Oh No

The Zinc Bar reading is online. Warning: I have a tendency to talk directly to members of the audience. It makes me feel like the audience/author divide is broken, at least a little. And it takes up time so that I don’t actually have to read poetry. Also, apparently I say “um” and “uh” a lot. I obviously need more practice with whatever this performance beast is, if I choose to keep reading aloud.

Alicia Cohen’s book B EAR that I mention is here.


About Jessica Smith

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31 Responses to Oh No

  1. Kevin Doran says:

    You sound younger than i thought you would.

    I talk to the audience ’cause i don’t like those brick walls of silence and everyone just staring at you.

  2. Jessica Smith says:

    “You sound younger than I thought you would” is the kind of reason I don’t like to read aloud. It seems like Readings are part of a successful poetry career these days. I do them to see friends and to sell books. But even the voice inside my head (that I hear when I’m reading silently) sounds nothing like the voice that comes out of my head. My voice always sounds childish and alien to me. My voice is a speech impediment.

    I guess such can be interesting for its displacement– whether it’s you or me reading my poems “silently,” we can pretty much agree that they *don’t* sound like that– they don’t sound like they do when I read them aloud. This makes the poetry reading seem all that much more absurd, which is ok by me.

    Totally– talking to the audience is much more fun than being stared at like you’re in a pulpit or an aquarium.

  3. Steven Fama says:

    Your voice is stronger / more confident sounding at the Zinc than it was at the Canada reading.

    The audio quality overall isn’t so great: probably due to less than perfect conditions at the Zinc, less than great audio recording set-up, and the compression required by the internet. And then there’s my poor hearing. But sometimes I had a hard time hearing the words, both for you and Ron. Without a book in front of me, I don’t hink I could “hear” much.

    Ron says “ah” alot too, maybe more than you. Most everyone does. The ability to speak extemporaneously in complete sentences and paragraphs, without tics or stock phrases (e.g., “you know”) is reserved for only a very few. And anyway maybe verbal communication is better when it is sloppy, non-grammatical, more associational.

    It was cool that the recording was left on during the “break” between your and Ron’s readings. Mostly it’s indistinguishable chatter, but every once in a well a word or snippet of dialogue breaks through.

  4. Jessica Smith says:

    The audio could def. use some processing… also I think I stand too close to the mike.

    The break is my favorite part!

  5. Michael says:

    Jessica ~Your honesty is refreshing.

    I have to totally agree that the quality of the mp3 file was lacking.

    The event seemed enjoyable- while you may not enjoy readings, you do seem to be at a comfort level with the audience. That takes a lot.

    I do enjoy readings… though I admit that I agree with the importance of seeing poetry on the page.

    I’ve been to some events where they tend to be more theatrical and the person in some cases is actually making it up as he or she goes along. It just isn’t the same. The written word is too important to me.

    Anyway, I think I need to get your book.

  6. Tao Lin says:

    that was good, i want to do a reading like that

  7. Tao Lin says:

    readings are for selling books and seeing people also for me

    for things to read i write things specifically to read, like poems that are lectures

  8. Jessica Smith says:

    Michael– thanks. I’m glad the written word is important to you. I feel that way, obviously. The book as an object is also important to me. If you end up getting OFC you’ll see that it’s made from premium materials.

    Btw if you buy my book directly from me here there’s a discount 😉

    Tao, I would love to see you read.

  9. Jim Behrle says:

    Ah…I’m a little tired of people dumping on the Zinc. Especially those that have never been there. Ron brought the mp3 recorder and placed it on the music stand. There was no microphone or anything attached to it. The sound quality is the fault of that. If you want a perfect recording of Ron and Jessica reading, hold it in your bathtub.

  10. Jessica Smith says:

    Hey Jim, I’m stealing some of your lines from the intro for my new gardening project.

    I don’t think people are meaning to make “personal” attacks on the Zinc Bar, just hypothesizing why the recording is of poor quality. There are probably many factors, including that our ears are used to listening to processed recordings.

  11. Jim Behrle says:

    Have fun with my lines if they are of any help. I dare anyone to find a better poetry reading environment in America–candlelit, intimate, dark and mirrored. Brick walls abound. Zinc Pride! Old men oughta get those big earn horns. Poetry isn’t meant to be cd quality grandpa. Half the shit on Penn Sound is staticy, off-mike and hard to hear. It’s called *Poetry*. I feel like the Miracle Worker sometimes. WA-TER! WAA-TER!!

  12. Jessica Smith says:

    Speaking of W-A-T-E-R I really want to do a poetry reading/performance sometime where I spell out the poems into peoples’ palms. Unfortunately this is difficult because it’d be a *very* intimate performance– addressed to one person at a time.

    Off the top of my head, I can list Rust Belt Books, the DCAC, and the Karpeles Manuscript Museum as better locations for poetry readings. And more people show up there, too. The Zinc is an interesting space, but is not the best poetry reading location in America.

  13. Steven Fama says:

    Jim is one thin skinned dude, my goodness. My “dump” on the Zinc wasn’t one at all.

    On the other hand, I think I will look for one of them big ear horns. Just might get one for each ear. When I do, I’ll thank Jim.

    And the thought of Jessica and Ron reading poetry in my bath-tub is rich, I must admit.

  14. Jessica Smith says:

    Speaking of ear horns I just got a huge pack of earplugs! Yay!

  15. Jim Behrle says:

    Fama is one old-skinned dude. Find a blog by some AARP 80 year old and stalk *her* instead! And try expounding on subjects you know something about. Poetry readings don’t happen in sound stages. You want high fidelity, buy a bong…

  16. Jessica Smith says:

    Jim, Steve is not stalking me. He is one of the more sensitive readers of my work. You don’t know anything about him, so shut up. Believe me, if I get a stalker I need reamed, you’ll be the first person I call. Retract those claws, eh.

  17. Jim Behrle says:

    And stop dumping on your crowd at the Zinc! It was OK, but not great. We’ve had bigger and smaller. A mere headcount is not indicative of the success of an event: you read in front of Silliman, Bernstein, Greenwald, Kit Robinson, who the hell knows who else. Me. That’s a good day’s work. Try finding that crowd in DC or Canada or Wherever…

    If you say he’s no stalker, whatever. Old men and the internets go together like monkeys and molotov cocktails. Stick an ear horn up his peehole!

  18. Jessica Smith says:

    I did stop ragging on my crowd at Zinc after you made this very good point last week. You were right. The only thing I have continued to “dump on” is my own performance… which doesn’t concern you, dear.

  19. Jim Behrle says:

    I mean, do we really give a shit about the *recording quality* of poetry readings? You heard the reading. If you were sitting in the audience, you might miss a line or two. No one ever promised anyone any kind of high fidelity. Old men probably remember a time before the internet when if you wanted to hear a reading in NY you went to NY. So whiners whining about having old man ears don’t have a lot of sympathy. Zinc Bar isn’t Symphony Space. So the fuck what?

  20. Jessica Smith says:

    Actually, this might raise an interesting point— another flaw in the ideal Poetry Reading. There’s no absolute fidelity concerning the performance of the text by the author (who sez the author knows how to read; the author may imagine the sound of the text differently than s/he can perform it; authors who read texts straight-up often fumble or make mistakes in reading), there can be no absolute fidelity on the part of the audience. The audience can mis-hear, overhear, be interrupted in hearing by many factors, decibel levels can be too high or too low, acoustics are fallible.

    All this to say that there is no perfect performance of a poem in real time/space.

    I bet there are a number of books about this, like Close Listening and Sound States not to mention all the critical/musical theory about sound and performance.

  21. Jim Behrle says:

    Can you imagine some jazz enthusiast being like “It’s just *too* bad that Charlie Parker played at Storyville instead of some vacuum-totally-ideal-and-sterile studio environment? So that my little old man ears could hear every chirp and squeak in STEREO SURROUND?” Most great jazz recordings are mono. Suck it up, listener. Poetry doesn’t have to come to you. When it does one ought to be respectful and grateful. No curator in the history of time ever thought of pairing Smith and Silliman. Now their names are written in the stars. Be thankful.

  22. jeannine says:

    Sounding young has always been something I worry about too. I think because in my early twenties I read something in one of those “working women” magazines about how men take women who speak in lower registers more seriously, which really freaked me out. How do you try to speak in a lower resister? Lauren Bacall speech lessons? And you sound like…you. It’s good. Life’s too short to worry too much about that stuff, right?
    Also, bathtub readings for all! Slightly more intimate than those “hot tub” readings that are all the rage.
    PS Can’t wait to see 4Square. You have my PO Box addy, right?

  23. eric d says:

    i am not young but at times have been asked if my mother is home when i answer the phone. (i always just say no.)
    what i am saying is:
    you might have to cultivate a performance voice if you want one.

  24. Ernesto says:

    I think the “poor” quality of the recording is very understandable. I was just glad I could listen to it. We sometimes seem to forget that before it was just impossible to do something like this. Now I am in London and can listen to a reading done in New York a few days ago. I am not complaining.
    It was really good to be able to share a bit of the experience if I wasn’t there.

    How old are you, Jim? What’s up with all this “old men” stuff?

    I read here in London to a crowd that combined very young and elderly people. Those who had hearing impairments were sitting at the front, some older memebers of the audience even asked to swap places with i-pod-ruined-but-still-young ears.

    Reading poetry aloud to other people is not easy.

  25. Jessica Smith says:

    @jeannine and eric, on “young” female voices: although i struggle with this social construct that says I should lower my voice, and in my teens considered taking up smoking not to look cool (news flash: it doesn’t make you look cool) but to sound like the jazz singers i liked,…

    i try not to worry about it. it is my voice. if, for instance, men listen to women with lower voices with more care, maybe those men are sexist assholes. men should learn to listen to women with womens’ voices, girls’ voices, any voice. I shouldn’t have to sound like Dr. Girlfriend to be heard.

    p.s. to Jeannine, yes.

  26. Small Fry says:

    Earplugs are very useful!

    I love the idea of spelling out poems into peoples’ palms! I’ve been thinking about ways of choreographing a piece of mine to involve some kind of direct contact with everyone in the room–although I don’t think I could make it work with much more than 25 people. Anyway, there’s a lot to be said about this.

    Also, voice. It’s yours and it’s young and it goes with you. I think about Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day–how their vocal limitations also shaped their styles (limited range, tendency to go flat).

    Like you said, it (voice) can be interesting for its displacement–I mean, nothing is the same inside our head as outside, that’s part of why we talk and arrange words on paper.

  27. kevin.thurston says:

    the Karpeles Manuscript Museum

    the Karpeles Manuscript Museum ?

    maybe yer confusing comfort for acoustics ? sound quality there was poor .

    anyhow , that’s it .

  28. Annandale Dream Gazette says:

    Hi Jessica. I liked listening to the mp3 of the reading. I thought the pairing with Ron was great, and the contrast between the two of you added to each. It makes sense that your reading is full of pauses, asides & nonlinear meanderings (that’s a good thing); and I love Ron’s non-stop, ultra-torqued reading style as well (also a good thing).

    People are always very ready & willing to judge others, especially when it comes to age & appearance (and I don’t even need to mention, I’m sure, that women are more often judged by these externals)–but if they don’t take you seriously because of those judgements, then that’s their loss. (I’m not accusing anyone here of doing that, necessarily.)

    Your voice is NOT a speech impediment. Or at least not more than anyone else’s.

  29. Kevin Doran says:

    Awww, sorry, i didn’t mean to strike a nerve! I stopped short of any perceived sucking-up by not saying i think you have a nice voice, instead making an observation/thinking aloud. So, no, i don’t think it’s an impediment at all. You also sound more jovial and lighthearted than i thought you would: you always look so serious in your photos.

    Btw, i’m getting my university’s library to order the anthology.

  30. Jessica Smith says:

    kevin t: nevertheless, the KMM is an awesome reading space. I didn’t think the acoustics were that bad. of course could use something to absorb the sound but zinc has the opposite problem–too many crevices and plush. it’s an intimate space but the sound is muddy.

    not “dumping on” your space, jim, just comparing acoustics across reading venues.

    kevin d: oh, it’s ok… i mean there’s no reason to apologize or anything… i have issues. thanks for talking your library into ordering the anthology.

    lynn: thanks….

  31. Michelle Detorie says:

    I like listening to this reading. I also liked reading along in OFC as I listened to you read. I’m especially interested in the experience of reading along and reading/seeing words in the poems that you didn’t read/say aloud. I like thinking about those decisions. There is something about the following/reading/listening silent/seen thing that I find very pleasurable. It also seems like it could make for interesting video poems — the screen/page as a score for voice.

    I agree that the pairing with RS was very compelling. Thanks for sharing!

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