makeshift auditorium,
she’s introduced by her own words.
Some term I don’t understand,
but is supposed to convey a sense of how precise,
how talented, how much of a better poet
she is than the thirty of us assembled in the fold-up chairs.

We could learn a lot from her and this reading,
from her first book,
a second due to be published next year,
and a third she’s working on called “The Guardians,”
but will probably be entitled something else
because she’s probably not going to include that poem.
No one seems to like it.

I’ll admit I get lost every time she starts to read,
and find myself drifting to the corner of the room,
and staring at the cobweb silhouette
projected on the back wall.
I’m wondering if maybe,
just maybe, she’d be open to performing her poems a bit more.

A couple of times she gets caught up in her own words,
and I want to say,
“Why don’t you just start over?”
Or, “Maybe if you actually read that poem out loud
before today,
you’d know that that combination of consonants
wouldn’t roll off the tongue as easily as it rolled out of your pen.”
There are things you notice when you look at your reading as a performance
instead of as a lecture,
or dissertation defense.

Now, I’m not saying she’s a bad writer,
because she isn’t,
and I’m not saying she’s a bad reader,
because she was clear,
didn’t have too many annoying habits that distracted from the poem,
but she left way too many things up to my imagination.
When she talked about the killing of the polar bear that escaped from the zoo,
and then followed with the line that went,
“900 pounds of polar bear is a lot of polar bear,”
I wanted to leap from my seat and say,
“You know, if you delivered that line just right,
you could actually get a couple guffaws.”
Though you’d never know it from the reaction,
she was funny.

Why does an academic poetry reading have to be so damn serious?
What’s wrong with engaging the audience?
Don’t we want the audience to be engaged in our books, our words?
How much of the audience wasn’t a poet, a student of poetry,
or somehow affiliated with the English Department that brought her here?
Is that a problem?
Is reading poems to poets
somehow like joining some country club
where everyone looks and thinks like you?
Aren’t poets supposed to be the “inclusive” ones?
Aren’t poets “supposed” to be speaking for people, all people?
Where are all these non-poet people?
Cause they certainly aren’t here,
at the makeshift auditorium
on the 3rd floor of the Student Union Building
eating a white cake
and drinking tea.

No one claps, which startles me,
because this is art after all,
and she’s reading.
We’re paying attention
and there is absolutely no clue in her performancethat now is when the poem is over.

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