Poetry readings really aren't my thing. Why does the audience cower? Who says the author knows anything about how to read?


About Jessica Smith

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22 Responses to

  1. editor galaxy says:

    The author must experiment with reading approaches exactly the same way the author experiments with the work on the page. Ideally, the author comes up with an approach that is theirs, and not what audiences want/expect. This includes doing readings w/ no prep at all, not showing up, asking the audience to read the poems for you, etc., etc. I did enjoy what you did last night. I also enjoyed what you did in Buffalo, w/ Alix and Eric. Don’t give up. Great to see you last night, Fairy Godmother.

  2. Reen says:

    Man, if the audience is cowering…well, whatever you are doing, it is WORKING.

    If I could get people to cower before me…oh, it is best not to think of such hopeless things. None shall ever fear my name. I am like a butterfly made entirely of bubblegum and rainbows.

  3. Simon says:

    I think most readings are a travesty! Readings should first and foremost entertain: you don’t have to be a clown (although you can be), but you do have to engage some kind of emotion. Anyway, I’m sure your reading went fine; you seem to be all about engagement.

  4. Steven Fama says:

    I understand readings may not be your thing, and I appreciate you sharing your reaction, but I’m curious about some of the more prosaic details.

    What poems did you read? How long did it last? How many people in the audience? What’s the Zinc like, as a place to read out loud?

    Sorry to pepper you with questions, but I’m curious . . . thanks….

  5. Jessica Smith says:

    Ron recorded the reading for MiPo, so it may be available soon. I read from OFC; I mostly read poems from Exile. I don’t think I read very long, but I don’t have a sense of it. Timing is something I need more experience with.

    Zinc is a bar with a dimly lit back room. Maybe it’s just not the right kind of stage for me. The poets are seated on one side of the room with Jimmy and the mic. On the other side of the room there is a bank of dark booths where the audience sits. The classic audience-author divide in most poetry readings is reinforced by the darkness and distance.

    There were maybe 20 people there… about the same as my NY reading last winter. For a Sunday night and for the line-up (which I thought was pretty cool) I thought the turnout was disappointing. I was also disappointed with the turnout on a personal level because there are many NY poets I’d like to meet, who I’m in correspondence with and so forth, who didn’t show. That’s kind of insulting. I drive 8 hours for a reading that’s been advertised for months– and advertsed rather well for the past week– and no one can get off their asses and come out? What’s the point?

    That said, the reading didn’t suck. Ron is great, of course– I’ve heard him read before, but it was nice to actually interact with him. He’s very friendly. I made enough money between booksales and the hat to pay for the tolls back and forth and my meals while in town, so I’m only down the cost of gas. It was great to see Adam and the local Buffalo transplants. Charles attended the reading, which was flattering to me, although his criticism can be difficult to deal with (always good to get and mull over it, but hard, like working with a ballet teacher).

  6. Jessica Smith says:

    I’m also kind of comparing it to my reading in Toronto, which was comparatively wonderful. I liked the free-flowing system between the readers, so that the poetry was jazz-like, non-authorized, improvized in a way. I liked that the audience was instructed to yell “Mercy!” when they got bored. I liked that almost everyone I knew in Toronto showed up; that I sold many books; that the art gallery space was both friendly to my work and well-lit so people could follow along in their books (which many of them already owned and had brought with them). It was just a 500% better setup in terms of the politics of a poetry reading– how I (the author) interact with the audience, how the audience interacts with the text, how the space makes that possible.

    [For more, go to looktouch.com/poetics and read the Silent Reading pamphlet.]

  7. Steven Fama says:

    Thanks for the report. Twenty in the audience is better than two, but still it is surprising, bad surprising. (I’m assuming the place would hold more than the 20 who showed up.)

    There were the people who you expected to but didn’t see, but also — and this isn’t a knock on you — it’s shocking and shameful that a larger number didn’t make it to hear what’s new from the poet who wrote, e.g., Ketjak.

    I appreciate that poets persevere, including you.

  8. shanna says:

    “I was also disappointed with the turnout on a personal level because there are many NY poets I’d like to meet, who I’m in correspondence with and so forth, who didn’t show. That’s kind of insulting. I drive 8 hours for a reading that’s been advertised for months– and advertsed rather well for the past week– and no one can get off their asses and come out? What’s the point?”

    Um, honestly, you don’t have any guesses as to why some people might not show?!?

  9. Jessica Smith says:

    Oh… duh. Ok, you I understand. But what about everyone else?

  10. shanna says:

    hmm, think i’m the only one?
    (also, now i live about 2 hours away)

  11. Jim Behrle says:

    Yeah, *duh*.

  12. Steven Fama says:

    Saw your few photos from the Zinc, Jessica, from the link you provided in the Silliman comment box.

    That arrangement at the Zinc is odd, what with the audience in those darkened arched brick booths. It reminded me, sort of (in my imagination at least), of the bowels of the Roman Coliseum where they kept the lions that would come out and chase down the Christians.

    Not a set-up designed for much interaction, you have that right. Still, it’s good that there’s a place that permits poetry readings, and somebody willing to set them up, regardless of the funkiness of the place.

    Whatever the reason that more people didn’t or couldn’t show up, it’s too bad. I hope Ron makes the recording available, so everybody (including me) has a chance to hear it.

  13. Small Fry says:

    Everyone in New York is never at the same reading in the same place and on any given night there are always competing events, holidays, obligations. People work like crazy and live hours away from where most of the readings are.

    When I read at the bowery ages ago it was February and there was a blizzard.

    I like giving readings and going to most readings, mostly because I like to hang out with people and because I process best poetry aurally. Some work I like on the page but performed, not so much, or vice versa, or sometimes the performance is an extension or rejection of what’s on the page. Sometimes there’s nothing on the page, sometimes there’s no page. Reading and performing is just another tool to play with.

    But there’s no substitute for the hanging out after readings. I miss that, for sure!

  14. Jim Behrle says:

    Shanna Compton seems to be suggesting that people stayed home Sunday night rather than hear Ron Silliman and Jessica Smith read because the Zinc Series is curated by me. That seems like a big stretch and an insanely lame policy. But tell the world what you think with the poll on my blog.

    It just sounds like yet another attempt to make everything that happens in the world about *you* when in fact most things have nothing to do with you. Nowhere is it advertised that I’m the curator of the Zinc Series. I take friends or foes as part of my curatorial process (I invited Shanna last Fall but she may not have gotten that e-mail, I think she has an e-mail block on my name or something). People who want to hold grudges for 1,000 years should certainly do so. I am over it, it wasn’t that important to my life. I mean, make excuses if you want. But if you really wanted to go you’d GO. And if you really want to support poets (as you claim) you wouldn’t let _anything_ get in your way. My intros last about 45 seconds, you could be at the bar getting a drink during them. Ron and Jessica will have many other readings in New York and I hope you attend them. They are poets worth hearing. You ought to somehow summon the personal courage and energy to show up.

    If someone told me they didn’t attend one of my readings because they didn’t like the curator? I would think that was the lamest excuse I’d ever heard. Demand more from your poetry community!

  15. Jessica Smith says:

    KLG: Hanging out after the reading was definitely cool. The food was good, we were near my favorite Henry James book, and it was great to interact with Ron, who is so friendly, and to see Adam, Brenda, and Eric, and to meet Jeff Geoff and Meg and see Charles. Getting to meet Ron, Brenda, and Mark L. made the trip worth it. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of those associations. It was totally *worth it*, I just wish I’d done a better job reading and that more people had attended, because I wanted to meet them.

    Steve, I’ll keep you updated about the recording.

    Jim, the times I’ve been to Zinc I’ve thought you did a good job curating. It will take a lot to convince me to read in your fair city again, however. You know how I feel about NYC. I’d rather read in Philly, Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, DC, ATL… my reading in Miami OH, the population of which is .5% of NYC’s was better attended.

  16. Amish Trivedi says:

    Is Jim not bathing again?

  17. Jim Behrle says:

    I’m not worried about my curatorial skillz (or my hygene habits). I’m a guest curator, keepin the seat warm for when the real genius curator wants to come back. New York crowds are smaller than they should be (Jessica & Ron outdrew Pinsky at Zinc). Sometimes you just don’t get the crowd you should…I’d be fine reading to a crowd of just Mark Lamoureux and Douglass Rothschild. And maybe Kit Robinson. Those 3? That’s a quorum right there.

    Let all the Shannas stay home! 2 Hours Away!! Ha! I once went to hear Karen Weiser & Tracey McTague at Zinc. I lived in Boston. I rode the Fung Wah. 4 Hours both ways. And long into the night. And it was worth it and I’d do it again. Some people really do like poetry and don’t worry so much about who’s introducing, who else is in the audience, if they’ll miss the Gilmore Girls (Kirschenbaum reference) or anything else that doesn’t matter at all. I’ve been to Kent Johnson readings, sat 4 feet away from him with a camera in his face. And I’ve done more shit to that guy than every member of the flarf list combined. Hats off to the moustache.

    I read to 8 people in SF a few years ago. It was a speech and a reading. And the 8 people were Del Ray and Stephanie and Elizabeth and Kevin Killian and a few others. Geneva. I’ve said no to readings in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington DC…readings are not that big a deal. I bet Jessica/Ron probably drew better than Ron/Kent would have. The success of a reading can’t be judged by how many asses were in the seats. Getting to caught up with head counts is silly, this is poetry. 60 people maybe heard John Weiners and Fanny Howe that night at Waterstone’s…and everyone who was there still thinks about that reading.

    You can’t hurt the curator by not showing up. It’s no skin off my back if people don’t show. I’m not in it for anything other than to hear poets read that I wanna hear and giving some people a chance behind the mike. I’ll put my curatorial career up against anybody when I’m through. And anybody who stayed away because of *my peripheral involvement* cheated themselves out of a great night of poems. Shame on them.


  18. Jim Behrle says:

    By the way, there’s a great big memorial reading for kari edwards *this weekend*…don’t NOT GO because I helped give it a home…

    kari edwards memorial reading
    Zinc Reading Series
    Sunday, June 24, 7 pm
    $5 goes to edwards scholarship fund at Naropa University

    Please join us as we honor the life of truly radical and compassionate poet, artist, gender activist – mentor and friend – kari edwards (1954-2006).

    readings and reflections by:

    Fran Blau
    Julian Brolaski
    E. Tracy Grinnell
    Brenda Iijima
    Paul Foster Johnson
    Erica Kaufman
    Rachel Levitsky
    Tim Peterson
    Stacy Szymaszek

    *copies of kari’s book obedience (Factory School, 2005) as well as the journal Aufgabe #6, dedicated to her, will be on sale. Proceeds will go to the fund at Naropa. There will also be several special edwards publications available at the reading.

    Check out her book having been blue for charity here: http://www.blazevox.org/bk-ke.htm
    ZINC is at 90 West Houston between Laguardia & Thompson
    Subway: ACEBDFV to west 4th street. NR to spring. 1/9 to Houston.

  19. Ana Bozicevic-Bowling says:

    We haven’t met, but I love your poems and now I’m sorry I didn’t come to Zinc though I was sick, as usual. Hope to see you read in NY or elsewhere again.

  20. Jessica Smith says:

    Thanks Ana 🙂

  21. John says:

    It *is* disappointing when people you wanted to see don’t show, but what matters more is the quality of the connection with the people who *do*. I’m with Jim on that one.

    Bach walked 300 miles to hear Buxtehude play the organ.

  22. Jessica Smith says:

    It’s true. Jim… is… right! (Aw gawd that hurt!) It was a stellar audience, if few in number.

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